§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) to move his motion, I should inform the House that nearly 20 hon. Members have written to me asking to be called in this debate. The maximum time available is about 4 hours and 55 minutes. Hon. Members can work out the arithmetic for themselves.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)
I beg to move,That this House calls upon the Secretary of State for the Environment to investigate, as a matter of urgency, the social and economic consequences of the present free market in land and property in Greater London and to publicise his conclusions before he takes any decision concerning the Report of the inquiry into the Greater London Development Plan.I do so with great pleasure. Its significance will become apparent as I proceed. No doubt several of my hon. Friends will fill in the structure that I wish to place before the House.
London is an area of the country with one-sixth of the population, and with more than 100 Members of Parliament, but rarely do we get an opportunity to debate some of the fundamental and important issues affecting our city. I am glad to see the Minister for Housing and Construction present this morning, for his own sake. We have evidence of his rather more sympathetic attitude to many of the capital's problems than that of some of his colleagues. However, I had hoped that the Secretary of State for the Environment would be here, because he has had some connection with London civic life in the past, both in a borough and in the old London County Council, and I see from The Times that the right 776 hon. and learned Gentleman has taken over responsibility for London affairs.
My argument today is that there is a strong prima facie case for the Secretary of State's adopting the requests contained in my motion, especially looking at the property and land market in London and relating it to the Greater London Development Plan. I hope that the Government will feel able to accept the motion. If they do not, they have at least a moral responsibility to do somethinp, parallel in nature.
I wish to divide what I have to say into three parts. I shall detail some of the background to our problems. I shall discuss one or two specific topics. Finally, I shall concentrate on the nub of the motion.
One of the great difficulties is that most people think that they have the solution to London's problems, especially as they are visual, and some of them very newsworthy. But London's problems are far more fundamental. Rather like the growth of a body, they are not the clothes but what is happening to the physical system of the individual.
London has a history of growth. The growth of London and the change in the working and balance of its economy is fundamental. People forget that London is a manufacturing centre and a port in its own right, and the capital functions of the City are additional to a substantial part of the economy of the country, which would go on, anyway.
In the end, it is people that count—the work that people are able to do, the opportunities that they have in their leisure and the stability or otherwise of the communities of which they are part. London communities are changing rapidly and, therefore, whatever other physical effects there may be there will be some stress because of that in any event.
It is not generally realised, with aft the talk of congestion, that the population of London is decreasing. In 1951 Greater London had 8.1 million. In 1971 the figure was 7.4 million. That is very significant, because the Greater London Development Plan thought that a high estimate for 1981 would be 7.3 million. So the population is going down 10 years ahead of at least one of the forecasts.
777 A cause for concern immediately in terms of growth is that the function of London as a port and a manufacturing centre in its own right has been changing rapidly in the past few years. My own constituency of Acton was a country town in Middlesex which had a great expansion in the early years of the century through people and industries moving out from the City. At one time the City was a great manufacturing and warehousing area, but in the early years of the century a lot of industry was established in my part of West London as it was in South-East London. But due to the rationalisation of industry over the country as a whole, and due to many firms leaving or rationalising their operations on a national basis—partly because they think that they have high site values in London and partly because of the present difficulties of transport—manufacturing industry has been leaving London at an enormous speed.
Official GLC figures tell us that in the four years from 1966 to 1970, which is not very long in the time span of a city like London, the manufacturing industries lost 177,000 jobs. The number went down from 1.4 million in 1966 to 1.2 million in 1970. That does not sound a great deal, except that it must be remembered that of that total no fewer than 80,000 were in engineering trades alone. A work force of 170,000 is the equivalent of the size of several large provincial towns, because for every person working there are perhaps two or three dependants and people in service industries.
Therefore, in the four years 1966–70—Heaven knows what has happened since—manufacturing industry has left London at the rate of perhaps two or even three decent sized provincial towns. This is a guide to what is happening. It is happening in areas of London such as the West London industrial area and the south-east Thamesside area along the river, in Woolwich and Greenwich.
It is not only large firms that are closing down and moving. London has had, particularly in the northern part of the City area, a large number of small firms pursuing specialist trades, many of them of historical origin. When there is redevelopment, or when there are difficulties in terms of expansion and they want premises in a nearby trading area, they cannot get them. Comprehensive 778 redevelopment or difficulties may mean that they have a choice of moving out, closing down, or facing enormous costs. Some of my hon. Friends will doubtless mention some of these difficulties. In the big industrial areas such as mine, in West London, between Shepherd's Bush and Uxbridge and out towards Slough, large firms have been closing down wholesale.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) raised this subject in a recent Adjournment debate. The Government said that unemployment was not bad because those concerned could go to work at London Airport.
The people of London do not all want to become warehouse men and hotel porters. In the past this may have been all right for the inner City of London, as I have described. However, the specialist services which the City and the West End used to provide for the whole of the Greater London area are now being provided for the rest of the country by Greater London as a whole. On a large scale it means that the effect upon the communities inside is catastrophic in social terms.
We might be able to afford the City and the West End being like that within the Greater London area, but we cannot afford the Greater London area becoming all offices, hotels and capital cities, otherwise London, and London's life as we understand it and as we want it to remain, will be destroyed. That is something which the Government do not appear to have understood, and of which the Greater London Development Plan does not take sufficient account.
Of the population which is left there is a high proportion of the elderly, a high proportion of those who require some social support, and a much reduced number of children. We hear of the Inner London Education Authority having to close schools. Yesterday one hon. Member even suggested that the authority should sell some school sites. Perhaps he has never heard of the nursery school programme of the Secretary of State for Education and Science.
In a weakened social situation the community cannot replace itself. It needs outside help. This, combined with the effects of the housing market, is very serious indeed.
Inner London is losing population fast. Its maximum was 4½ million in the old 779 London County Council area. It-is now approximately 3 million. On the whole, people in this area do not own motor cars. I will not dwell on the question of transport at any great length, but the point about Greater London not becoming like the City and the West End is that one cannot move around freely in it, at least at reasonable cost and with reasonable reliability, largely because the public transport system is not co-ordinated, and the road services and roads are bunged up with people travelling at other people's expense, many of them coming from and living outside the greater London area and, indeed, outside the green belt.
I hope that my hon. Friends will not dwell on the question of congestion, because it is a superficial current topic in the news. The fundamentals have been overlooked. If a typical high street or road junction has a capacity of 800 vehicles per hour—to use a Micawber simile—demand 750 vehicles per hour, result free flow and happiness; demand 850 vehicles per hour, result bad temper and congestion; demand 900 vehicles per hour, result very great congestion and, if there is a broken down lorry, blown tops. It needs only a slight difference in demand and the whole thing jams up. London traffic mostly flows fairly well, except when there are peaks of demand.
Let us compare that with a railway service. Trains at 10-minute intervals, which is a reasonable time to wait, can carry 1,500 people an hour with everybody comfortably seated. With trains running at two-minute intervals and with an equal number standing and seated, the flow is 15,000 an hour. Therefore, far from the critical balance which exists on the roads there is a great factor of increase in rail traffic.
It is the inability of the Greater London Council, so far, to combine financial inducements to go by public transport and by car that produces these difficulties and congestions caused by a marginal increase in traffic demand on the roads.
Many years ago people came into central London by river. This brings me, in passing, to the question of the vast opportunity provided by the land which is now becoming available in East London, near the river. I shall not mention this in great detail, because I hope 780 that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) will manage to catch the eye of the Chair and develop the point.
There are one or two misconceptions about what is happening. People say that the port is moving away to Tilbury or to Maplin. I wish it were. It is just moving away. London as a port is not what it was, for a number of reasons, some of which are understandable. The point which must be grasped is that there cannot be a port without port facilities. Roll-on, roll-off, or other things round the coast, need ship repair facilities, cranage, and special facilities which London can provide. If the port of London falls below a certain level in terms of the provision of facilities it is probably dead, in the sense that it has been alive for the last 1,000 years.
There is much talk in the papers about redevelopment of this area. One of the things the planners like to do is to give what they call a planning boost to certain areas of London by planning a particular facility like a Channel Tunnel terminal or a hotel. It is believed that it is possible to get a planning gain by putting in a facility which will provide either work or returns of opportunity.
I have great doubts about this concept. What happens to the land values round about? If there is comprehensive redevelopment of a shopping area, what happens to pet shops, bookshops, boot repairers and small family shops? We hardly ever see such shops in areas of comprehensive redevelopment. In Victoria Street there is the Board of Trade building on one side and New Scotland Yard on the other. There is in such circumstances what I call urban petrification. I am not sure that when planners put in a planning gain it is really a gain in human terms.
In the Thameside context we must tackle the land value problem. In a new town everything is provided and the community gets all the facilities that it requires. The development gain on the agricultural land goes not to the owner of the land but to the development corporation for the development of the town as such. If it can be done outside London in virgin countryside, why not have the same principle inside London when land becomes available?
781 It is not only the dockland areas on the Thames but also the riverside sites. Many of them are coming up for development, and they have been valued at either office valuation or residential valuation.
The question of office sites and office values in London is not only worrying people but is a problem the extent of which has not yet been grasped. The rate of office rentals often gives a notional value to the sites. I think that many people are worried because they do not understand what has happened to the market and they are not sure that the market is not—to put it politely—being rigged.
On 20th November 1972 my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how much empty office space there was in London, how much was under construction and for how much planning permission had been given. The answer was, in total, about 30 million square feet of office space in existence, being built or given permission, and 30 million square feet is 3 million square yards, which is about 1 square mile. If my reading is correct, that is about three or four years' GLC permissions ahead. One finds that properties are not being let off.
Here in London the journal Built Environment reported the previous strategic planner of the GLC, Mr. Eversley, as saying:The reason for this is that developers are determined to achieve initial rents which would yield a profit of 50 per cent. on capital outlay on construction.The report continues:He then made some very unfavourable comparisons with New York. Why was it, he asked, that despite higher wages, better finishes and working conditions, office rents were actually cheaper than in London? The answer was simple: New York merchant banks are happy with 8 per cent. return on their money, some 42 per cent. less than their greedy British counterparts.I do not know whether that is correct, but it deserves looking into.
It was not denied in an article in the same journal in October 1972 by Mr. Nigel Moore, who said:Part of the explanation for what seems on the surface an illogical situation is that property companies, having excited the stock exchange by well publicised accounts of high rentals in the best City locations, have got themselves in a position where they fear the 782 possibile reduced rents which would result if much of the present vacant office space were let. The real costs of keeping developments unlet in an inflationary situation can be skilfully kept low.He has some other important things to say.
It appears that many of the sites throughout London are being valued on an assumption that they will go for offices at rent X. It appears that a good deal of office accommodation is being kept off the market, possibly in an attempt to keep rents high, and if what we read is to be believed, rents are higher than in New York and possibly other places in Europe. What effect will this have on London? The onus is on the Government to find out, because part of the economic life of London is related to property site values.
The same thing could go for the housing market. If these great reserves of office accommodation are helping to keep prices at an artificially high level, it is perhaps not a free market. Perhaps it is a structured market, but is it a rigged market? We have the right to ask, because something is wrong with the office market.
What about the housing market? House prices in London have gone up astronomically in the last two or three years. In a Question to the Prime Minister, no less, on 23rd November 1972 my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) asked whether the Government would control escalating land prices, and the Prime Minister replied:No. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is already taking the only practicable steps to curb the increase in land prices by increasing the supply of land available for development."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1972; Vol. 846; c. 474.)In normal circumstances, if the supply is increased the price goes down, but that has not happened with offices. Office development permits are being scattered around like confetti but do prices come down? The answer is, "No." The equivalent for housing is planning permission. The Standing Conference on London and South-East Regional Planning produced a paper dated 19th July, reference LRP 1984—an appropriate date—which said:In each quarter from mid-1969 to mid-1971 the numbers of private dwellings for which planning permissions have been granted in the 783 South East outside Greater London have considerably exceeded the numbers built. The latest figures from June last year to March this year show this situation still continuing. There are now well upwards of 120,000 dwellings which could be built under outstanding permissions.That is outside Greater London. If that is happening there, what is happening inside Greater London? We know what is happening to the house price market. Does it mean that the market price of housing is also being artificially kept up? It is not necessary to build an office block, or even to have it in the building pipeline. Someone can keep in his drawer a document which says that he has planning permission and that acts almost as currency, and one can perhaps buy and sell it and speculate with it. The onus is on the Government to say what they have found out about this matter.
The impact of the housing market on the community is fundamental. We know what happens to people who are at the end of the queue. They are squeezed out and become homeless. We know what happens to the furnished tenants, to the families on low incomes with children, to the families on low incomes without children, to the single people on low incomes. They are pressed down by single people on high incomes, who are pressed down by the visitors who are able to spend money, and also by executives with expense allowances. The housing market, coupled with this question of rents and homelessness, is intimately connected with the life of the community.
What happens in a city when inadequate provision is made for the majority of the people who do the work. What about the bus drivers, the schoolteachers and the staff of this House? Any Member of the Government has only to ask a few questions to get some nasty answers about what happens. What happens to young married people when they want to take up these jobs? It may be all right for 10 years, but if there are no younger people in the pipeline, after a while society begins to crumble.
The effect of that, coupled with the change in job structure which I outlined previously, is catastrophic. It results in a high turnover of population. In many areas of inner London, among furnished 784 tenancies one finds harassment and evictions, lost job opportunities for young people and relatively high unemployment. Many of the young people who want to acquire skills and wish to pursue certain occupations try to move out to new towns if they can, and struggle with a mortgage outside the green belt if they cannot. The new towns are selective about whom they take, with the result that there is this residue of social difficulties which I mentioned. That, coupled with the effects of so-called comprehensive re-development in the other items that we know about, results in the quality of life in London taking a deep dive.
The Daily Telegraph of 5th December said:Public service crisis near in poor areas. An increasing reluctance among public servants to accept strain of living and working in London's 'twilight' areas is causing official concern in the capital.The article talked about policemen, teachers and everybody else, yet the Greater London Development Plan tells us that it is planning for a better quality of life in London. This was one of the favourite themes of the previous Secretary of State for the Environment. Perhaps he, rather than his successor, should be looking into the office and housing market.
The GLDP inquiry was enjoined to embrace this very thing, and it said:The social conditions which the people of London are to enjoy will depend upon this prosperity and the flourishing economy and culture which it should produce.That is optimistic. Many of my hon. Friends know that there has been an absolute decline in our parts of London. A flourishing economy and culture cannot be said to be there. All the signs are in the opposite direction. I should rather call this a sort of urban corrosion, or urban gangrene, because it is something that is almost impossible to halt, and it gives cause for grave concern indeed.
This is where I come to perhaps the more controversial part of my speech. Although many Conservative Members may not agree with what I shall now say, they will hardly disagree with the description that I have given. The question now is: what is the Minister to do about the Greater London Development Plan, which, after a marathon inquiry, 785 is due to be on his desk very shortly—or may already be there? [An HON. MEMBER: "It is."] The Secretary of State has the statement from the GLC, which was changed as it went through the inquiry, particularly on the questions of employment and transport. Having defended its transport policy through thick and thin the GLC suddenly changed it after the inquiry had closed, so we may ask whether it was very well-based to start with. The result of the inquiry may tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
What I am most anxious that the House and the Minister shall understand and agree with is that the GLDP is only part of the picture. A planning authority can always say, "We shall have this here and that there. We shall encourage this and discourage that." But in their plans for encouraging industry to move away from London the Government have gone too far. The GLC official policy is still to move people out. Therefore, we have a combination of an unbalanced community and the vicious market forces of which I have spoken.
All that might not be too bad if it were isolated in one small part of the Greater London area, but it is not. It affects the life of the whole. The difficulties in Sutton and Cheam—and I am much surprised not to see the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Tope) here this morning—are partly a result of the difficulties in inner London. Some people are too well off, or have too much of one thing, and some have too little. We cannot talk about the problems of outer suburbia without talking about the problems of the Victorian ring. The two go together.
I do not think that the Secretary of State, who, unfortunately is not present, can properly determine what he should do about the Greater London Development Plan, and what the inquiry says he should do, without understanding the market structure which I have tried to outline. If it is true—and I do not know whether it is—that the value assigned to many properties in London is based on the assumed office rentals that they might attract, there is at least a prima facie case for saying that those values are partly moonshine, because the office rent levels being asked for are only on those few transactions now taking place. If 786 that is true of offices, and office prices are being kept up by keeping at least 10 million sq. ft. empty, let alone the other 20 million sq. ft. in the pipeline, might not that also be true of housing? It is up to the Minister to tell us. If he does not know, he had better find out, because it is not possible to pass paper plans for London if the Greater London Council has no control of these matters. We must take account of the market forces.
The Secretary of State will have to take some important decisions about the future of London in the next six months. The quality of life in London and its efficiency as a centre of trade and government depends very much on the life of ordinary people—not our lives, not the lives of the City tycoons, who roll around in motor-cars in inner London at somebody else's expense, or the public expense, but the lives of the communities in constituencies like Acton, which I represent, and those of many of my hon. Friends. If the ordinary people of London are not living reasonably satisfied lives, and do not live in communities, have the opportunities and variety of human experience which is everyone's right, the capital has a fundamental fault and is not worthy of being called a great civilised centre.
We all know that cities all over the world have comparable problems. Until now we have congratulated ourselves on our planning powers, which can retain historic buildings and enable us to plan for this, that and the other, but I begin to wonder whether we may be in a bigger mess than we realise because of the forces that I have outlined.
The onus is on the Government to accept the motion, to disprove my thesis, or to take action comparable to that for which the motion calls. The problem of city stress in the world today is a rising challenge. If we, with all our democratic traditions and with all our historic powers of planning—after all, town planning is supposed to have started in Britain—cannot tackle the problem for our own capital, how can the values of civilisation, to which we all pay lip service in this Chamber, survive in our nation?
The responsibility on the Secretary of State is great, because the choice he 787 makes in the next few months will determine which way the matter will go. We all hark back to the last century, and ask, "How could they have done it?" The House and the absent Secretary of State have it in their hands to bequeath to the next century, to the children of Londoners and their grandchildren, a city of which they can be proud. Unless the right hon. and learned Gentleman takes the right decisions it will be said in this House in a century's time—if the House is still here and people are still speaking in it—"In 1972 the crucial decisions were made, and they were made wrongly." I hope and pray that that will not be said.
It is not just a question of facts. We talk about political facts as though they are gospel truths. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) once rightly said that in politics there are few facts, that there are only some of the known factors. The Secretary of State has a duty not only to the House and to London but to the whole of Britain, and perhaps to urban planning in the world, to find out what those factors are. I have placed some of them before him this morning, and for the reasons I have given I hope that the motion will be accepted.
§ 11.37 a.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Tugendhat (Cities of London and Westminster)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) on his success in the ballot and on choosing a motion relating to London matters for the House to debate. I have pressed my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on several occasions to permit time for the discussion of London problems. When we consider the population of London in relation to that of Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, we cannot help feeling that it is disgraceful how little time the House devotes to our problems. The three parties may not agree with the way in which the problems of the other regions are tackled, but the fact that those problems are aired so often in the House means that at least they receive attention. There is discussion, and improvements take place, even if we do not all agree on the nature of the improvements. But that is not the case in London. Labour Members will agree that the 788 Labour Government did not have a better record than ours in the allotment of time to the question. That is a statement on which London Members of all parties will agree.
I could not accept every word of the hon. Gentleman but I very much agreed with him when he emphasised that the most important feature of London is the people who live here, the communities that make up the city as a whole. London is certainly a great historic, business and tourist centre, but its most important single feature is that it is a living city in which people marry, bring up their children, work and live out their lives. If we forget that London is a place in which people live we shall be making the biggest mistake of all.
I also agreed with the hon. Gentleman that there are problems coming up for decision by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, which are of critical importance to the future of London. He is probably right when he says that future generations will look back on this period as one in which, for good or evil, very important decisions were taken. I have a great deal more confidence in my right hon. and learned Friend and his approach to the problems than the hon. Gentleman has, but I agree that the problems are crucial.
Before going on to the main point of my speech I want to make one party point, which I hope the House and people who read our debates will not feel is unjustified. I feel that it is important. We hear a great deal of the allegation that the electorate is fed up with the two major parties and the bickering that goes on across the Floor of the House—that it wants an alternative, and that community politics and concern for local issues are what matter.
It is a matter of regret to the House and should be a matter of regret to the people of London that the Liberal Party is not represented in this House today. For the first time for several years the Liberal Party has a Member of Parliament from the Greater London area. As the Liberals had been without a Member from the Greater London area for some time, we could excuse them for not taking an interest in our problems. Recently, there was a by-election at Sutton and Cheam, fought largely on 789 local community issues and matters of that kind, and the Liberals won a great victory. We congratulate them on their success. But within a week of that victory London at last achieves a day's debate in the House of Commons and the Liberals stay away. It is a matter of regret that if the Liberals have a contribution to make to our affairs they should not be here to make it. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Uxbridge?"] Hon. Members opposite ask: what about Uxbridge? I wonder how many of them were so foolish as to make their maiden speeches in their first week in Parliament. I am sure that most hon. Gentlemen opposite were wise enough to wait a little longer. It is unfair of them to suggest that an hon. Member who has been in this House for such a short time and has not yet made his maiden speech should be doing so today.
The hon. Member for Acton covered a number of important points. I will not go over the same ground again. I should like to concentrate particularly on housing and traffic, which are of particular concern to Inner London as well as to Greater London as a whole.
The housing situation is particularly drastic. The population of Central London is falling at a rapid rate. Even more important, communities in which people have lived sometimes for their whole lives are being broken up. Old buildings are being torn down. Squares, streets, crescents—the landmarks which have made our city what it is—are being destroyed and replaced by concrete and glass—much the same as can be seen in Johannesburg, New York, Buenos Aires, or any other cities in the world.
The distinctiveness of London, as well as its character, is being destroyed. The places in which people lived, as well as the environments in which they existed, are disappearing. The city of London—I do not mean the square mile, but London as a whole—is being changed out of all recognition. One feels that all too often the community is being sacrificed to commercial interests and that the balance has swung too much away from the people who live in London towards those who make money out of it.
We are not Luddites. We recognise that there is a great need for offices and housing to be replaced. We recognise 790 that there is a need for offices to be modern and efficient. I recognise, having the City of London as part of my constituency, that it is critically important that it should be the principle financial centre of Europe and that there are great difficulties in office development within the City. There are still bomb sites which, with the length of time that has elapsed since the war ended, are a disgrace. I accept that the City of London has special needs regarding office building. However, we are particularly concerned today with both inner and Greater London, rather than the City.
As I said, we are not Luddites. We recognise that the fabric of the city needs to be replaced. London is the marvellous place it is because each generation has made its own architectural contribution to its development. Some have been better than others. However, because each generation has made such a contribution we have a variety and character which is very special and stands comparison with any city in the world.
This generation should make its contribution, too. I welcome the fact that modern architects should endeavour to leave their mark on London, just as their forebears did. But I wish that modern architects left their mark to a greater extent on residential than on office accommodation, and that more of their efforts were devoted to building homes for people to live in than offices for people to work in. This is where the balance has gone wrong. If London ceases to be a living city it will in due course also cease to be a business and tourist city, because it will lose the very heart and soul which give it its character.
New York devoted all its attention to business. People moved away from the middle of New York. The place is now a desert of high-rise buildings of glass and concrete. Those who work in those buildings no longer wish to come into the centre of New York, and business itself is now deserting the city which was made over to it.
The Government have already made a number of important contributions during their two years in office to helping the housing situation. The Minister for Housing and Construction will no doubt wish to devote his time to talking about the 791 Government's record, so I shall not devote a great deal of time to that aspect.
However, the introduction of rent allowances for the private sector is a particularly important reform, and their extension to furnished tenancies, in a Bill introduced this week, will help the poorest sections of the community. That is very good.
The GLC also deserves credit. The new Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill, which I hope to have the pleasure of passing through this House later in the Session, contains an important Clause which ought to put an end to the scandal of creeping hotel development.
More needs to be done, and in the limited time at my disposal I should like to make some practical suggestions which I think would make a great difference. The first concerns tenants. Governments of both parties have done much to encourage owner-occupation. That is right. It is desirable on a variety of grounds that people should be encouraged to own their own homes. Therefore, it is right to provide some degree of mortgage relief against tax for people to do that. But it is questionable in the present situation whether it is right to provide taxation incentives for people to buy as many homes as they wish and not to provide help to tenants.
In Central London house and flat prices are so high that it is theoretical to talk about the desirability of people owning their own homes. People throughout the social scale, whatever class of accommodation they wish to buy in Central London, would have the greatest difficulty in doing so. A wise financial adviser might suggest that they ought not to mortgage themselves to the extent that would be necessary.
I recommend the Government to look carefully at the present situation and to consider withdrawing taxation relief on multiple residences. They should certainly keep taxation relief for a single residence and encourage people to buy their own homes, but, instead of providing incentives to people to buy as many homes as they wish to have and can afford, they should provide some benefit to those who live as tenants in rented accommodation. Some form of tax relief on rental payments should be made avail- 792 able. I realise that this would cost hundreds of millions of pounds in a full year. Therefore, the money may be obtained by looking closely at some of the privileges made available to people who are buying not one, but several homes.
My second suggestion is that the Government should consider providing some form of investment grant or taxation incentive to builders and landlords on properties to let. In the past successive Governments have accepted the desirability of providing special incentives through either grants or the taxation system when they felt that there was a special need to be met. For instance, the Labour Government introduced an extremely effective plan to counter the hotel shortage. Development incentives for hotel building were introduced and the results can be seen all about us. Hon. Members opposite will perhaps agree, in retrospect, that the Labour Government's hotel building incentive scheme worked out better than one would have wished, but it worked. In the country districts Governments of both parties have provided incentives to farmers to erect new buildings.
The Government should consider very carefully the possibility of providing either tax incentives or grants for landlords and builders to build homes to rent. We all know that there is a shortage of homes to rent, that the market is drying up, and that it is very difficult for landlords to secure what might be termed legitimate profits. I should like the Government to devote the same importance to tenants in Central London as they previously devoted to tourists in hotels and as they are at present devoting to animals living in farm buildings in the countryside. Tenants in Central London deserve as much consideration as tourists, and animals living in farm buildings.
My third practical suggestion is that something must be done about the rates. The rate burden in the middle of London has reached the point at which it is driving many people out of the centre of the city. Radical reforms are necessary. It is difficult to talk about this subject in advance of the Government's Bill for the reform of local government finance, and I wish only to touch briefly on it.
793 The first area in which the Government could make an improvement is by removing from the burden on the rates the cost of the Inner London Education Authority. Education—and the actions of both parties have confirmed this—is not now a local service but a national undertaking, in which policies are, to a large extent, laid down by the central Government. There is a distinction between genuinely local and national issues. Education is a national issue and the cost of it should be met to a greater extent out of general taxation.
There are other difficulties in the case of ILEA, since many of those who live in the middle of London in places such as Westminster believe, as I believe, that the ability of ILEA to precept on the rates is a case of taxation without representation. The Government should consider this matter very carefully and endeavour to meet the wishes of people living in the middle of London.
The other way in which the Government could help to ease the rate burden is by providing alternative sources of income for the local authority. The GLC has put forward extremely good plans and ideas for a lottery. In view of the amount of money which goes into football pools, premium bonds and other sorts of gambling, it is a great tragedy that this streak in the British character is not tapped for the benefit of the local authority. I wish that the Government would look with greater favour on the GLC's ideas.
The Government should also consider more carefully the proposals put forward in London local government circles and by the GLC for a direct tax, such as a bed tax, on tourists coming into the middle of London. A much more extensive system of services is provided for tourists than is needed for people who live here. I do not think that the tourist trade pays as much as it should for the upkeep of the city which tourists come to see, and a small bed tax levied on visitors to our great city would be of considerable assistance.
§ Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow, West)
I have no wish to defend the interests of tourists to London, but the hon. Gentleman must be aware that certainly in inner London hotel prices are already quite fantastic for British people and for other visitors. Hotel prices in 794 London are much higher than they are in many other cities in the world which have much higher costs of living. What the hon. Gentleman is suggesting is likely to deter some of the tourist traffic, which is one of the sources of income on which London depends.
§ Mr. Tugendhat
The hon. Gentleman has raised a very significant point. Costs in London are often much higher than they are in other cities because people have been driven out of the centre. Therefore people working in the hotels must travel to London from very long distances which adds considerably to the cost of maintaining service in hotels and restaurants If more people were able to live in the middle of London, the situation would be easier. I accept that tourism brings great benefits, and we are grateful to the tourist trade for all that it has done, but tourists should make a bigger contribution. Other cities in the world have local taxes, yet their hotel charges are lower than they are in London.
My final point concerns the possibility of providing a local authority with an alternative source of revenue from traffic congestion. We all agree about the immense problem of controlling traffic in the middle of London. I applaud the GLC's Oxford Street scheme, which is totally justified. But the disadvantages to the people who live north and south of Oxford Street are immense, and these people are being sacrificed for the benefit of Oxford Street. The only way in which we can safeguard the interests, not only of Oxford Street, but, more importantly, of the people living on either side of it is by reducing the volume of traffic coming into the middle of London.
The GLC has produced a very interesting discussion paper on this subject which contains many very good ideas. I favour the immediate introduction of a licensing system. I do not suggest that a licensing system is necessarily the best way of dealing with the problem—road pricing may well have advantages—but I am anxious that something should be done very quickly and the introduction of a licensing system might be the answer.
I believe that people who do not live in the middle of London but who bring their cars into it should have to acquire a licence—in the same way as we acquire residents' parking licences—for which they would have to pay £50 or perhaps 795 £100 a year. The system would be primarily designed as a disincentive to people to bring vehicles into the centre of London. If people wish to bring in cars and to congest our streets, pollute our atmosphere, spoil our buildings and generally to diminish the quality of life in the middle of London, they should be prepared to pay for the privilege.
The Government should look very carefully at this matter. The GLC has done a great deal in this regard. If the Government had moved as rapidly and effectively on keeper liability as the GLC has done in producing plans for traffic and parking, we should be a great deal better off. Governments of both parties have not compared favourably with the GLC in this regard.
Licences are only part of the problem. It is necessary to impose much stricter control over parking, especially in office premises. Parking charges should be imposed by the hour and not by the day. It is necessary to be much more stringent in penalising people who commit parking and other traffic offences. But the first essential is to have keeper liability and to charge people fees for coming into the middle of London. That would help London and the local authority.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I applaud the decision of the hon. Member for Acton to raise these problems. I cannot agree with all that he has said. I have concentrated on a different range of problems. I hope that hon. Members will raise those problems which most affect their constituencies. However, we can all agree on one thing: London is a living city. We want to make it a city worth living in, and that is the object of this debate.
§ 11.59 a.m.
§ Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)
I, too, would like to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) on choosing this subject for today's debate the problems affecting Greater London.
It may seem strange that I, a Scot, should be intervening in a debate on London's affairs. I hasten to say that I have probably spent a longer time working and living in inner London than most hon. Members here this morning. I came here in the middle 'thirties and I 796 have been here ever since, living and working in London, and I have tried at least to play an active part in London's politics and local government ever since. Although not a native of London I think I can establish a claim to being a local and to knowing something of the many policies outlined in this debate and the effects which those policies have had on the citizens of London, particularly in my own constituency.
I find myself in the strange position of agreeing with much of what was said by the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat). I find it strange because I do not very often agree with what anybody on that side of the House says, but I have no hesitation in saying that I found much to agree with in the contribution the hon. Member has just made.
Because of the number of topics which will naturally arise during this debate, I shall confine my remarks to dealing with one or two, the practical aspects of how those policies affect the citizens of London, certainly in my own constituency, and because this is a short debate I shall do so within a few moments.
There is the profound fact for our citizens, and touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Acton, of the loss of job opportunities in inner London. I shall not weary the House with a long list of statistics, but all the available statistics and all the experts tell us that employment is declining in inner London, as, indeed, is the residential population, but the decline in employment is taking place at a faster rate than the decline in residential population, and that is something which ought to worry all of us, for it has a number of strategic, social and economic implications for all of us. I should like to mention a few.
To show how serious it is, I would point out that in my own constituency, for instance, it has been estimated that if our housing programme continues in the present way, and with the proposed motorway plans, at least 30,000 jobs will be lost to the people of Camden. That is only one inner London borough, and the effects can be magnified many times, certainly in inner London, and even more in Greater London. This is a serious problem, and it leaves out normal unemployment statistics. If present 797 developments continue or some present proposals are carried out, there will be a loss of 30,000 jobs in Camden.
In Camden we have about 20,000 council dwellings accommodating almost one-third of our residential population. In common with other London boroughs we have a long waiting list and a shortage of housing generally, a shortage exacerbated by Government policy over the past two and a half years, and by a factor which I have raised a number of times, the use and abuse of the improvement grants scheme, which is virtually reducing to negligible proportions rented accommodation, and in some places means there is none left.
Furnished accommodation has almost disappeared altogether in many parts of inner London as a result of Government policy. We have heard many fine speeches from Government spokesmen over the past couple of years, but there has been very little action to improve the situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) could point—and probably will—to Centre Point which, in spite of all the fine talk and big words, remains empty, and stands as a symbol of the previous Secretary of State.
I mention that because our huge population in council dwellings, the great number of people who have become council tenants—or anybody's tenants—in inner London are not in a position to move house as freely as they might, and as they might wish, in search of jobs. Because they are not able to move their homes, they have to be able to work within reasonable travelling distance of their existing homes. When we talk about reasonable travelling distance we have to take account of the time the journey from home to work and back again takes, and the cost of the journey, and, of course, the availability of the transport services. They all enter into the calculation of what is a reasonable travelling distance. Study of all these factors implies that we have to have a certain amount of the right type of employment as an essential counterpart to council housing in inner London. If this is not provided, or if it continues to decline as it is declining at the moment, there will continue the considerable amount of hardship which already results. 798 That is exactly what I want to talk about for the next few minutes.
It is an accepted fact that Londoners pay for housing at least 50 per cent. more than does the rest of the population. I think that it is also an accepted fact that wages in London are nowhere near that figure in excess of the national average. That is one of the points with which I disagree in the speech by the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster. I would not have said from my own knowledge that the wages of the workers in the catering industry were pricing our hotels out of the market or were responsible for the high prices. I would dispute that.
§ Mr. Tugendhat
I was not suggesting that the wages of people in the catering industry were pricing out the hotels. I was referring to the fact that many of them live long distances away and that that makes it much harder for the hotels to get nearby the services they require, and that this is a factor which adds to their difficulties. I was not referring to wages in the catering industry.
§ Mr. Stallard
I do not want to follow that point too far. It is true that many of those workers live like troglodytes; they live in some very funny places, some of them underneath the ground, and they pay rent for that accommodation. However, they certainly are not responsible for the prices mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Deakins).
Because of the situation I have described, the fact that we have this big tenant population, the fact that they are not in a position to change their homes even when they want to to get jobs within inner London, and because of the cost of living in inner London, it is necessary in many instances for both the man and his wife to go to work—not to earn pin money, as is so often said, to to run a car or two or three cars, as is often said, but just to live, just to exist. I know hundreds and hundreds—as do probably other Members, especially on this side of the House—of families in which both the man and the woman have to go to work just to be able to live.
Because a wife has often to combine her job with her household duties and 799 to combine both with such duties as taking the children to and from school, she has to choose her working hours and the kind of job which suits those necessities. These jobs, therefore for all these reasons, have to be local. Many of these people are employed in small manufacturing businesses, in jewellery, upholstery, clothing, engineering, furniture, and many of them work in little nonconforming shops such as those mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Acton.
As these jobs become scarcer, severe hardship is created for many of our citizens. The scarcity of these jobs, and the loss of them, mean that men have often to travel much further to work. Many of my constituents are paying upwards of £3 a week to travel to and from their work. There is no return on that £3 in income tax allowance for travelling expenses, in spite of the efforts which have been made about that by some hon. Members over the past few years. Nor do those expenses rate for rent rebate or many of the other benefits.
This, together with the fact that the woman may have lost her job, is creating severe hardship. Most hon. Members representing inner London constituencies could give scores of examples of small factories that have disappeared from inner London in the past few years. Some have been fortunate and have been able to open up elsewhere in the London area. Others have gone out of business completely.
The loss of those factories has caused financial hardship because of the extra travelling expenses, it has caused stress and the loss of job opportunities for school leavers which is becoming such a serious problem in London. There are few, if any, opportunities in inner London for young school leavers in the kind of industries that we should like to see maintained. All these effects on people are distressing and worrying, and they cannot be allowed to continue.
The effect on the environment has been described by the two previous speakers, but the effect on the social and aesthetic life of the City has also to be taken into account. As was said in a recent book "Planning for London", we are in danger of becoming a city of the very rich and the very poor. This would pose 800 many more problems. There is a real danger, certainly in my constituency, that the variety of people and activities that has always characterised London will disappear, and this would be a tragedy.
Since the end of the war, Governments and the GLC have tried to restrain London's growth by a policy of decentralisation of industry from London to the new towns or to the depressed regions. Some firms have gone to the depressed regions and have restarted, in many instances with reduced staff, and this has just added to the general problem. Decentralisation has not been suitable for most of the industries to which I have referred. Most of them are either too small or rely on local labour or local markets for their survival, so they have not been affected by decentralisation. They could not have been relocated elsewhere. The general problem of the relocation of displaced industries needs to be considered, and I should like to make a few suggestions.
The Government should encourage in inner London the acceptance of light industry in residential areas, provided that environmental standards are not affected. This could be done by building workshops and workshop units ancillary to future housing schemes and by reserving sites within housing schemes for industrial purposes when the opportunity occurs. We should allow and encourage the use of existing commercial buildings, many of which are empty, as flatted factories. We should allow the rezoning of a certain amount of railway land for industrial use at a much faster rate than at present. Where motorways are constructed—and many arguments have to be considered before we get to that point—land adjacent to motorways should be zoned for light industry to act as a buffer between the motorway and the residential areas.
Finally, the Government must make available finance to local authorities in inner London to allow them to play a more active rôle in the relocation of the displaced small industries. If any attempt is to be made to relieve the hardships and the poverty which are springing up in many constituencies in inner London, some of the suggestions which I have made should be acted upon, and acted upon soon.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
We have been asked to be brief and I have only two comments to make, one on housing and the other on traffic. I understood from my local sources of information that the price of housing in North-West London has gone down by about 10 per cent. in the last few weeks. I hope that this means that we shall soon see the end of the difficulties that some of us have been facing.
I gather that one factor in the high price of houses has been that certain developers, not unnaturally, have been building medium-sized estates and putting houses and flats on the market at too high a price, with the result that they have not been sold and the local authority has stepped in and bought them. This has been done by Socialist-controlled local authorities, of which my Borough of Brent is one. If those authorities had held off and allowed the free market to take its course, the developers would have been forced to reduce the price of the houses, and the problem of the high cost of housing from which we have all been suffering would have been at least ameliorated. What I have described has happened in one area in Wembley and it has been caused by the Brent Borough Council stepping in.
Contrary to the wording of the motion, I believe that the present free market in land and property is the best solution if it is allowed to take its course without interference from local authorities to try to prevent it. I hope my hon. Friend will comment on that in his reply.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat) suggested a licensing system to deter commuters from bringing their cars into central London. I agree that that may be necessary as a temporary or semi long-term measure. The difficulty is whether public transport can provide the alternative for all the commuters who come into London and go out of it in roughly the same periods of the day unless there is a staggering of hours. In the last 10 or 15 years many unsuccessful attempts have been made to introduce the staggering of hours in central London. No system of deterrence will succeed unless public transport can provide a satisfactory alternative and unless staggering of hours is introduced. I hope 802 that my hon. Friend will comment on that.
At the inquiry into the Greater London Development Plan a friend of mine put forward certain suggestions to which I gave him support at the time. His suggestion for a long-term scheme for solving traffic congestion not only in London but in all large cities was to put the traffic underground. I do not mean by that just under the surface, but at tube depth in tunnels taking three lanes of traffic in each direction one on top of the other.
This plan for underways has been devised by an architect named A. E. T. Matthews. The construction and ventilation have been worked out in great detail. The suggestion for London is three parallel tunnels north and south, and three parallel tunnels east and west each carrying two three-lane motorways, one above the other, with interchanges. Off the motorways spaces would be provided for underground car parking.
The broad result would be to take about 40 per cent. of the present surface traffic and all the car parking off the London roads. If this could be achieved it would bring about a great improvement in the flow of traffic and the situation I imagine would be similar to what it was in the 1930s. Such a scheme would have a similar effect in other large cities. For example, Glasgow, which has a population of 1 million-plus, would probably need only one such road in each direction to solve its problem.
The question of cost will immediately come to most people's minds. But we must subtract from the construction cost, which will clearly be greater for the actual construction of a tunnel than for a surface road, what will be saved by building roads underground, both from the point of view of the very much smaller amount of land that will be needed and the fact that roads which are at present envisaged on the surface would not be needed. I think I carry with me in that sentiment the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). It would make unnecessary the ringways which are now planned because instead the roads would go underground. I hope that before long we shall have an early Government decision on this suggestion, because the sooner a decision comes, the sooner can present plans be cancelled and 803 others put in their place. We must solve this problem as soon as possible. I do not expect my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction to give an answer today, but I hope a decision will be made before long.
The suggestion is a long-term project and the building may take anything from 10 to 20 years. The plan obviously envisages that one tunnel would be built first in each direction, rather than three tunnels in one direction and none in the other. if the work were spread over a long period the cost would not be so great as might be thought and I believe that such a project would solve our traffic problems if not temporarily, then over the long term. By adopting such a plan my right hon. Friend and the Greater London Council could give a lead not only to this country but to the world in solving traffic problems. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will come to an early decision.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)
I shall not take up the remarks made by the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) about London's traffic problems, but I should like to comment on his remarks on the reduction in house prices in Wembley. There may well have been a reduction, but it is directly related to the non-availability of mortgages—a fact the hon. Gentleman appears to have overlooked. In expressing his undying belief in the free market in land, he should surely take the opportunity tomorrow to read the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat). It was a remarkable speech which demonstrated that we cannot put any faith in the free market in land. Indeed the speech was a startling indictment of the capitalist system, and I look forward to welcoming the hon. Gentleman to these benches in the not-too-distant future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) demonstrated in a remarkable speech—and we congratulate him both on the content and on the subject—that London has special problems in terms of housing, homelessness, land prices, education, welfare services, all of which demand special treatment and Government help. No doubt the report 804 on the Greater London Development Plan will have a great deal to say about these essential matters. After all, the inquiry took some 18 months.
A report in the Evening Standard on 5th December indicated, rightly or wrongly, that the Government and the GLC had colluded in delaying publication until after the GLC elections in April. It is denied by the Minister and by the Greater London Council, though one would hardly expect them to admit it even if it were true. One would not expect them to conform to the old lag's admission, "It's a fair cop, guy." But if the Government say that there has been no collusion, then we shall expect to receive from the Minister today a clear and unequivocal undertaking that that report will be published before the GLC elections so that it can be discussed by the political parties and so that the GLC elections can be fought on truly local issues which are meaningful to the people of London. These are the issues which will directly affect them in the years to come.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) suggested the other day that there was ample precedent in the Roskill Report for early publication of a report before a Minister reaches a decision. I am not convinced that the reply by the Secretary of State for the Environment was convincing on that point. It is abundantly plain that publication of the report deserves to be dealt with as a matter of great urgency. To curtail debate before the election would frustrate democracy.
I turn to a question which not only has commanded attention through the recent publication of Shelter's "Grief Report" but which has occupied the attention of all hon. Members representing Inner London areas for a very long time. I refer to the question of homelessness.
The "Grief Report" poses many important questions. The report underlines the fact that there are at present about 3,000 officially homeless in London and that more than half of these have been evicted from furnished accommodation. It also emphasises that 5,000 young people are living rough simply because they have no homes. These are vital matters which demand the Government's attention because they require special 805 treatment. These people are not simply all drop-outs—-perhaps some of them are, but most are poor people who have been subjected to the pressures of rising land prices, to the pressures of unscrupulous landlords, to harassment through the misuse of improvement grants, to unthinking and irresponsible landlords who let off tenancies when they have no legal right to do so, to difficulties caused through marital stress when a young man or woman leave the marital home because it is impossible to live under the same roof as the other spouse, and to the increasing problem of overcrowding.
All this is coupled with the alarming decline in local authority housing in London. This is due to the acute shortage of land in these areas and the price of land even when it can be acquired. Truly, land speculators in Inner London have held the people of this great capital city to ransom. We demand that the Government should take action to treat London as a special case. I very much agree with the speech made by the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster, especially when he emphasised the need to debate London topics more frequently.
The Government must enable local authorities to build more extensively. That cannot be done simply by asking them to do so. They must be given the wherewithal, and help must come from outer London. It is true that the London Housing Action Group is considering the matter, but the process is to slow and too long. Urgent action needs to be taken.
It is already conclusively clear that land is available in the outer London areas. It is local authorities like the recalcitrant Bromley and Richmond authorities which deny the opportunities for such development in the inner London boroughs. It is my constituency and borough and boroughs like Islington and Greenwich which face such dramatic housing problems which are being held to ransom by the selfish attitude of the outer London boroughs.
My next point is that it is not enough to bring rebates to furnished tenants. That will not solve the problem, which is essentially one of lack of security of tenure. When approximately 37 per cent. of the rented accommodation in my constituency and in my borough is furnished, it is obvious how important it is to get rid of 806 the uncertainties that the present law provides. People do not know whether a tenancy is furnished or unfurnished—the law is about the rule of thumb and the judges find it difficult always to apply consistent principles. Therefore, it is essential that furnished and unfurnished tenancies should be placed on the same basis. If we do not do so we cannot begin to solve the problem. We need special Government help for Part III accommodation.
It has been said by Shelter that there are many local authorities which are not complying with the law. Shelter has made out a prima facie case. But local authorities cannot solve the problem without immediate Government help. As Shelter has said, Hackney has displayed an enlightened approach. However, Hackney has no accommodation and the local authority cannot remove people in anything more than dribs and drabs from the ordinary housing waiting list. Hackney has not the capacity to solve the problem unless it receives Government help. Above all, I suggest that this indictment indicates that the private landlord system in London has failed and that the local authorities cannot possibly begin to renew and provide new housing in a sufficient degree. Therefore, we must apply a policy of municipalisation.
The chaos in land prices has also had a devastating effect on so many welfare projects. Hackney has wanted to provide for a long time a sheltered workshop for the disabled, who have a real contribution to make. The Government, acting in concert with the local authority, have said that a sheltered workshop will be built in 1974. My information from the local authority is that the Government are deluding themselves into thinking that that is likely to take place then because the land is not available. So the valuable contribution that disabled people can make is being denied to them and to the citizens with whom and for whose benefit they could work. It seems that that is a colossal indictment of the way in which land profiteers hold our people to ransom.
I conclude on a matter which has not been dealt with today but which has been debated recently—namely, teachers in London. They have been treated scandalously. The way in which they operate, the salaries they are paid, the 807 enjoyment they derive from their work and the ability which they can confer on the children of London is connected with the words of the motion,… the life and livelihood of its citizens.The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science had very little to say which could possibly convince us that the Government had taken anything like an enlightened attitude. The fact is that an agreement had been reached and it was the Government which refused to allow the agreement to be implemented. I refer the Minister for Housing and Construction to the novel doctrine of the former Secretary of State for the Environment, his former boss, who on the 11th December, whilst speaking about the coal industry, said:The Government have agreed to it because for the first time both sides of the industry came to us with a policy that they themselves had agreed."—[OFFICIAL RFPORT, 1lth December, 1972; Vol. 848, c. 36.]The same could be applied to London teaching. [An HON. MEMBER: "And steel."] Yes, and steel, but I must not go into that.
It seems that the Government must seize this opportunity regardless of any narrow party point of view as has already been demonstrated by both sides of the House, to give special treatment to London's special problems. It is encumbent upon the Minister not to provide us with the usual bromides, which we expect, or simply with an analysis of the problem, but an acceptance of the opportunities for solving the problems which I have highlighted and which need urgent Government action.
§ 12.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
I join in congratulating the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) on having introduced this subject for debate, as I believe it to be most valuable and worth while for the people in the London area.
I will come straight away to one of the points which the hon. Member for Acton made when he referred to the number of manufacturing jobs in Greater London falling from 1.4 million to 1.2 million. There are two causes. The first, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, is the drop in the population in inner London from 4½ million to 3 million. It is a fact that as older housing areas are re- 808 developed, and the old terraced streets are knocked down to be replaced by modern estates and other modern developments, the identity of the population tends to be lost. One must expect that trend to be reflected in the figures for manufacturing employment.
There is also the economic fact that as the standard of living rises—and it has done so since the war, and is rising at the moment—people tend to spend a larger proportion of their income on services and a smaller proportion of that growing income on manufactured goods. Therefore, with incomes rising in London as they are elsewhere, people are tending to spend more on services such as insurance policies, banking services, building society services, which all require offices. They are spending more on restaurants, hairdressing and in other directions which can be described as services rather than goods. Therefore we can expect that the number of people employed in manufacturing will drop. But that drop does not imply unemployment.
I am told, whenever I complain about the bus service in my constituency and ask for it to be improved, that London Transport has a problem in recruiting a sufficient number of bus drivers on the south-western side of London. We must accept, as living standards rise in housing and in other ways, that improved office accommodation will be required. We cannot expect people who demand better houses to continue to work in Dickensian offices. It would be wrong for anyone to imagine that office development is intrinsically bad or wrong. That is an undertone which one might deduce from some of the talk about offices. We need offices to replace the old ones and to provide for the increasing public propensity to spend on services. This does not mean that all office development is to be welcomed everywhere. We must be highly selective. In my constituency, for example, I would be strongly opposed to office developments in the beautiful and village-like areas along the banks of the Thames.
The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) singled out as one of the two authorities he chose to criticise as recalcitrant the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. I have never been a member of that authority. It has been called a number 809 of names, rightly or wrongly, but I would not use the word "recalcitrant". He should know that the council gives 100 lettings each year to nominations from the Greater London Council, thereby helping to relieve the problem of housing in inner London.
§ Mr. Jessel
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head as though he thinks this figure is not every high. On the face of it, it might not sound so high and there may be room for argument about the figure. But when one considers it in perspective, out of the 32 London boroughs, 20 are called outer London boroughs, and Richmond is smaller in population than most. It has two parliamentary constituencies as against the more usual three or four among the London boroughs, and if all 20 of the outer London boroughs offered the equivalent in proportion to the 100 tenancies a year given to the GLC by Richmond, this would mean an addition of about 3,000 tenancies offered to the Greater London area. This would add about 20 to 25 per cent. to the annual new lettings and lettings of existing property, and the GLC say that it is not an insignificant amount.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
Will the hon. Gentleman indicate what moves the Richmond local authority has made towards the provision of land for housing for the London boroughs?
§ Mr. Jessel
The Richmond borough council has taken the view that it prefers to assist in easing the housing problems of London by accepting tenants in its own estates, and so mixing them among the people who have always lived in Richmond-upon-Thames, thus allowing those from inner London to integrate, which would not be the case if the GLC were to construct large new estates in the borough of Richmond. Such estates would be more like ghettoes and the people would integrate less well.
§ Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)
May we get it on the record that the people living in inner London speak English and are ordinary nice people?
§ Mr. Jessel
The right hon. Gentleman is welcome to put that fact on the record. I am saying that they would integrate 810 better if they were offered tenancies in estates with people in the community among whom they are going to live.
The hon. Member for Acton stated that traffic flows quite well on the whole in London, although there are occasional hold-ups. He will agree, I think, that there has been a remarkable achievement by the traffic experts at County Hall in keeping the traffic in London, including in inner London, moving as well as has been the case, bearing in mind that the quantity of traffic has doubled in the last 15 years. Reading the copies of HANSARD of the later 1950s, one sees there many complaints about traffic jams. If anything, the traffic on the whole tends now to move faster than it did then.
This is due to several factors. One is the measures which have been taken to increase the capacity of the existing road system, primarily by traffic management schemes—that is to say, by banning all right turns, by one-way streets, by clearways, by waiting restrictions and by minor engineering works at a large number of junctions. This has contributed a great deal to relieving traffic congestion and increasing traffic capacity, but I believe that it is true to say that we are getting soon to the point where we shall have achieved as much as can be achieved in this direction and that there is not much more scope for further increases in capacity by traffic management.
The computerisation of traffic lights in the western part of inner London has also contributed to the movement of traffic. So has the construction of new roads. I do not believe that anyone would now say that it was wrong to have extended Cromwell Road to the west with the Hammersmith fly-over, although it may have been hotly opposed at the time. I believe that the case for ringways around London has been proved.
Recently, on a short visit to Paris, I was taken out to see the magnificent Boulevard Peripherique, which goes round Paris with four lanes in each direction. This has done an enormous amount to help people move about between one part of Paris and another. It is a magnificent engineering feat. It is nearly complete and it is quite marvellous. For example, the road has been passed underneath part of the Bois de Boulogne, the Parisien equivalent to Hyde Park, and 811 where the road has been taken underneath a lake the environmental treatment has been superb. This shows what can be done. Anyone who opposes the concept of ringways, in particular in South London, is implying that he believes that the present higgledy-piggledy route known as the South Circular is acceptable as a permanent route around south London.
§ Mr. Spearing
The hon. Gentleman and I spent some time on the Environmental Planning Committee of the GLC together. I accept what he says about traffic management, but it is incompatible with what he has just said about ring-ways. Schemes which provide greater capacity are overtaken as demand builds up until they jam up at certain times, but this is just as likely to happen with the Paris ringway, four lanes or no. In any case, relatively few people can go along routes like that as compared with the numbers who could use public transport.
§ Mr. Jessel
The hon. Gentleman's view is based on a misconception. The greatest quantity and the greatest increase in traffic is moving in and out of the centre. The statistics show that the greatest growth is in the movement between one outer part, or between one inner part, and the centre. We have to think of London as a region. When one thinks of large provincial cities or towns, 10 or 20 miles apart—for example, Portsmouth and Southampton, Coventry and Birmingham, Leeds and Bradford, Manchester and Liverpool—no one argues that they should not have efficient and substantial roads to carry the traffic between them. From one side of London to the other is some 30 miles and the need for transportation is just as great. People have to move about providing goods and services of all sorts. It is essential for this movement in Greater London to be allowed to take place properly if the place is not to seize up, making life even more impossible for those living in the inner areas as well as in the outer areas, one of which I represent.
In this context, the building of ring-way three, which is relatively uncontroversial, should be given a high priority. It is necessary to have a road round outer London and its absence is causing severe problems in my constituency. In that area, there are not enough bridges 812 over the Thames. One of the few high capacity bridges, Hampton Court, attracts a great quantity of traffic. There is nothing upstream until Walton Bridge, which is narrow in capacity, and there is nothing downstream until Kingston Bridge, which is also of narrow capacity and in any case points straight into a town centre and in the wrong direction generally.
Therefore, Hampton Court Bridge attracts the orbital traffic and is on the route to Heathrow and Gatwick airports. The result is that the villages of Hampton and Hampton Hill have to bear a vast amount of traffic, which affects their environment. I recently heard from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment that the building of Ringway Three, which would by pass and relieve that part of my constituency, is about 10 years away. I hope to hear from my hon. Friend today whether anything can be done to hurry the construction of Ringway Three.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
I am happy to agree with the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) about Ring-way Three. Otherwise, I thought that he showed rather more knowledge of Paris than of London.
The hon. Member for Twickenham apart, most hon. Members today have emphasised the seriousness and the urgency of the housing shortage in London, and most of us receive letters every week from the GLC and from borough councils saying that they are unable to rehouse individual families in great need because of the sheer physical shortage of housing.
One of the worst obstacles to progress in getting more houses is the present threat by the GLC to take huge stretches of land for motorway building and the uncertainty caused by the delay in getting a clear decision to do what I think the majority of people in London want, which is certainly to build the outer motorways but to cancel the inner motorways outright.
I do not wholly agree with the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) about his tunnel scheme, for reasons into which I shall not go now. However, I agree that owing to uncertainty potential housing land is being 813 sterilised year by year while these decisions are awaited. Therefore I want to press upon the Minister the request that I have already made in Questions to and in correspondence with the Secretary of State to publish as soon as he can the report of the Layfield Panel into the Greater London Development Plan. Will the hon. Gentleman say first whether he has yet received it and, secondly, what reason there is for not publishing it as soon as he does receive it?
As has been said already today the report on the third London airport was so published. I know that the Layfield inquiry is a statutory one and that the airport inquiry was not. But I am advised that this does not legally preclude the Secretary of State from publishing the Layfield report at once if he wishes to. In his reply to me, he did not say that he was legally debarred from this. He merely said that it would be a departure from normal procedure. If that it all, this is pre-eminently a case where the Secretary of State should depart from normal procedure.
In substance, if not statutorily, this inquiry has been much more akin to the airport inquiry than to a normal inquiry into a local development plan. This was recognised by the special form in which it was set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), who is here today. It has examined projects for expenditure on roads alone which it is now admitted would cost thousands of millions of pounds. If ever there was a case for full public participation, I should have thought that it was this.
In addition, the Layfield Panel was set up three years ago this month and opened its public sittings more than two years ago. It has devoted an enormous amount of time, energy and public money to its investigations, and many of the 20,000 objectors have done the same, the only difference being that their money was private whereas the GLC's was public money. All this is a further cogent reason for giving the public their chance to express their views on the report before the Secretary of State makes up his mind.
It is surely in the interests of the Secretary of State and the Government that the right hon. Gentleman should not be committed to precise conclusions before 814 the public, including the borough councils have had time to express their views on the report. It is desirable from everyone's point of view that we should avoid too continued and protracted public controversy over this and get a firm decision which is acceptable at any rate to the majority of the London public. I strongly urge the Minister to publish this report at once, to get public and borough council comment on it, and then to make up his own mind.
Unfortunately, at this stage the GLC has thrown a wholly unexpected spanner into the works which has complicated the situation. Last September, having defended its four ringways plan obstinately for three or four years, the GLC suddenly announced a new plan for a single inner ringway to be constructed early on and combining the northern sections of Ringway Two and the southern and western sections of Ringway One. I do not argue the merits or, rather, the demerits of this extraordinary plan today, except to say that it had never been put forward previously by anyone on transport grounds, and it would cause appalling damage to housing and living conditions in South London.
But I do say that it is a wholly new proposal, and therefore it ought to be subjected to full public examination. I know that an effort is being made by the GLC to argue that the new scheme is merely a revised timing of Ringways One and Two; but it is not. It is a novel and wholly different plan for a ringway consisting of bits of the previously projected Ringways One and Two and a proposal to leave the rest of the scheme in indefinite suspense.
In terms of the realities of transport, housing policy and borough council planning which in many parts of London is dominated by these ringway threats, this is a wholly new plan. As such the Secretary of State is really bound to have it throughly and publicly examined and to allow objectors, both councils and voluntary societies, to put their arguments against it, many of which will be quite different from those against the previous plan.
As long as that is done, I do not think that it matters greatly in principle whether this new plan is examined by the Layfield Panel, which presumably 815 is still in existence, or by a new public inquiry. But in practice it would be more sensible to have it examined by the Layfield Panel, because that panel has already acquired a great deal of knowledge and experience of the background to the problem.
But if there is no further inquiry at all, the London public will be left with what seems to me to be this intolerable situation: the Layfield Panel would have spent three years examining a vast project which has become purely academic and which neither the GLC nor anyone else now proposes to put into practice; and at the same time the GLC would be proposing to put into effect a quite different road plan which would not have been examined by any public inquiry. That would be not merely contrary to the spirit of our planning machinery and philosophy but also a mockery of the idea of public participation, not to mention open government.
I urge the Secretary of State as strongly as I can, therefore, first to publish the existing report right away if he has it; and, secondly, to submit these entirely new motorway proposals to a similar and adequate public scrutiny.
§ 12.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Worsley (Chelsea)
The right Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) and I look across the river at each other politically. I shall not follow him in great detail on the subject of motorways, on which his views are well known. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman's views on this subject are wrong, that London needs some form of central ring road, and that the revised suggestions of the Greater London Council make good sense.
I join in the congratulations which have been extended to the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing), who represents, as I do, a former country town of Middlesex, although perhaps mine is a little more "former" than his. Our expressions of gratitude to the hon. Gentleman are not the conventional Friday expressions. We are grateful to the hon. Gentleman for another reason, namely, that he has allowed us to have a debate on London. The proportion of Britain's population that lives in London has been referred to. All London Members must press their 816 respective Front Benches a little harder on the question of discussing London's affairs more frequently in the national Parliament.
London's problems become increasingly different from those of the rest of the country. Before I had the honour of representing a London constituency I represented one in the West Riding which chose a better man in 1964. Even at that date the problems of housing shortage had been overcome up there, although there were problems about the quality of housing.
Now Shelter's housing advisory service, which is in the borough that I represent, finds vacancies in council estates in the West Riding to relieve London's housing problem. Problems such as housing shortage which were national problems are becoming increasingly big city problems, anyway, and to some extent London problems. London Members must stand up and speak for London's interests, because the national interest may not be as acute on some of these matters. London's problems should be discussed more frequently.
One of the main opportunities for discussing London's problems arises in the annual debate—as it has more or less become—on the Greater London (General Powers) Bill. We understand that some hon. Members oppose the Bill not because they do not want it passed but because it gives them the opportunity to speak about the problems of London. This is an unhappy set of circumstances for a general debate on London. It is a pity that matters we would like to debate must be brought out in the context of opposition to a Bill which no one wants to oppose in general.
We must not exaggerate London's problems and constantly "knock" London. There are tremendous problems, and we must debate them. Some of the problems remain intractable in London, whereas in the rest of the country they are approaching solution. For a few of its citizens London is a miserable place to live in. We all intend to put that right. But for the vast majority of Londoners London is a place where they want to live and where they like living.
London's vast popularity as a place of abode is indeed one of its problems. 817 People from all over the world are prepared to pay heavily to live in my constituency. When I was canvassing during the General Election I wondered sometimes whether I would find a voter to canvass because there seemed to be so many Americans in the streets. So we must not complain, on the one hand, that London is an impossible place and is grinding to a halt and then boast, on the other, that London's popularity makes it a charming place in which to live.
The popularity of central London is one of the causes of pressure. The people who move into my constituency are forcing others out. I deprecate the fashion for doomwatch talk which does the people of London no service—as if everything in London was getting worse—as if the whole complex machine in London was liable to clog at any moment.
For most Londoners London is a better place to live in than it was. Even the motor car, which is naturally the subject of attack in any debate on London, brings to many people living in London a new dimension of life. Londoners are able to get out and see the rest of the country, which they were not able to do in the past.
It is not so long since, at this time of year, we regularly had pea-souper fogs. We do not have them now. That is progress. It has even been reported that a fish has been caught in the river between the constituencies of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North and myself.
By exaggerating we risk bringing about a mood of despair, so that people will think that nothing can be done and that everything will get worse. We shall then fail to attract attention to the real problems and to their solution.
I come to the question of the pressure on accommodation. I speak from the point of view of a Member representing a central London constituency. In a debate like this that there are certain conflicts of interest between inner and outer London. The pressures of inflation and shortage are rapidly drying up the private sources of rented property in central London with the result that residents, who alone can make a community, are being driven out and transients of various kinds are replacing them.
818 It is the decay of the local community in central London which alarms me most. No one policy will arrest it, but a combination of policies can do so.
I give credit for what the Government have done, first and foremost in respect of rent allowances. Throughout the whole of last Session I found it difficult to understand—I still do—the Labour Party's passionate opposition to the Housing Finance Act. In my constituency and neighbouring ones rent allowances from 1st January for unfurnished tenancies and from 1st April for furnished tenancies will be of a tremendous help. I do not think that the extent of that help has yet been appreciated by either the tenants or the general public.
The people I have in mind are those who keep the city going. They are not highly paid. Often they live alone. A high proportion are women living alone. They work in the hospitals or in the service industries, and need to be near their work. Some have retired from these occupations. They are retired, usually with a reasonable pension, and often with some savings, and they want to remain part of the community where they have lived for so long. They are under intense pressure in terms of housing costs, and generous help towards the cost of their accommodation will do more than any other factor to maintain the community by enabling them to continue to live in central London.
A number of other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate and I propose therefore to sketch in one or two other things that should be done. I have referred to some of them on other occasions. First, we must get rid of this upper £400 rateable limit for rent control. In my constituency there are many blocks of flats—indeed, I suspect most of them—that are above and below that line, and one gets the most absurd anomalies between flats that are near enough identical, and sometimes are identical. One has applied for a rate revision way back in 1964, and it is either in or out. I understand the argument about supply and demand, but I believe that in the present situation, where block after block is being sold off on long leases, we should protect those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves just above the limit whereas the next-door 819 neighbour is just below. Many of these people are elderly. Even if they have a little capital—and not all of them have the large sums required—it would clearly be imprudent for a single woman of 70 to buy a long lease and use up all her capital on that. That is one action that I seek from the Government.
Secondly, I seek a clearer distinction between unfurnished and furnished tenancies. We all understand that the front room in a house is part of a dwelling, and the owner must be able to let that off with the certainty of getting it back if he wants it for his own use. No one would want to give total security of tenure for that sort of tenancy. But what is happening is that perfectly normal flats are being changed from unfurnished into furnished flats merely to get round the provisions of the Rent Acts. It seems to me that the criterion should not be whether there is a certain amount of wood, leather and cotton in a flat. The intrinsic nature of the property should define the degree of protection that it should have.
Thirdly, we must actively control creeping hotel use. Last Session my borough got through a Bill to register hotels. This is one approach. The GLC in its current General Powers Bill has another approach, that of tackling the problem directly through the planning system. I am not prepared to say which is better, but I do say that there must be action.
Finally, there must be direct encouragement of building and ownership for rent in the private sector, above all by housing associations. We all pay at least lip-service to the need for owner-occupation, but in central London it would be undersirable to have nothing but that. There is a need for a balance between owner-occupation, the housing associations sector, the council house sector and private accommodation for rent.
To sum up, what I am trying to say is that I do not think the problem can be solved by any one policy. We must advance on a broad front, but our objective in London housing must be to see that all the possible elements are encouraged. There must be council housing and the private sector must be encouraged to provide accommodation for rent and 820 for owner-occupation, but the greatest need of all is to see a real expansion of the housing associations sector.
In my constituency there are some well-known, long-established and active housing associations. There was a great move towards the end of the last century and the turn of this one to develop them. What we need is another tremendous expansion of the housing associations, and I believe that if the Government were to provide the incentive and initiative to ensure that they would do more than any other one thing to improve London's housing problem.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
The House has all too few opportunities to discuss London's problems. As previous speakers have said, we get much less parliamentary time than is allocated to Wales and Scotland. Incidentally, I do not see any of their representatives here today, yet we have to attend when Welsh and Scottish affairs are debated. We are therefore grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) for having given us this opportunity to debate London's problems.
Reference has been made to the traffic problem. I remember, years ago, when the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) was Minister of Transport—and that is a long time ago—suggesting that the time had come to stop private cars from coming into central London. There were gasps of horror all round, but one day that decision will have to be taken. It is no use messing about with special tickets costing £50 or £100 a year for cars coming into London from Richmond. Esher, Tonbridge or anywhere else. Until the problem of private cars coming into central London is tackled there can be no way of helping London Transport to deal with its obligations.
Hon. Members have talked about owner-occupation, and it was referred to in particular by the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat). We are all in favour of owner-occupation and so, apparently, is the GLC, but how does it interpret its desire to help that come about? Twenty years ago a group of terraced houses was bought by the old LCC for £90 each. These are now up for sale with a £22,500 price tag on each house. In other words, 821 the GLC under its present regime is as bad as, if not worse than, the most greedy property speculator operating in London. I regard that as scandalous and a shocking example for the GLC to set. Its actions should be exposed all over London. Here is a Tory-controlled local authority emulating, if not out-doing, the most undesirable of the private property speculators.
The Government are adding to the green belt around London, and I propose to make what may seem a revolutionary proposal. What is the use of having a lovely green belt around London if thousands of people are hemmed in and have to live in the most deplorable and disgusting accommodation and are unable to enjoy the beauties of the countryside because they do not have a decent roof over their heads? The simple way to break the land racket is to release green belt land to local authorities in desperate need of housing their own citizens. It would he much better to use golf courses and other open spaces in the outer London area for housing rather than reserve them for the pleasure of a few local people.
§ Mr. Mellish
I am sure that my hon. Friend does not wish to be misunderstood, and that he is not speaking of all the green belt land around London. I think he is referring to the scrub land, and so on, which I find hard to define as green belt.
§ Mr. Lipton
Of course, there must be some green belt land, but too much land is designated as green belt, including what my right hon. Friend has described as scrub land. There are a few acres at Hounslow which can by no means be described as green belt but which are frozen and are not allowed to be developed by the local authority.
There is a very nice golf course at Kingston. We have enough golf courses in the London area, and on those 300 acres at Kingston we could put 10,000 homes. If I had to choose between the comfort of the few people who want to play golf at Kingston and the needs of 10,000 families, I should have no hesitation in deciding whose side I was on.
The Government should examine some of the green belt land which cannot really be described as green belt and one or 822 two of the golf courses which could be better used for re-housing people from Brixton. They should ensure that outer London boroughs provide land for people in areas like Lambeth. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) referred to Bromley and one or two other boroughs in the outer London area in a list of dishonour. He forgot to include the borough of Croydon, whose representatives are also conspicuous by their absence today.
§ Mr. Lipton
I hope that he will come into the Chamber and listen to what I have to say.
Croydon and Lambeth are engaged in a struggle over what may be the most important public inquiry on housing that London has seen. The clash is over whether housing for some of those on Lambeth's waiting list of up to 15,000 people should be provided on land owned by the borough of Lambeth in the borough of Croydon, of whether the land should be used for a hospital, as the borough of Croydon wishes. We own 74 acres of land in Croydon and we want to build on it for the benefit of our citizens. The obstacle is the Tory borough of Croydon, which will fight like blazes to stop Lambeth from using its own land to satisfy the needs of Lambeth citizens.
Because many other hon. Members wish to speak, I shall conclude very shortly. I have been a Member of the House for 27 years. In that period, not a week has gone by without my receiving letters from people with a housing problem. That experience is shared by every London Member, at least on the Labour benches. Not a week has gone by without one or more hard, distressing cases calling for our attention. After 27 years there should be signs of an improvement, yet the situation is worse. The pressure is growing all the time. Leaders of Labour-controlled borough councils in the London area know that the situation is even more difficult now than it was a few years ago.
I hope that as a result of this debate sufficient pressure will be exerted to force the Government to take special measures to deal with London's very serious housing problem. There is no reason why, 823 in this year of grace, so many thousands of people should be condemned to live in squalor, with water coming through the roof, with inadequate lavatories, at the bottom of the back yard, and in all the other distressing circumstances in which they have to live. I hope that the debate will make a useful contribution towards speeding up a solution of London's housing problems.
§ 1.26 p.m.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) on raising this matter for debate today. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction to draw to the attention of our right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and his other colleagues the universal demand from London Members, including Greater London Members, for more discussions on the affairs of London.
I believe that only one other outer London constituency Member has spoken today. This is a sympton of the fact that the outer London boroughs have never really considered themselves Londoners in the same way as the old LCC area Members did. I do not know whether that attitude is right, but it is a fact, and it is a warning for the new local government areas to be introduced into the rest of the country that the model of the GLC is not a perfect success. I believe that Harrow felt more involved when it was under the Middlesex County Council. It felt then that educational and other responsibilities were better understood than they are now. However, the present system is here to stay, and we must make the most of it.
Inner London and Greater London constitute one of the largest conurbations in the world. Probably more Londoners would like to live in the North-West of London than elsewhere, and there is great pressure on the North-West. So Pinner, in the centre of my constituency, is, I suppose, the place where more people in the world would prefer to live than anywhere else. I wanted to put my own status in the debate into perspective, but I have cut out some rather good bits of my speech to give other hon. Members the opportunity to take part in the debate.
We in Harrow have a particular problem, to which I hope my hon. Friend 824 will pay careful attention. It is a matter of basic importance to the 240,000 people who live in the borough. Sixty-one per cent. of those who live in Harrow, and who go to work, work outside the borough. That is a larger proportion—by about 15 per cent. to 20 per cent.—than for any other outer London borough, and, I believe, any inner London borough. It means that there is a great deal of unnecessary commuting, and that we in Harrow have a very small number of commercial undertakings to bear our rate burden. I urge my hon. Friend to examine this matter. In the past we have proposed to the Department that, without altering the character of Harrow, we could have an extra 2 million square feet of office and light industrial development. This would still give Harrow a lower than average content of commercial rate bearing undertakings.
During the last year I have twice been to see the Department about an office development in Hatch End which would provide immense benefits to the locality. At no cost to the council, the GLC or the Government, it would enable road widening to take place at a point where only a fortnight ago there was another fatal accident. By allowing this development, which has been agreed by both Harrow and the GLC, but turned down on two occasions by the Department, a great service would be done for my constituents. I will, after today, resubmit that proposal for my hon. Friend to look at, because I believe that a mistake has been made. On behalf of Harrow, I ask that there should be a relaxation of the rules on Office Development Permits and also active encouragement for IDCs for light industry.
One difficulty from which Harrow suffers is the cost of housing for teachers. There are only eight men teachers between the ages of 30 and 50 in our primary schools—not nearly enough. It does not look as though sufficient men teachers are being provided to maintain a proper balance in these schools.
The probation service is also under strength in Harrow and Brent. There is pressure for municipal housing to be given to teachers and probation officers. I am not sure that that is the right solution. I believe that greater encouragement for housing associations, particularly for professional people who are 825 suitable participants in housing associations, is the best way of tackling this problem. I hope that both the council and the GLC will take advantage of the Government's plans for the encouragement of housing associations. Harrow's record is not bad. This year 187 homes have been started by housing associations compared with only 101 started by the council.
The movement of heavy lorries in both the inner and outer London areas is becoming critical. I am sure the Government are receiving many representations on this problem. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) said that he was opposed to the ring roads, but I think they are essential. Though "Homes before Roads" is an attractive and emotive campaign, nevertheless, if there are no improved roads for heavy vehicles, many homes in places like Harrow would not be worth living in.
We must take the juggernauts out of residential areas. Since the new ring roads will probably not be in operation for eight or 10 years, even if they go ahead now, I urge my hon. Friend and his Department to have discussions with the GLC to ascertain whether certain routes in outer London boroughs like Harrow—where there is a direct route from the M.4 to the M.1 and lorry drivers naturally take the least congested and quickest routes available to them, whether they go through residential areas or not—may be designated for heavy vehicles. On some of these routes there will be people living in residential accommodation. Therefore, I think that the rateable values of their properties should be substantially reduced.
I suggest that people in areas where heavy vehicles are not to be permitted in future would be prepared to have their rateable values increased to compensate for the lower rateable values of those who are taking the brunt of the noise, pollution and inconvenience of heavy vehicles. My hon. Friend has had a petition signed by 500 people from Headstone Lane on this subject, because their early mornings and nights are made a misery by heavy vehicles going through their residential area.
I hope that my hon. Friend will comment on the new plans which have 826 appeared in three London boroughs—Camden and Brent and, in Harrow, at Cuckoo Hill—for barriers to make road entrances on certain known through routes used by heavy vehicles so narrow that they cannot get through, but with an island in the middle arranged with a gate so that the fire brigade vehicles, removal lorries, dustcarts, and so on, can get through? I believe that urgent action such as this must be taken now to protect residential areas from heavy vehicles.
However, when the heavy vehicles go the roads will be even freer, perhaps, for speeding by light vehicles. I wonder what view the Department would take of the idea that on residential roads, 6 ft. or 9 ft. areas should be cobbled, or that bumps should be put in the roads, to make it extremely uncomfortable and potentially damaging for cars to proceed along those roads at more than 30 miles per hour. The surfaces of roads in outer London and in the country are extremely good, and many of them become race tracks.
The Greater London Council has proposed a 60 sq. mile prohibition area for the parking of heavy vehicles. This does not extent to Harrow. Would the Department take a sympathetic view if Harrow took the same action as Haringey, namely, that within its borders heavy vehicles must not be parked on residential streets? It is proposed that Harrow should have three heavy vehicle parks, which will be free. The Haringey experiment has been extremely successful. It is not the police, who are already overburdened, who provide inspection of the parking of these heavy lorries, but inspectors employed by the borough itself. In this way, and with fairly heavy fines, it can be made an inexpensive proposition. I understand that on the very night that the Haringey experiment was introduced 80 per cent. of the heavy and commercial vehicles which had been parked in residential streets had moved away and have not come back. That is quite an example.
The drivers of heavy vehicles must realise that it is not their sole privilege to be able to park their vehicles next or very near to their homes. If a driver leaves his vehicle in a lorry park, it will probably be much closer to his home than the distance that most people have 827 to travel to work. Drivers should consider it quite natural to travel two or three miles to pick up their vehicles, just as other residents go to factories and offices two or three miles away, which often means a journey of an hour or more.
There is one aspect of the growth in population which is more important in the minds of the people of Harrow than any other, and that is the arrival, and the continuing arrival, of large numbers of refugees from Uganda. Race relations in Harrow have always been excellent, but considerable strains are being put on the education, health and social services departments in Harrow and they are producing new stresses among the population. My Harrow colleagues and I have had more letters on this subject than on almost any other.
I beg my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction to pass on to the Home Secretary the need and vital importance in Greater London areas which have already received many immigrant families for the Resettlement Board to redouble its efforts to persuade immigrants to go not to such areas but to spread more widely into other areas. The people of Harrow require an undertaking from the Government that they will take steps to ensure that what happened as a result of General Amin's action, with refugees having to be given a home in this country, will never be allowed to happen again.
§ 1.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)
I apologise to the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) for missing the major part of his speech and, therefore, for being in no position to comment on what he said. However, as his remarks were addressed to the Minister, no doubt the Minister will deal fully with the constituency points which he raised.
All of us are bound to raise points with which we are personally conversant and, as I live in the borough of Greenwich as well as represent a constituency there, I am bound to draw attention to the specific problems which we face. Among them is the problem of employment to which my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) referred in a fine opening speech on which I am sure 828 we would all wish to congratulate him. The problems of employment in South-East London and in the riverside boroughs to the south of the Thames and the eastern part of London are as serious as, if not more serious than, they are in inner London areas.
I referred to this problem in an Adjournment debate on 4th August and, because many hon. Members wish to take part in this debate, I shall take great care not to repeat the arguments which I adduced then. However, since August the problems in South-East London have not diminished and public anxiety about them has, if anything, increased. For example, I noticed from the local Press this week that the secretary of the South-East London Industrial Consultative Group has made what the local Press described as "a dramatic plea" to workers and shop stewards to join that group in its campaign to improve the employment situation in South-East London.
The occasion of that plea was the latest sign of serious redundancies in South-East London. It has been announced that the South-Eastern Gas Board is to lay off 400 workers in my constituency. We have been troubled for years with repeated redundancies. Over the past 12 years we have been losing jobs in manufacturing and related industries at the rate of about 1,000 a year. This inevitably causes widespread concern. I find when talking to people on the doorstep, to shop stewards or others in industry and to people in working men's clubs that there is widespread depression. We need to talk about that depression. It is easy enough for the Government or hon. Members opposite to say that we can talk ourselves into a depression, but it is important that we understand the reasons which lie behind the depression and the damage likely to be done unless fairly firm action is taken to deal with the situation.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) made a vital point about his constituency which is true of mine. I have a large number of council house tenants in my constituency and it is impossible for them to find work at any great distance from their homes because of the travel problems and the cost of travel. It is impossible for them to move from the area in which 829 they live, even if they wish to do so, because the chances of their finding alternative accommodation in another part of the country are often remote. Redundancies of the kind to which I have referred have deep consequences on people's lives—I am not talking about young people.
The Minister may be aware that some months ago Political and Economic Planning published a report entitled "What happened to the workers in Woolwich?" It referred to a number of serious redundancies which had taken place some years ago and was, in effect, a study of what had happened to the people who had lost their jobs. An immense amount of human misery was caused by those redundancies, some of them in my constituency and some in the neighbouring constituencies of Woolwich.
It is easy enough to say that there are plenty of jobs in London. I notice from the local newspaper that not long ago the Prime Minister, who represents a constituency in South-East London, was kind enough to answer a number of questions about the unemployment situation put to him by local people. He pointed out that it was dangerous to talk ourselves into a depression. He said,I am sure that we would make a great mistake if we went about talking about ours as a depressed area".It is easy for him and, indeed, for me to make that sort of remark, but it is less easy for people affected by the situation with which we are faced.
As in many other parts of London, South-East London has a considerable tradition of skilled engineering. A wide variety of industry is to be found along the South Bank of the Thames, producing goods which require a considerable degree of skill. In a closure such as the AEI/ GEC closure which took place some time ago some men are fortunate. They are able to find jobs in other firms which can utilise their skills. But that opportunity is not open to many other men. They have to find unskilled jobs. I know from personal experience of highly skilled people who worked in the AEI/GEC factory. One of them is a rent collector and another is a hospital porter. Others do other unskilled jobs. They had to find some form of employment.
830 Although the Redundancy Payments Act gives them a certain amount of leeway, the cost of living in Greater London is such that they have no alternative but to get, as one man said, "a job"—he meant any job—"in order to make ends meet". Often, because it is a low-paid job, his wife has to go out to work and thus, perhaps, neglect her home and children growing up, as she would not in normal circumstances wish to do. Having once got an unskilled job it is unlikely that that same man will be persuaded to go back into engineering, even though he might want to do so.
I want the House to bear with me on this matter. It is often said, "Oh, but there are plenty of jobs in South-East London". In fact it can be shown that certain firms in South-East London cannot get skilled people. Why not? Not because skilled people do not exist—they do—but because they are unwilling to go back into these established industries because already in South-East London, as well as in other parts of London, there is grave doubt about the future of these industries after these years and years of depression by which we have been so far affected. I therefore want the Government to take seriously this atmosphere which affects us in South-East London. As a Member of Parliament I do all that I can to try to encourage people to believe that there is a future for this range of industries in our part of the world. The Government should see it in the same light, as the Prime Minister claims to see it, as illustrated by those answers which he gave and were reported in that issue of the local paper to which I have referred.
The fact is that men cannot go on thinking of it in this way. I know that the Government have taken steps to try to improve the availability of industrial training. Indeed, the Government are bringing forward a Bill on this very subject. In addition to that they are setting up a manpower commission. All of these are directly relevant to this problem. However, if people have no confidence in the future it will not be an easy thing to persuade our young men and women to take up skilled training to go into industries where the prospects at the moment, on past form, look bleak. That this the kind of problem with which we are faced. It is illustrated by several 831 fathers to whom I have spoken, and who have worked for a lifetime in engineering. They say to me, "We are positively discouraging our sons from following in our footsteps because if they do that may be against their own best interests, and they may find themselves thrown on the economic scrap heap are the age of 40 or 50 when they will be least able to afford to bear such a possibility, and where the chances of re-employment are slight."
These are reasons why I hope the Government will take seriously this problem of employment. What our constituents are looking for, and what we on this side of the House especially emphasise, is a balance in employment opportunities, in the suburbs as well as in the centre. It is all very well saying that London is becoming increasingly an area providing services for tourists and in banking and insurance. In a big city, a great city, which has a tradition such as London has in highly skilled engineering, we ought to think very carefully of means by which we can retain it in our city.
In a brief intervention I wanted to draw attention to this problem. I am delighted that the Minister for Industrial Development is coming down to South-East London on 23rd January next year to review the problems. I hope that he will take these points to heart and examine them carefully, because we need some positive help from the centre in these respects.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We have reached the stage where, if I am to be able to call, as I hope, everybody who wants to speak, I shall be able to do so only if each hon. Member will say what he has to say in 10 minutes—or less.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
I shall take less than 10 minutes because, for one reason, my colleague and neighbour the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Guy Barnett) has made for me so many of the points which I wished to make. He was quite right to stress that we have a real problem of employment in South-East London, and nowhere more than in Greenwich. I do not think there is any borough which has 832 lost so much employment in recent years. My hon. Friend gave some of the reasons very accurately. I agree with him in thinking that a number of the answers which the Prime Minister gave to our local paper, the Kentish Independent, were very unconvincing indeed.
I hope that when the Minister for Industrial Development visits us he will visit, for example, the site of the AEI factory, and the sites in our area of many other industrial plants which are unused and derelict, and I hope that he will reflect very carefully on what he would like to see this area become and whether he wants a borough famous for its skilled industrial workers to become a borough famous for its warehousemen and caretakers. That is what I should like him to ask himself when he comes down to visit us.
We have in my constituency a new town building—Thamesmead. It is three years behind schedule. Sometimes I ask myself what on earth the employment position would be in my constituency today if the project were up to date and thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of new residents had come into the area at the same time as industry has been going out of it.
I want to be very brief, specific and local, and to ask the Minister about the way in which IDC policy is presented to industrialists who might have in mind coming to my constituency and my colleagues' constituencies. I have raised this matter before. In August this year I raised it. I quote from Trade and Industry, an official publictaion. I quote an article which begins,These notes have been produced in order to assist firms in their appications for Industrial Development Certificates.I draw attention to this key paragraph which affects my constituency and says that in the London areaIDCs are likely to be issued only for rebuilding schemes involving increased productivity with no increase or some reduction in the labour force, and projects tied to the area if they will not lead to an undue additonal demand for labour.There was a time in 1965 when there were only 554 people out of work in the Woolwich region. That is really a very low percentage indeed. Since then the number has gone up to 2,000. Language like that in that official statement is not 833 suitable for an area where we have up to 2,000 people unemployed. What is an "undue" addition to the labour force when he have 2,000 people unemployed?
As I was told the last time I asked about this, the Minister will say, "We have never refused IDCs for your constituency". I ask, what employer, and especially what foreign employer, what German industrialist, wishing to build on some of the derelict sites in my constituency will think for a moment of doing that after reading that official statement of the principles on which IDCs will be granted? He will not apply. It is no use the Minister's answering, "We have never refused IDCs". My point is that in the light of that statement I have quoted no industrialist will ever take the trouble to apply for an IDC in my constituency. That is the specific question I ask the Minister to attend to. In answer to my question, the Minister said:The best way that I can answer that is by saying that, in response to requests from industry, in June of last year, I think it was, we published in our official journal Trade and Industry, various criteria by which we approach IDCs in various parts of the country. It may be that that is what the hon. Gentleman is referring to. We shall see whether a revised form can be published indicating the changes which have taken place."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th August, 1972; Vol. 842, c. 1173.]Has the revised form been published and, if not, why not?
In the same debate I raised the question of industrial retraining. I have been slightly mollified by the Government's assurances about increases in industrial retraining in my area, but they hinge round the provision of a training centre in Deptford. We were all reassured to hear this, but why is no progress being made? Why is not the Deptford training centre yet open? Why is it bogged down on the question of sites, building plans and so on? When will it be opened, and why do we have to wait all this time? Would it not have been wise to have made some temporary provision? There are plenty of places in which industrial retraining could be started on a temporary basis before the Deptford centre opens. May I have a specific answer on that?
The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) disappeared before I could congratulate him on behalf of many hon. Members for what he said about 834 heavy lorries in his constituency. What he said about Harrow applies equally in my constituency of Woolwich. It is intolerable that these juggernauts should be allowed in residential areas or indeed, at certain peak times, anywhere in inner London. He suggested that there should be specified routes, and I agree with that, but it may be that the time has come to ban altogether juggernauts from inner London except at specific hours. I join with those who are trying to convert the Common Market countries to bringing down the size of the juggernauts on the Continent. How lucky it is that we are in the Common Market so that we can bring our influence to bear.
Thamesmead, which is a splendid project in concept, has been lamentable in execution. It is three years behind schedule. There is not enough leadership from the GLC in getting Thames-mead speeded up, in particular in getting the western side of the site, the vital 88 acres, developed for housing. Will the Minister look into the reasons for the delay in getting cost yardsticks agreed and the delay in the procedures, so that we can get more mixed housing on this 88-acre site? The Woolwich people have very little for which to thank either the Government or the GLC in recent years. The record on employment, development, transport, housing, rents and industrial training has been generally lamentable.
§ 2.3 p.m.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
For the sake of brevity I will make three points out of the many which concern me. I feel that we have heard much of this debate before, as indeed we have, and now we must come down to questions. My first question is to ask the Government what they intend to do about the increase in office development which has been deplored by hon. Members on both sides of the House in debate after debate on Central London.
In reply to a question on 20th November I was told that in the Central London area there is at present 9 million sq. ft. of unoccupied office building, 11.1 million sq. ft. under construction, and in the pipeline with planning consent but with construction not yet started another 8.6 million sq. ft. That indicates a complete lack of policy in dealing with a cause of serious planning distortion in Central London, closely related to the problems 835 of homelessness, the expense of housing and the lack of many other amenities.
It is fair to press this question today because when we discussed it earlier the then Minister saidSome major developments have remained empty for many years—Centre Point has remained empty for eight years…I believe that the time has come to bring an end to this highly undesirable practice. Therefore, I have decided that, unless those responsible take action to ensure that the practice ceases within the next few months—I stress "within the next few months"—…I will be ready to introduce legislation to guarantee that these existing blocks are suitably occupied."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 26th June 1972; Vol. 839, c. 1094.]On 23rd October I asked again when this undertaking would be implemented and I was told:As the hon. Member is aware…I shall be ready to introduce legislation at an appropriate time if these office blocks continue to remain unoccupied."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October 1972; Vol. 843, c. 194.]I have to inform the Minister that Centre Point—which is the most typical—Space House and other similar office blocks are still unoccupied. Not only are the offices at Centre Point unoccupied but there are 36 maisonettes at the top of the building which have been empty for over eight years. Camden Council is anxious to get a compulsory purchase order, and I hope the council will have every encouragement from the Minister and that he will carry out the much-publicised undertakings that were given to the House and the public.
My second question is also specific. Is the Minister able to tell us today anything about the Covent Garden development? Covent Garden symbolises all the difficulties of redevelopment in a central area. I was glad when Lady Dartmouth resigned, because I thought that by resigning she would call attention to what was wrong with the plans and give an opportunity for rethinking, but I can find no evidence of much rethinking. In the talks that have taken place the main theme has been that, as the land is currently valued at about £5 million an acre, it is not possible to take into consideration more social amenities and a larger element of housing. These economic factors are at the heart of what 836 I am afraid will turn out to be from the point of view of the interests of the people a very poor plan.
I am also concerned that while we are awaiting the Minister's decision there is a great deal of evidence—I have sent much of it to him—that developers are pre-empting his decision by emptying blocks of flats and refusing to renew leases on shops and property, so that the area is becoming to a certain extent derelict and dispirited. People feel that it does not matter what the Minister says, the developers will just go ahead with the plan which even Lady Dartmouth felt was not in the best interests of the centre of London.
Thirdly, can the Minister say anything about changes in help for homeless families? We have all read the Shelter report. A basic difficulty is that homeless families are catered for on a borough basis so that, as the Shelter report showed, local authorities have varying standards of policy, treatment and helpfulness.
We have to consider the accidents of geography in terms of Camden. Just because we happen to have three main railway stations, King's Cross, Euston and St. Pancras, we have a disproportionate number of people who have nowhere to live. There are other reasons, but the existence of the railway stations is one of the main reasons.
Camden is a most courageous and splendid local authority, and it tries to do the best it can for its homeless families. But it soon gets round on the grapevine: "It's no use going to borough so-and-so because they are frosty-faced about welfare. Go to Camden, where they are much nicer." It follows that the Camden ratepayers have heavier burdens to bear and the housing problem in the area is one of the worst in London.
I ask the Minister to look at this question again. It is not just a local authority problem. There are many people in the Camden area who have no roots in the area but are there because they are looking for work or other reasons. This is a national problem because it is part of the failure of the Government to provide sufficient housing right across the board and in the right places.
837 I have respected your wish for brevity, Mr. Speaker, and I hope that my three questions will be answered.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
I apologise to the House for not having been present during the earlier stages of this debate.
§ Mr. Speaker
I would inform the House that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) informed me yesterday that he intended to speak in this debate.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I have been looking forward to this debate for some time; it will give me an opportunity to raise a matter which has been inadequately ventilated on behalf of the outer London boroughs.
However, I should first like to deal with the remarks of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) when she dealt with the proposed new site of Covent Garden. I believe that one of the glaring deficiencies of that site is the absence of a railhead. If we are considering a modern new market at the new site for Covent Garden at Nine Elms in the context of transport for lorries only, and not providing for proper rail facilities there, we shall increase the danger of juggernaut lorries coming into London, with all the many disadvantages that will flow to London, and especially South-East London, from that decision.
I hope that the policy will be reexamined and that British Rail will be encouraged to look again at the possibility, with Government help, of providing a railhead on the new site.
§ Mr. Jay
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that everybody in the Nine Elms area, particularly the rail workers, will support what he has said—as, indeed, will the Wandsworth Borough Council? The difficulty is not that British Rail refuses to construct the railhead but that at present the Government refuse to give any financial grant aid towards the carriage of freight though they are prepared to spend almost infinite sums on building motorways.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for making my point in another way. I was not saying 838 that British Rail has refused to have anything to do with it, but that its decision must be taken in the light of the Government's attitude.
Speaking as a London Member, I feel that the Government should encourage British Rail to take another look at this matter and give any financial assistance that may be required. This decision will affect the whole environment of London and not just the Nine Elms area. All the London constituencies will be affected by the increased road freight traffic which will come into that area if we do not provide adequate rail facilities.
I wish also to take up a point which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) and the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Guy Barnett), namely, employment prospects in the South-East of London. We in London are fortunate in having the whole of Greater London as a catchment area for job opportunities. We are not in the same position as isolated towns. Although we have that advantage we do not perhaps realise that to take advantage of the job opportunities in the Greater London area we must have an adequate public transport system to go with it. Again, the Government should be looking more carefully at the financing and other assistance that should be given to London Transport. This is also to a great extent the responsibility of the Greater London Council. Any action on this front will assist people to be more mobile throughout the whole Greater London area.
I wish now to refer to the balance of housing between the outer and inner London boroughs. This subject has been exacerbated by party political considerations while environmental questions and the merits of a proper housing balance in London have been overlooked. We should discuss housing in London as a whole, from the standpoint of its affect on the quality of life. One overall fact is that the population of London apparently has fallen from about 8 million to about 7 million. We must therefore consider exactly where housing is needed in future, and from what areas it has been vacated in the past. The shifting population of London demands a new approach to housing in different areas. Overall, the total housing need does not seem to 839 have increased but to have fallen. In that context we should try to avoid the urban sprawl which characterises so many of the outer London boroughs at present.
The councils of the outer London boroughs have often been criticised for not providing adequately for the housing needs of their neighbours in inner London. But the outer London authorities not only have an interest in their own needs and the needs of those they represent but they also have some responsibility for the preservation of the green belt and access to the countryside as a whole on behalf of the London area at large and all the people who live in it. Because the overall population is falling it seems likely that a large number of Londoners are now moving right out of the London area to other towns in the South-East—in other words, to towns which will provide them with public transport and rail facilities to enable people daily to commute to their jobs. This process has been going on for some time, and it should be encouraged. When speaking about adequate housing facilities being provided for the inner London boroughs we must give more thought to greater housing opportunities not only in the outer London boroughs but also in the towns of the South-East.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that in the London Borough of Bromley, which is linked with his own area, there are 400 acres available for housing. He will also know that the inner London boroughs want that land to be used for people from inner London.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning Bromley, because I want to come to that point. We must remember that the London Borough of Bromley is the largest of the London boroughs. It embraces a great deal of the green belt, and much housing land that is said to be available is not available in the ordinary planning sense because it is green belt. The councils of such boroughs have a responsibility not only to the people living in them—that is approximately 250,000 in Bromley—but also to people who wish to have access to the green belt and to the countryside. That responsibility has been pro- 840 perly exercised by boroughs like Bromley. For that reason I recently asked the Bromley council to provide me with its housing figures for the past seven years.
First, it must be said that Bromley has one of the most successful housing records in recent years. Perhaps that does not mean very much by itself, but the number of houses in the borough has increased from 94,000 in 1965 to 104,000 in 1972. An increase of 10,000 in seven years is not discreditable. In the same period—this may be of interest to hon. Members opposite—council housing has increased from 14,000 to 18,000. Council housing in Bromley during that period increased from 15 per cent. to 18 per cent. of the whole.
Those figures show that Bromley is not only making a contribution to the overall housing requirements of the London area, but is providing more than its proportionate share of the public housing that is required.
§ Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)
The hon. Gentleman has given us some interesting figures about the number of council houses in Bromley. Can he tell me how many houses were handed over by the GLC three years ago?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I could tell the hon. Gentleman if I made a quick arithmetical calculation. I have the figures with me. However, I will not delay the House very long with that matter. Perhaps I can answer the hon. Gentleman by saying that the total number of council houses owned by the borough of Bromley in 1965 was 8,956. In that year the total number of council houses in Bromley, including GLC-owned houses, was 14,428. The equivalent figures for 1972 are 13,394 and a total—including GLC houses—of 18,856, which is an average figure of 18 per cent. That is not all. My constituency of Orpington, which is within the borough of Bromley, was in 1965 possessed of approximately 25,000 houses and, in 1972, approximately 30,000 houses. That is a proportionate increase of one-fifth of the 1965 figure for housing in my constituency.
An increase of that order is of great consequence. The increase in the number of houses owned by the council, including those owned by the GLC, in the borough of Bromley was approximately 2,900 in 1965 and 5,300 in 1972. 841 So the proportion of council houses in Orpington has risen from 11.4 per cent. in 1965 to 17.6 per cent. of the total housing figure in Orpington in 1972.
I submit that those figures show that the local council has a proper sense of responsibility for housing needs in London generally. At the same time, it has rightly in mind the needs of its own community and the need for exercising some sort of restraint about consents given to planning on a large scale, which would inevitably lead to an increase in the London sprawl.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
The right hon. Gentleman is asking about current policy regarding the allocation of new houses. I have no figures about that at the moment, but the right hon. Gentleman may have read in the Press recently that Bromley is endeavouring to come to an arrangement with the GLC to give it a fixed number of houses from its housing programme. I have no figures for allocation in the past, but, with respect, that is not the point.
I have outlined the record of one fairly typical outer London borough during the past seven years with regard to meeting the housing needs both of London generally and of people who desire to live in council houses. That proportion is substantial, and it indicates that authorities like Bromley have well in mind the needs of such people. The figures indicate that Bromley has a sense of responsibility for the whole of the London area and also for its own people.
There are other aspects to the problem of housing. For example, there is an enormous number of wasted housing opportunities in inner London. There are derelict sites available and much wasted land at present occupied by public utilities. Land is available which at present is occupied by railway lines which could easily be used for housing purposes. There are also many acres of land in London unsuitable for housing where offices might well be built.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
Yes. There are sites appropriate for offices and light engineering to occupy and which are not appropriate for residential development. One look at London from the air is enough to convince anyone of the vast opportunities which now exist for development within the inner London area. There is also a great deal of scope for residential development.
Far too much office development is taking place in blocks which were originally built for housing purposes. Too many offices are using buildings intended as houses, including blocks of flats. The buildings around Regent's Park and elsewhere are examples of the sort of thing which I have in mind. There must be great scope for a thorough investigation into the prevention of the use of residential premises as offices.
I know that the rents available for offices are higher than for housing, but we must recognise that the problem merits special attention. The housing problem in central and inner London is not just about numbers and filling in spaces but about the quality of life. We do not want a dead centre. One way of preventing that situation is to make it more difficult and perhaps more expensive for office development to take place within areas which should be reserved for residential development, and in areas where the buildings were built originally for residential purposes.
An illustration of what I have in mind is a proposed planning development in South-East London which was originally called—when the line was established in the early 1930s—the "South Orbital Road". It is now known as Ringway Three. The projected line of Ringway Three runs through the borough of Bromley and is wholly within my constituency. It was defined in the early 1930s, and as a result there has been a blighted area on both sides of the line for nearly 40 years. In that time the area has become somewhat derelict. A number of houses have been acquired by the local authorities because of the blighted nature of local property. From time to time there has been discussion about when Ringway Three will be built.
Everybody knows as a matter of common sense that is is not likely to be built 843 on the protected line laid down in the early 1930s, if only because Ringway Three will be built to motorway standards, whereas the standard in the 1930s was that of an ordinary arterial dual-carriageway road.
A realistic view should be taken by the Minstry in the light of the GLC development plan and the Land Commission Bill, which would make acquisition of land for this sort of purpose enormously expensive. There should now be no chance of Ringway Three going through an urban area such as Orpington. It should, as a matter of principle, be routed elsewhere, where it would not involve the destruction and blight of so much urban development. Let us be realistic and say that we will not go through this sort of urban area any longer, for various reasons, including the delay, and let us get on with proper housing in such areas, including building and the amenities on the open space available.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)
I begin by saying how indebted I am to the leadership of my party, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) in particular, for agreeing that I should intervene in this debate. I know that my right hon. Friend, who has been here throughout the debate, would have liked to make this speech, but he conceded that I should be allowed to intervene because I am a Londoner born and bred in this great city and proud of it.
I would not conceded to anyone outside London or in any other city in the world that there is anything as great as London. That is why I was delighted when my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing), having drawn first place in the ballot, decided to talk about London. The problems have been underlined and every hon. Member who has spoken has done so with the expertise that one would expect of any London Member who takes an interest in this great city of ours.
But it needs to be put on record that London is not just a city but is split into a number of areas and suburbs. I am from South-East London. I would not live, for example, in East London if I 844 were paid to do so. East Londoners would not live in my part of London. One of our biggest headaches is when the GLC attempts to transfer East Londoners to South-East London, for example—because they do not want to go. The reverse is true also. So it does matter, rightly or wrongly, what part of London we come from.
But the problem common to all parts of inner London is the great shortage of housing. My hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) reminded us of something we have known for many years. There is not one London Member worth his salt who does not get every day at least one letter about housing—and such letters are real heartaches. That has gone on under all Governments. I am not here to make party political points, although one can do that easily enough. I am here to stress that this is a human problem that has been with us for many decades and must be faced far more realistically than even perhaps in the past.
The Minister for Housing and Construction comes from a family—the Guinness family—which has done a marvellous job in housing. I say to him that all Ministers of Housing should hang over their office desk a notice, "Housing is a social need". If one starts from that point and takes it as one's theme and thesis, far more good comes from one's approach to housing as a Minister. If I criticise the Government, it is because I do not believe that they see it in the way in which we see it. We do not see it as something to be exploited, as a matter from which some profit may be gained, nor as simply something from which certain individuals can gain. We see it from the basic fact that every human being has the right to a roof over his head and that everyone who exploits that right for his own profit must be dealt with and stopped.
There may be arguments about how the problem should be tackled, about State ownership and the rest, but if one does not recognise the social need one will not solve the problem. For example, the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) said that the outer London boroughs had made a fair contribution, even today in 1972. But the inner London boroughs are facing an acute situation because they just have not got the land. That is a fact of life. There can 845 be no turning and twisting away from it. It is a fact. Where I live, people still live in densities of 600 and 700 an acre. Does Orpington understand what that means? Thousands of my people still live in places where one toilet is shared by five families.
In order to get land made available, the Government will have to move in. They cannot just leave it to parleying between the various London boroughs. The outer London boroughs have land—how much I cannot say because I have not got the figures. Nor do I indict any individual local authorities. Many of the outer London boroughs have their own housing waiting lists. But I do say that the time has come for the Government to tell the outer London boroughs, "What spare land you have shall be built upon for housing for inner London and the State will intervene so to do."
I would ask the hon. Member for Orpington just how much land the London borough of Bromley has had in its possession but has handed over to private enterprise to build the sort of houses which are out of reach of ordinary persons. My own personal record on housing needs is that when I was a junior Minister at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government we at any rate tried within our limits to free as much land as possible. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat), who is not here, got the biggest landfall of all when the Marylebone goods yard was released. Hendon aerodrome was handed over for housing. Incidentally, it was a good job for Hendon that we became the Government in 1964, because the previous Government had decided to hand the aerodrome over for private building. An area at Kidbrooke was also handed over. Yet there is still a lot more land which can and must be made available, and the Government must exercise every effort to see that all available land is found and handed over.
I turn now to the question of housing generally. Again I make no party political point, although, had the Labour Government been returned in 1970, I would have been Minister of Housing and Local Government. I believed then, as now, that the first thing a Government have to do in dealing with the problem of housing finance is to recognise that those boroughs, whether Tory or Labour, which 846 have worked hard on housing and have built and built and built, have got themselves into such appalling debts because of it that they must have immediate relief. Indeed, many of those debts must be wiped out. They cannot go on with the present position of their housing revenue accounts, unable to balance income and expenditure. They are unable to do it without tremendous increases in rents for their people. Therefore, there must be a completely new look at the whole problem of the housing revenue accounts of these boroughs.
Of course, some places in London have no problems of that kind for the simple reason that they have not built houses, and if one does not build houses one does not have such headaches. But those who have built houses—and I come from one borough which has put in a tremendous effort—suffer greatly.
My other theme is the problem of homelessness. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) mentioned that thousands are homeless. It is an indictment of our society. There is not one of us who cannot but feel ashamed of the fact that thousands of people are living without a roof over their heads tonight. Of course, some of these families are problem families, but I say to the Minister that he must take this problem on board and take some serious action about it. It is not a matter for a local borough. I will not name them, but we all know that some boroughs shuffle their problems on to others. They do not give a damn as long as they do not have this problem. It follows, therefore, that this is a regional problem that must be dealt with centrally. If the GLC, or other regional authority, is not prepared to do it, then the Government must take action.
A number of individual boroughs have places for the homeless but very often other boroughs send their own homeless to these centres. These places must be regarded as a base from which more permanent accommodation can be found for the families. Linked with such places, of course, one needs the rehabilitation facilities necessary to get people back to normality.
I wish particularly to refer to a matter which is not just a constituency point—the vast acreage of land now becoming 847 available on the river front. I believe that it probably amounts to about 6,000 acres—several miles of land. The last time such a great amount of land became available to London was in the Fire of London. Sir Christopher Wren then produced a wonderful plan for London. If only he had been allowed to get away with it! But they did not allow him to do so. They let him build a few churches—and lovely churches they are—and the speculators and spivs moved in for the rest and smothered his plans. They did so because the profits from his scheme would not have been so obvious. They built exactly what they wanted to build and how they liked, and began a process which ended up in 19th century London with all the poverty and misery of riverside London which was a disgrace to the people of yesteryear.
Now, in 1972, we have again an opportunity such as that which came after the Great Fire. What shall we do with that land? Shall we do what we did before? Shall we throw the chance away, saying that there are private enterprise people who may be able to develop it well? I hope not. I hope that we shall recognise that we shall not get the same chance again. Once there is one building on the land, that is the finish. It will destroy any real planning. The number of people trying to get hold of the land is reaching astronomical proportions. There are about 6,000 acres, and its value is between £250,000 and £500,000 an acre. That is real money, and the boys are creeping round now trying to get in their planning permissions and to acquire a bit of it.
I want to tell the House how some of this land became derelict. I have been wanting to do so for a very long time but, as Opposition Chief Whip, I have not been allowed to speak. Today I have the chance to do so. A lot of this land is in my constituency, which is why I take a keen interest in it. The Pool of London was dominated by a great firm, Hay's Wharf, which employed several thousand men. It was a firm of considerable repute, but it followed the pattern of London's dockland in that the vast majority of its labour was casual, although a percentage was permanently employed. The firm had labour troubles. Then it looked at its land and decided 848 to get a valuation. It discovered that it was sitting on a goldmine, and it sacked its employees at the drop of a hat. Men with 30 and 40 years' experience were thrown out. They got their redundancy pay all right, but that is about all they got. Men aged 55 and 60 who had worked for the firm for 40 years were sacked. Why? Because the land was so valuable. Today the area is derelict.
Is there any member of the Conservative Party who would defend that? Perhaps it will be understood why some hon. Members on this side of the House feel so passionately about many of the arguments of the ordinary docker. It may be why the docker feels vicious and why at times he seems unreasonable. But would not anyone facing that situation be unreasonable? If any of us was employed on a casual basis and at the end of the day was sacked simply because the land on which he worked was found to be extremely valuable, would not he be justified in being unreasonable?
Hay's Wharf is waiting for a golden picking. I wish that I had the Minister's job. That is one lot who would not get a golden picking. The directors of the company are waiting for planning permissions for hotels and the rest of it, and that will be the realisation of their dream. Incidentally the company was doing good business. The shipping lines were there. The decision was not taken on the basis of their being no shipping. There was plenty of business.
Linked with that there has been the change in the work of dockers generally. We have heard this terrifying word "containerisation". Then there is the redevelopment of Tilbury. As a consequence another vast area of land is now available at the Surrey Docks. Land is also available on the east side of the river.
I am in the position of a man who came to this House representing thousands of dock workers. Today I represent a constituency where there are no docks and no wharves. That has happened in the past three or four years. I have felt helpless. At times I have felt hopeless wondering how to change the situation. I believe sincerely that every Member of Parliament has a duty not only to do the job that he is doing now and not only to his constituents, but to help ensure that this country is 849 at least that much better when he leaves this House than it was when he first came to it. Certainly it is his duty to ensure that it is a better place for his great-grandchildren, who will be able to say that whatever else he did not do in his time, he did a first-class planning job. That is what it is about. That is why we have opportunities of which I want the Minister to take advantage.
I put this to the hon. Gentleman—and I hope that he will answer one question. I read yesterday of the great danger that exists to the Royal Group which is said to be likely to close. Only a short time ago the chairman and secretary of the Port of London Authority said that the Royal Group would not close. We have had enough closures in London to last for a long time.
Surrey Docks is closed. What is the position? How is the land to be developed? I do not object to private enterprise housing. I do not object to housing being built along the river front and owned by individuals. I am an owner-occupier myself. I do not want to deprive others of that privilege. But what I want and what I demand in the name of my people is to have the land developed to a master plan. I do not want anyone and everyone weighing in and building their bit.
I say to the local authorities along the river front that there must be a master plan, and I strongly urge the establishment of a new town development corporation. I should like to see such a body established with Government finance and with the powers to take the land away from its present owners, whether they be Hay's Wharf or the PLA. I should like to see on that corporation the representatives of all local authorities employing the finest architects to produce the finest possible buildings. We might even have a university on the river front. Why not? There are several miles of land. I want to see marinas, amusement and fun. As a matter of fact, my constituents want to see the river. Many of them hardly ever see it. Private enterprise saw to it that the river was exploited for individual gain. I do not complain about that. It is inevitable that there should be industry on the river.
The blunders of yesterday come riding back upon me. We have what is known 850 as the Downtown area, where nearly 3,000 families live. When those flats were built they were said to be the most marvellous ever. Dr. Alfred Salter built them. However it was the biggest planning blunder ever. Flats should never have been built there. As Member of Parliament for the area I have to carry the burden. Not a Friday night goes by without people complaining to me about living there. It is a purely industrial area.
Let us suppose that a wise planner says that it must all go and that those 3,000 families must be swept away to make it a wholly industrial area. Who will do the sweeping away? Will private enterprise do it? Will Orpington do it? I am willing to bet that they will not do it without some direction and without someone with the power to plan this part of London. That is why it is vital to look upon housing as a social need and, in the context of this land, to do a first-class planning job.
I pay an unusual tribute to the Prime Minister. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite will be surprised to hear it. I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman at the beginning of this story when the land became available. I pleaded with him to intervene and to ensure that the land was properly developed. I received a very favourable reply. The Prime Minister was impressed with the argument and said that he would see to it that the Secretary of State for the Environment was made aware of the situation. I wrote to the Secretary of State, and I give him full marks. He decided that the time had come for a strategic planning body to be established. That body has been in existence for about a year and it is on the point of producing strategic plans.
What happens after that? Where do we go from here? Who will do what about land of this sort? I repeat that this is not a party political matter. It is a matter of building for the greatest city in the world and for the future of our grandchildren. The Minister has a great chance. Frankly I wish that I had it. I say that quite genuinely. This is one time that I would like to have been a Minister in order to see this part through and get it started properly.
I hope that the Minister will say today that the Government intend to control 851 this land and this planning and that they will establish a development corporation. I hope that we shall say to all those who are trying to muscle in to get some of the rich pickings, "Get out. This London belongs to the people. For the people, it will be built."
§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)
The right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) spoke with great eloquence and passion. We all note that if a development corporation is set up it is likely that he will be applying for the Chiltern Hundreds and, we hope, will be appointed as chairman of that corporation, for there could not be a better candidate for the job than the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) spoke about the Layfield inquiry. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction will tell us what delays have elapsed between reports of statutory inquiries being sent to his Department and being published, and the Government—irrespective of party—taking their decision.
The right hon. Member for Battersea, North went on to talk about a sensible road programme. The right hon. Member for Bermondsey was here at the time of the Alfred Barnes proposals, though not many other hon. Members were. It is a pity that those proposals for a road transport plan for London were not implemented, as they could have been by the then Labour Government and the then Labour London County Council at a fractional cost. Such a plan would have given London a magnificent transport system. The opportunity was lost.
The right hon. Member for Battersea, North made his usual attack on the motorways plan. I agree with him 100 per cent. about the North Cross route. I always have been against it, as have my two predecessors. Therefore, on this issue party politics are not involved. A cold reading of the report of this debate might lead people to think that the motor box plan originated with the wicked Conservative Greater London Council. It should be remembered that it was a unanimous vote by the old Labour London County Council and the first 852 Labour GLC, fully backed by Conservatives and Socialists. It is nice to know that some people are repenting, but the facts need to be known.
So, also, was the concept of the Covent Garden development an all-party issue. The Labour Party is now trying to renege on it. As the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) knows, Camden Borough Council, when it was originally Socialist-controlled, fully supported the concept of the comprehensive development.
§ Mrs. Jeger
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that I am opposed, or that the Camden Council is opposed, to the comprehensive aspect of the development. We are opposed to the economic factors and the shape of the development that is coming up—not the fact that it is comprehensive.
§ Mr. Finsberg
The hon. Lady knows that the original concept was to be a development with private enterprise participating. It is nothing new. I am trying to put the record straight.
There is little between the parties in London on the question of a road programme. It is not all quite as much light and shade as might be thought. I will read a few extracts from a discussion report of the Transport Working Party of the Greater London Regional Council Labour Party Executive. The document has been well circulated. It is important to recognise that in the overall strategy there is not so much difference between the two parties as is occasionally claimed by the real anti-motorway people. I exclude the right hon. Member for Battersea, North, who is very courteous and careful in the way he expresses himself, but his supporters are not quite like that.
The Transport Working Party document says this about Ringway One—the East Cross route:We do not accpt the present proposed line of these routes".The working party has no objection in principle. It says this of Ringway Two—the North-West section:Here the problem is created by the A10 and the M4 and this must be faced up to squarely.It says this about Ringway Two—Eastern section:We are confronted with the fact that Thamesmead is designed to accommodate this 853 new road; likwise. the M2/A2 extension to Falconwood makes a logical case to build a link northwards…We have, however, the strongest reservations about building this as a dual four-lane motorway".So there is no objection in principle to Ringway Two, North-West section, and no objection to Ringway One, East Cross route, and less objection to Ring-way Two, Eastern section, because of the logical case already made. I do not say that those arguments are right or wrong. I am merely trying to show that there is more light and shadow in the argument than we are normally told.
§ Mr. Spearing
The hon. Gentleman has rightly insisted upon putting the record straight. I think he referred to Ring-way Two, North-West section and Ring-way One, East Cross route, and implied by his quotation that the document, which was a discussion document and not a manifesto, was in favour. Does he agree that those two lengths of road already exist?
§ Mr. Finsberg
I am merely trying to put the record straight. Although I do not accuse the hon. Gentleman of it, the normal argument advanced by those who oppose motorways is to the effect, "We are against all motorways." The hon. Gentleman knows that his party will be contesting the GLC elections basically on this emotive issue.
§ Mr. Finsberg
We shall see. I have already seen some of the statements made by prospective candidates.
I strongly support my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) about the need for an upward revision of the rateable value of £400. This is very important for many reasons, not least because Freshwater is at it again.
There is a block of flats in my constituency where, since the freeze, a representative has called upon one of my constituents, who is living in a flat whose rateable value is slightly above £400, and told him that the freeze does not apply to him. I noticed in the Press that Freshwater, commenting on a case in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat), said, "This must have been a mistake." In my constituent's case Freshwater followed it up 854 by a letter from its area manager, making the point again. It is very important that the £400 figure be considered in this context as well as in any other that applies specifically to the freeze. I hope that my hon. Friend will examine the requirement for controlling service charges and give the tenant the right to challenge these effectively and to refer them to the rent officer.
The hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) did himself even less justice than usual. He spoke of the terrible scandal of houses bought by the LCC 20 years ago for £90 and now being offered for sale by the GLC at £22,500. With his great knowledge of local government the hon. Gentleman perhaps knows that the LCC would have bought those houses for £90 at district valuer's price, and that it could not do anything else. He will also know from his great knowledge of local government that GLC can sell only at district valuer's price and nothing else. I am not saying whether it is right or wrong. The hon. Gentleman was saying that it was wrong.
The system which both parties support is that when local authorities engage in transactions it is on the basis of district valuer's price. What the hon. Gentleman did not tell the House is that the GLC is entitled to give a sitting tenant a discount of up to 25 per cent., and in some cases 30 per cent. What he also did not tell the House when he made his comparison between a private developer and a local authority is that the former cannot give a discount. A private developer can buy and sell as he likes, but all local government legislation compels a local authority to carry out these transactions at district valuer's price. The hon. Gentleman knows that and that fact should also be put on the record.
§ Mr. Lipton
The hon. Gentleman does not challenge the fact that these houses were bought for £90 and are being sold for £22,500. It is no use putting the blame on the district valuer. If the situation is such as to compel a local authority to come into the property market on this scale the law should be changed.
§ Mr. Finsberg
The hon. Gentleman has made my point. He has no right to put the blame on the GLC as he did. I was trying to put the record straight.
855 Not content with that, the hon. Gentleman advocated taking some green belt land. One saw the hurried intervention of the Opposition Chief Whip trying to say that his hon. Friend meant only scrub land, but the fact is that he did not, and we know it. He talked about taking acres of Hounslow Heath, or the golf course at Kingston. He did not have the temerity to suggest taking Hampstead Heath, although a large number of houses could be built there. Even he knows that would be going too far, because he would face the united wrath of the three Members from the Camden constituencies.
I agreed with much of what was said by the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South. She said that Camden is a splendid and courageous borough. I agree, except that she got the tense wrong. She should have said "was" and not "is". It is now stupid, obstinate and crazy. Under the 1970–71 leadership it was a sensible and courageous borough.
It was a pleasure to hear the right hon. Member for Bermondsey speaking in the debate. One hears him so rarely, because he is gagged, which is a great loss to London. He has left the Chamber, but I should still like to say something about him. Apart from the late Herbert Morrison, I do not think that anyone in Greater London has done more for the people of London than has the right hon. Gentleman. When the right hon. Gentleman puts his mind to it—which he frequently does—he puts the needs of Londoners above all other needs, and this is an important lesson which all of us in the House can learn. The only man who excelled the right hon. Gentleman was the late Herbert Morrison, who also did a lot for London.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I disagree with him about one thing. He said that all Ministers of Housing should have above their desks the words "Housing is a social need". I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not implying that there is a monopoly of heart on his side of the House, because anyone who has had a lot to do with local government for more than two decades knows that the number of housing cases which Members of Parliament receive is similar to that received 856 by councillors. Nobody who goes into public life, be it as a Member of this House or as member of a local council, can take any view other than that there is a desperate need to get proper housing over everybody's head.
Where we perhaps diverge is that I do not believe—nor do my colleagues—that only the local authority can carry out the developments. We believe in a partnership, because not everyone wants to be an owner-occupier. Not everyone wants to be a council tenant, particularly in Camden. Substantial numbers of people want to rent properties at a fair rent. That is why I support my hon. Friends the Members for Chelsea and the two Cities when they say that we must find a way of encouraging private building to rent, otherwise we shall polarise much too much.
§ Mr. Finsberg
Time is short. The hon. Gentleman may be able to catch the eye of the Chair.
I hope that the concept of the right hon. Member for Bermondsey, of a magnificent new vista to the river, can be realised. Whether it is done by a development corporation or by mixed development I do not mind, because I still believe that it is possible to obtain a mixed community by the participation of private enterprise and local authorities in development. That is far better than trying to hand the development over completely to local authorities. For example, the immediate pre-war development in Leeds and some of the pre-war LCC developments were no monuments to good local government, good planning or good architecture. There are faults on both sides. Mixed development is much better.
I have two final points. I hope that my hon. Friend will examine the necessity for speeding up planning appeals, particularly in the Greater London area. Many possible developments are sterilised for far too long because there is an objection on planning grounds which then has to go to appeal, all of which takes time. There was a speeding up but, to judge from figures I have seen, there has since been some falling off. Even if there has been an improvement there is room 857 for greater improvement, particularly in the Greater London area. I shall be grateful if my hon. Friend will see whether there is a way to speed up the procedure.
Linked with that problem is the question of improvement grants. Statements have been made that there is a vast abuse of the improvement grant system in Greater London. I am not convinced that that is so, nor are impartial bodies. I hope that my hon. Friend will look into the matter and, if he finds that there is little or no abuse, will consider transferring of the items covered by discretionary grants into the standard grants section, so that politically-motivated councils cannot put up the bar irrespective of the merits of any application for grant.
Secondly, although we have spoken about roads, planning and housing, what we have not really asked my hon. Friend to examine is the question of Greater London public transportation in its wider sense. Over and over again we talk about motorways, but far too little is said about the possibility of an outer circle link line. One day the hon. Member for Acton and I spent about an hour on Radio London talking the matter over. We were undivided on it, because we both believe that such a line is necessary. The bureaucracy in the official setup of British Rail and of the old London Passenger Transport Board—now London Transport—must be swept aside. Easy links could be re-opened to give us an effective outer circle railway.
It is possible to travel by public train from Kensington, Olympia to Clapham Junction, but there is no mention of that in any timetable, because British Rail is scared that people might find out and start using the service, which is run once a day in each direction. I believe that if it were put on a regular basis many people would rather use it than run the risk of going through the morass of South London, South-East London and West London by car. The whole line could be linked up to make a circle around London, which might make motorways even less desirable than they appear now. But little or nothing has been done. I beg my hon. Friend not to reply by saying that he will draw the matter to the attention of the GLC or British Rail, 858 but to agree to set up in his Department or one of his colleagues' Departments a special study to evaluate the speed and cost of such a programme and give it quickly to the people of London.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Finsberg
I am sure that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) knows that the prompt sign has not yet come on.
Welsh and Scottish Members are given a great deal of time in the House, though London's rateable value and population are greater than those of Scotland and Wales put together. I join in the requests for more time for London debates. I hope that Labour Members, and particularly the Shadow Patronage Secretary, will resist many of the demands from their Scottish and Welsh colleagues for more time unless we in Greater London are given more time for debates like this.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) for too long, because I agree with most of what he said. He mentioned the railway line which runs from Clapham Junction to Kensington and carries two trains a day. Those trains are used solely for the purpose of carrying civil servants from South London to the Post Office building in Kensington. That is its main purpose at present. During the last war this link line between North and South London played an important part in our transport system. I had the privilege of travelling on it when coming from the South of England to go to Liverpool to entrain for the Far East. I know this line well, because I use it to go to Chelsea.
The one theme running through the debate, from Harrow to Hammersmith, Westminster to Wandsworth and Camden to Croydon, has been the urgent necessity for more talk in this House about London. One point that stands out like a sore thumb is that very little time is given to discussing London's problems. I am therefore extremely pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) introduced this matte' today.
859 London has many problems. I shall devote my remarks to two specific problems. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) about land in London being used for proper purposes. He is faced with the question of London Docks. Battersea and Wandsworth contain a lot of riverside London which is in the process of being handed to private enterprise for expensive luxury development. I have mentioned this matter to the Minister before and I repeat that in the London Borough of Wandsworth there are two large sites on the river frontage, one owned by the Morgan Crucible Co. Ltd. and the other by Phillips Paper Mills, which are to be developed for private luxury building. We have no objection to luxury building. But where there are sites in areas like that, we believe that the local authority should have the opportunity to build upon some part of them. I agree with my right hon. Friend that if there is to be development it must be of a general nature and not for the sole use of people who can afford £30,000 to £50,000 luxury flats and houses.
§ Mr. Douglas-Mann
Is my hon. Friend's experience similar to that in my constituency, of houses and blocks of flats, which for generations have housed low-income families, being acquired by speculators who are taking advantage of the improvement and decontrol provisions of the Housing Finance Act to turn out the tenants? Is he aware that the Minister's predecessor, in a Written Answer to me in July, said that he would approve compuulsory purchase orders where it appeared this was the only way to ensure satisfactory management of property? Does he agree that in the situation which he is describing there is a strong case for local authorities using compulsory purchase orders either to establish control or to demonstrate that the Minister does not mean what he said?
§ Mr. Perry
I agree with my hon. Friend. However, his intervention has taken about two minutes of what I hoped would be a five-minute speech. The hon. Member for Hampstead brought out the same kind of idea, for which we thank him.
The particular problem with which I am concerned, on which somebody was 860 recently elected to this Parliament, is the disposal of house refuse in our dirty streets in London.
Literally tens of thousands of cars and lorries come into London every day and park in ordinary streets in ordinary neighbourhoods. The result is that local authorities, despite their mechanical contraptions for sweeping roads, are unable to carry out that job properly. So, at weekends, when the cars and lorries disappear, we find our streets littered with all kinds of rubbish from perambulators to mattresses. That is the position in inner London.
In these days of the non-returnable bottle, the plastic container and other things which we cannot readily get rid of, the Government must seriously consider this problem, particularly in areas like inner London. They must either give a subsidy to local authorities for getting rid of rubbish like old furniture, refrigerators, mattresses, perambulators, motor cars, and other things which clutter the streets, or introduce the tax suggested, I believe, by the leader of the Greater London Council, for whom I have a great respect, namely, a disposal tax. Enormous numbers of tourists and commuters from the coast, Haywards Heath and other places around London come into the City, use our services, and usually dump all their rubbish here.
The Government should consider introducing a tax to relieve local authorities in London of some of the cost of getting rid of rubbish. No doubt the Minister has examined the figures in his Department relating to the disposal of rubbish in London over the last 10 years. The cost goes up by nearly 25 per cent. a year and it must be paid for by local ratepayers who live or have businesses in the area. It is about time that the Government turned their attention to the question of the disposal of rubbish. We can see from the train, in little corners and nooks along the railway line, piles of rubbish which should have been cleared long ago—in Queen Victoria's time.
A complete examination of the problem in inner London is needed. We have too much rubbish in London. We want to get rid of it, and it is about time that the Government helped us to do it.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow, West)
I am in the fortunate, or unfortunate, position of being an outer London Member who lives in the heart of inner London. I am a constituent of the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat), although not one of his most devoted supporters.
The problems of London have been well documented today. Although they have been well analysed, none of us is yet aware of their solution. I hope that we shall hear some positive thinking and answers from the Government today or later. The main problem is whether we shall have balanced development throughout London or whether we should continue with unbalanced development. Certainly there will be development, and the question is whether it will be of the right or wrong sort. If there is to be balanced development throughout London, it cannot simply be left to the local authorities or to the GLC. The Government must step in, and there must be overall planning control throughout Greater London which must apply at least to traffic, housing, and industry.
I have three brief questions to ask the Minister and his answers will show, first, whether he is aware of the serious problems in London, and, secondly, whether he is determined, which we hope he is, to do something about them.
The first problem relates to the drying up of rented accommodation in the London area. There are no statistics about the total amount because much of the accommodation is in people's houses, in odd rooms, and so on, and when it disappears, it disappears without trace. In my constituency there is a very large private landlord which has been in the area for many decades and which owns about 25 to 30 per cent. of the housing. This landlord, impelled by the rise in property prices, has begun a completely new policy of selling its rented accommodation, which goes against all that has been said on both sides of the House today. There is nothing wrong with it legally. A landlord is entitled to do what he likes with his own property. This means that the supply of rented accommodation will be affected. There can be two answers to this. Either rents are too low, and that is certainly not the case in inner London, 862 or outer London for that matter, or house prices are too high. What we need to do is to bring house prices down, not force the cost of rented accommodation up any further.
My second question is this. If we are to have balanced development in London we have to ensure that we have and maintain balanced populations in all London boroughs, whether inner or outer. Many, like my own, in the next few decades are likely in large part to consist of old and middle-aged people, with a dearth of young people between 21 and 45, mainly because young married couples cannot get accommodation. If they want to become home owners they find house prices are constantly outstripping their capacity to save and to make mortgage payments. If they want rented accommodation they find it disappearing before their very eyes. What will be done by the Government to deal with this part of the present unbalanced development in London?
My third question is about traffic, which is a problem throughout the whole of London. It is mainly a matter for the GLC, but it is very much one which concerns the core of inner London. The GLC has some bright ideas and is beginning to introduce them one by one. The one in Oxford Street for controlling traffic there has something to commend it, but it is making the mess worse in the surrounding streets. We must have in London a zone which is virtually closed to private motor cars, with certain exceptions, and through lorries. If the GLC cannot do it the Government will have to step in to do it, because this affects the core of the problem. By that means we find many of the problems would be alleviated. There is some hope at last of getting some action on this problem because, we understand, the Prime Minister himself has at long last become aware of the traffic problems in inner London. Let us hope that he will be able to persuade Ministers to do something about it.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
Would my hon. Friend not agree that there is something to be said for the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) that there might be created some form of consortium to exercise powers at present 863 divided between three authorities and so to bring some sense into planning in London?
§ Mr. Deakins
Yes, that is a good idea, and I hope that the Minister may be able to say something about it in this debate. If we are to have balanced developments we have to alter the present strategic control structure in all Greater London. It is time, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey said, for the Government to step in before it is too late. We have only about a year in which the Government can step in to ensure we get balanced development throughout Greater London, inner and outer. If they do not do so the chance will be lost to take positive action even when we get what I much look forward to, a subsequent Government of my right hon. Friends.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
After a couple of drinks on a Saturday night in Glasgow one can say "Glasgow belongs to me", but one would need to be particularly inebriated to imagine that London belongs to Londoners. It belongs to far too many other people. I should like to see the ownership and the control of London restored to those whose heritage it is.
The problems of London provide paradoxes of the sort which always offends a Socialist, such as the paradox of so much affluence combined with so much unemployment, or a surplus of food in one part of the world combined with starvation in another. In London the paradox is between great wealth and continuing deprivation. We debated it only last week. There are massive office developments such as Centre Point, with wasted resources and millions of pounds of money, and £53 being spent on a school improvement in Lambeth.
First of all, where the GLC or outer London authorities fail, there should be a housing authority for the whole of London. There is a great deal of evidence of the failure of boroughs. We want to see an authority that can redress the problems referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton). Lambeth Council has 70 acres of land in Croydon—
§ Mr. Fraser
—either 70 or 74 acres in Croydon. We wish to put on it some houses which are badly needed, because Croydon is not interested in building houses. Croydon wants a hospital which would cover about 19 acres out of the 70 or 74, and the rest would be open space. At the planning inquiry a representative of Croydon Borough Council said that that open space was neededas a buffer between the hospital activities and the residential area".A buffer between a hospital and the stockbroker belt! Lambeth wants a buffer between the railway and the people who live cheek by jowl with the railway or cheek by jowl with industry. What does Croydon want? It wants a 50-acre buffer between the stockbroker belt and the hospital.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) is not a man who likes strong language, but if he were still the Minister with responsibility for London—if he will excuse the expression—he would say, "Go down and kick the arse of Croydon Borough Council; there is a problem in London and this 74 acres has got to be used for London housing." What is needed is a body for the whole of London which will be a strategic housing authority.
Secondly, we need a development corporation for London that will combine commercial expertise with public ownership and public development, just as do the new town corporations which have £100 million assets for their operations, We need the same kind of body for London to develop Dockside, Covent Garden, Piccadilly and the AEI site. The development corporation could perhaps use pension funds so that any profit that is made could go back to the pension funds and benefit the ordinary people in the community instead of going into private hands.
Thirdly, we need a system of discount purchasing by local authorities. Many people who sell land to a local authority have to pay capital gains tax. Why not allow local authorities to buy land at 30 per cent. discount and let the owner of the land settle the difference between himself and the Inland Revenue?
Fourthly, we need an option in favour of the local authorities or the development corporation to purchase land when 865 it becomes available. When a site such as the AEI site, Covent Garden or the Morgan Crucible site is sold, the local authority or the development corporation should automatically have an option to purchase that land, so that it passes into public hands for comprehensive development in the interests of London, before it is offered to private hands.
To take that option principle a stage further, wherever Freshwater, First National Finance or similar companies put a block of flats on the market for sale, why not let the tenants in that block of flats have the first option to purchase them? Let us have some more Dolphin Squares. Let blocks of flats in London belong to Londoners and be kept available for letting. They can be run by housing associations, in co-ownership or under the aegis of the local authority. Let us have an option in favour of the people who live there and have an interest in them.
Fifthly, when land is transferred it must be transferred at existing use value and not at "hope" value—in the hope of making immense profits. For example, if land used by Hays Wharf is said by Hays Wharf to be unprofitable, fair enough, sell it as wharfage that is redundant and unprofitable. Let it be sold at existing use value and not at "hope" value, making money out of Londoners.
We need a form of preservation order, not for buildings but for people. When a large compulsory purchase order is made, a year or two elapses between the local authority making the order and its implementation, during which time many tenants are turned out of furnished accommodation. Let us have preservation orders in areas of stress to preserve the rights of tenants, occupants and residents from the time the order is made to the time when the Minister confirms or rejects the order. This will preserve people's rights; otherwise they will be driven out by house owners who hope to get open market vacant possession for the premises instead of the value with the tenants in possession.
Therefore, I am asking for preservation orders in respect of individuals as well as buildings. If we have more public ownership and control and let the people have a greater share in the profits that flow 866 from it, we shall all have a better and healthier capital city.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Paul Channon)
Every hon. Member now present is delighted that we have had a whole day's debate on London. It is quite right that this has taken place today. I know that many hon. Members feel that we have not debated London frequently enough in this House, and my hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat) has been particularly keen to put that argument forward. It surprises me that the part of the United Kingdom with which I was dealing until quite recently is about the size of four London boroughs yet it seemed to take a larger share of the time of this House than the affairs of the large number of people who live in Greater London. At any rate, let us hope that we do not go to those extremes on this topic.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to take part in this debate and to go over the problems of London. Until recently I took a special interest in London housing, as did the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) in the past. Therefore, I am pleased to have the opportunity of returning to this topic and for explaining the responsibilities which have been given to me on this subject.
I cannot hope to answer all the points which have been raised in this debate. Some detailed constituency points have been mentioned, and I shall get in touch with hon. Members concerned if I feel that any further explanation is necessary.
I shall try to deal with as many of the points as possible, although the House will appreciate that a great many of these matters are the responsibility not of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment or myself, but of the GLC and the boroughs. Some hon. Members have argued whether it is right that those authorities should have the responsibility, and have suggested that the Government should take steps to reduce the powers of local authorities. But that is another matter. I cannot comment on that aspect at the moment.
I am also in difficulties in dealing with the Greater London Development Plan. 867 It would not be right for me to comment on a number of the suggestions which have been put forward, but I shall attempt to deal a little later with some of the matters which were raised on that aspect by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey.
I begin by saying how much I agree with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley). We all know the awful problems which exist in London—indeed, there are thousands of problems, some of them quite appalling. However, despite those ghastly problems I must say that of all the major cities in the world, I still prefer to live in London. I do not think one needs to go to Tokio to discover that! In spite of all the problems that exist in Greater London, it must be said that there are many excellent things which have been done in London. Under successive Governments, the clean air policy has done marvels in terms of the fight against pollution and the improvement of the air in London. The River Thames is now very much cleaner than it was. On the day when Sir Desmond Plummer catches a salmon off London Bridge, we shall all have cause for celebration—[An HON. MEMBER: "He might catch a red herring!"]. I must not get involved in red herrings—or blue ones!
There are many excellent ways in which London leads the world, and it is the duty and the job of the GLC and boroughs, and the Government to some extent, to try to ensure that London gives a lead to the world. People were worried about London traffic long before any of us were born, and no doubt people will go on worrying long after we are all gone. There have been traffic problems almost ever since London was created.
Many of the issues with which we have been dealing in this debate are not uniquely concerned with London or with the problems of capital cities in general. But there are problems concerned with the whole question of the development and care of urban areas, of which London is the shining and prime example. It may be that at a time when England was so rural our forefathers paid too little attention to our towns and cities. But they are absolutely crucial to all of 868 us. So many people live in our cities and urban areas.
The creation of the Department of the Environment, which brings together the various threads of so many issues, will, over the years have an important impact upon these problems, regardless of which party happens to be administering it at the time. To have brought together the housing, planning and traffic problems of a great city into one Department must, in the long term, represent an important step forward.
One of the great rôles of the Department of the Environment must be to concentrate on urban problems in the urban areas. More and more people live in these areas, and it is in these areas, by and large, that one finds acute problems of poverty, social degradation, housing and environmental squalor of all kinds.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his predecessor both intended to and did play an active and vigorous part in tackling these difficult problems. It was the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) who said that London was in danger of becoming a city where only the very rich and the very poor could live. That has often been said. But so far London has avoided that—at any rate, far more than any other capital city. However, it is a great danger, and one can see in other parts of the world, what can happen if great and continuing attention is not paid to the life of the city.
My right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for the Environment selected three industrial towns and three inner city areas for a special study in order to bring a new and detailed approach to urban problems, and to learn how Governments should tackle the problem in future. The study, which is particularly relevant to London, is being organised jointly by my Department and local authorities concerned, using the full facilities of outside consultants and expertise. One of the areas selected is the borough of Lambeth. I have been asked by my right hon. Friend to take the chair of that study group. It is of particular importance to London because some of the most important problems arise in Lambeth, which has always been a progressive local authority regardless of which party has been in power. I am sure that valuable lessons will be learned.
§ Mr. Neville Sandelson (Hayes and Harlington)
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the problems with which the House has been concerned today are of such complexity and of such concern to millions of people living in the city that there is a widespread feeling that a Royal Commission and nothing else should be appointed to examine and analyse the problems in depth? Only in that way can we reassure the people of London that the Government are prepared seriously to look at the problems involved and to give the people of London the feeling that the Government have some plan for the future working and living structure of London.
§ Mr. Channon
I take the view, which I know all hon. Members do not share, that, if anything, there are too many rather than too few inquiries about London. It is inquired into by Governments, development planners, local authorities and academics. Everybody inquires into London on every conceivable occasion.
§ Mr. Channon
I will try to stick to Lambeth, as the right hon. Gentleman suggests.
The motion calls for an investigation to take place into…the social and economic consequences of the present free market in land and property…".I do not think that we need another investigation. London is permanently under investigation, and more delay would result before decisions could be taken if the hon. Gentleman's idea were pursued. Cities are not dead institutions, as the hon. Member for Waltham-stow. West (Mr. Deakins) pointed out. They grow, and will go on growing. It is wrong to imagine, as has been suggested, that we can call a complete halt for two years on all planning and development proposals for London while we set up other inquiries. I am sure that at the end of the day we would then have to have further inquiries to consider the results of those inquiries.
§ Mr. Spearing
The hon. Gentleman has spent 10 minutes on his preamble, and I take it that he will not accept the terms of the motion. But the GLC development plan did not look at the nature of the market forces, which will 870 be vital when the Secretary of State takes his decision. If the Minister will not accept the motion, will he at least undertake to look at the question of outstanding permissions in the private sector which have not been taken up, because this might be an important part of the question of prices?
§ Mr. Channon
I must be careful in replying to that point. All I can promise the hon. Gentleman is that I will carefully consider what he has said.
I come now to the Greater London Development Plan. Hon. Members have asked what has happened to it. The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) has put down a motion which is wholly misleading, although in his speech he was good enough not to proceed with the allegation in the motion. Nevertheless, I am sorry that he saw fit to put on the Order Paper a motion containing such an allegation. There is no truth whatsoever in the stories, which have already been denied, that my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State and Sir Desmond Plummer came to some deal to suppress until after the GLC elections, the publication of the report of the panel which has been studying the plan. I utterly repudiate that suggestion. The fact is that the Government have not even received the report, although it is now expected shortly. My right hon. and learned Friend has not seen it. I have not seen it, and no other Ministers have seen it. Therefore, we are not in a position—nor would the Ministers of any Government be in a position—to take a final view on how the matter should be handled.
I will explain the normal procedure. The plan is a statutory development plan. The inquiry ending last May was a statutory inquiry, different from the Roskill inquiry into the third London airport. The options open to my right hon. and learned Friend are to approve the plan as submitted, to reject it altogether, or to approve it with modifications. In view of the changes in the plan which the GLC has proposed and of the criticisms which the panel expressed in public, it is reasonable to suppose that the possibility of modifying the plan after the panel's report seems fairly strong.
There is the established procedure, stemming from the report of the Franks 871 Committee, that if my right hon. and learned Friend proposes to modify a submitted development plan, the modifications he has in mind are first published and opportunity given for public comment on them before a formal decision is taken on the plan. In some circumstances, a further inquiry may be held at that stage. In the case of the Greater London Development Plan, it would mean that no final decision would be taken on these matters until my right hon. and learned Friend's initial conclusions on the panel's report had first been announced and opportunity given for further comment. That, I think, is what people on the whole have been arguing for.
Normally, the report of the public inquiry is not published in full until the final decision stage, but my right hon. and learned Friend has already recognised that in this case there may well be argument for publishing the panel's report earlier. It has been argued that the Government should publish the whole report as soon as it is received. My right hon. and learned Friend will con-consider, when he has the report, whether there are special reasons for departing from normal procedure in that way. I believe that it has never been done before with any other statutory development plan.
To publish the panel's conclusions before my right hon. and learned Friend has made his decision would bedevil planning and raise hopes and fears which might be unfounded. But much of this depends on the terms of the report which, I emphasise, neither my right hon. and learned Friend nor I have even had a sight of. I assure the House that the decision will not be taken except in the light of full public discussion.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
I did not have an opportunity to speak in the debate and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to put what is an extremely important question. I believe that the Covent Garden development plan is in his possession and that he is considering it. Would it not be desirable to defer consideration of that plan until he has had an opportunity to see the Greater London plan?
I shall say something about the Covent Garden plan in a 872 moment. It has been the subject of a different procedure, and there are proposals before my right hon. and learned Friend. He hopes to make a decision on them very shortly.
§ Mr. Channon
I am certainly not prejudging that issue. All I am saying is that as far as I know that has never been done before and would be contrary to the normal way in which such plans are dealt with. My right hon. and learned Friend will naturally study what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman in the debate and elsewhere, but no decision can be taken until we have had a sight of the report, and we have not yet reached that stage, although I hope that we shall do so shortly.
I turn to the subject of the development of the docklands, raised by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey. I think that the whole House was delighted by his speech, and I shall study it with great care. I agree with him that the redevelopment of the docklands is probably the most exciting decision that will be taken in London for many years—perhaps for centuries. It will be crucial to the future of London that this should be a splendidly developed area. I note that in the right hon. Gentleman's view—and I take it to be the view of the Labour Party, as the hon. Gentleman was speaking from the Front Bench—there should be a new town corporation, or some such body, to develop the whole area.
The situation at the moment is that the consultants, appointed after consultation with the five boroughs last year, have been studying an area of 5,000 acres on the banks of the River Thames from London and the Surrey Docks in the west to Beckton in the east, with the aim of achieving a balanced redevelopment of the area and, above all, of lifting the quality of life and the environment of those who live there. There are some acres in the area that may be used for housing without prejudice to the outcome of the study. About 140 acres have been 873 identified including a 37-acre site that is partly in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency, as suitable for housing. The borough councils have been discussing this subject with the GLC, but the area is only a small part of the whole package.
The consultants will submit their report to the Secretary of State and the GLC early in the new year. They will provide costed options for four or five alternative proposals for the balanced redevelopment of the whole dockland area. There will be a period of public participation and consultation, following which a decision will be taken on the preferred form of dvelopment for the area and the method of implementation.
I hope that the local authorities and the general public—particularly in East London, but in all the areas affected—will have a full opportunity to consider what is suggested, for this is the most important planning decision in which they are ever likely to be involved, or in which London is ever likely to be involved. I see no reason why there should be any disagreement and certainly there has been none so far, between the two sides of the House about the procedures likely to be followed in this case. I shall note what the right hon. Gentleman said today about the way in which applications to develop the area should be handled.
§ Mr. Mellish
May we get it on the record that when the strategic planning committee has reported, and while the public and the local authorities are taking part in the discussions and all the views are being collected, planning permissions will not be given within the area and that at some stage it will be for the Government, having intervened at an early stage, to decide what that plan shall be?
§ Mr. Channon
The aim is that nothing should be done to prejudice a proper redevelopment of these sites as a whole. As far as I know, no planning applications have been granted—there may be a few small exceptions that I do not know about—but the main purpose is that the area should be redeveloped as a whole, and we shall consider how that may best be done and under what forum.
Other hon. Members have mentioned the subject of housing in London. I am 874 well aware of the ghastly housing problems of London. I tried to deal with them for some months in the year before I went to my previous post. I note the views of, for example, my hon. Friends the Member for the two Cities, the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) and the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West about the acute shortage in the rented sector. This may be the most worrying single feature of the whole London housing problem.
If it had been an easy problem, it would have been solved long ago. I am trying to give special attention to it. I note the views of hon. Members about the importance of housing associations and the need to stimulate the voluntary housing movement in every way, for it is a crucial factor.
In case there is any misunderstanding in the House, local authority starts in London, despite the builders' strike, are still considerably up on 1970, and they are not much different from last year despite the 12-week builders' strike. There has not been a decline in the housing programme in London, and certainly there has not been a decline in owner-occupation. In the first 10 months of this year in the GLC area 8,332 private dwellings were started, as opposed to 7,675 in the first 10 months of 1970. The public sector figure was 7 per cent. up on 1970, with 20,587 starts as opposed to 19,239.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea made the point that London is a special case. There are parts of the country where the housing problem is very nearly solved. But there will remain for a long time these acute problems in our big cities, of which London is much the worst—
§ Mr. Channon
Certainly it is very bad. I do not necessarily agree that it is getting worse. Every effort must be made to improve the London housing situation. We prefer to look upon this as a regional rather than a national situation, because the situation varies so much in different parts of the country. As I did previously, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State takes the chair of the London Action Group which is attempting to tackle some of these problems. That group has done an extremely good job, and I am grateful to it.
875 Despite the rise in house prices I am glad to tell the House that the number of mortgages taken out in London has kept up. In the first three quarters of 1972 the total number of mortgages taken out was equal to the total for the whole of 1970, and 6,000 out of the total of 43,000 mortgages went to borrowers under 25. That is a rather interesting feature. What is more, 60 per cent. of all mortgages continue to go to first-time purchasers. That is in spite of the increase in house prices, and I think the figures are better than the House might have realised.
I turn to some of the other points raised in the debate. A number of hon. Members dealt with employment in London. I note their views. There are some encouraging signs. London remains the largest manufacturing centre in the United Kingdom, with 1,200,000 people engaged in manufacturing industry. That represents about 28 per cent. of the jobs available. Since March, unemployment in London has fallen by nearly 14,000, and the number of notified unfilled vacancies has increased by 8,000, or 47 per cent.
The current employment situation for school leavers and young people is reasonably good. There are three notified unfilled vacancies for each unemployed young person in inner London, and there are more apprenticeships available than in 1971. However, the Government are not complacent about the situation. A special working party has been set up by the National Youth Employment Council to look at the problem nationally.
Other hon. Members asked about IDCs. They have been refused comparatively rarely, and the exemption limit was raised from 3,000 to 10,000 square feet for the South-East. I hope that that will be of help to those hon. Members who are concerned about IDCs.
My hon. Friend the Member for the two Cities suggested lotteries and hotel taxes, and I rather sensed that the House was keen on the idea. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is reviewing the law relating to lotteries. I shall ensure that he knows my hon. Friend's views.
I noted the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South 876 (Sir R. Russell) about our future transport system. It sounded rather expensive. But if it is in the GLDP I have no doubt that we shall have a report on it. It is a factor that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have to consider.
As I have already announced, we have set up a special study of the improvement grant situation in London. It would be a great advantage if hon. Members would give me details of any cases they know about instead of making generalisations. I have heard many generalisations, but no details of whom it is happening to and how it occurs. If there is evidence of abuse the Government will not hesitate to tackle this problem. We are examining the whole problem of older houses, and of improvement in the London area and the rest of the country.
As a public inquiry is sitting at the moment into the Shirley Oaks matter, I cannot comment on the arguments which have been advanced in that respect.
As regards traffic, the GLC has put forward a number of suggestions in a useful booklet, on which hon. Members have congratulated the council. I note the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) about lorry parking, and I will contact him. The GLC proposes to ban lorries over 40-ft. long from parts of Central London. This is a start on keeping lorries out of areas where they obviously ought not to be. I hope that this experience will later lead to measures over a wider area of London.
I am not sure that I share the views of the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) on the green belt, nor, I think, did any other hon. Member.
The hon. Members for Greenwich (Mr. Guy Barnett) and for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) talked about redundancies in South-East London. I will study what the hon. Members said. The figures for unemployment in London appear to be more satisfactory than I had hoped, although there is room for improvement.
The question of homelessness is an extremely important one and one for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. No hon. Member can be satisfied with a situation in which the problem of homelessness appears to be apparently increasing. The 877 problem of homeless single people worries me greatly, and this is coupled with the problem we discussed earlier this year of the closing of hostels. I assure the House that I am considering these difficult problems.
In January my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and I hope to have a meeting with representatives of the London boroughs and the GLC to discuss the working parties reports on homelessness in London and in the West Country. The working parties reports have been published and are available in the Library.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead raised also the question of service charges. A special leasehold service study has been set up to examine ways of dealing with the problem my hon. Friend has in mind. I greatly hope to have the report of this service charge study before long. A large number of interested bodies have been consulted. I hope that it will be possible to come forward with a solution.
I also take note of the point about trying to speed up planning appeals in London. One reason why planning appeals have been taking longer is that there have been more of them and that is a good thing. Up to 50 additional inspectors will begin duty during the next few months. I hope that will go some way to overcome the delays in planning appeals.
I note the views which have been expressed on the subject of offices. It is impossible to imagine a situation in London where a certain amount of office accommodation was not being brought forward.
I agree with the views which were expressed earlier in the year by my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on the subject of empty office blocks. My right hon. Friend said then, as I did, that only about 1 per cent. of all the office space in London has been empty for a long time. I agree with what my right hon. Friend said when he was Secretary of State for the Environment about the scandal—
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.