HC Deb 20 June 1972 vol 839 cc401-30

Order for Third Reading read.

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

11.22 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Tugendhat (Cities of London and Westminster)

I must begin—and this is no reflection on the Chair—by apologising to hon. Members from London constituencies for the lateness of the hour at which we are taking this business. It is usually taken at 7 o'clock. It is a matter of great difficulty to London Members that it should be taken as late as this, and I hope the fact that we are taking it so late will not in any way diminish the awareness of hon. Members of the importance of the Measure.

I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Speed), the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, for being here to represent the Government's interest should that be called upon in our debate.

The Bill is familiar to all London Members on both sides of the House. It is a GLC Money Bill, and its rejection would result in the GLC, the Inner London Education Authority and all the various London boroughs and bodies such as London Transport being without funds after 30th September. It is not too much to say—it is in no sense an exaggeration—that if the Bill were by some unhappy chance rejected or failed to get through the House London would come to a halt.

It is only necessary to look at the list of items set out in the Schedule to see the basic nature of the Bill to the life of our city. Item 2 provides for the layout of open spaces and contributions towards green belt schemes. Item 5 provides for the construction and improvement of metropolitan roads. Item 6 provides for the improvement of the River Thames. Item 7 provides for the equipment of schools. I shall not bore the House by recounting all the things which the Bill does. The Schedule is needed to show that every major function of London life is involved.

At this stage it is appropriate to make it clear that the purposes for which the Bill is seeking money have been approved not only by the Tory-controlled Greater London Council but also by the Labour-controlled Inner London Education Authority. In other words, not only does the Bill cover every aspect of London life but, to that extent, it could be said to have bipartisan support as well.

The House will notice that there has been one substantial change from previous practice in the way in which the Bill is laid out. I refer here to a matter which is close to the heart of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay); namely, Item 5, which concerns metropolitan roads. For those who have not had an opportunity to study the Bill in detail, Item 5 groups all the metropolitan road items into one section instead of listing them separately.

This is a novel feature concerning roads. But I emphasise that it is not a novel feature for the Bill. The change simply brings roads into line with previous practice on, for instance, open spaces, Item 2, or the provision of funds under the Education Act, Item 7. Hon. Members who care to look at the Bill will see that, although roads are a much more important item in terms of expenditure, if not amenity, than Item 2, they are, equally, less important in terms of financial provision than Item 7. So, although this is a change in terms of layout, it does not represent a novel principle.

Hon. Members may well wonder why the GLC has decided to bring about this change in the Bill this year. It is right that the House should know the reasons for this alteration, of which there are two. The first reason is that, by grouping the items together, the full picture of the Council's borrowing requirements for highway purposes can be shown in one place. Hitherto it has been necessary to examine eight different items in the Schedule. I emphasise that all the various items in the Schedule have been listed separately in an appendix, and members of the public and Members of Parliament can, if they wish, see the individual items. But eight items is a great deal, and it has been found in the past that difficulties arose if expenditure on one or other of the items overshot the mark and it was necessary to seek approval for a small amount of money to cover the particular item. By grouping them together in this way the work of the Council is greatly assisted, as is probably the work of the House.

Roads represent an extremely controversial issue. Some right hon. and hon. Members have been deeply concerned with the GLC's plans for new road building for some time. I appreciate that there is concern outside the House over some of the road building plans which have been announced. As I have said, it is possible to check the individual items on the separate list. But I should like to make one thing absolutely clear. Although the Council is seeking the permission of the House to spend money on a wide range of projects, I cannot emphasise too strongly that it is in no sense pre-judging the results of any public inquiries. The Council is seeking money for projects upon which it hopes it will be able to embark at some point during the period for which the Bill runs. But if permission is not granted as a result of a public inquiry, naturally the scheme does not go ahead, the money is not spent for that purpose, and approval can be sought to spend the money on something else.

It is a matter of the greatest importance to understand that the GLC is in no sense pre-judging any public inquiries or any other matters of that sort. It is simply seeking the permission of the House to undertake projects which it would like to undertake and upon which it hopes to be able to embark.

Some hon. Members have expressed concern about the provision for London Transport contained in the Bill. I should have liked to be in a position to provide more information for hon. Members who have expressed interest in that particular point.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton) indicated assent.

Mr. Tugendhat

I see the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) nodding in agreement with that at least, even if we do not agree entirely on everything that is contained in the Bill. The hon. Member has long experience of Greater London Council affairs and will perhaps realise the difficulty I am in.

The provision of £8 million comprises basically two principal items, one of £3 million which is earmarked for the 25 per cent. grants for major railway extensions and another of £5 million which will be allocated to specific projects in due course. Those specific projects, however, have yet to be chosen and authorised by the policy and resources committee of the GLC. I know that this is a matter of concern to the hon. Member for Acton, although I think he will agree with me that the GLC in this matter is behaving in accordance with precedent.

The hour is late, the Bill is important. In view of the late sittings we are having this week and are likely, I believe, to have for some time to come, I felt that the House would not wish me to go in detail through every item in the Bill. I am, of course, prepared to do so in summing up if that proves to be the wish of the House, but I felt that a gentle canter through the course would be the most acceptable option at this stage.

I hope, however, that the fact that I have gone fairly quickly through the main points of the Bill will not detract from the importance of this Measure. Unless it is passed by the House, the GLC, the Inner London Education Authority, all the London boroughs and many other bodies besides, such as London Transport, will be completely without funds. I cannot believe that any hon. Member on either side would wish that to happen. I therefore have pleasure in commending the Bill to the House.

11.32 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

Although the hour is late we are no longer suffering under a guillotine, which is a pleasant change. As the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat) has said, the Bill authorises capital expenditure for the Greater London Council for a number of purposes, including, according to the Schedule, Part I, Item 5, Acquisition of property and execution of works for construction and improvement of metropolitan roads. With most of the Bill I do not think any of us would quarrel, and I agree with the hon. Member that as it contains many highly desirable proposals nobody, I imagine, would wish to vote against the Bill as a whole. What some of us wish to do is to query the suggestion that we should in any way sanction in the Bill any proposals for destroying houses in the middle of the present grievous housing shortage in order to build urban motorways.

This is plainly a matter which concerns this House, both because such motorway expenditure would attract, I understand, a 75 per cent. grant from the Exchequer and because the destruction of houses for the purpose of building urban motorways and other major roads within residential London by the Greater London Council is a major cause of the present acute housing shortage and the exorbitantly high prices for houses which those of us who represent London constituencies find to be the greatest single anxiety of our constituents.

It is no good the Government for their part protesting that they are trying to do all they can to keep house prices down and at the same time permitting the destruction of perfectly good homes for the sake of building motorways, the more so indeed if the Government are encouraging such destruction by the offer of a 75 per cent. grant.

Very little detail was originally given in the Bill concerning the projects on which this money would be spent. We were merely told that for roads about £7 million would be required for the year ending 31st March, 1973, and £4 million for the six months ending September, 1973. First, therefore, we should have more details than we have had of the proposed expenditure. Does it involve—if it is the hon. Member rather than the Government who is taking on a god fatherly responsibility for the Bill—the purchase and destruction of houses and flats, and, if so, how many? Is that included in what is euphemistically called the "acquisition of property"? What number of people would be displaced and added to the housing waiting lists as a result of the expenditure here proposed?

The items of road expenditure included, although large at first sight, are only a fraction of the grotesque sum of £2,000 million which the GLC is seeking to spend on primary roads in the whole of its grandiose London motorway development scheme—a sum greater than the cost of the British share in Concorde, the third London Airport and the Channel Tunnel put together.

Those who are critical of this road programme as being a huge misallocation of resources, and particularly of the disastrous effect that it would have on housing and living conditions in many parts of London, have recently refrained from raising this issue directly with Ministers in the House because it is being exhaustively studied by the panel of inquiry headed by Mr. Frank Layfield into the whole of the Greater London Development Plan. In passing, I pay tribute to the exemplary fairness and thoroughness with which that inquiry has been conducted. We await its conclusions with great interest.

Nevertheless, if the GLC goes forward in the midst of this inquiry and asks hon. Members to approve parts of this expenditure, those who represent London constituencies suffering from a grievous housing shortage and threatened by some of these road schemes cannot be expected to remain silent on the ground that the whole matter is sub judice—I know that the question of sub judice raises a lot of questions at present—because if they did it might be said later that they had acquiesced in the principle of all those projects.

After some inquiry since the Bill originally saw the light of day I have been given further details of Item 5 in the Schedule. It includes £6,194,000 for the acquisition of property and the execution of works for metropolitan roads. I should like to be told by those who have sponsored the Bill whether that includes work on any of the motorway schemes now being examined by the panel of inquiry into the GLDP under Mr. Layfield. I think that the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster would agree that it would be improper for work to begin on such schemes before the panel had made its very important report and the House had considered it.

Secondly, I am informed, after a little research, that the proposed expenditure includes the acquisition of property and the execution of works in connection with the construction of the West cross route and Westway. But the West cross route is also now being examined by a local public inquiry which in due course is to report to the Secretary of State.

I understood the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster to give an assurance that in so far as those matters affect any schemes covered by these inquiries they will in no circumstances go ahead in advance of those inquiries and the Minister's decision. It is valuable to have that assurance quite firm—in itself, that would justify a brief debate on this matter tonight—but it would be more satisfactory if we could have that assurance from the Government as well. Although I am sure that the hon. Member speaks in the best of good faith, he has no very great responsibility for the execution and implementation of these policies.

Clearly, it would be wrong if these schemes went ahead in advance of the findings of the public inquiries which are now under way. That applies also to expenditure not only on the West cross route but on the works at the approaches to Wandsworth Bridge, which is really a part of the West cross route. I hope that since we have the Under-Secretary with us he will take an active part in the proceedings and give us an assurance to that effect.

The Government must also review the whole policy of destroying houses in a period of worsening housing shortage in the great cities simply to allow more and more traffic to travel a little faster. The figures for London show that if present road-building plans go ahead, financed by public money, the destruction of homes in order to build motorways will be a major cause of housing shortage in the future.

The GLC is now deliberately planning for a housing shortage in Greater London in 1981 of about 95,000 homes, enough for about 300,000 people. The motorway programme, quite apart from the astronomical financial cost, would involve the destruction of about 30,000 dwellings, and if the land lost was used for housing it could accommodate about 100,000. If the whole programme goes ahead one third of the housing shortage in London in 10 years' time, and all the human distress that will accompany it will not be because of the real shortage of housing or land but because of the building of unwanted motorways, unwanted by those who live in the densely populated districts which will be affected.

In Battersea, where bad housing is by far the most acute human problem, houses for 4,000 or 5,000 people will be destroyed if the programme is allowed to proceed. That is not my figure but an admission by the GLC. An already distressing problem would be made a great deal worse. Even the limited West cross route, which is only one part of the proposed Ringway 1, though only 2½miles long—estimated to cost £64 millions—would destroy homes for about 3,000 or 4,000 people in Hammersmith, Fulham and Chelsea.

The Government cannot escape responsibility for all this. The 75 per cent. grant from the Exchequer for urban motorways not merely permits but, as far as I can discover, sometimes almost incites local authorities to propose such schemes, even if there is no local demand for them except from the road-building vested interests. In one city the offer of the grant has been quoted by the proposers of a scheme as a main reason for building an urban motorway which would carve up the city. It is not merely in London but in one city and town after another that one hears the same story—Edinburgh, Bath, Bristol, Portsmouth, Yeovil, Bedford, Canterbury, Cardiff, to quote just a few examples. A vastly expensive inner motorway project is prepared very much in private by technicians, so-called consultants, some of whom seem to have vested financial interests in the proposal. It is sold to a few reluctant local authority councillors and then opposed as soon as it becomes known by the vast majority of people living in the area.

A basic mistake was made in extending the perfectly sensible idea of inter-urban motorways to the destructive inner urban motorways, which in London would be most damaging of all and would make the housing situation so much worse. The whole policy is based on the simple mistake of believing that because we can relieve living conditions by taking traffic round residential areas we can do the same by taking it through residential areas. We cannot, and we only make matters worse.

While we all await the report of the panel of inquiry into the Greater London Development Plan, I hope that the Government quite apart from the assurances they can give tonight, will thoroughly, open-mindedly and independently examine the whole problem of the urban motorways, and not be too much swayed by the vested interest which the technicians and the road-building interests have a stake in. I hope the Minister will give his mind to that.

11.47 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)

I should like briefly to refer to the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea North (Mr. Jay) before turning to the comments already made by the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat) about the grant for London Transport, which is item 14 on the Schedule to the Bill. I do not intend to oppose it, because we know the money must be found. But Parliament has a right to make comments and ask questions.

I should declare a semi-interest in that I am a co-opted member of one of the GLC Committees, Environmental Planning, although, of course, among the opposition.

In my constituency we have a possible road scheme of the sort to which my right hon. Friend referred, it is the enlargement of Ringway 2, which is the North Circular Road, which bisects Ealing Common and passes close to housing in my constituency. The borough council has made formal objections, and there are many objections from the local residents' associations. The scheme was advertised some time ago, and the date by which the objections were to be in was also some time ago, but we have not yet heard whether there will be a public inquiry. I hope that, if not tonight some time in the not-too-distant future, local residents will be assured that there will be a public inquiry, because the delay is a little unnerving to say the least.

I turn to the comments already made by my right hon. Friend. He made the point that the road schemes of the GLC as proposed will be very costly I wish to pose two further questions. Even if the roads are built, shall we have a viable and balanced system for movement in London? All the evidence I have read and everything I know of the subject suggests that we shall not, because roads are relatively inflexible in the number of people they can take. Even very large motorways with one or two people per car cannot take many people, and the possibility is that we should have a road system which would be congested at certain times, being rapidly gummed up on occasions, together with a public transport system which would be impoverished. It is fairly clear that we cannot have both.

As a member of the committee, I put some questions to officers of the GLC two or three years ago about the political choice of investment. They were not answered. The Greater London Development Panel has put severe questions to the GLC because, in the first round of hearings, it was not satisfied that the Council had paid sufficient attention to the balance between public transport and roads.

It is to that aspect which I now turn because one of the great things which the Council has left out of its evidence to the panel is the cost of movement to individuals. We know what it costs to travel by road. We are constantly told, especially by the motoring organisations, that the cost of public transport, particularly to families, escalates almost monthly. What we have not heard about the GLC scheme is the cost to the individual of travelling to work or of public transport for leisure. Public transport has a great deal of spare capacity for other than work travel. It is no use the GLC concentrat- ing on travel-to-work public transport and forgetting these other things. As we must have a public transport system, whether it is used during the weekends or in off-peak periods or not, the additional traffic it can carry is at much lower marginal cost. It is the GLC's responsibility to see that the fares policy is realistic.

In October, 1970, the GLC published an interesting green paper called, "The future of London Transport". It held vast meetings all over the GLC area with public participation. As a result, it set London Transport a number of questions. One of the principal questions was what its commercial policy for fares was, and in particular for cheap travel, like "freedom tickets", which are possibly used off-peak for as much travel as the holder likes for a nominal sum per month or per week. London Transport was also asked to investigate the repeated cry of "flat fares", which may not be feasible but to which we do not know the answers.

The Chairman of the Policy Resources Committee of the GLC has not yet received a reply to this comprehensive inquiry. Yet London Transport has gone ahead with a series of all-in tickets. This may be a good thing, and I am not saying that London Transport is wrong to do so. But it has jumped the gun on commercial policy for fare-paying. The GLC says that London Transport has not replied to this comprehensive inquiry from its political masters as to what fares policy should be.

Is it right that a body requiring an £8 million grant from the GLC, and having been asked to provide a basis or possible basis of commercial policy of cheap tickets and so on, should say, "Yes, we will" but in the meantime should introduce its own policy? There is something wrong with the chain of command and I hope that County Hall will be less palsied in its approach to making London Transport accountable, in this respect if in nothing else.

The GLC is granting in this next year £8 million to London Transport's capital expenditure. The grant has gone up over the years. In 1970 it was £2 million; in 1971, it rose to £5.9 million; and in 1972 it is £8 million. Yet the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster had to confess that he did not know what the money was to be spent on. He said that £3 million was for railway expansion, but he could not say what the balance of £5 million would be spent on. He said that it would be difficult to tell at this stage. It is extraordinary that we should not know what the money is to be spent on. I am not necessarily saying that the Bill should state what the money is to be spent on, but the information should at least be in the GLC minutes or on its agenda.

I have had some correspondence with the GLC. I asked whether the decisions on what this £5 million will be spent on would be reported to the GLC at its bi-monthly meetings and put up for public scrutiny. I have had no reassurance on that. I hope that I shall and that this will happen. I have had no reply so far and this seems to be bad in principle and also reflects on the general attitude to this balance of investment dealt with in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North. If we do not know what the £5 million is to be spent on in the remainder of the year what is the plan? What criteria are to be applied to this substantial public investment in public transport which is too expensive anyway?

There seems to be, yet again, some gap in what I call the accountability chain which is so fundamental to our democratic way of doing things. Unless this gap is bridged the general public will continue to have doubts about the stewardship of the GLC in this respect.

I asked the GLC about the coming year and it could not give me any details but referred me to the past year. In the London Transport Report for 1971 we see that there has been substantial capital expenditure on buses. Nearly £6 million of public money last year went on the purchase of new buses—£4,300,000 from the Department of the Environment under Section 32 of the Transport Act, 1968, and £1,543,000 from the GLC. We have some idea of where some of this £5 million is going—on the purchase of new buses.

The grant from public moneys for the purchase of new buses is now 50 per cent. It was 25 per cent. and on 8th November, 1971 this House approved the new bus grant Order and hon. Members on this side of the House were very glad that we did so. During that debate I raised the point that the public were having to pay half the money on these new buses but, at least in my part of the world, the new single-decker buses were looked upon with a certain amount of dissatisfaction.

As time goes on our buses seem to get less and less comfortable, despite what the advertisements say. This point was taken up by the Minister for Transport Industries who was his usual sympathetic and apologetic best. It has not helped my old ladies, trying to get on very badly designed buses. We might be spending this £5 million on buses that are not very good. We have standardisation and that would be a jolly good if we had a good design. But it can be catastrophic if we have the wrong design. I understand that the standardisation is in the hands of the Department of the Environment. It has produced some difficulty.

Not only are these buses badly designed from the passenger point of view, but, as many hon. Gentlemen know, they are breaking down wholesale. This is new to London. In 1910 when buses were introduced they used to break down but we have never had anything like this. We have had difficulty in getting spares, or so we have been told and I have had complaints about oil strewn on the roads. In my constituency there is up to a 5 per cent. reduction in buses because so many are off the road. I have even heard stories of men sitting in the garage waiting to take out buses which have broken down.

The Chairman of London Transport has replied to some of my questions. I asked him about the bad service and the difficulty of design and whether the manufacturers of the buses or the equipment used in them were repaying London Transport for some of the substantial expenditure it has had, in addition to the normal expenditure, to keep these buses on the road. I have had no reply to that. I asked whether there was a clause in the agreement of purchase providing for financial liability, and I have had no reply. As quarter of the cost of these buses, when they were bought, came from public sources, the GLC is accountable to this House for some of the money at least and the public should know whether we are covered by some clause against their breaking down.

Clearly the designs were bad. I can tell the House why. It is because, in the Whitehall manner of standardisation, London Transport was not allowed or did not wish—there is a bit of a muddle; nobody can tell me what it was—to design its own buses which it had done until recently. I cannot necessarily blame the officers of London Transport in this respect—they did not have much chance—but something went badly wrong and we now have an unsatisfactory situation regarding this contract. No doubt remedial measures are now being taken, but bus purchase goes on apace.

The public has had to swallow a bitter pill over this whole matter. Yet nobody will say who is responsible. It is a fumble between the bureaucracies of Whitehall and 55 Broadway that this has occurred. Therefore, it is with all the greater concern that I find that the hon. Gentleman cannot tell us what the £5 million is to be spent on.

I have outlined this matter in terms of the general and particular policy of how it hits my constituents and all fare-payers in London. If there is no Clause in the contracts to give some repayment to public funds from the manufacturers of these buses, it will be an addition to the already high cost of travel. I will not say it is significant, but it is an addition to it and reflects a generally loose system of accountability between London Transport and the GLC which I have already outlined in several respects.

On Third Reading one has the opportunity of drawing these matters to the attention of Ministers and hon. Members on both sides who are concerned. That is the proper function of the House. I am glad to have had the opportunity of taking part in the debate. I support the Bill because of its general financial proposals, but I have grave doubts about the roads and the £5 million for London Transport which I have described.

12.2 a.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) and I are in fundamental disagreement on most matters, but on the London motorway box we are in complete agreement. I was in total opposition to it when it was first put into the Greater London Council (Money) Bill by the Labour Party when it controlled the GLC. Equally, when the Conservative Party first took over and it was still supported by the Labour Party, I was in opposition, and I remain in opposition irrespective of who controls the GLC or puts the money into the Bill.

I shall go on opposing the principle of the motorway box in London. However, it is right that nobody should be misled into thinking that the idea was sold to a few reluctant councillors by officials and consultants, to use the phrase of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North. No one should be under any illusion that the reluctant councillors were from one party. They were from both parties. Although some sinners have repented, the facts still need to be put completely straight.

I appreciate the significance of the debate on Third Reading of the Greater London Council (Money) Bill. I said last year, and say again today, that it is anachronistic that we should debate in Parliament the financial affairs of a local authority, however important it may be. I hope that this may be the last occasion on which we have such a Third Reading debate and that the GLC will have to find its money via the Government through key and non-key sectors as other local authorities do. The time of Parliament should not be taken up by debating matters which can easily be dealt with by the elected members of an authority which then goes to the Government to get its money like every other local authority. Otherwise the temptation arises for all of us to suggest that the workings of Manchester, Birmingham or Liverpool ought equally to be raised here.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will convey to the Secretary of State that in the reform of local government finance it would be a welcome departure if this last local authority were to lose its power to receive its money in this way and had to go through the mechanism through which every other local authority must go.

I add my words of congratulation to my hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat), for introducing the Third Reading in such a felicitous, disarming and charming way, and yet at the same time giving us the meat of the Bill. It has been in the past the responsibility of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker), who performed the task equally well. It does not matter that the person who introduced the Bill is not a member of the Greater London Council. The important thing is that the Bill has been introduced into the House and debated. It is better to have an independent mind—this god-fatherly way, I think the right hon. Member for Battersea, North said—

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)


Mr. Finsberg

The relationship is immaterial. The way it is done is the important thing. I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster. He has convinced me that the Greater London Council requires the money it is asking for in the Bill. I am satisfied that if the democratically elected Greater London Council, whatever party is in power, says it needs the money, it should get it. However, it should not have to come to the House for it. It should proceed like every other local authority.

12.8 a.m.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Kensington, North)

One of the interesting developments over the last two or three years is the extent to which Members of Parliament and members of local authorities of all political persuasions have expressed similar views relating to the development of London and the development of urban areas.

It has been interesting to hear the hon. Members for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg), Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams) and Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) arguing their cases about urban development, which a few years ago we would have expected to be argued only from this side of the House.

The argument which the hon. Member for Hampstead has been advancing is not particularly political. However, we are seeking at the moment the destruction of our cities because of what I would regard as commercial interests. Others would regard them as the interests of certain sections of the community. Whichever it is, our cities are being destroyed.

I, like my right hon. and hon. Friends, do not oppose the Bill. I am only too acutely aware of the need for some of its provisions. Item 5 includes a reference to West Way and the West Cross route. Some of that money will, I imagine, be used to enable the houses in Acklam Road, which have become uninhabitable by virtue of West Way, to be purchased.

I emphasise that the urban motorway proposals, most of the metropolitan road proposals, incorporated in the Bill are disastrous. Some of them are necessary simply to improve the metropolitan traffic situation, but the bulk of them are proposals to improve the facility with which traffic from outside London can come into London. We must accept that this is destroying the City for no adequate purpose. The Westway route, which was opened two years ago, runs through the heart of my constituency. There was an immense outcry from the residents in my constituency because of the damage it caused. First we had the destruction to build the road and then, as soon as the traffic came, much wider areas were made uninhabitable.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) mentioned that a 2¼ mile stretch of motorway would involve the destruction of between 3,000 and 4,000 homes. But he will agree that this is on the old basis of assessment of what was involved in the clearance required to build a motorway. If we accept the new proposal for a 200-yard strip on either side of the motorway, I calculate that each mile of motorway will involve the destruction of about 5,000 homes. But it does much more. If we drive a 400-yard or 500-yard strip—the road, plus 200 yards on either side—through any community, we destroy that community.

North Kensington has suffered, and will suffer, a great deal as a result of having the community cut in two, but what perhaps will be even worse is the transformation of the character of the community as a result of the traffic coming into it. A consequence of the opening of the Westway route two years ago was that feeder roads in the vicinity became empty. Holland Park Avenue was comparatively clear for the first time for a long time. A year later the traffic congestion was back to what it had been before. Now, two years later, it is worse than ever because every car which comes into London along Westway in the morning runs into the immense traffic jam on the Edgware Road flyover and spends 15, 20 or 30 minutes waiting to get into Marylebone Road. The experienced drivers learn this and turn off and come through Shepherd's Bush and up the old and residential roads. Before very long the traffic jam will stretch further back and people will come off at Acton to avoid the congestion on the motorway.

We cannot build enough roads to cope with all the people who will want to commute into London or to go from one side of London to the other. The only way in which we can cope is by expanding and improving the public transport services, by restricting the degree of private traffic in central London and by introducing a fares policy which encourages people to use public transport instead of private transport.

These are questions which are closely related to the subject matter of the Bill, but it is not appropriate to use the Bill as a means of discussing the motorway and motor car principle in general. While I join in supporting the Bill, and while I am anxious that money should be made available to the Greater London Council to enable it to carry out most of the purposes of the Bill, I welcome the assurance from the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat) that it in no way prejudices the inquiries into the Greater London Development Plan.

Nevertheless, I am apprehensive that the approval of the expenditure on item 5 and the spending of £6,194,000 on the Acquisition of property and execution of works for construction and improvement of metropolitan roads is begging the question of what will be done. I would rather see this money allocated to the subsidisation of public transport within Greater London to ensure that we did not destroy our community for the sake of allowing cars and lorries to move more freely within it.

12.15 a.m.

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

The House is grateful to the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat) for introducing the Bill in the way he did. We do not often get an opportunity to discuss the affairs of London. Other areas have their moments; Yorkshire and Humberside had theirs yesterday. It is a long time since hon. Members representing Greater London constituencies have had an opportunity to discuss the problems of living in London which affect so many constituents.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) mentioned the bipartisan approach to motorway policy in London that used to operate. I regret that certain members of my party some years ago supported the building of motorways, and I am glad that they have now seen the light. I am tolerably certain that it is not simply because they have moved into the Opposition benches. I opposed the motorway plan before I came to the House, and I have opposed it ever since, whether Labour was in power in the House or in power on the other side of the water, for reasons which will be obvious to the hon. Gentleman because he shares the same attitude.

The hon. Member for Hampstead said that it was anachronistic for Parliament to discuss the affairs of London in this way. I am not sure. London is a special city, a unique city in the world. It is our capital city and it is the Mecca of millions of people from all over the world who throng here throughout the year to enjoy the theatres, many of which face destruction, the open spaces, many of which face destruction and many other amenities which face destruction. It is against the threat of the destruction of so much of London that is traditional, attractive and artistically fine that we hold this debate tonight. It is a chance to discuss environmental questions in the London area in a unique way.

The hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster said that the Bill was concerned with every item in the life of a great city—education, housing, planning, transport and so on. To that extent there is a unity in the Bill and therefore in the debate which should be recognised elsewhere. He was a little disingenuous in saying that the Bill had bipartisan support in that the Inner London Education Authority supported item 7. I am not sure that the majority of people in ILEA would support items 13 and 14 or the details in all the other items in the Schedule, but I take his point. ILEA is concerned with item 7 inasmuch as it is education, but all these matters are interrelated and there is a unity of policy behind the items in the Schedule to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) referred in his significant speech There are one or two other aspects of that unity to which I shall refer later.

One of the matters that my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North discussed was the roads programme. It is interesting to note the balance of expenditure between that programme not only in the Schedule but as it is envisaged under the Greater London Development Plan and the expenditure on public transport. The balance is enormously one way. I recognise that the item for public transport in the Schedule relates only to a brief period and that the GLDP is concerned with 20 years or more. But the balance is still wrong. The balance of policy is still wrong. My right hon. Friend was right to ask questions about the policy in respect of public transport, and I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) went a little awry when he said that it was not feasible to talk about a single unitary fare on London Transport. I do not accept that. I believe that there is a great deal to be said for a single unitary fare—of a rather small dimension, as it were, bridging the gap between me and my hon. Friend.

I was about to say that my constituency lies south of the river, unlike any hon. Member who has spoken so far. Of course, the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North is south of the river. But I never think of Battersea as being south of the river. However, I represent the forgotten part of London, the south-east, which does not appear on London Transport's tube maps. It is astonishing that those who ran London's tubes in the past never seemed to hear about any part of South-East London beyond New Cross and Lewisham.

We in the south-east parts of London are very much concerned with the road expenditure referred to in the Schedule. The southern end of Blackwall Tunnel comes within my own borough of Greenwich, and the road developments at that end of the tunnel presage a tremendous development of road construction which will destroy the character of South-East London.

Many people north of the river think that South-East London is an area of smoking factories and slums. That is not true. There is not a slum left in my constituency, and hardly a slum left in the older part of Greenwich, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North will remember from his childhood, when he lived at the top of Shooters Hill. The sums of those days have gone completely, and the Woolwich part of Greenwich is one of the most attractive parts of any urban area in the world. Yet it is to be desecrated by this tremendous construction of motorways, which will destroy not only homes, though that is bad enough, but the character of the place.

People live in homes. But they also live in communities. Very often, those communities have the character of villages of another age. They are quiet, pleasant areas where neighbours know each other and where they can walk about in peace. All that is to be destroyed. Half a square mile of South-East London is to be bounded by four tremendous motorways, with two of the great junctions that we have all seen in the Birmingham area which will destroy any peace, quiet or amenity for the people who live there now.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Is it not more peaceful and quieter for a vehicle to go along steadily at 50 m.p.h. than to be constantly braking, accelerating, and screeching its gears in traffic in congested areas? Which is the more peaceful and the quieter?

Mr. Hamling

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman lives, or whether he lives in Eltham, but if he envisages Eltham as a kind of great agglomeration of motorways, he will see that there will be no peace for anyone living there. There will be hardly any room for anyone to live there at all. There are 30,000 people living in this small area of London.

I know the problems of the A2. That is in the heart of my constituency. But I suggest to the hon. Member that the answer to that problem is not the destruction of London as we have known it traditionally—not the destruction of a living community.

I was in Sheffield recently. The centre of Sheffield has been transformed by redevelopment of one sort or another, with the result that there is no life there and nobody lives there. On Sunday one might as well be living on a desert island because no one lives there any more. Development has destroyed the possibility of human habitation in the centre of that city. It may be attractive from a particular point of view, but it is not a place where people live.

I and my constituents want to live in South-East London. I live there and I do not want to see the place where I live destroyed in the way in which developers have destroyed the centres of so many of our cities and made it impossible to live there. That is what this debate is about. There is a unity in the debate.

Another question I want to put is: what preparations are being made to improve public transport in South-East London? They are not enumerated in the Schedule, and if I were to press this hard, I am certain that I should get a rather dusty answer. It seems to me that there are no particular improvements in this. My hon. Friend the Member for Acton may have inquired about new buses, but the provision of tubes is also part of London transport and my part of South-East London will see no tubes in the next 10 years. That is ridiculous. When the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) talks about motorcars in South-East London, he should also ask about public transport there, because that is a scandal and to pursue the sort of urban housing development in Thamesmead without making provision for public transport on a large or general scale is ridiculous.

Mr. Ronald Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

I recall many meetings in 1964–65 when we were given an undertaking from the officers of London Transport that our part of South-East London would have a tube at the earliest stage. That agreement has since been pushed back by the introduction of the Fleet Line and other lines taking the place of that one. It is up to my hon. Friend's own authority to keep pressing for their own place in the queue.

Mr. Hamling

That is one reason for my speech tonight. I speak with the full support and knowledge of my local authority.

I now come to the planning aspects of the Bill. I was speaking about the destruction of amenity in London in recent years. One of the appalling aspects of this destruction of amenity and of civilisation is the redevelopment of London that has taken place under the aegis of the GLC. My right hon. Friend talked about the destruction of homes as a result of building motorways, but we know that the redevelopers, the big land speculators and the property speculators are destroying in 12 months many more houses and homes than the Greater London Development Plan would with the building of motorways in 20 years.

At this rate, few people will be living in the centre of London in the not-too-distant future, and we have the unparalleled spectacle of a block of flats in Tottenham Court Road being knocked down as a preparation for a redevelopment plan. When the people who are knocking down these flats were asked why they were doing it they replied, "We are knocking them down to secure them against vandalism". I want to know who are the vandals in London. It seems to me that the vandals in London are the property speculators and developers who are destroying homes and amenities, regardless of the quality of life of the ordinary Londoner.

The Piccadilly Circus project is supposed to facilitate traffic. What about the desires of the ordinary Londoner to walk about his London? Those desires are not being facilitated by this sort of redevelopment and the sort of redevelopment that is taking place in Cambridge Circus. The destruction of the flats to which I have referred is part of the preparation for that development.

The building of office blocks is to take precedence over the building of homes. That is not the sort of London that Londoners want. They want a city in which they can live, in which they can enjoy themselves, in which they can receive their friends from elsewhere in the country and from overseas and show them some of the old sights of London, and show them the theatres of London. At the rate that we are going there will be no theatres in London.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Does my hon. Friend agree that the time has come to change the burden of proof in planning applications for redeveloping city centres? We should require the developer to justify to the planning committee that what he is proposing is for the benefit of the community, rather than put the burden on the planning committee to establish that the development is undesirable. We should shift the burden of proof in favour of the planning committee and against the developer.

Mr. Hamling

I agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I should go further and say that the job of a public authority is not to facilitate redevelopment in this way. Its job is to look at London instead. This is a London which is worth preserving and ought to be preserved, and some of the items in the Bill do not commend themselves to me very much. I think that vast fortunes are being made by property speculators in London. Far more money is being made in that way than by the building of homes for ordinary people, and this is a sad commentary on our times.

My right hon. Friend and some of my hon. Friends have said that they will not vote against the Third Reading of the Bill because it contains many items of expenditure which they regard as highly desirable. Following the remarks of the hon. Member for Hampstead, there is a certain difficulty about our debating the application of the Greater London Council for funds for capital expenditure. Nevertheless, we are right to take this opportunity of looking at life in London in the round, and at the trends in development, transport and roads, and to say, "The destruction of London has gone far enough. It should stop."

12.35 a.m.

Mr. Ronald Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

I had no intention of intervening in the debate, but my right hon. and hon. Friends have provoked me slightly.

I have listened with concern and horror to descriptions of the destruction likely to take place in Battersea, Woolwich and Acton. I think of Battersea Park, Wandsworth Common and Clapham Common, all within easy distance of Battersea. I think of the green sward in Woolwich and how wonderful that is for people living there. Then I think of my area, Shoreditch, where there is no grass. Year by year we have asked the Greater London Council to provide the open spaces which are mandatory and expected. Our people were housed at 136 to 200 persons to the acre. There are no "desirable maisons" in Shoreditch. One cannot buy a house in Shoreditch. That is not because of a shortage, but because there is none to buy.

Under Item 2 £1,551,000 is allocated to March, 1973, for open spaces, and so on, with a further £700,000 up to September. It is a great pity that the GLC did not request those sums for the greater areas which it has now handed over to the London boroughs. In my area the three open spaces which the GLC should have completed are now the responsibility of the London Borough of Hackney. Hackney has to find the money to get rid of the housing which needs pulling down. Hackney has to find the housing into which to move those whose houses are pulled down. Hackney has to pay for opening out the whole area and laying it out properly.

Last year I raised with the hon. Gentleman's Department the matter of Shepherdess Walk in my area. I condemned the Government for handing over, in an order, the open spaces to the boroughs, pointing out that there would inevitably be delay, with people living in distressing circumstances, unable to have their houses pulled down and be re-housed so that the open spaces could be developed. I received a three-page letter explaining that this was not true and that the GLC would push ahead. I still do not have my Shepherdess Walk Park, Haggerston Park or Shoreditch Park.

Week after week people are complaining bitterly that their premises are damp and that they are being forced to live in a filthy state. I grumble and complain to the GLC and the borough council. But no one has any money. No one can afford to do anything about the problems now. People have to go on in this way, living in these deplorable conditions. But, above all, we have no open space. If anyone spots a tree in my constituency, I say to him, "Photograph it. It is the last that you will see here."

The sum involved in Item 2 is outrageous when there is now far less area for which the GLC is responsible. Yet it is raising even greater money for a smaller area. The GLC stands condemned for its indolence over the past four or five years regarding Shoreditch.

Whilst I commiserate with my right hon. and hon. Friends at the possibility of losing some of their green sward, I hope for their support for my assertion that it is about time that we had some green sward in Shoreditch, the constituency which I have the privilege to represent.

I happen to be at the end of the story regarding roads. The great 30-ton juggernauts carrying food and provisions into London are often unable to go to the docks because the GLC has not yet been able to make the proper arrangements for these vehicles. Every street in my area is being used at this time of night as a transfer depot, and at half-past twelve, half-past one and half-past two in the morning the walkie-talkies are operating and these enormous juggernauts are starting up, frightening my constituents out of bed, in order to get down to the docks to discharge their loads. When they have done that, they bring back a load, unhook the mechanical horse and leave the trailer—unlighted, unregistered and uninsured—standing in the street so that it is a hazard to people in the area and virtually an obstruction.

When one discusses this with the Greater London Council little concern is shown. When one discusses it with the police, little concern is shown. Nobody seems to know who is responsible. I have already invited—I do again tonight—the hijackers who are anxious to hijack. All they need in my area is a mechanical horse. If they drive in a mechanical horse, there is a trailer loaded with valuable goods. By taking it away they would do us a favour. I do not care where they take it, what they do with it or to whom they sell it. My constituents would at least have a night's peace. If that is the way insurance companies are prepared to allow those insured with them to carry on, it is a matter for them. As far as I am concerned, however, there is nothing in the Bill that will enable my constituents to enjoy a quiet night's rest.

Therefore, while again I appreciate the problems of opening up areas for transport to travel through, my right hon. and hon. Friends should be grateful that they are not at the end of the line where their constituents must put up with what my constituents have to put up with, because no arrangements are being made by the GLC or the police to ensure that our roads in Shoreditch are kept clear. So, while I am not opposing the Bill, I am bound to say that it was a bad day in 1967 when the GLC was won by the Tories, because from that moment onwards we have seen the demise of London.

12.42 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Keith Speed)

I intervene briefly in this debate which was opened by my hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Tugendhat). My response to the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr Jay) may not be altogether agreeable to him when I say that he and others have had a lot to say about the proposed Ringway system. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that because this matter is to be reported to my right hon. Friend by the Greater London Development Plan inquiry panel it would be quite improper for me to be involved—indeed, I cannot be—in any comments on those remarks tonight.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me to reinforce the assurance given by my hon. Friend. I am sorry that I must disappoint the right hon. Gentleman about this because that assurance is properly a matter for the Greater London Council and cannot be made for the Government.

One thing which has impressed me since I have been, albeit briefly, in the Department of the Environment is that all right hon. and hon. Members fiercely and frequently argue for the independence of local authorities, yet we are constantly urged on behalf of the Government to speak or make assurances for them or to call in plans or do various other things, thus denying local authorities that freedom.

Assurances have been given by my hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster, and in this debate, on the Third Reading of a Private Bill, he is best able to give assurances of that sort.

Mr. Jay

I am surprised by what the hon. Gentleman says, because these motorway schemes cannot proceed without permission from the Minister and the Government. I have already had assurance from previous Ministers that they will not be allowed to proceed in advance of the reports by the public inquiries now taking place. I should have thought that without the slightest difficulty the hon. Gentleman could have reaffirmed those assurances which have already been given by Ministers.

Mr. Speed

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that but I cannot anticipate either the report which is now much more imminent or any inquiries which might be taking place on any scheme because, as he knows, my right hon. Friend has a judicial capacity in this matter and I must not be drawn in. The right hon. Gentleman asked me to respond to suggestions that he made about reviewing a policy of destroying houses. In the same way, if I responded in the way he would like me to do I should be treading on extremely dangerous ground and might be anticipating or even prejudicing the Layfield inquiry.

The right hon. Member talked about the 75 per cent. grant, and was then speaking in general as well as with respect to London. I draw his attention—and I should be happy to send him a copy of the handout—to the speech that I made to the Institute of Municipal Treasurers at Brighton 10 or 12 days ago, from which he will see that the Government have some interesting plans in mind which might meet the point that he and other hon. Members have been making, connected particularly with urban transportation throughout the country.

The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) spoke about the possibility of a public inquiry on the enlargement of Ringway 2. I cannot give him an answer tonight, but I shall be in touch with him in due course about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) spoke about the question of having this sort of Bill at all. All I can say is that, as he knows, we are examining the whole question of local government finance, and I shall draw his views to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

This is a Private Bill. The Third Reading has been admirably introduced by my hon. Friend. The Private Bill Committee has advised that the Bill be given a Third Reading. That is a view that the Government accept, and I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

  1. ADJOURNMENT 12 words
Forward to