HC Deb 25 May 1971 vol 818 cc302-40

Order for Second Reading read.

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

Mr. Kenneth Baker (St. Marylebone)

I support the Second Reading of the Bill. As the House will be aware, this is the second Private Bill which the G.L.C. presents to the House in the course of a year. The first was the General Powers Bill, which was debated two months ago. The powers which the G.L.C. was taking then were relatively minor. This Bill is entirely different. It is important for the G'L.C. because, without it it would not be able to fulfil a large part of its functions.

The Bill gives the G.L.C. two particular powers. First, it confers upon it the power to spend money on capital account in 1971 and 1972. Second, it empowers it to lend money, for mortgages or housing associations. The House is not being asked to provide this money; the G.L.C. provides it from rates revenue or borrowings from the Public Works Loan Board and borrowings on the London Stock Exchange. But it has always been considered that the capital expenditure of London is so important that it should receive the particular sanction of this House rather than just go through the normal procedure of local authority loan sanctions from the Ministry.

The amount of money involved is very substantial.. The total funds covered by the Bill amount to £217 million, £115 million of which is for capital expenditure in the current year, £85 million being for loans that the Council will make to housing associations and for mortgages, and £17 million being held in reserve for contingency.

It is interesting to reflect how much this sum has increased over the past five years. When the Labour Party last controlled the G.L.C. in 1966–67 the equivalent figure was £112 million, so in the course of the past five years the capital expenditure programme within the Greater London area has more than doubled. This demonstrates, as I think is accepted on both sides of the House, however concerned the Conservative Party and the Conservative Government are about restraining the rise in public expenditure, how important it is to spend sums of this sort in the centre of our cities to maintain and improve the basic public services.

I should like to deal with the four major items of expenditure, because I do not think that the House will expect me to go into elaborate detail on every last pound of the £217 million. The four major items this year are flood defences, amenities, London Transport and housing. There is also an item of £17 million for the Inner London Education Authority for its capital programme for this year. I do not intend to comment on that, because I.L.E.A. has a unique position with the G.L.C.; it can submit its requirements to the G.L.C, which simply has to meet them.

I deal first with flood defences. The G.L.C. has decided, because of the danger at any time of a tidal surge up the Thames, to undertake two major programmes, one involving the flood barrier and the other the interim measures before it is built. Those interim measures will involve raising the walls in the low-lying areas along the Thames by some 18 inches. This work has already started. The total cost will be £5½ million, and £3 million will be covered in this financial year. The G.L.C. is concerned because of the disturbing fact that the whole of the south-eastern part of England is slowly sinking, at the rate of about a foot per century. That is sufficient to cause concern to the riparian authorities, of which the G.L.C. is the major, that more flood defences should be available.

The longer-term solution is the barrier, which will be built at Silvertown near Woolwich. Its total cost will be £75 million. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the Government for making such a generous grant towards the cost of 65 per cent.—about £50 million—to the building of the barrier. The G.L.C. is very grateful for that contribution. The work is only in its early stages in this financial year, consisting mainly of the acquisition of land and items like that. The G.L.C. has decided on a rising sector type of barrier, which can be most simply explained by saying that in normal conditions the gates that will hold back the surge will be under the waters of the Thames, but if there is a threat of a surge from the mouth of the river they will swing up like saucers, rather like a radar scanner, to hold back the surge.

I understand that the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) has decided to oppose the two G.L.C. Bills tonight, largely to debate the flood barrier, and, particularly the fact that the decision to go for the rising sector gate was made before the publication of technical details—I stress "before publication" and not, of course, before the consideration of technical details. I was rather surprised to know that that was his objection, because there have been ample opportunities, both in the committees of the G.L.C. and in the Council Chamber, for those who favour the drop gate system, which is more like an arch with gates coming down, to put their point of view. On 19th March this year, the Public Services Committee agreed to go for the rising sector type of barrier. That decision was communicated to the Chairman of the Environmental Planning Committee, of which I believe the hon. Gentleman is a co-opted member. As is the usual procedure, the views of the opposition leader on that Committee were sought, and no objections were made. When the Council was asked to approve the scheme on 18th May, the Chairman of the Public Services Committee specifically asked for questions and comments so that there could be a debate in the Chamber, but there were none from opposition members. Therefore, I do not think that the G.L.C. can be faulted on the question of providing ample opportunity for those members and the public to comment.

I am glad to report that next month the G.L.C. will put in the Library of the House the second Report of Studies, a substantial document, just as it did the first Report of Studies.

I turn to the second item of expenditure—amenity expenditure.

Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the important question of Thames flooding, could he help us with a point of information on item 14, River Thames flood prevention works", which I take not to be the barrier but the interim scheme. It says that the Government is to put up 65 per cent. of certain expenditure. It is the word "certain" that I am puzzled about. What does it mean? Can we have the assurance that none of the cost of the interim flood protection will fall on riparian owners?

Mr. Baker

The 65 per cent. is 65 per cent. of the barrier scheme in its entirety, which amounts to about £76 million altogether, of which roughly £40 million is not for the barrier and £36 million is. The £40 million is for various land works on the bank associated with the barrier. The amount that will be spent on the barrier this year under the Bill is about £3 million, which is mainly for the acquisition of land.

Mr. Mayhew

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I am honestly seeking information. I do not think that item 14 refers to the barrier. I think that it is the interim flood prevention measures. That is what worries me.

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman, I think, is referring to item 14 of the Financial Memorandum on page ii. I am fairly certain—as certain as anyone can be—that the 65 per cent. refers to the barrier scheme and not the interim flood measures. The interim flood measures scheme will cost £5½ million and the G.L.C. is meeting all of that.

I turn now to the second group, amenity expenditure. The G.L.C. still has responsibility for many parks in London that are not being transferred, and there are many items in the Bill for such things as the Alexandra Palace grounds, children's playgrounds, a club for pre-school children, and extension of the children's zoo at Crystal Palace. One item that I am especially glad to see, as I once fought a seat in East London, is the provision for substantial areas of open space. The G.L.C. is making a contribution towards the National Theatre, which is getting under way at last. The G.L.C. gave the site and is paying 50 per cent. of the building cost. There are substantial sums for sewerage and drainage—£5 million and £7 million respectively.

On the amenities for its staff, the G.L.C. is spending a considerable amount on capital account, including its office accommodation. The office block at the southern end of Westminster Bridge is a G.L.C. block and when that is completed, when the in-filling at County Hall is finished and when the new telephone exchange is operating, the G.L.C. will be able to dispose of a large number of its outlying small offices and leases. Estimates have been made of the total saving benefit as a result, and when it is capitalised this will reach some £4 million. This is a very good example of good cost saving in the public sector.

The third major item is that of London Transport. The G.L.C. does not, in fact, have to provide any of the capital expenditure of London Transport if it does not want to, but since it assumed overall responsibility for London Transport, it decided in its first year to provide £2 million as a grant. I am glad to say that this year that figure has been increased to £8 million. I am sure that that is welcomed on both sides of the House. We all agree that if more money is not spent upon the basic public transportation system in London—the tubes and bus system basically—life will become less tolerable for the great mass of people who live in our capital.

Another item this year is the Heathrow extension, which has started. This will be an extension of the Piccadilly line out to the airport and will cost some £15 million, of which the G.L.C. will contribute a quarter. Then there is the £1 million for the extension of the Victoria Line beyond Pimlico to Brixton.

There will be another £1½ million for new underground trains and another £1 million for new buses. But the biggest item of all is the projected Fleet Line, which will start from my constituency—just—go down through central London, along the line of Fleet Street, down through the docks, under the river and end up at Lewisham. In this decade this will be the largest single item of major public transport improvement in London. It has been on the drawing boards for a very considerable time. I press the Government about whether a statement could be made this evening as to the grant which the Government have been asked by the G.L.C. to make towards the cost of this line. The total cost will be some £90 million. I hope that a decision will be forthcoming soon, because this line, apart from improving the overall flow of traffic in London, has a very important task of revitalising those dead dock areas of Lower Stepney and Poplar, and the dock areas just south of the river, where transportation to and fro is not very good.

There is also continuing expenditure upon highways. The Labour Party in London have suffered a complete volte face of their attitude to road development in London. When they controlled the G.L.C. in 1965, with a tremendous fanfare of trumpets they introduced the Ringway 1 and Ringway 2 schemes. This was the dynamism and forward-looking plan which they presented. Having given it birth, they subjected it to abandonment and, this year, infanticide, since they have completely reversed their policy and are now totally opposed to Ringway 1 and Ringway 2.

I have a Press release from the Labour Party, Herbert Morrison House, Walworth Road, London S.E.17, during the recent elections. There are impeccable credentials on the notepaper. The chairman is that celebrated Housing Minister who is now the Opposition Chief Whip. He summed up six years of Labour housing policy by saying that the housing policy of the last six years should be stood on its head. That is what he is doing with the Labour policy on transport in London, because they have abandoned their support of motorways in London and in this Press release they have laid down their policy, which is a very obscure one. They state that increases should be paid for out of rates—which is being done; that these could be paid out of central Government grants—which I hope very much will be done; and they propose a … new tax on traffic generators". I do not know what the Labour Party have in mind here. It is unfortunate that there is no Front Bench Opposition spokesman available for the debate. I should like to know what this new tax on traffic generators would mean. Who will pay it? I am surprised that we did not hear more about it in the Labour Party's campaign during the local elections.

The last major item of capital expenditure in the Bill is that for housing. As all of us who represent London constituencies know, this is undoubtedly the greatest problem facing London. I shall certainly not be satisfied while there are so many Londoners living in substandard homes. But regrettably, all the estimates made for the next decade—however we do the sums—predict a deficiency. There will not be enough homes built in London during the next ten years. Everyone will agree that, deplorable as the problem is, the G.L.C. has tried to tackle it on as many grounds as possible. It is hoped that its own building programme this year, covered by sums in the Bill, will amount to about 6,000 completions, and this will be the highest figure, if it is reached, since the G.L.C. came into being.

The G.L.C. is also increasing the turnover in the number of lettings per year. The lettings in the current year show an increase to 16,000, very nearly one-third more than when the Conservatives came to power at County Hall. In the next three years lettings will increase to about 19,000 a year. That will be nearly a 100 per cent. increase over the number of lettings available each year during the period when the Labour Party had control.

An important item in the housing programme is Thamesmead. There is provision in the Bill for some £8 million for continuation of building houses at Thamesmead. I draw the attention of the House to the important job which the G.L.C. does in rehousing Londoners outside London. In 1970 some 7,000 families were moved out by the G.L.C. to expanding and new towns, and many of them were people who had serious housing needs. The G.L.C. is to be congratulated for continuing this excellent scheme, and I wish that we could give it more publicity.

The G.L.C. also has a seaside scheme under which its elderly tenants retire to seaside bungalows so that the G.L.C. can release in London larger units of accommodation for families. The G.L.C. is pushing ahead on that scheme as well. It is also giving considerable support to housing associations, and there is provision in the Bill for lending £15 million this year to housing associations. This is part of a three-year programme amounting to some £75 million. We hope and expect that by the end of this programme some 16,000 houses will have been provided by housing associations, and the G.L.C. has nomination rights to those associations.

If the Opposition has a policy towards housing associations in those councils where they now have control, I should like to know what it is. I understand that councils which went Socialist ten days ago are not prepared to provide land for housing associations. That is very regrettable and retrogressive.

The G.L.C. has a substantial programme of lending money for mortgages in the year ahead. It hopes to provide just over £50 million in mortgages for people living in London. I would point out the tremendous increase that there has been since 1968, when the Labour Government had to stop providing money for this purpose. In that year the G.L.C. loaned only £3 million for mortgages. I ask the House to reflect upon what that means. It means that in 1968 many people had their dream of buying their own home postponed if not abandoned. Now there has been this great increase with the Tory-controlled G.L.C, and it must be borne in mind that the G.L.C. is basically a borrower of last resort. It now provides 250 loans a week, concentrating particularly upon older and smaller houses.

Let me say a word now about how the money is to be found. This is a substantial capital programme. There are few cities in the world which can match it and it is substantially larger than the capital expenditure of many countries. It is basically provided from borrowings which have to be financed from rate revenue at the end of the year. This Bill provides for the first time a sum of £10 million to be placed into capital reserves from rate revenue. The Labour Opposition on the G.L.C. opposed that, but I do not know why because it must be sensible to build up reserves rather than deplete them.

This raises the whole problem of financing London. The G.L.C. looks forward to the Green Paper which the Government are to publish soon on rating reform, because we cannot escape from this unhappy combination of facts—last year the rateable value of the G.L.C. increased by only 1¼ per cent., whereas the costs of running the G.L.C. increased by 10 per cent. We have to find a new and more equitable source of revenue than our present rating system for the needs of London. One thing that is evident from the annual money Bills is that unless sums of this sort continue to be spent in London then the services which Londoners enjoy and which make London a much more attractive city than almost any other city will slowly deteriorate. I am glad that the Tory-controlled G.L.C. is playing its part in maintaining these services.

7.23 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)

I am glad to have caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, and to follow the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker) for the second time. I should like to take up at once a point that he made about the available information on the Thames Barrier, for that is what I want to speak about this evening. He said that the Public Services Committee of the G.L.C. had the study before it and that it had been debated in the G.L.C. Here I make a personal point because as a co-opted member of one of the G.L.C. committees I can say that none of the documents was, quite properly, available to me. The documents have not been made available to the general public or interested bodies, other than those taking part in the study. I hope to show in detail that this is a fact, and one of the facts to which I take some objection. I also speak as a vice-chairman of the River Thames Society, which is the amenity society for the Thames, which looks at all aspects of the river, particularly planning matters.

It is important that we get this question of flooding right. The hon. Member said that when the matter came before the council last Tuesday none of the members of my party on that council raised any objection. I do not speak tonight on the basis of party politics, and that is why the subject was not raised a week ago.

We are debating a Private Bill, and the procedure on such a Bill, as I understand it, has been historically one of checking the democratic processes and the expenditure of public monies for which this House is partly responsible. Unfortunately, in the history of Thames flooding and protection we have a history of delays, confusions and, until fairly recently, one official body blocking another.

I may have to delve into technical details and to go at some length into these matters, because there are principles at stake which are of some importance—indeed, the success of flood defences in London which in the next 50 years will be vital not only to the life of the capital but to the economy of the nation as a whole which is at issue here.

There have been a number of debates on this matter. There was an Adjournment debate initiated by the then hon. Member for Twickenham in 1968; the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), who is here tonight, raised this on the Consolidated Fund debate in 1968. Last year, on 9th November, my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved) raised it in a second Adjournment debate.

In 1968, the G.L.C. undertook the first comprehensive investigation of this very complex matter. In October, 1969, with commendable speed, it produced a large volume called the First Report of Studies. It went at great length into many matters involved in this difficult problem. There was one issue which was not then taken to a conclusion because the studies were not complete, and that was the design of the flood barrier itself. This is the crux of the matter, because whatever we do about flood banks or flood warning procedures, it is the success of the flood barrier mechanism which will determine the success of our flood prevention measures in London.

Contrary to what the hon. Member for St. Marylebone said, we have not been able to get any public information from the G.L.C. of the conclusions arrived at after the first Report of Studies, published in October, 1969. I pay a tribute to the courtesy which I have received from all G.L.C. officials, from the chairman of the Public Service Committee and all those who have been helping in this matter. The principle which I wish to establish is that matters of this sort should be made public, at a time when public comment can make a difference. It is no use publications coming out after the effective decisions have been made, when they cannot be changed or modified. If that happens, public confidence in the democratic procedures is loosened, justice is not seen to be done and right decisions are not seen to be taken at the correct time.

This is where I begin to delve into technicalities. The design of a flood barrier in the Thames incorporates many important factors. First, it must be reliable. That is a sine qua non, and that is the first and most important factor. Secondly, the effect on navigation, both during construction and when it is completed—and at the time of any threatened flood surge—must be considered. There are a number of inter-related factors, because if the barrier is to be entirely successful, it must be closed at some time before the surge is due; and if we are to avoid reflected waves downstream, with the threatening of land downstream of the barrier—particularly areas in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford—it should be closed as soon as possible with a detrimental effect on navigation. Then there is the timing of construction of the barrier in the river. The sooner it is constructed, the sooner we shall be secure. There is also the cost and, finally, the amenity considerations. These may include considerations of half-tide working, which would make the upper river very much more attractive for amenity purposes.

The history of the controversy over the barrier design is a long one. In 1960 a report of the technical possibilities of the Thames flood barrier, Cmd. 965, started the ball rolling. It discounted a rising type barrier, which has been adopted, and went for two other designs, which the G.L.C. has dropped. In 1969 the G.L.C. received a number of technical reports from its consultants, and at that stage they came to some quite clear conclusions. Paragraph 7.4 of (the G.L.C. "First Report of Studies" stated: It is imperative that the barrier should be reliable in operation…. In this context the objective of reliability must be obtained by careful design, model testing, prototype testing of parts and provision for proper maintenance. The joint consultants have expressed the opinion that the drop gate type of structure allows provision of a high degree of reliability where this cannot be guaranteed with any other type". That was the view of the G.L.C. in September, 1969. Their consultants commented on another barrier, known as the rising drum type, and, at that stage, they said that in their view it was not as reliable; they said in their Fourth Report: the search for reliability has confirmed that where a span of 500 ft. or less is envisaged, a drop gate provides the most satisfactory solution". Their comment on the rising drum barrier was: We … are unable to put forward any proposal for such a barrier which entirely eliminates all disadvantages and offers a reliability of the same order as barriers of some other types". In other words, although they said that a rising type of barrier was feasible at that stage, they could not say, and they did not say, that it was of greater reliability; and reliability is, of course, the most important factor.

The only type of rising barrier they could suggest was a remarkable structure which would have involved excavating the river bed to a depth of 90 feet and producing chambers 90 feet deep, each having to be dry. Out of them would rise drum barriers, above the surface, when a surge threatened. Not unnaturally, they were not all that enthusiastic about that type of barrier, though in a letter the G.L.C. urged them to produce details for a barrier of that sort to overcome the technical difficulties inherent in the rising barrier design.

There was then a blackout of information. It may have been intended; whether or not it was, there was certainly a complete blackout. After the reports in October, 1969, there were no further publications and all we had on which to rely were Press statements from the Department of the Environment and the G.L.C, interspersed with Questions which some of my hon. Friends and I put to the Minister in Parliament. Most of them were tabled in the form of Written Questions.

I disagree strongly with the hon. Member for St. Marylebone when he says that there has been opportunity for the various designs to be discussed. There has not. Moreover, there have been a number of apparent anomalies in what has been published. It is important that these anomalies are known because, unless they are, we cannot clear them up—and in the matter of flood prevention it is vital that they are cleared up.

On 22nd December last the Secretary of State for the Environment announced in a Press release that there had been a recommendation from the G.L.C., which he had accepted, of a design for a rising sector barrier. That was not a rising drum barrier. It seemed that there might have been another design, of which there was no published record, superseding the last design which the consultants had decided to reject. In any event, the announcement stated that it was the recommendation of the G.L.C. However, the hon. Member for St. Marylebone mentioned that it was not until a date in March that the Public Services Committee had decided to adopt this particular design.

We therefore have a situation in which the Secretary of State makes a Press announcement on 22nd December, and we hear in March, 1971, of a committee of the G.L.C. having taken a decision. More remarkable still, the Council itself met last week, and it is clear that the council had not been invited to take a decision until 18th May. A number of recommendations must have been going from one department to another, but it is clear from the announcement made by the Secretary of State that a recommendation was not finally passed to the council until several months later.

We come to the question of reliability. In their last published report the consultants said that any rising type of design was less reliable than a drop gate barrier—though there may be another design of which we have not heard. The G.L.C. stressed in its Press release of 31st March that the sector gate type of design was most reliable. Indeed, in a letter sent to me by the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, dated 27th April, I was told that nowhere else in the world had this type of sector barrier been installed—except in Holland, where it did not cover a navigable waterway. I assume, therefore, that this barrier is unique and novel. How unique and novel it is we do not know because we have not seen the design. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) may applaud the design—indeed, I may applaud it—if we are given an opportunity to see the plans.

Mr. Mayhew

I am following my hon. Friend's comments with the greatest interest and agreement. Does he agree that the barrier should not be in my constituency at all? It should be at Crayfordness. The one reason that was constantly given for not having the barrier at Crayfordness was that that site would require a rising sector or rising drum type of barrier, and that was technically impossible. This very much reinforces my hon. Friend's desire to hear from the G.L.C and the Government what type of rising sector gate they are proposing for my constituency.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point because it raises yet another anomaly, one which I confess I had not until this moment seen. It was clear in September, 1969, that the G.L.C. was pressing the consultants to advise whether a rising type of barrier was mechanically reliable for the purpose of being able to place it at Crayfordness, where the drop gate type of barrier would have been difficult, if not impossible, to construct. To complicate matters further, it appears that a site was chosen in Woolwich Reach at Silvertown and that now they have designed a barrier for that site which was intended for a lower site, which has now been abandoned.

I come to the question of cost. On 22nd December the Secretary of State stated in his Press statement, which was the first intimation we had had of this matter, that this rising sector barrier would cost £23 million. In its Press statement of 31st March of this year the G.L.C. said that it would cost £36 million—another £13 million. On the G.L.C. agenda for last week's meeting no cost was quoted, which seems rather remarkable.

The cost of the drop gate barrier, which was the alternative design and which has a span of 450 ft.—the rising sector gate had a number of spans of 200 ft. only—was given by the Secretary of State as £35 million. The G.L.C, on the other hand, said indirectly that it would cost £39 million. The consultants, in what was called "Design WR 9"—I take that to mean Woolwich Reach 9—quoted £22 million. There are, therefore, considerable differences in the published estimates of building such a barrier.

I will not weary the House by giving more figures, but I must mention the anomalies that exist about the cost of the lock that will not be provided if the G.L.C.'s recommendation and the Minister's decision is accepted. In its agenda, the G.L.C. says that a lock will cost £8 million more. However, the consultants' studies show two schemes, WR.9 and WR.10. The difference between the two schemes, which are shown in fair detail, is only £2 million. In other words, compared with the consultants' report of two years ago, according to the G.L.C. the provision of a lock involves four times the amount. We are in a period of inflation. It may be that one lock is bigger than the other. It may be that one lock has a different style gate The provision of a lock must be looked at specially in relation to the needs of navigation.

A great deal has been made about the time that it would take to construct one type of gate or another. It has been claimed that the rising type of gate will take less time. The consultants reckoned that a drop gate barrier would take three years to build and possibly two years to design. In his Press release, the Secretary of State said six years. The Secretary of State says that a rising sector gate will take five years. In a Written Reply to me on 28th April, the Minister for Local Government and Development said that it would take six years. So we have a difference of a few years. However, in the end, perhaps the difference in building times for these two types of barrier is not as much as has been suggested.

I come next to the important point about navigation. Although we know that the Port of London is moving downstream, London is still a very important port. Although the upper part of the river is not as busy as it was, it is still London's greatest highway. As the G.L.C. has recommended this scheme, it is without a lock. Whichever design is chosen, if the barrier is across the river, there is no way round it. It is true that the barrier will be closed only when a surge threatens. However, all the technical papers tell us that in many cases it is impossible to tell how high a tide will be and that, in any case, the barrier is best closed to avoid flooding downstream when the tide is low or at half-time. In other words, the barrier will be closed before the peak of the surge reaches the Woolwich area.

Moreover, as time goes on the land sinks. The report says that in 50 years the barrier may have to be closed on 20 or more occasions each year. Perhaps by then a lock will have been built. But the psychological effect of an iron curtain across the river upon ship owners and others trying to decide whether to use this part of London river, or whether the river is to maintain its pre-eminent position as a highway, will be considerable. If a lock were put in at a cost at the moment of £2 million or £3 million, even when the barrier was closed for practice, repair, or whatever it might be, there would always be a way round. In no report can we read why this has not been done. This is the major highway in London, yet here we are planning to cut it off for an unknown period of time, and that will be that.

Another aspect of navigation concerns the spans. I have said that the drop gate barrier was designed with a 450-feet span but that, as the Minister has said and as the G.L.C. has confirmed, the rising sector gate involves 200-feet spans. I remind hon. Members that 200 feet is the span of Tower Bridge. That is not very great in Woolwich Reach.

In the Evening News of 7th January this year we have the headline: 'Crash danger' in Thames barrier. We read: … Trinity House, backed by the P.L.A. and the river pilots, has written to Mr. Walker urging him to consider a 'drop gate' type barrier with a 450 feet opening … Mr. Daniel McMillan, chairman of the River Pilots' Committee, said of navigating a ship through the 200 feet openings: 'It can be done in most circumstances. But in bad weather such as a northerly or southerly gale it is going to be particularly difficult to get a ship through there … We can see the danger of ships striking the barrier and getting damaged. And if a ship does hit the barrier perhaps the gates could not be closed. Then you could get the danger of a flood.' It may be that the river pilots are being ultra careful. But the point is not necessarily damage to a ship, important though that may be. What is even more important is damage to the barrier. We are told that the G.L.C. has been advised that the organisations responsible for navigation have said that 200 feet is all right, yet, as I have said, the people actually on the job have apparently written to the Secretary of State for the Environment objecting.

As I say, it may be that they are being ultra cautious. However, a letter to me from the Under-Secretary dated 18th January states that it has been agreed that tugs will be standing by, I presume that that means that they will be standing by 24 hours a day on every day of the year round this barrier proposed by the G.L.C. If that is so, it means not only that it will it cost more but that the danger of collision with the piers will be there all the time. If we have the danger of collision, it means that the reliability of the barrier, however inherently good it may be in itself, will again be suspect. I have mentioned the psychological effect on shippers and the fact that a permanent barrier across the river might be detrimental to the interests of river navigation and the prosperity of the Port of London.

So we have all these anomalies, and I think that it is right, before this matter is finally agreed, to have the answers to a number of questions. I do not ask for them to be answered tonight. However, I hope that note will be taken of what I say, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East will add to the points that I have raised.

My first question asks why there has been a blackout on information about the barrier. It may be a good design, but we do not know what it is. It is clear that, while the site for the barrier was in question, there were property interests, and one can understand why matters of this sort might be kept confidential. But is there any reason why matters have been kept confidential since Christmas? Why could not we have known the technical details?

Secondly, why has there been a discrepancy in quoted costs? I have no doubt that there is a simple explanation. But when we are dealing with matters of this importance, in which we have Secretaries of State making statements, and a great county authority like the G.L.C. also making statements, we do not expect a £12 million difference between the quoted figures.

Thirdly, who recommended the new design, when was it recommended, and when was it accepted? We have seen that there are anomalies in statements about who recommended what to whom. In this sort of public matter, the House of Commons cannot rest until it knows the answer to that.

Fourthly, how is it that this rising sector gate overcomes all the inherent disadvantages of design, which were stressed by consultants, two very eminent firms of consulting engineers, as late as 1969? They may have come up with some alternative. Has it been published in the technical Press? Have other people had an opportunity to comment on it? We know that it has not been built elsewhere in the world. Is it too late to modify it or make it better than the G.L.C. thinks that it is?

My fifth question is about navigation. The G.L.C. said in its letter to the consultants in September, 1969, that it would like a rising barrier as long as it was acceptable to navigation interests. Certainly one navigation interest—the pilots and Trinity House—apparently is not satisfied. Who has said that 200-foot spans are all right? If the pilots say "No," who is right? Incidentally, if tugs are to be standing by, who is to pay for them? Will they be a burden on the ratepayers of London, or the Government?

Finally, why is there no provision for a lock? A lock would not only give added advantage to navigation. It would mean that the barrier could be closed earlier, so avoiding the risks to the (downstream areas, which are risks which greatly concern the Metropolitan authorities to the east of London. As I have pointed out, we have had a history of difficulty and controversy on this matter. That was finished in 1969 with a magnificent report from the G.L.C. But since then we seem to have plunged back into anomalies and difficulties, and the answers must be given. There is no need for secrecy. I have no knowledge, and cannot think of any reason, why the information has not been available and why it cannot be made immediately available. I hope that, before the Bill reaches its Third Reading, these matters will be cleared up. If they are not, I and many others, possibly on both sides of the House, will have to reconsider their decision not to oppose the Bill. I hope that these matters will be cleared up because they are important not only for London but, possibly, for the economy of the country.

7.50 p.m.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)

I begin by paying tribute to the way in which the Greater London Council has been conducting its affairs since it came into office last year. We are all aware that, by its excellent management and work study procedures, it has shown considerable savings. Indeed, I understand it is saving up to £3 million a year simply by work study procedures which are resulting in staff savings. Looking through the various sums of money proposed for expenditure this year, one of the figures which attracted my notice was the amount to be spent on road improvements. Roads in London are always a pertinent subject to any hon. Member representing a London constituency and at the back of our minds must surely be the whole concept of the ringways, which were once the motorway box programme. As we know, by the time the programme is completed—I believe that the projected date at the moment is 1998—it is likely to cost £1,800 million a vast sum of money. At the same time, one must consider the enormous growth in the number of motor vehicles in the country over the past decade. I believe that the present figure for the United Kingdom is 15 million. By that token, what sort of numbers shall we be dealing with in the next 20 to 30 years? How can we be satisfied that London's roads in the foreseeable future, will be able to carry the volume of traffic then existing when they find difficulty in carrying today's traffic?

My plea to the G.L.C. is that it will consider whether the re-phasing of the programme that it was forced to bring in last year, mainly through the central Government's economic policies, could not now be re-phased yet again in order to bring forward the ringway programme. I believe that if we do not have the ring-way programme sooner rather than later there is a fair chance of London Transport and traffic grinding to a halt.

I totally agree with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker) who said that the policy of the Labour Party simply did not make sense on how to cope with the problems of London traffic. In 1965, the Labour Party in London announced with glee the ringway programme, but now one does not know what its policy is. It talks vaguely about orbital routes but has not spelt out what it has in mind. I would like to hear from it exactly what it wants to do.

Meanwhile, while we wait for the 1990s—for even a re-phasing of the ringway programme will not bring these roads before then—how are we to meet the needs of London traffic? In particular, how are we to meet the requirements of London Transport and its bus services? One cannot help wondering why we seem so unwilling to use the Thames to carry people and freight. I do not know whether it is an eight-lane highway, but it must be something like that. It runs through the middle of a city of 10 million people, yet we have little use for it, except for pleasure steamers and for ships coming in to dock. I am therefore glad to see that the G.L.C. has decided to initiate a study into whether the river could take more passengers than hitherto, and I suggest that the study be extended to cover freight services.

We talk of studies, but these take a great deal of time. I ask—and this is pertinent to the amount that the G.L.C. has spent—how we can do something now to relieve the roads in the city centre from some of the traffic they are carrying. We have to decide whether we think all the roads in the centre should be open to all types of traffic, or whether we should not be slightly more selective about which roads carry which traffic. I have sometimes advocated, and do so again, that heavy lorries at least be taken out of the city centre. I believe that Paris has made a start with such an experiment and I do not see any reason why an attempt should not be made by the G.L.C. to create a network of lorry routes which would take heavy lorries out of the centre of London and out of residential areas. I suspect we have all sat in our cars behind heavy lorries going around Parliament Square, and one wonders why they have to come this way in order to get wherever they are going.

One residents' association in London turned to the G.L.C. in desperation to ask whether lorries could not be routed out of their road, which is near to where I live. The association had counted an average daily flow of 1,500 heavy lorries travelling along that residential street. Quite apart from the loss of amenity from noise and exhaust smoke, there is the considerable damage done by vibration. I understand that the borough of Islington has also approached the G.L.C. about removing heavy lorry traffic from the borough's residential areas. My constituents in Walthamstow, East would wish me tonight to express their dislike of the same sort of problem which they have with lorries coming from the North Circular Road through the constituency to Lea Bridge Road without any thought for the people in these residential areas and creating the considerable problem of noise nuisance and lack of amenity.

I do not believe that it is beyond the wit of man or the G.L.C. to think of some way of taking these heavy lorries away from residential areas. In the light of the millions of pounds to be spent this year on road improvements, I suggest that some at least could be spent on a road traffic survey to see the extent of the problem and decide whether there is not some cure, albeit temporary, which can be brought in to relieve the plight of those who have to suffer this inconvenience.

Lorry parking is another problem. I know that the G.L.C. has this problem close to its heart, since I am sure that it has as many complaints as I have about it from residents. The figure could grow to 5,000 very large lorries parking in London every night. Where are they to be parked if parks are not provided for them? The short answer is, "Outside your front door and mine". I make a further plea that the ringway programme should be looked at again and brought forward and, if I may bring an advocate to my side, may I quote the words of the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, the Chairman of the British Road Federation, who, talking about the proposed dates for the ringway programme, said: Twenty years is bad enough. London cannot wait for as much as thirty years. I totally and absolutely endorse that, view.

Heavy vehicles moving through the city centre must, of necessity, slow down public transport, and when so much effort is being put into trying to speed up and improve public transport, surely keeping them out is one way in which we can help.

We have seen the advent of the one-man bus. It looks as though its use will be extended in London, and I suspect in all our major cities. The G.L.C. is providing London Transport with £951,000 to purchase about 600 buses in all. Unfortunately the one-man bus is experiencing an enormous number of breakdowns, and thereby reducing the service to the public.

I wrote to the Chairman of London Transport, recently, and he kindly made it possible for me to visit one of London Transport's garages at Victoria to see the sort of problem that London Transport is up against with this type of bus. I was shown no fewer than 29 major parts—both mechanical and electrical—of the engine that are breaking down fairly consistently. I gather that the trouble lies in the design of the engine. A bus operating in London is worked harder than a bus operating almost anywhere else in the country, and I gather that the design of the one-man buses is having difficulty in standing up to the heavy work that is being imposed on it.

These buses are manufactured by British Leyland, which also designed them. London Transport, which usually designs its own buses, is aware of the problem. The tragedy is that not only will the buses which break down have to be repaired, but that these buses will have to be modified which will mean they have to be taken out of service. This in turn will mean reducing the service to the public while the work is being done. Added to that there is the problem of strikes and go-slows in the motor industry which have meant that essential spares for these buses have not been forthcoming.

I am sure that London Transport will be grateful for the extra money to be provided by the G.L.C, but we must recognise that there is a problem here, and I should like to think that the G.L.C. will lend its powerful voice to that of London Transport's in an effort to persuade British Leyland that this is a matter of the greatest priority and urgency, because nothing will drive people away from public transport quicker than having to wait in the rain, as some of my constituents do, for up to three-quarters of an hour on several days a week only to find, when the bus comes, it is full.

Mr. Spearing

I understand that this is the first series of bus that London Transport has not designed itself. The fact that the buses come from one firm need not necessarily reflect upon the adequacy of the engineering, but may be due to the great strain imposed by London conditions, which I think are unique, on the mechanical parts of buses. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will agree that the fact that London Transport—for some reason with which we are not concerned today—has not been able to develop its own design of bus might have something to do with this, and that this is a lesson for both central and local Government.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has reiterated the point that I made about exceptional working conditions. British Leyland has great experience of making buses—we all remember the famous contract it won from Cuba, which was one of the most exciting orders ever won for British buses—but the simple fact is that it does not have experience of making buses for London, whereas London Transport has. Perhaps London Transport will agree this is a teething problem, which must be overcome. It is a problem which affects all hon Members who have constituencies in London, and we may as well recognise that the fault is due, not to bad servicing in the depots, but to faults in the design.

I congratulate the G.L.C. on its intention to spend £250,000 on the Lea Valley Regional Park. This is one of the most imaginative concepts for creating a recreational area beside a great urban conurbation. Because it is in North-East London, and will serve my constituency, I suspect that we shall get the greatest benefit from it. I am sure that this park, with the enormous mix of recreations that it will offer, will be the envy of most of the boroughs of Greater London, and many of the largest cities in the world.

8.6 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)

As the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker) said, this is an important Measure, and I doubt whether there is any constituency which is more importantly affected by the Bill than my own of East Woolwich.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Thamesmead. It should by now have extended into my constituency which will in due course contain the great bulk of this development. This was a splendid concept, supported by both political parties, but its execution has been extremely disappointing. The construction of Thamesmead is more than 18 months behind schedule, due to failures of administration. I ask the Minister to accept that successive Governments have held up the development of Thamesmead by their failure to reach quick and clear decisions about cost yardsticks, and that that still haunts the carrying out of this great project. I should like an explanation why there have been these continual delays in the Ministry in deciding this vital question of the cost yardsticks which has so seriously delayed the construction of this project.

Why has no proper decision yet been taken about the amount of shopping space in Thamesmead? Why has the project been crippled by a lack of imagination in the Ministry responsible? I am not blaming only this Government. I have criticised, and I do so again now, their predecessors, too.

The G.L.C.'s administration of Thamesmead has been woefully inadequate. There are two sides to the problem of labour relations. These have not been a success at Thamesmead, and part of the blame must rest with the management and with the G.L.C. I am glad to say that things are going a little better now, but I should be happier if the administration and execution of this project showed greater skill, greater sensitivity and a greater sense of urgency than we have seen so far.

Listening to hon. Members opposite one had the feeling that the ruling party in County Hall had proved itself in management and administration and had made itself popular with the ratepayers and citizens of London. How sad they must feel that there were no elections to the G.L.C. this month! What great gains the Conservative ruling party in County Hall would have made had they tested their popularity with the electors!

There are a number of issues affecting my constituency, like the Fleet Line to which the hon. Member referred, absolutely vital and enormously valuable—and I hope that the G.L.C. puts behind the Fleet Line the urgency which that project deserves. But, above all, I come to the point so ably set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing)—Thames flood prevention. There are two sides to this, the barrier and the question of interim flood prevention measures.

I wish to speak in support of my hon. Friend about the barrier. It is a strange thing that my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Well-beloved) and myself for 18 months waged a strong campaign to have the barrier placed where it ought to be placed, down river at Crayfordness, with the support of our constituencies, our borough councils, and all the local authorities around. On grounds of amenity, cost and navigation, we feel that it should have been at Crayfordness.

The argument we could not get round was that put forward by successive Ministers—that if the barrier were at Crayfordness, we could not have a drop gate barrier because of the width of the river and we should have to have a rising gate or rising drum barrier; and the Government said that for technical reasons this type of rising design was not desirable and would take longer to erect. It was also said that there was no prototype and that it was too much of a risk to take. Having no alternative body of technologists and experts at our command, my hon. Friend and I felt at some disadvantage. Now we find that the site chosen is on the boundary of my constituency at Silvertown, and we have the rising gate design.

What has happened? Why this change of mind? Is it a new design or is it the design that was ruled out when it was a question of using it at Crayfordness? My constituents, my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford and his constituents, and all the river boroughs are entitled to an answer. There may be a simple answer, but we are entitled to an answer, and if we do not get one we shall make a fuss and a great deal of noise about it.

Mr. Spearing

I may be able to help my hon. Friend. While I sympathise with his difficulties, I believe that the answer, which is relatively simple, is that while a rising gate of any kind might be feasible, it is feasible only as long as the span does not exceed 200 ft.; and if one had tried to do it at Crayfordness, the span would have been too narrow. But my hon. Friend emphasises the point that I have made. If that is the answer—and I believe it to be one—it is a very simple answer and it is a great pity that the G.L.C. have not provided a comprehensive kind of announcement which would have made unnecessary the question which my hon. Friend has put so forcibly.

Mr. Mayhew

That may well be the answer. We are looking forward to finding out. But, as I recall, it was not the technical difficulty that was put to us in relation to a rising gate at Crayfordness. That was not related to the width of the river or of the span but to the mechanism of the gate, which it was said, which was new and untried. We leave it to see what is the answer.

What about the cost? I recall great disputes whether it would be more expensive at Crayfordness or at Woolwich. The plan suggests that, taking everything into consideration, there is very little in it. Have the costings changed, as may hon. Friend suggested? Let us have the answer. Let us open this information barrier which the G.L.C. and perhaps the Minister seem to have erected. We are entitled to know. There cannot be any security aspect to it.

Has the P.L.A. agreed to the new design at Silvertown? What advice and representations has the Minister received from the P.L.A. about the rising gate barrier being sited at Silvertown? These are simple questions to which we are all entitled to replies soon, especially as the taxpayer apparently is meeting 65 per cent. of the cost.

On the other hand, I wanted to deal more fully with the second aspect of Thames flooding, the interim measures, because of all the things in the Bill, that is the most important and most urgent. We are lookinig at the welfare of Londoners. We can consider in that respect a great number of important questions such as housing, education, the Fleet Line and others. But anybody who has studied the risk of catastrophic flooding between now and the time when the barrier is finished will know that it is the money which the G.L.C. is spending on interim flood prevention which is, in terms of the welfare of London, easily the most urgent and important expenditure.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

May I correct some information which I inadvertently gave the hon. Gentleman earlier about the Government's contribution? The contribution of 65 per cent. applies to the interim measures as well as to the flood barrier scheme. I believe that earlier I said the reverse.

Mr. Mayhew

I am grateful to the hon. Member. I believe that Item 14, which we briefly discussed, refers to the interim flooding measures. There might be a small part on account of the barrier and one or two minor items of expenditure included in that item but, broadly speaking, in my opinion, the money asked for—more or less £5½ million, to which the hon. Member referred—is for interim flood protection.

The problem is the six-year gap, for unless effective interim measures are taken, we can work out fairly accurately the risk of catastrophe. During any one year at present the chance of the flood waters over-topping the statutory defence level by one foot is one in 30; and as we have six years to go, we have a five-to-one chance against catastrophic flooding unless effective interim measures are taken. I noticed from a very interesting study that the high tide in 1780 was 14 ft. above the ordnance datum level. In 1834 there was a high tide which was 15 ft. above; in 1881, a high tide which was 16 ft. above; in 1928, a high tide which was 17 ft. above; and in 1953 a high tide which was nearly 18 ft. above. The North Sea is rising and South-East England is sinking. It is extraordinary that we have allowed ourselves to get into the position in which a one-in-five chance exists of catastrophic flooding of London. We must get on with this interim protection.

The hon. Member for St. Marylebone seemed to take pride in the alertness of the G.L.C. He said that it had discovered that the North Sea was rising and that South-East London was sinking——

Mr. Kenneth Baker

It has done more than the Socialist L.C.C. did.

Mr. Mayhew

These facts have been known for a very long time by successive Administrations and successive Ministers of different parties. But what the hon. Gentleman did not say was that the G.L.C. brooded on these facts for a very long time. I said on 16th February, 1970, to the G.L.C. and the then Minister, Lord Greenwood, that just building a barrier is no good, that the important thing is what happens between now and when the barrier is built. But, at the time, I am sure that neither the Ministry nor the G.L.C. had given a thought to the problem of interim flood protection. It was not until 15th December, ten months later, that the G.L.C. announced that it would undertake a programme of interim flood protection. This programme is designed to raise our defences by 1½ feet at a cost of £5½ million.

I need hardly say that there is a great deal of local interest in this. I attended a conference at Bexley a month or two ago, summoned by the Mayor of Bexley. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford had helped to initiate it. It was attended by many local authorities, several Members of Parliament, water board representatives and other people concerned. It passed the following resolution: That the local authorities and other bodies represented at this meeting view with concern the fact that both Her Majesy's Government and the Greater London Council have consistently announced decisions on the proposed Thames Barrier in advance of adequate consultation with other public authorities representing areas and interests directly affected and that such limited consultation as there has been has only resulted from pressure by these authorities. That such authorities be strongly recommended to demand that the following guarantees be incorporated in the Bill to be promoted in Parliament by the G.L.C. to authorise the construction of the Thames Barrier:—

  1. (a) the river bank for the whole of the River Thames downstream from the Barrier will be brought up to an acceptable level of safety, in ways which will preserve and improve the amenities and facilities of the 330 river frontage, before the Barrier at Silver-town becomes operational;
  2. (b) the cost of the whole project, including the raising of the defences, will be met from national or Greater London resources and not by riparian owners; and
  3. (c) full consultation will take place at all stages of the project relating to the proposed interim works, with all local and other authorities before any works are started."
That was unanimously passed by this highly representative conference of local authorities affected.

How far has this interim flood protection got? Which areas are being dealt with first? What consultation has been undertaken with local authorities, and how does this help to increase the odds against catastrophe? We know that there is a five-to-one chance in the next six years of a very serious catastrophe. How far will those chances be improved or the chances of catastrophe be lessened when this interim project has been implemented? This can be calculated, and I should like to know the answer.

I was glad of the assurance of the hon. Member for St. Marylebone that the cost of the interim project will be borne by the G.L.C. and not by riparian owners. That is a valuable assurance which I appreciate. I should be grateful if the Minister would let us have the answers to those questions.

As the hon. Member said, this Measure is enormously important for London. I wish that I felt greater confidence in the ability of the ruling party at County Hall to administer it effectively. Fortunately, they will not be very much longer in power. We shall have a swing of the pendulum which will deservedly put a better administration in. In the meantime, I join my hon. Friend the Member for Acton in drawing the Minister's attention to the question of Thames flooding, on which we have asked him straightforward questions, to which there are answers available and to which we expect answers to be given.

8.26 p.m.

Mr. Dick Leonard (Romford)

I want to speak about the proposed expenditure by the G.L.C. on housing, as referred to in paragraph 11 of the Schedule. This shows that it is proposed to spend £5874 million in the next 12 months. Am I the only hon. Member who thinks that this is a miserable sum to be spent by the local authority of a city of eight million people?

The hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker) referred to what he called the "inevitable shortfall" in housing over the next decade, as against the known demand. What he did not tell us, however, is that it is evident that the provision which is being made is inadequate even to meet the minimum statutory obligations of the G.L.C.

My authority for this assertion is the first Report of the Standing Working Party on London Housing, published by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in 1967. That Report says that the G.L.C. estimated that, from 1966 to 1972, they would have to rehouse 71,800 families displaced by the council in the exercise of its statutory powers. Yet the G.L.C.'s total housing programme during the seven years involved, including the estimated completions in this year and next year is only an average of 5,000 or 6,000 a year. So the seven-year total will certainly not exceed 40,000. This means that the total G.L.C. housing effort has done no more than account for just over half the displacements and has, therefore, made no net contribution to the crucial need to rehouse families from the waiting lists in the stress areas of Inner London.

The Cullingworth Report on the proposed transfer of G.L.C. housing to the London boroughs contained the following sentence: It is abundantly clear that any solution to the housing problems of Inner London necessitates the large scale movement of people to Outer London and beyond. Many other people have made similar observations, and no one has ever challenged this point.

The G.L.C. has the right to build houses anywhere in the G.L.C. area and outside. It does not have to ask the permission of London Boroughs to build within their areas, but this is exactly what the Tory leadership of the G.L.C. has chosen to do. The G.L.C. has gone to the Tory boroughs of London and said, "Please may we build houses in your area?". It is not surprising that the parochially minded Tory Outer London Boroughs have mostly chosen to say, "No". The consequence is that less than a quarter of the G.L.C.'s annual housing programme of 5,000 to 6,000 houses has been built in the Outer London Boroughs. During the last year for which figures are available, 1970, the G.L.C. built no houses at all in the following Outer London Boroughs: Bromley, Croydon, Harrow, Hillingdon, Merton, Sutton and Waltham Forest—all of them Conservative-controlled until a fortnight ago. The total number of houses built by the G.L.C. in the Outer London area in 1970 was only 1,169.

If the housing problem of the capital is to be solved, the G.L.C. must start to use the powers Parliament has given it and build in the Outer London Boroughs, whether the Outer London borough councils want it or not. If the G.L.C. refuses to do it, the Government must take action, if necessary by setting up a new housing authority with powers to build anywhere in the London region.

At the beginning of last month the G.L.C. transferred to the London Boroughs about 46,000 dwellings, about one-fifth of its total stock of houses. This clearly represents a diminution in the long-term capability of the G.L.C. to help to solve the overall housing problem of London. In the Statutory Order under which this transfer took place, the condition was laid down that the G.L.C. should retain nomination rights until 1983 for 65 per cent. of the dwellings transferred. That may seem a long time ahead, but 12 years is not long in relation to the anticipated lifetime of these houses which are being paid for over 60 years, nor, unfortunately, is it very long in relation to the projected solution of London's housing problems. There is absolutely no guarantee that the G.L.C. will have any control over the disposition of these dwellings after 1983. So, if the Outer London Boroughs involved take as parochial an attitude towards these houses as they have in their refusal to build themselves to take Inner Londoners, this will mean a permanent drying up of the possibility of rehousing Inner Londoners in the outer boroughs whenever houses become vacant because tenants move out.

When these houses were transferred there was no debate in the House, although the Opposition put down a Prayer against the Order. We were denied the possibility of debating this, and I am not the only Member on this side of the House who feels bitter about it.

There are pros and cons about whether it is better for housing estates to be managed within the boroughs in which they stand or by County Hall, a long way away. If it were not for the crucial question of the continued right to nominate by the G.L.C., I would acknowledge that a case can be made for the management of many of these estates from the boroughs in which they stand. What is utterly unacceptable, and, indeed, ludicrous, is that some estates were split into two, part being transferred to the borough and the remainder retained within the management of the G.L.C. This happened in the Harold Hill estate in my constituency, which is the second largest housing estate in London, in which about 30,000 people live. Part of this estate was transferred to the London Borough of Havering, and the other part was retained within the control of the G.L.C. This has caused the most appalling confusion within the estate. Many of my constituents have no idea who their landlord is, and this splitting up can hardly have contributed to the efficient management of the estate as a whole. Surely, the whole estate should either have been handed over to the London borough of Havering or the G.L.C. should have kept control of the entirety.

The Bill must be given a Second Reading, but at the same time a stern message must go from the House to the Greater London Council saying that its record and proposals are inadequate to meet the major challenges in the period ahead. The electors of London have already demonstrated their verdict on the Tory stewardship of the London boroughs and the Tory G.L.C. can have no illusions about its fate in two years' time if it does not markedly improve its record.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Leonard) tried to import into the debate an unfortunate partisan approach as though he were fighting the election that was fought ten days ago. It is a pity he did not bother to say that in 1971 the G.L.C. will have about 16,500 homes available for rehousing Londoners, which is 16 per cent. more than in 1970 and 36 per cent. more than in 1967 when the Labour Party were thrown out of office in County Hall. By 1974 the figure is expected to rise to 19,100.

The hon. Member falls into the usual error of those in the Labour Party in claiming that only local authority housing matters. I suggest that in the context of this Bill that is not so and that all agencies are needed to help to rehouse Londoners—the Greater London Council, the London boroughs, the housing associations, the housing societies and private enterprise. I hope that private enterprise will be greatly aided in the battle to offer new homes when the Government implement their promise to give rent rebates to private tenants. This will at long last stop the wicked anomaly of the well-off council tenant being subsidised by the badly-off pensioner living in private accommodation.

The hon. Member also failed to face another fact, which is that if the Labour Party had done its job when it controlled County Hall from 1934 to 1967, and indeed controlled most of the inner London boroughs as well, most of the people who are now homeless would now be housed.

Mr. Leonard

The hon. Member fails to take account of the fact that the L.C.C. did not have the same resources, as the G.L.C, to build in the whole of the present G.L.C. area. The only solution for the inner London boroughs is to build in the outer London areas, as report after report has made clear. The hon. Gentleman is refusing to face the facts of life that either the G.L.C. or the Government can build in these boroughs, whereas the old London County Council could not to the same extent.

Mr. Finsberg

My recollection, after many years in local government, was that the London County Council did have certain powers to build outside its own area. If it did not choose to do so, it was that council's own responsibility. Certainly the inner London Conservative boroughs, like Hampstead, have built outside their own areas.

I join with the hon. Member in one thing he said, and that is that the ownership of houses should be with the boroughs and not with the G.L.C, but that the G.L.C. should have the right of nomination to carry out its programme of roads, education and the like.

I shall not take up the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Waltham-stow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) in his support for the motor box, which has now been more politely named the ringway. I have opposed this concept since its introduction by the Socialists and they have now done a complete volte face on this matter. I intend to continue opposing the ringways. I hope thatt hey will never come to fruition.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), who was so eloquent on the subject of the Thames Barrier and the danger of flooding, forgot, I am sure quite unintentionally, except for his last few words, which were put in to fight the election battle about two years hence, to censure the L.C.C. for doing nothing about floods.

There can be no dispute that Labour had mastery over the L.C.C. from 1933 until its unlamented demise in 1964, so it had three decades in which to have undertaken protection. The hon. Gentleman mentioned particularly the flood of 1953. I remind him that those far-sighted Socialist London pioneers, Messrs. Morrison and Latham, who were the Tammany Hall bosses of the L.C.C, could have done something, but did not. If they had done something, particularly after 1953, it could have been done at perhaps half the cost which the G.L.C. now has to pay. I think that perhaps on this occasion the hon. Member for Woolwich, East might have emulated the example of his hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) and not intervened on this point.

The debate calls into question the whole principle why the G.L.C. has to come to the House for a money Bill. Other great cities in the land—Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow—do not. I do not see why we should be forced to listen to intimate details about the type of barrier needed to control the Thames. This is a matter for the elected authority, the G.L.C. This House has other tasks to perform. I hope that the G.L.C, if it is to do its job properly, will decide to ask the House to promote legislation to relieve it of the need to come here to raise money. Certainly it should come here for a general powers Bill for extra powers, but the right to spend money, which it debates and will call for and precept upon its ratepayers through the London boroughs, is not, in my view, the function of this House to decide. I certainly hope that the G.L.C. will take note of this and will seek, at the earliest opportunity, to introduce legislation to relieve this House of having to listen year after year to debates on the money Bill which I submit are quite unnecessary.

8.43 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

I intervene briefly to say that the Government hope that the House will give a Second Reading to the Bill so that the G.L.C. can continue with its capital expenditure programmes.

Several points have been raised in the debate on which I may perhaps briefly comment for the benefit of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker) mentioned the Fleet Line. The Government are aware of the importance attached to this proposition and are considering their view about it. I am sure that my hon. Friend will not expect me to add to that tonight. As soon as we are in a position to go further we shall not hesitate to do so.

Concerning the flood problem facing London, my hon. Friend mentioned the interim work and the rate of grant. I am pleased to confirm the information which he gave in an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) that the interim work is eligible for the 65 per cent. grant. The House should realise that the G.L.C. has already started on the interim work, which is part of the total scheme. Whilst not providing specific details tonight of the work which has already been put in hand, I can, as I am sure the G.L.C is prepared to do, provide hon. Members with the details of where the work is being carried out.

All hon. Members who have taken part in the debate have covered the vital problem which this now presents. I am sure that they welcome the speed with which this Government have given the 65 per cent. grant now available to the G.L.C. to get on with solving this difficulty which, as hon. Gentlemen opposite have been among the first to say, has been with us a great deal longer than present risks would warrant.

Therefore, when we are welcoming that, it is perhaps helpful to remember that the present proposal put forward by the G.L.C. and accepted by the Government, which is for a rising sector barrier, is estimated to cost some £12 million less than the drop-gate alternative, and, perhaps equally important, can be completed some two years earlier than the alternative.

The point I want to make about this, particularly with regard to the speech by the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing), is that this is not an occasion for a long discussion on the merits of the various proposals put forward and on the arguments and facts available. It is appropriate for the House to give the Bill a Second Reading so that it can go to Committee, where it will be in order for those questions to be raised. Perhaps even more important, it will be necessary for the G.L.C. to sponsor a private Bill in the next Session of Parliament, a flood barrier Bill, to empower itself to go ahead with this proposition, and that Bill will be very much concerned with all the details raised. Whilst I can assure hon. Members who have referred to this problem that their points will be borne in mind, added to the information available, and considered, it is not for the convenience of the House to consider in detail the lengthy points raised, particularly by the hon. Member for Acton.

Mr. Spearing

In giving us the figure of £12 million less for the rising gate scheme, the Minister has added yet another figure to the many we have had. Does he agree that if we left the discussion of these points to the promotion of the Bill it would be far too late? Can he assure us that the points raised by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) will be answered by correspondence long before the Bill is tabled in the House.

Mr. Heseltine

That would be a rather wider undertaking than perhaps would be appropriate. A large number of the points have already been covered, even if per- haps not to the hon. Member's satisfaction. Judgments have been reached at a political level by the G.L.C. and the Government, with wide information and technical backing available, some of which is already public knowledge, and the second Report is due to be put in the Library. There will be available to the hon. Gentleman a vast amount of information during the Committee stage of the Bill, and if he felt that there was an urgent need to raise further points, that would be the appropriate time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) raised the whole question of the ringway programme, which is a major capital project of immense implications. My hon. Friend will understand that as the Greater London Development Plan Panel is now sitting, and as it is for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to consider its findings, it is impossible for me to add any comments on the Government's views of that matter.

However, my hon. Friend moved on to a subject about which I should like to say a word or two—the problem of the growing number of heavy lorries and their impact upon our city centres. He will be encouraged to hear—if he has not done so already—of the decision taken by the Government only a matter of days ago to take powers in another place in the Highways Bill to provide lorry parks outside our major towns to see whether it is possible, in consultation with various haulage and local authority interests, for facilities to be provided for heavy lorries to use these parks for breaking bulk purposes, parking overnight and so on. He will be aware of the experiments under way in various places sponsored by my Department, which are designed to cope with some of the overnight parking problems of such great concern, particularly in residential areas. The Government are aware of the problem, and have already acted—further, perhaps, than my hon. Friend implied by his suggestion that there should be more research—to take powers to provide these areas. We have experiments under way.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, East raised the question of the cost yardstick delays in the Department in respect of the Thamesmead project. He will know—and I have no wish to make party political points—that the delays until a year or so ago were in no way the responsibility of my Government. The decision has recently been made on cost yardstick proposals for Stage 3, the end of what is now a relatively old contract. Therefore, I believe that we have cleared that problem. Equally, against this delay we have to balance the pressure which would have come from hon. Members on all sides of the House if we had not taken that decision after looking very carefully at the costs. Obviously it is very important for the Government to do everything it can to deal with the problem.

Mr. Mayhew

The enormous delays caused by successive Ministers in reaching a decision about yardsticks have resulted in increased escalation in costs of hundreds of thousands of £s. It has been a terrible waste of public money.

Mr. Heseltine

I was trying to be relatively sympathetic without making party political points. But a vast proportion of the delays were caused by the Government of which the hon. Member was once a Minister and always a supporter. I cannot accept responsibility. I can only say that we have already taken a decision to clear the last hurdle.

The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Leonard) made a speech largely devoted to the housing situation. There is nothing new that I can add to what my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction has already said in reply to the two debates and to Parliamentary Questions. As the House will know, he is shortly to hold a conference of all the London housing authorities to discuss London's housing problems. It would be pointless for me to try to anticipate the conclusions which will come from that discussion. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg), in a most forcible speech, indicated just how much responsibility there was for some of the defects of the past and where that responsibility lay. Even supposing that my hon. Friend was not correct and that the then L.C.C. did not have these powers, what was the 1945–51 Labour Government doing that the L.C.C. did not have the powers at the end of that time? It serves no useful purpose, in the curing of housing problems, to try to make party political points. Everyone knows that this is something which has vexed all people in responsible positions, and everyone has done their best. I believe that our coherent and comprehensive approach to the problem, saying that everyone has a part to play, without trying to single out one facet of the problem and solution, is much more likely to solve the problems of London's homeless than the party political points of the hon. Member opposite.

The Bill should certainly be given a Second Reading in order to give the G.L.C. the opportunity to go on with its programmes, which it has already published and which it is already carrying on successfully.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.