§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Pavitt.]
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ The Minister for Planning and Local Government (Mr. John Silkin)
I am very glad to have the opportunity of opening this debate on London, the first debate on London that this House will have had, and there is a particularly good reason why I should feel so pleased to do so. Both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who will be winding up the debate later, and I are London Members of Parliament. The right hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) is also a London Member, and as one maiden speaker to another in a London debate I welcome to the Front Bench the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg), for he, too, is a London Member of Parliament. We may be said to have an interest not only ministerially and shadow ministerially but as constituency Members of Parliament.
There are, of course, great advantages in speaking about London from the Front Bench if one is a London Member of Parliament. There are also not disadvantages but, perhaps I should rather say, complications, and I hope the House will forgive me or any other hon. Member who may have to leave the Chamber later in the afternoon to attend to the interesting demands of their constituents some of whom have decided to lobby us upon this occasion. No discourtesy is intended, but I think the needs of our constituents are perhaps paramount.
London is a difficult subject to debate—difficult because there are general misconceptions about London, not least among many of our hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite who come from constituencies outside London. Everyone agrees that London is large. It is, in fact, still the fourth largest city in the world. It is often assumed by those who come from other parts of the country that London's very size prevents it from having any problems of its own. To many people who come from outside London, even to hon. Members of this House, the streets of London, as in the days of Dick Whittington, are still paved with gold. 788 They point to our wealth and to the fact that our unemployment rate is well below the average. But our employed are often low paid and increasingly have to travel great distances to work.
Indeed, London has changed considerably over the years. The pattern of our industry has changed. The very population within the London boroughs is declining, from 8 million in 1961 to just under 7½ million 10 years later, and the process continues. It is also true that people still come into London, but these are all too often the deprived and the socially disadvantaged. In addition, we tend to have an above-average elderly population, certainly in some of our inner London boroughs. Perhaps I should say in parenthesis that this itself causes great social problems. Too often the children of the war generation have gone to new estates or, further still to the new towns and have lost contact with their parents. It should be a function of planning to seek to remedy this tendency.
The Government have now been in office for eight weeks. It is far too short a period even to identify all the problems of London, let alone solve them, but one thing is abundantly clear. Only by the total co-operation of the Government, of the Greater London Council and of the London boroughs can we hope to tackle these problems. We have to go even further. We have to learn to recognise problems as different facets of one overall problem—the quality of life in London. Education, employment, housing, transport, land use, the social problems of the old, the young, the sick and the disabled, all interlock at all three levels of administration and force us, in trying to solve every individual problem, constantly to bear in mind the others. This means that not only must all Government Departments work together for the same aim, almost as a unit, but the Government, the Greater London Council and the London boroughs must be for ever co-operating if we are to produce a better London.
One can see the classic example of this in the most urgent problem that London has to face—the problem of its housing. The housing problem in London basically is the shortage of modern homes for people to live in at prices or rents which they can afford. The problem we have to face in London was not helped by the 789 failure of the last Government's house building programme. Consider the situation today. There are 190,000 people on London's housing waiting lists. When one realises that this represents only those London residents who satisfy the necessary qualifications of residence, the enormity of the problem stares one in the face. Over the years there has been a net gain in housing—that is, new housing provided against housing stock demolished. But this net gain which was operating at the rate of 29,000 a year in 1970 fell last year to only 17,000. One has to consider also that 90,000 dwellings are not capable of improvement.
This is the size of the problem we have to face. A new house building programme will be evolved only if the Government, the GLC and the London boroughs work together. There is a problem here because the Government have to hold the balance between leaving locally elected authorities to get on with the job which most of us wish they would do and at the same time forcing them to do the job.
My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction said the other day:There is land available for 124,000 new homes"—he was talking about London—and they have got to be built. I will not hesitate to take the necessary steps to achieve this.My hon. Friend was reminding all London authorities that the provision of low-cost housing in London is an overriding priority. There may be some authorities which take the view that an excessively low density, or even an unwillingness to increase housing in their areas, should be their guiding principle. If there are such authorities it might be better for them to think again.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
I am distressed at what my right hon. Friend says about my hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Construction stressing the need for housing and the land on which to build it. Local authorities have had requests from the GLC to look for land and to make their contribution towards solving the housing problem. The London borough of Ealing responded to this call but found that it was double-crossed by the GLC. An appeal was sent to the Minister, but the Minister upheld the double-crossing GLC, and the Lon- 790 don borough of Ealing has been left in the lurch. The houses that my right hon. Friend says are desperately needed will not be built.
§ Mr. Silkin
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) has acted as every good constituency Member should act on behalf of his constituency. It may be that he and I might consider this detailed question on some other occasion.
House building is the major problem that London must face. However, there is another problem which is related to housing and which is more especially to be found in London than elsewhere—the problem of empty houses. There are nearly 100,000 of them in London, and 40,000 private dwellings have been empty for over six months. There are 9,000 new or converted dwellings which have never previously been occupied. Our latest circular, No. 70/74, encourages local authorities to buy completed, or almost completed, dwellings and to acquire houses which have been empty for more than six months. It also encourages them to acquire other properties with vacant possession in areas of stress or for housing essential public service workers. There is a problem of management here because such purchases cannot always be on a cohesive basis, but ways must be found and each authority must arrive at its own solution.
The circular also discourages the indiscriminate sale of council houses. The greatest need in London and in the stress areas is for housing to rent. Great play was made during the General Election of the suggestion by the Conservatives. particularly on one television broadcast on behalf of the Conservative Party, that a Labour Government would penalise the owner-occupier. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has stepped in to help the owner-occupier in a way that has not been seen in this country for many years. Mortgage rates have been held at 11 per cent. That is high enough, but left to themselves they might very well have gone to 13 per cent.—that was the current thinking—and my right hon. Friend deserves the thanks of every owner-occupier for the work he did on this.
However, my right hon. Friend did not stop there. The GLC ceiling for mortgages to priority borrowers which ran 791 at £75 million in 1973–74 was raised by him to £85 million for 1974–75. In addition, there have been rate rebates on a truly non-political, all-party basis which have been introduced to help everybody who occupies a house, whether an owner-occupier or not. One in five of owner-occupiers will benefit from the rate rebate. The scheme has been extended to cover four times as many people as the previous rate rebate scheme, and the Greater London maximum subsidy to rates now runs at £2.65 a week. These are, therefore, matters of comfort to owner-occupiers.
The problems of those who may be adequately housed are in the main financial. One-seventh of the local authority tenants and between a quarter and a third of the private tenants in England and Wales live in Greater London. This is, therefore, very much a London problem. The Labour Party promised at the election that both public and private rents would be frozen. It is again to the great credit of my right hon. Friend that this was virtually the first action taken by the Government. The promise was redeemed within a matter of days.
In addition, the rate support grant was used to assist those in the inner London boroughs by the introduction of the uniform domestic rate element. Of the 32 London boroughs, 28 gained from this move. London as a whole gains a massive £25 million. Incidentally, the rate rebate scheme—and this is something that hon. Members should tell as many of their constituents as possible—helps council and private tenants as well as owner-occupiers.
Another factor which is as important as the financial aspect to the person who rents a dwelling is security of tenure. Our forthcoming Bill will give security of tenure to furnished tenants for the first time, and it is worth while considering that one-third of those who occupy furnished accommodation in England and Wales live in greater London.
So much for rehousing, security of tenure and financial assistance for those who are adequately housed. Some people, however, do not have homes. No one knows, for example, how many homeless single people live in London. There are widely different estimates but the number 792 is not something of which London can be proud. Homelessness is a good example of interlocking of the administration of health, education, employment and the social services, which are all equally concerned with housing. It is also, however, a good example of what the GLC will do to help spread the burden of a problem that tends to bear most heavily on a few boroughs in London.
I understand that the GLC has already agreed to accept responsibility for housing 50 per cent. of the homeless in boroughs with acute housing problems, and the ultimate aim is to make this proportion still higher. I am glad that the GLC has taken the initiative, with the help of charities working among the homeless, of adapting empty buildings in its ownership for use as hostels on a short-term basis until those buildings are needed for other purposes. I hope that the idea will expand and that other London authorities will follow the example and so speed the coming of the day when we can say that we have eradicated the distressing problem of homelessness.
The next major facet which links the whole of London is transport. The size of this problem can be seen from the fact that 1 million people use public transport to get to and from work. The London Transport Executive's report, which was published on 25th April, was extremely encouraging. For the first time since 1967, passenger mileage, probably assisted by the restrictions on petrol, showed an increase on the previous year. What is exceptionally interesting and encouraging is that this increase in passenger mileage was coped with even though London Transport was short of 6,800 staff. In 1973, too, London Transport stabilised its fares; there were no increases despite the fact that it was a heavily inflationary year. That is another matter about which we can be pleased.
The third aspect of London transport, one which we on this side of the House welcomed enormously, was the free travel for retirement pensioners as a result of the Greater London Council's instructions. We can congratulate the London Transport Executive and the Greater London Council on the splendid work they have done.
§ Mr. Silkin
I was talking about the Greater London Council, which, as my hon. Friend may have heard, is now a Labour Greater London Council.
The best example that we can find of the interlocking of which I spoke, of the co-operation between Departments, is in planning. We need roads. We need open spaces. We need to redevelop our derelict areas. All London has the same problem, and these elements are the basic ingredients of planning.
The Government's plans to bring development and redevelopment land into public ownership are far reaching, vital and relevant. I have heard it said—the argument is used by those who oppose the idea—that public ownership of land stops development. That is not so. Rather, the public ownership of land changes development.
The Socialist, unlike his opponents, believes that land is the raw material of the fair society and that our resources should be used for the sake of the community and not for the privileged few. The community, we believe, must have the right to decide its priorities by itself. We want schools and hospitals, day nurseries, day centres for old people and health centres as well as homes. But now, because much land needed for development is privately owned, the social need of homes, hospitals and schools may be sacrificed to the purely commercial pressure of offices, hotels and warehouses.
I do not mean to decry offices, hotels or warehouses. Of course they have their uses; of course they are needed. But it is the community that should make the positive decision on where and when to have them. The initiative should not be left to the private developer.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Lambeth, Central)
Will my right hon. Friend explain the position where two local authorities are concerned? For example, Lambeth wants to build houses on land which it owns at Croydon, but Croydon opposes that, and the Department of Health and Social Security now wants to build a hospital there. Who will decide what the priority should be?
§ Mr. Silkin
There must always be a conflict of priorities. The sort of case of which my hon. Friend has spoken 794 is well known to me. It is one in which there is such a conflict of public priorities. The matter will have to be resolved. I do not pretend that such conflicts will not occur in the future, as in the past. One hopes that in the end such conflicts will be settled amicably between the parties, in the best interests of social need and good planning.
The proposals of which I have spoken, and to which my hon. Friend was referring to some extent, are urgently needed. We need to bring land for development and redevelopment into public possession. Our aim is to ensure that the special land values that society itself creates are made available for the good of everyone. With that in mind, we believe that every local authority must have the power to make the right use of the land within its area. We in the Labour Party have talked for many years of community ownership of land. Now we intend to make it a reality.
But there is an additional problem, not strictly related to what I was talking about but very nearly so. So far I have been discussing the problem of the development and redevelopment of land. In some cases, however, land may already have been developed or redeveloped, but with highly unsatisfactory results for the community. I mean in particular those office blocks that have been standing empty for many years.
The previous Government came to the conclusion that they had to try to deal with the problem, but their proposals for compulsory management in their Housing and Planning Bill would have involved procedures both inadequate and too liable to legal obstruction. Legislation to deal with the office blocks problem must really bite, and end once and for all the affront to society that these buildings present.
I think it only right today to warn those who hold the responsibility for letting such buildings that any sizeable office premises that have been standing empty for a number of years and are still not substantially occupied for office purposes in six months' time from now will also be dealt with in new legislation—
§ Mr. Silkin
If my hon. Friend will let me finish this sentence, I shall come to that.
795 I was speaking of new legislation which we are preparing in the matter of development land and public ownership. Let those who hold the responsibility for letting those buildings understand this clearly.
My hon. Friend will understand the reason for the six months' period when I explain that although there is in particular one rather spectacular and well-publicised building which comes within the category of which I have been speaking there are others which are not so well publicised and not so generally known. Until now the present Government have not made public a policy on dealing with such buildings, although their attitude to leaving such buildings empty is well known.
The six months' period arises for two reasons. First, we are now to deal with the problem in our new legislation. Secondly, we thought it right, because we shall be affecting others beside the case I mentioned, to give as fair notice as we could. It can be argued that the time is too long, that we have been too fair, but what it will not be possible to argue is that we took such land away without having given adequate notice to those concerned.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say at what price he will acquire such properties—the market value or some other value?
§ Mr. Silkin
I do not think that my predecessor is naive enough to believe that I would at this stage give the details he requires. But I will say that it will not be of much advantage if such buildings are not let. I have made the warning perfectly clear.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
Would not it be a good idea if my right hon. Friend related the value of the property to the period for which it had remained empty and unlet, reducing the valuation on take over pro tanto—that is, according to the number of months or years for which it had remained empty?
§ Mr. Silkin
A number of ideas have been put to me, and I have selected the idea which I think meets the case most adequately.
I have tried to show how varied and intense are the problems that London 796 has to face, and the way in which the Government, the GLC and the London boroughs are tackling those problems and how they hope to do so in the future. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will deal with others of London's main problems later in the debate. I believe that his experience, too, will show how interlocking the various problems are.
London, as Disraeli pointed out, is a nation and not a town. Its problems are not limited. They cover so wide a range that to have attempted to deal with them all would have resulted in too diffuse a speech and would still not have avoided the risk of leaving large areas uncovered. My right hon. Friend and I will study carefully all that is said during the debate. We put great emphasis upon the understanding that London hon. Members have of their constituencies. It is certain that all of us at all times must bear in mind the purpose behind our actions. Housing policy, transport policy and planning policy are meaningless unless they are rooted in the needs and the problems of the people we seek to serve.
I was enormously impressed during my recent visit to Sweden by the way in which the Stockholm City Council prepares the facilities of its housing estates. Nursery schools, shops, libraries and health centres are prepared even before the dwellings have been occupied, so that the families come into their new housing with the amenities of civilised life already prepared. The process of consultation with those who live on the estates continues and develops as time goes by.
I also saw the co-operation that existed between the city, the county and the State in ironing out even the smallest transport problems. That co-operation on regional and local issues has a lesson for us all.
I shall not disguise the magnitude of the task that faces us or the need for the co-operation of which I have spoken. Further, I shall not disguise from the House that we are hopeful for the future. If I may say so, it is not a disadvantage at this moment that the Government, county and London boroughs alike should, in general, share the same political outlook.
§ Mr, James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
May I say a word or two 797 about the current problems that London faces as a result of the dispute between the National Association of Local Government Officers and the teachers and Her Majesty's Government? If the Government were able to announce during the debate that as from the publication of a Pay Board report in June it would in general be free for both employers and employees in London to strike such bargains as they wished and to implement them immediately, the current problems, in both education and local government, could be somewhat eased by a sensible reaction from NALGO and the NUT.
§ Mr. Silkin
My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) raises a vital matter. It seems that it would be impertinent for the Minister for Planning and Local Government to attempt to answer that point when the Secretary of State for Education and Science is present. My right hon. Friend is the right person to deal with that matter.
§ Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)
The right hon. Gentleman has rightly expressed the concern that we all share regarding the desperate housing problem in the Greater London area. He has coupled that concern with an indication that he or his hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction would look to land in the outer London boroughs. It surprises me that he made no mention of London dockland, where there are almost 5,000 to 6,000 acres of derelict land available for immediate building for housing purposes. A veritable city could be built—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. I called the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) for an intervention. He seems to be making a point that could well be made in his speech.
§ Mr. Rossi
I shall finish very quickly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House the benefit of his views on the problem of London dockland and, in particular, on the situation that exists because of the squabbling between the GLC and five or six Labour controlled boroughs that want to divide between themselves the rateable value of their areas and show more concern for that than of housing the people of London?
§ Mr. Silkin
I think that the hon. Gentleman is a little out of date. He must be thinking of what went on at the time when his party was in Government. At present I am delighted to say that a splendid atmosphere of co-operation exists between the GLC and the London boroughs. Of course, we are all aware of the importance of London dockland for the future of London. Further, we are all aware, if we are a little sensible, of the problems that are implicit in that situation.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)
Clearly the danger of a debate of this kind on such a large subject is that the right hon. Gentleman and I will make speeches which are a general thesis with a bit of everything in them and nothing about much in particular. I had that impression after listening to the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I am wondering what he did say that was positive.
The right hon. Gentleman started rather naïvely by pointing out that the present Government have been in power for only eight weeks, with the implication that Socialism has been in power in London for only eight weeks. In the difficult London boroughs Socialism has been in power all the time. In fact, the worse those boroughs are the more Socialism they have had. The prosperous boroughs have been Conservative all the time and the medium boroughs have been part Conservative and part Socialist. During the past 10 years we have had a Conservative Government for only three and a half years. For six and a half years the central Government have been Socialist. Of course, the Socialists have been in power at County Hall, almost continually, apart from a six-year break, for 40 years. If we have problems we know at whose door to lay them—namely, the door of the Socialist Party.
The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that whatever problems there are they are not the sort of matters that can be solved within a short span of a few years. They are problems that are fundamental and very difficult. That applies particularly to the problem of the London housing market. The right hon. Gentleman made some reference to that problem and seemed to suggest that the housing problem was totally new. He gave the impression that everything had gone 799 smoothly during the time of the last Labour Government. That is not so. The housing construction market has always been extremely difficult.
The last Labour Government encountered the same difficulties as the last Conservative Government. In 1968 the number of permanent dwellings started in Greater London was 38,000. That was the last big year. Then there were devaluation and deflation difficulties. In 1969 the figure reduced to 31,000. In 1970 it was 31,000. In 1971, a period of expansion, it was 33,000. In 1972 it was 33,000 and in 1973, although I have only the figure for the first three quarters, it had fallen again. We have all had the same problems with the housing market. We have not yet learned to smooth out the market in any way or to insulate it.
I was interested in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman refused to say anything about the London allowance. With respect, the teachers are but a small part of the London allowance problem. If my memory is correct, the teachers constitute about 60,000 people. The total affected by the London allowance is 750,000. Many of those people are people for whom the right hon. Gentleman has responsibility. To duck the question altogether and to be allowed to get away with it by his own back benchers is remarkable.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
Not quite. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), a seat which I once fought, must agree that he would have given me a much worse ride if I had said what his right hon. Friend said.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
The right hon. Lady will recall that, with a number of my hon. Friends, I came to her about two years ago on the question of the London allowance for teachers. She told us that she could do nothing about it, and she turned down the London teachers' claim. The trouble we are suffering today is clearly at her doorstep.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
But the Secretary of State for Education and Science now says that he cannot do anything about it either, except what I did, which was 800 to refer the matter to the Pay Board. It was referred there with detailed terms of reference, and the report will be out by the end of June. All hon. Members opposite are relying on that at the moment. I am interested to note that the present Government rely on the same things as we did but that their supporters give them a very much calmer ride than they would have given us.
The right hon. Gentleman gave veiled hints about what is going to happen to the office blocks. The worst thing possible is to have veiled hints and uncertainty. That is very bad indeed. We included some clauses in our Housing and Planning Bill, but I notice that the right hon. Gentleman has taken them out. I realise that, as we said that we would do something about the situation long before we did, I might be a bit vulnerable on the issue of veiled hints, but to those the Labour Party has added a great deal of uncertainty by the general phrasing of its policy for land, and we know nothing more about its policy than that at the moment. This is having a bad effect on the market.
I go on to some of the remarks—I cannot call them more than that because I encountered the same difficulty as the right hon. Gentleman—which I had intended to make. I think we all accept that all Governments are going to be interventionist. It is important, first, that economically intervention should be a series of related acts, because a series of unrelated acts, however well meaning and seemingly appropriate to the narrow expedient of the moment, can throw up inconsistencies and contradictions. Economic policy must be more than a series of disjointed expediencies because, if the contrary is true, it can only land us in much greater difficulties later on. Secondly—and here I agree with the right hon. Gentleman—political acts of intervention should amount to a philosophy whose objectives can be clearly stated and discerned.
The economic point struck me very forcibly after reading some statements in the Labour Party document "London; The Future and You", with a foreword by Sir Reginald Goodwin. It might ease the right hon. Gentleman's mind if he realises that I am not going to make a 801 party political point. I think that this is a fundamental matter for us all. I went through the document and picked up one or two paragraphs which are seemingly contradictory or inconsistent, or are the result of contradictory or inconsistent policies which had been insufficiently thought through at the time they were imposed.
Paragraph 6, after pointing out, as the right hon. Gentleman has done, that London's population is declining, continues:The net emigration has not represented a cross-section of London as a whole, but has been particularly concentrated in the lower middle-class and skilled working class who are essential to the prosperity and social dynamism of any community.After discussing the reason for this, the paragraph goes on:a more significant influence has been the regional policies and especially the 'new towns' which have provided inducements for people and jobs to move out of London".There we have a statement that we are losing the skilled and medium skilled and some of the unskilled because of the new towns policy.
We then go forward to paragraph 11. After pointing out the value of the foreign exchange which we get from tourism, the paragraph goes on to say that tourism'srapid growth in recent years has added to the problems of London. Low wage rates paid to predominantly foreign workers have caused an intensification of the inner urban housing crisis. … Additionally hotels have caused a greater strain on the transport system and other public services.These are points which one has taken.
I remember Sir Reginald Goodwin coming to us when we were in Government and telling my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) of the great difficulty London was having in finding enough people to man its essential services. It seems to me that here we have several contradictory policies imposed at different times. First, there was the new towns policy, to which we all subscribed a long time ago but which has taken essential labour from London. One of the reasons for that policy was that we could not house them all in London. We all said that they must go to new towns where they would find new and better jobs and new housing. But we had to replace their skills with imported foreign labour and, as the document points out, 802Low wage rates paid to predominantly foreign workers have caused an intensification of the inner urban housing crisis.We then had a policy, initiated by the last Labour Government in about 1967, of building more hotels—a large number of them—which gave a boost to the construction industry. At that point of time we had to import quite a number of foreign workers for them. The figures of applications for the importation of foreign workers are given in the Department of Employment Gazette, and the last annual figures I have are in the Gazette for March 1972. The point is that the one policy drew skilled and unskilled workers out of London, whilst the other policy positively imported them from elsewhere and, according to the Labour Party's own document,Low wage rates paid to predominantly foreign workers have caused an intensification of the inner urban housing crisis.
§ Mr. John Silkin
The right hon. Lady is surely muddling up two categories of workers. The skilled workers who go to Stevenage, for example, are not usually unskilled foreign hotel workers but people with skills in manufacturing although not in very large numbers in each factory. The foreign workers are largely unskilled or perhaps skilled in something specialised, like the hotel business. For good or ill, there are few hotels in Stevenage.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
Those who come in, as the right hon. Gentleman will see from the categories for which workers are applied for, are not always unskilled. That is true. Some are skilled. But it seems ironic that we are decanting people into new towns, where they can get housing, and at the same time importing people into London for whom we have to provide a lot of housing in areas of housing stress. In addition, of course, we have to provide them with a good deal of education, because some of them bring their families in with them and, obviously, the children of foreign workers speak a different language. There is a great deal of stress in these areas for this reason. We now gather also that London Transport is short of people for manning London's essential services. Today we had a document from the GLC indicating that although organisations like London Transport are short of workers for essential services there is nevertheless a good deal of unemployment in London.
803 These different factors are not tying together. What I am trying to say is that whether the policies are those of encouraging more tourism, of building more hotels, of creating more new towns or of building more office blocks outside central London, they must all be economically consistent.
We did not have in 1945–50 the techniques of economic analysis that we now have. We should use those techniques and not dash into a new policy without trying to work out its effect on other sectors. London Transport is very short of people to operate its services. In its report published this week it said:The 1973 revenue surplus of £10 million was partly due to improved receipts but was mainly attributable to the Executive's inability within the Government's counter-inflation policy to improve staff pay and conditions sufficiently to attract enough staff to run the full services.Those of us who represent London seats know the difficulties involved in providing full services, and we know of the complaints there are when full services are not provided. I can imagine the letters I shall receive from my constituents when they read that London Transport's surplus was due to an inability to provide an adequate service. It is an unusual reason for making a profit—"I could not give you a good service. Therefore I have made a surplus." We understand the reasons for it: net receipts were up and the services were down. That will not necessarily be easily understood by some of the people we represent, because they do not have access to the figures.
My plea is that the economic policies should hang together. We have initiated some which have caused problems later. It has been said that planners earn their living by tackling the problems created by other planners. In some cases this is what has happened. What was enlightenment some years ago has caused many problems today.
I wish to follow some of the right hon. Gentleman's references to housing policy, dealing first of all with rents. Our Housing Finance Act brought a benefit to many people paying rents in the private as well as the council sector. Many of them are paying less rent now 804 than they were paying under the last Labour Government, because we followed a policy of helping the person rather than subsidising the property. The Government have imposed a rent freeze. Even the Secretary of State for Education, alone on the Front Bench at present, who is not involved in this directly, will be aware of what happens if a rent freeze remains for any length of time.
Two things happen to property. First, rented property disappears from the market. Secondly, because the controlled rent is usually too low for adequate maintenance, homes fall into disrepair and can rapidly become slums. There can be a situation when deterioration of the housing stock is at a far faster rate than the rate at which new houses can be provided. This means that we have to be particularly careful to look after the state of existing houses in London. That is a better housing policy, and it often produces better homes than some of the new tower blocks which have been built in London.
I was interested in a Shelter report entitled "Tomorrow in Upper Holloway", a section of which is entitled "What people want". The authors say:almost all private tenants expressed a willingness to pay an average of £2 to £2.50 a week more rent for accommodation that possessed the amenities they thought important.They indicated that they were prepared to pay the rent for the facilities, but the problem of rigid rent control is that if the landlord makes improvements he knows that he cannot recover the cost because he cannot get increased rent of that amount—£2 or £2.50. Because of rent control it is impossible for people to get other accommodation with those amenities.
We must not duck these factors. These quick expedients have long-term effects on the housing stock. We must look at those factors, too. It would be different if either Government had made different arrangements for landlords, enabling them to write off the cost of improvements against tax over a period of years. Then they would not have to recoup so much of it through rent.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
I am trying to say that we might get some more improvements to the older housing stock if that were done. Neither Government have managed to do that. Street after street of fundamentally well-constructed houses of the Victorian and Edwardian periods have fallen into decay and in some cases have been bulldozed away to be replaced by tall blocks which are much less pleasing in outward design and cause living problems.
In the same document, "Tomorrow in Upper Holloway" the majority of people said that they would preferto live in the type of older terraced houses they are living in now particularly if improvements are made than in many modern council flats.I am sure that this shows that it is right to have a policy of improvement grants for those homes and a policy of taking action by designating housing stress areas, about which I suspect we shall be talking next week, so as to put the housing stock in good condition and to keep it in good condition. It is easier to make a home in that kind of house than it sometimes is in a flat in a tall block.
One of our successful housing policies stemmed from the extra number of improvement grants we gave in London and elsewhere. In 1969, the last year of Labour Government, 2,900 improvement grants were given to local authorities in the London area. In 1972, under the Conservatives, the corresponding figure was 5,058. In 1969 there were 7,217 improvement grants given to private owners, including housing associations, whereas in 1972 the figure was 23,900.
I know that the Government are continuing our policy, in the Housing and Planning Bill, of extending grants to repairs. I am sure that that is the right policy. It also often enables young people to get on the first rung of the house ownership ladder. They can buy older houses, some of them in twilight areas, get an improvement grant and do a great deal of work on them. Then they have got over the first hurdle to home ownership. They can sell that house for another later on.
The right hon. Gentleman's Department, the GLC and Labour-controlled London local authorities are pursuing a programme of buying houses and taking 806 them permanently into council ownership—a policy of municipalisation. In some cases there may be an argument for local authorities buying properties when there is no other buyer for the time being. But there is no compelling reason why the houses should remain Government owned thereafter. People are usually prepared to spend far more on their own homes than on local authority or privately tenanted property.
If we are anxious to have maximum housing standards it pays to have as many people as possible as owner-occupiers. The only reason for retaining these homes in council ownership is that the Government want an increasing measure of control over the lives of the people living in them by way either of nationalisation of land or municipalisation.
That is why I believe the Government are prepared to frustrate the ambitions of many a council tenant by refusing to let him purchase. We believe that many people living in council properties have exactly the same ambition to own their own home as have other people. We also know that the turnover of council property is comparatively low, because once a person gets a council home he hangs on to it—very wisely. Therefore, the only way to achieve home ownership is to let those people purchase the houses. We are particularly anxious that this policy should be continued and hope that the Government will adopt it, if they really believe in home ownership. Tenants can often purchase their homes at favourable prices.
The Government say that they are anxious about land and house prices, yet they encourage local authorities to bid for vacant properties even if the result is that they bid against one another. There is no more certain way of driving up the price of land or property than to have a local authority, with the public purse, going to an auction and bidding. It can almost always win. It is wrong when the GLC bids against Richmond for places in Richmond or when one or two boroughs are bidding against one another.
In some areas the prices being paid are enormous. A case illustrated in the Daily Telegraph the other day concerned the Brent Council, who had purchased a plot of land for £500,000 and later 807 bought 47 houses, each with two garages and two bathrooms for £15,000 each.
The Daily Telegraph stated:The deal did not qualify for aid under the terms of the Housing Finance Act.The houseswere let to council tenants at a rent of £10 a week. As the true cost … was nearer £60 for each dwelling, local ratepayers were providing a subsidy of £50 on each house".The result is that rates in Brent have increased enormously, and they will continue to increase if purchases of this kind take place. The domestic rate has increased by 35 per cent. and the commercial rate by 48 per cent.
If the Government really want to help young people towards home ownership they should not ask local authorities to buy all the available houses. They cannot say, "We are anxious to help people to become home owners" and at the same time ask local authorities to go into the market and buy all the available property. Those are fundamental contradictions.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way because I am sure that she would want to clear up the position concerning local authorities bidding in the open market at auctions. Is it not a fact that local authorities are governed by the requirement to obtain the district valuer's valuation of a property before making their bid? Therefore, there is a maximum price which is already agreed by the local authority, which it cannot exceed at auction. One assumes that the district valuer would give the same advice to the various authorities. Therefore, conflict is not likely to arise.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
I believe that is the position, but the district valuer's valuation will vary according to the sales of other property in the area. As the hon. Gentleman knows, land and property prices have been falling at the auctions. I do not know the speed at which the increases or falls are reflected in the values of houses in respect of which the local authorities are permitted to bid.
§ Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)
May I advise my right hon. Friend that in Lambeth the local authority seldom bids at an auction? The council puts a compulsory purchase order on the property. When the owner becomes depressed about 808 the CPO, he sells, usually at less than the market price, to Lambeth council.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
I should like to say a few words about the question of available land. It is important not only to pay lip service to the desirability of open spaces but to retain them. Many of us have few open spaces in our London constituencies, but the GLC is casting envious eyes at them. We hope that it will keep its eyes off sports grounds and playing fields. The Housing Action Committee found that there was more land available in inner London than there was in the outer boroughs, and yet it lies fallow. It would be best if it were used before a further assault was made on the few remaining "lungs" in outer London.
Inevitably, because I knew that the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice) would be sitting on the Government Front Bench, I turn to the question of education. I have said a few words about the London allowance. The right hon. Gentleman is much more fortunate than I was—he has a very reasonable Opposition facing him. I shall not embarrass him as the person who used to stand in my place at this Box would not have hesitated to embarrass me on this point. To jog hon. Members' memories, that was not the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East.
The Minister will expect me to say a few words about his new Circular 4/74 as it affects London. The right hon. Gentleman has managed matters rather badly. Other circulars on comprehensivisation have always started with the number 10. The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) introduced circulars numbered 10/65 and 10/66. I introduced one numbered 10/70. The present Minister has let the side down by introducing a circular numbered 4/74. We would have found it much easier to remember which circular we wanted to attack if it had been numbered 10/74 rather than 4/74.
The argument about comprehensive education has been going on for some time. However, a new element has emerged from my predecessor at this Box, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Spark-brook (Mr. Hattersley), and from the right hon. Member for Grimsby, who has just written a book on the subject. The new doctrine of the Labour Party is egalitarianism, or equality. One would not 809 deduce it from certain people's life style, but that is what the party says. But equality is death to education. Education is about opportunity, and opportunity is the opportunity to be unequal. If children's only opportunity is to be equal, it is a very restricted opportunity. Indeed, it is no opportunity at all. Therefore, opportunity is the opposite of equality, and education is about opportunity.
I well know the Secretary of State's argument about selection and creaming off. We used to talk about selection and creaming off. Now the right hon. Gentleman says that we cannot separate children into sheep and goats. Therefore, I suppose that we must all be sheep or goats. The creaming off and selection argument is that it is not possible for a grammar school to co-exist alongside a comprehensive school because if that were so one would cream off the talent into the grammar school. People used to say, "We are against selection because it is inefficient". But if the selection creams off all the talent, it is very efficient, otherwise it would not be creamed off.
The argument has gone round in circles for years, but, as the Secretary of State knows, or should know, in an area such as London, whatever people's feelings and ideals may be, they consider whether the system will work. The right hon. Gentleman knows that there are and will be problems in London with the neighbourhood schools in the difficult areas, and having an ideal or theory about them will not solve them.
In the previous Labour Government Alice Bacon, as she then was, used to quote to me the acme of the perfect comprehensive school in London offering fantastic opportunities to children which was the great advertisement of the system—Tulse Hill. During my time as Minister we learned a little more about comprehensive schools, and Tulse Hill became a problem school. I shall be eternally glad that I did not listen to Labour doctrine and turned down flat an application from the Inner London Education Authority to enlarge that already large comprehensive school. Had I taken notice of its doctrine I would have expanded the Tulse Hill school and closed the Strand school—a small grammar school which was doing a magnificent job for children from all backgrounds.
810 In case the Secretary of State should think that it is only grammar schools which people wish to save, I would point out that I went against the Inner London Education Authority and saved a small secondary modern school called Bow, in Tower Hamlets. People who were concerned about the future of the school came to my home. They bought me a beautiful fuchsia plant, but that was not why I saved the school! I should like to thank them for the plant; it flourished beautifully. Those people who wished to save a small secondary modern school which was doing well were not concerned with doctrines or theories.
Against the background of the situation in London, it is monstrous that the Secretary of State should say that children should not be sent to grammar schools or even to secondary modern schools and that it was an absolute crime to send children to schools like Emanuel, Colfe, or even to Godolphin and Latymer, which have served very well the children of some members of the Labour Party, even though those schools suited the children.
I have looked at the Secretary of State's circular very carefully. It states:The position of pupils at present in unreorganised schools should be safeguarded".I agree with that, but not with what he goes on to say:so far as this is compatible with the progressive admission, without regard to ability, of pupils coming from primary or middle schools.In other words, the child must fit the system, come what may. The system must never be adapted to the child. The right hon. Gentleman has not allowed any exceptions. His tactics are tactics which I pay him the compliment of saying I did not expect of him. I expected him to use his powers of persuasion, which are considerable. I expected him to say, "I cannot under the existing law coerce local authorities, parents or governors. In all constitutional decency I must go to Parliament to get a law to enable me to do it." That I could have understood. We would have fought it, but he would then have had the power.
I cannot accept the method which the right hon. Gentleman has chosen. He is saying to local authorities, parents and 811 governors, "Unless you do as I say, I shall withdraw both capital and revenue money from you." Those are the tactics of the bully, the tactics which the teachers used against him when they said, "Give us what we want or we will withdraw the education of the children". The right hon. Gentleman said to the teachers, "You do not think that I am the sort of chap to be influenced by tactics of that kind, or bullying", but now he is using the identical tactics with the parents and governors. He is saying, "Do as I want or I shall withdraw the finance for the education of your children". The tactics he condemns are the tactics he adopts.
§ The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Reginald Prentice)
Is the right hon. Lady saying that the doctrine of the Conservative Party is that central Government should never use financial sanctions to ensure that their policies are carried out? Is she saying that there should be no differential taxation, no differential tax rebates, no subsidies, no industrial training levies and nothing to persuade people to carry out agreed national policy?
§ Mrs. Thatcher
The right hon. Gentleman should come to the House of Commons to get the appropriate powers for that purpose rather than making a threat in the circular. I hope that the parents and governors will respond to his threats in the same way as he responded to the teachers' threats. I am well aware of certain legal opinions that were given in previous cases. I hope that people will say that they are not moved by those tactics and that they will make the right hon. Gentleman go through every legal device—and that will be a lengthy process. If the right hon. Gentleman is saying that unless the schools go comprehensive he will withdraw money so that the children have no schooling of any kind, an interesting legal point may emerge that could have to be thrashed out in the courts. The question, is, who is in breach of his statutory duty to educate the child—the Minister or the local authority? I hope that the voluntary aided schools which have not before had a threat of this kind will fight to retain their grammar schools or secondary modern schools if they wish to retain them. The right 812 hon. Gentleman knows that in practice there will be trouble in London if he has every school turned into a comprehensive school.
The circular shows once again a difference between Labour and Conservative policy. The right hon. Gentleman is making a final assault on parental choice. There is to be none. The Minister knows best for the child, and the parent shall have no choice. The parent is to be informed that the school is to go comprehensive and is to be consulted only about what kind of comprehensive school it shall be. If the choice is not enough the remedy is to widen it, not to reduce it.
I turn from the circular to make one other comment to the right hon. Gentleman about education. When there was a period of retrenchment under a Conservative Government I accepted, as most of us have to accept during a period of rerenchment, that education must take its share. That is why there were capital cuts before Christmas—cuts which, incidentally, the right hon. Gentleman has not restored. When in Government whatever one may say in opposition, one has to take one's share of the retrenchment. But when money was being handed out by the Treasury, my hon. Friends who were with me as junior Ministers and I lined up outside the Treasury and we would not have been mollified, pacified, satisfied or quietened without getting some of that money for education.
There has been a great spending period. Pounds have been trotting out of the Treasury, left, right and centre—there has been another £10 million this week—and not a penny piece extra for education. What is the right hon. Gentleman doing? As Secretary of State I was a good badgerer of the Treasury, and I obtained a great deal for education, but the right hon. Gentleman sees money going everywhere but to his Department. He knows full well that I would have supported him in everything he did to restore the money for the primary school improvement programme or part of the secondary school improvement programme.
The right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) is related to the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), in whose constituency the replacement of the Thomas Calton School has had to be delayed. Some of the 813 £10 million could have been used to restore to the programme the Thomas Calton School, and others which did not get into the primary school building programe. But the right hon. Gentleman has not got money for education in a period of greatly increased public expenditure.
§ Mr. Prentice
Will the right hon. Lady explain to the House which items of Government expenditure she would rather do without? Is she against increased pensions? Is she against food subsidies and, therefore, in favour of higher rises in food prices? She will be aware that there has been no increase in expenditure for most Government Departments and that the increases have been selective. If she says that the increases are wrong she has a duty to tell the House which ones she would do without.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
I would far rather put some of the money that has gone to food subsidies into restoring the school improvement programme. That would have been fundamentally better in the long term for the children who are affected. I know the condition of some of those schools, and so does the right hon. Gentleman. He knows that we need a programme which stretches ahead for years. I have no difficulty in meeting that point. Vast sums have gone into food subsidies. A comparatively small amount would have done. The £10 million to unions would have done quite a bit. It would have provided 10 big secondary schools.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
Yes, and the Government are carrying on with the Channel Tunnel, which they opposed when in opposition. However, we shall debate that tomorrow, and I shall be speaking in that debate too, if I catch Mr. Speaker's eye.
I come to finance. We find that the Labour Party is the party of high taxation, very high rates, particularly in London, and high public expenditure. It seems that whatever policy the Government have the people must pay. My own council—Barnet—has sent a resolution to the Greater London Council about the high precept which the GLC has made upon Barnet. The resolution has also been sent to the London Boroughs Association.
814 The right hon. Gentleman may not have noted—I am not sure whether his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has yet noted—that the tendency of local authorities is to spend more than the estimated amounts. That tendency could upset the Chancellor's Budget judgment. Last year there was an out-turn of more than £200 million over the Estimate. If this is going to happen, the right hon. Gentleman will find himself in difficulties at the end of the year over his general Budget judgment.
I began with some of the economic inconsistencies of policies which have left London with severe problems and continued with one or two of the philosophic differences. Whether in taxation or in policies, the modern history of Socialism in this country is the history of increasing control over the life of the citizen, whereas the history of liberty and responsibility is the history not of increasing Government power but of its limitation.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryan Magee (Leyton)
The firmly entrenched tradition of this House, with maiden speakers, is that they do not make speeches of a controversial character, at least in a party political sense, and this must always impose damaging restrictions on what can be said when an important matter is under discussion. But there can be few maiden speakers who have found it temperamentally so difficult to conform to that tradition as I do, following immediately after the speech made by the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). I shall, of course, conform to the tradition. But I look forward to being free of its constraints on future occasions.
We hear a great deal about Scottish nationalism and Welsh nationalism, and most of us do not accept or agree with the fundamental tenets of nationalist parties. But many of us agree with the view that there should be more devolution of powers and responsibilities to the regions and to those great countries. I invite hon. Members who have sympathy with that point of view to see that exactly the same applies to London. My right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) quoted Disraeli as saving that London is a nation. It is indeed a nation, and if we are to understand—and produce creative solutions for—the 815 problems of London, the first thing we must do is to get the scale of those problems right. The scale of the problems is in all important respects not that of a normal town but that of a normal country.
The population of Greater London is larger than that of half the countries in Europe. The budget of local government in London is bigger than that of many whole European countries. But we who live in this great city do not expect it to function for us alone. We are well aware that it cannot, and indeed are proud of that. London makes an incalculable contribution to the life of the nation, to Europe, and to the world as a whole. It is a great seaport, a great trading centre, a great banking, financial, insurance centre, and so on.
But I want to touch on one aspect of London life which is profoundly influenced by decisions made in this House, yet not discussed here as often as it should be. I refer to London as a pre-eminent cultural and artistic centre.
Let us for a moment consider this aspect of our capital city. More books are published in London—I think I am right in saying—than in any other town in the world. More gramophone records of serious music are made in London than anywhere else. We have five major orchestras—the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic, the New Philharmonia and the BBC Symphony Orchestra; the point I would emphasise here is that I can think of no other city in the world that has more than two. The Royal Opera Company and the Royal Ballet Company at Covent Garden are as fine as any opera or ballet companies anywhere in the world; and their youthful, enthusiastic and zestful rivals only a few hundred yards away at the Coliseum are now beginning to run them close.
We have in London some 40 fully professional theatres, and the quality of acting that goes on in them is the envy of the world. The truth is that any ordinary fortnight of theatre and music in London, chosen literally at random, could constitute an annual festival of the arts in most capital cities. We have in London magnificent art galleries, and I 816 believe I am right in saying that London is the world centre for the buying and selling of works of art. We have a radio and television network based on London that is regarded throughout the world as the best in the world. All these things do not exist, as many still seem mistakenly to suppose, for a privileged few On any day of the week scores of thousands of Londoners of all cultural and social backgrounds, and all income levels and ages, pack into London's theatres, museums, art galleries, concert halls and opera houses. We have here an extraordinarily rich heritage, a marvellous inheritance which this House has done a great deal to help create, and which this House can do more to help preserve and promote.
What can we do to help promote and expand these activities? We can abolish entrance charges to museums and art galleries. We can encourage the activities of serious authors by passing a Bill to enable them to get at least some financial recompense for the use which libraries make of their work. It is in this House, and quite soon, that the entire future structure and organisation of broadcasting in this country, both television and radio, will be decided. And I hope that we shall revise the whole pattern of assumptions whereby expenditure of tens of millions of pounds on a vessel of war goes through without discussion while at the same time every pinched penny spent on culture or the arts has to be fought for and vigorously defended.
This is something on which local authorities in London can do a great deal, as well as those of us in this House. It used to be the case, and I expect it still is, that the one city of Berlin gave the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra a larger subsidy out of city taxes than our national Government gave to all the orchestras of Britain put together. I hasten to add that my own borough council of Waltham Forest is in the vanguard of enlightenment in this respect. It supports an orchestra known as the Forest Philharmonic Orchestra which will be giving a concert at the Royal Festival Hall a fortnight from tonight. As soon as this debate is over I hope that hon. Gentlemen will rush across the river for tickets.
The intricate richness of London life is inexhaustible. It is hackneyed to quote 817 Dr. Johnson in this context, but hackneyed only because true:Sir, if a man is tired of London he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford.This great city of ours—because of all the things I have mentioned, and because of a large number of other things that no amount of time would suffice to mention—induces a passionate attachment to it on the part of the people who live in it, the same kind of love and loyalty as, say, a patriotic Scot feels for Scotland. This must be understood if the attitudes of the people, and the life, of London are to be understood.
To us bred-in-the-bone Londoners there are streets in this city as beautiful as valleys, parks as life-enhancing as farms, and such wonders as residential squares on quiet summer Sunday mornings like huge rafts floating in sunlight; and this greatest of cities is at the same time a conglomeration of villages, each with its own high street, its history peculiar to itself, and its ancient name. I was born in the High Street of one of these villages, indeed in a market; and my father, and both of his parents, were born within a few hundred yards of that same spot. That takes us back to their parents, well over 100 years ago. It is roots of this kind, below the ever-changing surface of London life, that provide a continuity, a stability, and an identity, which persist in London, and which people who do not look below the ever-changing surface seldom appreciate.
My constituency consists precisely of two such villages, Leyton and Leytonstone, each with its High Street, its shopping centre, its station—and its own characteristic history. Leyton means "Lea Town", the town which grew up beside the River Lea, where there has been human habitation since the Bronze Age. The High Stone at the junction of Woodford Road and New Wanstead was put there by the Romans, and led to the name "Lea Town Stone"—Leytonstone. Throughout that part of London, human beings living there 2,000 years ago and more—human beings now totally forgotten—have left a local habitation and a name.
Looking round me, I can see the impatience on the faces of hon. Members to hear me at this point plunge into a 818 detailed history of my constituency over the past 2,000 years. But I shall have to deny them that keen pleasure. Even if I were to confine myself only to the last 1,000 years, it would make this too long for a maiden speech. For that reason, I jump straight to the present. And I approach our present situation by saying just a word or two about my predecessors as Member of Parliament for Leyton.
For almost the whole of my lifetime, the constituency has been represented by two people. First of all there was Reg Sorensen, who was there for nearly 30 years. Then came Patrick Gordon Walker, who was there for nearly 10 years.
Reg Sorensen was almost the model of a good constituency Member. Without personal ambition for himself, his sole desire was to give service to the people of Leyton, and to the Labour Party everywhere. I remember that 15 years ago when I was parliamentary candidate for Mid-Bedfordshire Reg Sorensen travelled down to that constituency and spoke for me more often than any other Member. There was no reward in it for him, and it was not even embarked on out of friendship, because he had not even met me. His sole desire was to serve: and I shall never forget him for it.
Following him, and before my predecessor Patrick Gordon Walker came to the constituency, there was a slight hiccup, a startling blue flash, but it was appropriately short. When Patrick Gordon Walker came he was already Foreign Secretary; his position was inevitably different. Yet he continued the same tradition of devoted service to the people of Leyton. It is from him that the mantle has now descended—and I fear "descended" is the right word—on me. If I can do half as well as either of these men, I shall do well.
Talking to them, and learning from them, I got the impression that ever since prehistoric man first built his house on wooden piles in Leyton Marshes, the biggest problems of the people living in my constituency have been housing problems. Of the housing existing there now, 40 per cent. was built before the First World War, and 30 per cent. of it was built in the nineteenth century. Many of those houses are very hard—some 819 impossible—to bring up to present-day standards of amenity. That means that there is continuous need for modernisation and renewal. But in an almost totally built-up area, as so many of our constituencies are, new land for building scarcely exists at all, and therefore the only way we can renew, modernise and rebuild is by tearing down what is there already. In practice, this means almost always tearing down people's existing homes, and in this way a tragic conflict arises.
On the one hand we have homes lived in by people who very often have struggled all their lives to acquire them. If they are working people, they may be ill-able to afford them, especially in the state of the market at the moment. For many people, it may only be because these are old, ill-equipped and small that they are on the market at all at a price they can afford. Nevertheless, people who acquire such homes after a lifetime of effort and saving are proud of them. Very often they are their one and only capital asset—and, in present circumstances, their one and only hedge against inflation. They put a great deal of work, care and attention into them, and make considerable improvements. Then along comes the local authority and says it intends to knock them down. How can human beings be expected to react in these circumstances, other than with bewilderment, hostility and very often a determination to struggle against local authority decisions so as to preserve the homes that they have acquired in this way?
On the other hand the local authorities, for their part, face an insoluble problem in areas like Leyton. With such an enormous stock of very old housing, the local authority has no alternative but continually to replace old housing with new if its borough is not to become a grey, twilight area gradually running down over the coming generation and sliding eventually into slumdom.
This conflict of interest between householders and local authorities is a tragic one which those of us with constituencies in heavily built-up areas are very often caught between, as their Members of Parliament. We have to represent the individual and his interests against arbitrary authority on the part 820 of both local authorities and the national Government. At the same time we have sympathetically to understand the plans of local authorities and to promote them where we can.
Another area in which there is a conflict between local authorities and the national Government, between whom we as Members of Parliament are caught, is that at present involving teachers in London. I am one of those who very much regret the decision of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State not to make an interim announcement of an increase in the London teachers' allowance before the Pay Board reports in June. It seemed to me that it might be possible to make a payment on account which would in no way have prejudiced the Pay Board. I hope the Government will realise that the teachers of London, too, are caught in an extremely difficult situation—to which the housing situation contributes, but which is not entirely explained by it.
Teachers who, because of the pressure and the difficulty of living in London, wish to leave London have to apply for jobs elsewhere before the end of May if they are to be in their new posts by next September. This means that all who would be deterred from leaving London by an increase in the London allowance need to know that there is to be such an increase before June, which is when the Pay Board is due to report. However, since the announcement which the teachers hoped for, and which I hoped for, has not occurred, I ask them to bear their souls in patience with the following consideration.
In the present state of the discussion it is entirely clear—in view of everything that has been said in the House and outside it—that an increase in the London teaching allowance will be announced in June, and that the increase is likely to be substantial. I hope, therefore, that teachers, as reasonable and rational people—which teachers, above all else, should always try to be—will accept that those are the realities of the situation, and will stay with us in London, where we so desperately need them.
I have one final observation about an aspect of London life, indeed built-up area life, which again is exemplified by the situation in my constituency, where I think that a solution to a problem has 821 been found which is of wide application and should be used elsewhere. It is proposed to build a link road from Hackney to the M11 at Woodford, and this link road will slash through Leyton. The road is being built not for the benefit of the people who live in the constituency but for the benefit of the region, indeed of the country as a whole. But it is accepted by the borough council of Waltham Forest that the road is desirable, so we shall have it. However, it will unavoidably involve a serious housing loss in the borough, a borough where there is already a severe shortage of housing. It will raise the noise level, it will cause pollution. And it will, or would in normal circumstances, create unsightly civil engineering developments.
A young architect who lives in the constituency, Mr. Malcolm Lister, RIBA, has produced a most imaginative scheme which could be followed with profit elsewhere. In essence, it is this: to sink the road in a cutting for most of its length and to cover that stretch of road, which is several hundred feet wide and several miles long, with parkland, so that we should have a linear park which not only would supply very much needed open space in an area in which everyone agrees that there is a desperate lack of that, but would also supply a surface on which adventure playgrounds, parks, old people's gardens, bowling greens, tennis courts and community amenities of many different kinds could be provided. This plan has been put on display locally. I hope that something very like it will come into being.
In all these problems money is of the essence, of course: it is the cost of solving our problems that limits the solutions we can apply. But the community problems of London are really so severe now that all complacency, if there is any complacency on the part of people who live in London, must be outgrown and put aside. There used to be a time when the most able members of every profession wanted to flock to London, and it was very difficult in this country to get outstanding people—whether they were teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, journalists or in any walk of life—to live for very long outside London in numbers sufficient for the requirements of the country's life as a whole. That time has gone. The difficulty now is getting professional people to come to live in 822 London. This very afternoon we are being lobbied in this House by the teachers because of problems existing largely because teachers cannot be got to live and teach in London.
We have seen in the United States how great cities can begin to die at the heart, and how the people, and the life dependent on those people, can go elsewhere, leaving the centres of those cities to decline and decay into economic ghettos. It would be foolish of us to think that it cannot happen here. It is already beginning to happen here. And it will go on happening unless we in this House, and people in local authorities all over London, take active steps to prevent it.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)
It is a happy chance that the first words I should utter in this House should be in maintaining the very pleasant tradition of congratulating maiden speakers. I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee). I do so with a considerable fellow feeling. I can understand the difficulty that he found, as indeed I find, in approaching this subject without being too controversial.
The hon. Member for Leyton had a distiguished career at Oxford, where he was President of the Union. He has had a distinguished career as a writer and broadcaster. He has started his new parliamentary career with equal distinction, and we look forward to hearing his further contributions. I was sorry that he was not able to include in his compendium of the London arts a reference to its numerous choral societies, but then, I have an interest as a member of one of them—the Royal Choral Society. I hasten to add, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have no intention of incurring your displeasure by bursting into song or making my speech in oratorio form.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this topic. I cannot claim to be expert on London, but I was born and brought up in outer London and I still live in the area of my constituency. My two previous attempts to enter this House have been in the inner part of East London. If, in the course of them, I was unsuccessful in depriving this House of the services of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch 823 (Mr. Brown) during that time I learned a great deal about and acquired an affection for that part of London.
London is a city with problems common to all parts of the Metropolis. It is also a conglomeration of individual communities, each with its own features and difficulties. Such is the case in my constituency. I find myself, in the House, the victim of some confusion, as the constituency which I represent is different in character and composition from the one that had the same name before the redistribution of boundaries. The new Chislehurst constituency is one of four forming the London borough of Bromley, and the constituency consists of a section of the old Bromley constituency, represented for 10 years in this House by my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt), and part of the old Chislehurst constituency, which was represented with diligence and enthusiasm for 20 of the last 24 years by the right hon. Lady Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith. Hon. Members in all parts of the House will share my pleasure at her name appearing in the Dissolution Honours List. I am happy to feel that she will continue to make her typically vigorous contributions to the nation's political life from another place, where we wish her well,
My constituency is varied. About one-third of its homes ate local authority properties. A large proportion of those are on pre-war and post-war estates, built by the London County Council and the Greater London Council. Part of the constituency is fairly typical pre-war and post-war private development. While Chislehurst accepts with some reluctance that it is now part of London suburbia, it is, or was, an old Kentish village, now very much developed but still retaining a certain rural air, with the caves, for which it is well known, the Common, and the cricket ground. Like a number of hon. Members opposite, I shall be spending the coming weekend celebrating May Day, but we in Chislehurst celebrate May Day by crowning the May Queen on the Common.
A large number of my constituents travel daily to central London. They are the directors, the managers, the clerks, the secretaries, who are the backbone of the capital's economic activity, particu- 824 larly those working in banking, insurance, shipping, merchanting and similar businesses in the City.
Most of them, including myself, travel to town by train. Of the 150,000 people arriving daily at the South-East London main termini, about 9 per cent. travel either from the four stations within my constituency or from the four neighbouring stations. I emphasise this because public transport is the life-blood of South-East London. We rely heavily on a train service that is frequent, punctual and reasonably comfortable. Alas, too often it is none of these.
Last winter we suffered from the ASLEF dispute—an action which meant that company chairmen were able to continue to travel to town in their chaufferdriven cars but created weeks of misery for ordinary working people who merely wanted to get to their jobs and do a day's work. This was apart from the incalculable damage which must have been done to individual businesses and, indeed, to the nation's economy. There must be more civilised ways of settling industrial disputes without resorting to methods such as this.
Quite apart from these difficulties, the standard of the train service falls below that which the public needs and which I know that British Railways wish to give, but this is inevitable in view of the volume of traffic it has to carry and the staff problems. The pressure on the traffic might be eased in some way if we could get over the endless squabble between British Railways and London Transport and at last have the tube system extended at any rate part of the way into South-East London.
I hope, too, that real consideration can be given to—and, perhaps we can even have action on—the ring rail and the ring bus proposals which have been put forward. A great deal of social and business traffic is inter-surburban, yet public transport facilities are very poor. The only effective way of getting from South-East London to South-West London, or from South-East London to the Essex suburbs, is to go into London and out again, thereby adding to the congestion in inner London.
This problem is not confined to the train services. The road system in South-East London has little order about it. I 825 greatly regret that the Labour GLC has withdrawn its proposals for ringways, but I welcome the steering group's report, which merits study, although its proposals are far too detailed to go into in a general debate of this sort.
However, we may ease the pressure of traffic on our transport facilities, but the staff shortage will remain—on the railways, on London Transport, and on public services. This includes local authorities and teachers. I believe that a revision of the London allowance is much overdue. I criticised the last Government and I criticise this one for their rather casual attitude to this matter. It is unfortunate that, the Government having referred the question of the London allowance to the Pay Board last autumn, we now have to sit back and wait until June before we have the board's report. There was a rather greater sense of urgency when we were dealing with the miners.
I suspect that in the course of this Parliament I shall find myself crossing swords on several occasions with the Secretary of State for Education and Science who—dare I remind him?—was selected for his position. I suspect that I shall find myself differing from him. However, I support his comments about the action of the teachers this afternoon. It achieves very little to deprive children of an afternoon's schooling. It lowers the teachers' professional status for them to go on strike for the afternoon and behave as they are doing.
Another constant concern in my part of London is the threats to our green belt and open spaces. Our woods, our commons and our playing fields provide pleasant surroundings in which to live, and they give character to an area. They also provide facilities for recreation and refreshment, for those living not only in that part of London but in inner London. Citizens of inner London flock to use these facilities, which cost neither them nor their councils anything.
My constituents take exception to the Greater London Council's telling them what sort of housing density we should have in our area. They take exception to the GLC and inner London boroughs threatening to take our land and build upon it. Our objections are threefold. First, we believe that such decisions should be taken locally. Secondly, we 826 believe that we play our part in London's enormous housing problem. Infilling is going on constantly. Developers are enabled to build perhaps 12 houses on a site where there were one or two before while still maintaining the character of the area.
This policy might be easier to maintain if there were less inconsistency in appeal decisions. It would be helpful if we could have some indication from the Ministry of the criteria on which it works.
One-third of the properties in my constituency are local authority dwellings, but the local council's efforts to increase local authority dwellings are somewhat hampered by the cost yardstick. These figures are becoming virtually meaningless, and I hope that they will very soon be revised, if not abolished. If they are to be revised, I hope that the Minister will remove the differentiation which has existed in the past between the yardsticks for inner and outer London. It is ridiculous that there should be a difference of perhaps 10 per cent. or more appertaining to sites which are just a few yards apart.
Thirdly, we object to the pressure put upon us, because we are not entirely convinced that within inner London all is being done that could be done to solve these problems. Reference has been made to dockland as an obvious example for potential development. It has been the subject of discussion and reports for far too long. The time for decision and action has arrived.
There is scope, too, for urban renewal in many parts of inner London, and there are other sites on which development could take place. We see this daily, travelling up to London. To take but one example, is it really necessary to have within two or three miles of the centre of London a site for dumping old cars?
Housing and transport are the biggest problems in London, but they are both areas in which imagination and decisive action could alleviate the problems, though I do not believe that they are capable of complete solution. They exist because more and more people want to live in and around London. They want to work in London. They want to travel into and around London. They do so because of what London is—one of the 827 world's greatest cities. When people cease to want to live here, to work here and to visit here, we shall have something to worry about.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
I am very glad to have the opportunity of congratulating the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) on his most vigorous and interesting maiden speech. It had a special interest for me, because I was born in Bromley and spent many happy hours of my youth on Chislehurst Common, which is decorated with the statue of Mr. William Willett, the originator of daylight saving and the conferer upon so many of his fellow citizens of rather more light and enjoyment than they themselves would ever have had the wit to attain.
I must also extend words of congratulation to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee). He solved the problem of how to make a maiden speech which is not controversial but which will hold the interest of the House. It was very desirable in a debate where we are to hear so much about the grim major subjects of housing, transport and rates that we should be reminded of London's standing as one of the world's great cultural centres.
I have never thought that it was an exaggeration for a Londoner—I am deeply a Londoner myself—to think of his city as Pericles and his audience thought of the Athens of their day. He said:We must remember it is an education to all the civilised world.This represents a great responsibility. It attracts to London every kind of person and it presents London with every kind of problem from the most specialised and ingenious, such as those concerned with the arts, to the most massive such as housing and rates.
I shall borrow a little further from what my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton said earlier. He made almost exactly the same points about London teachers' allowances which I intended to make. I am delighted he did so, I wish to underline and emphasise the matter. This afternoon I saw some of my constituents who came to see me and other hon. Members about this. I 828 say at once that they are not on strike. Owing to the intelligent action of the Inner London Education Authority they have been able to come quite properly to make their case to their elected representatives. I do not know if all the outer London boroughs have behaved in this respect with equal imagination and flexibility. These people make a serious case. Next month may be critical as to whether they stay on as London teachers. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will leave my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment in no doubt about what many hon. Members feel about this matter. I recognise that the London teachers' allowance is only one part of London allowances for workers generally, but a person like myself, a member of the National Union of Teachers, who was by profession a teacher, should lay emphasis on the teachers' case. I am delighted to see that I can now address my remarks directly to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.
It is not only the question of salaries and London allowances which makes it difficult to keep teachers in London. There is also the question of housing, which also affects many other essential public servants. I do not propose to detain the House long, but I want mainly to stress the housing problem of London, which takes many forms. For instance, it takes the form of London being starved of teachers and other essential public servants. It also takes the form of some citizens living in appalling squalor and of ill-planned, over-crowded dwellings. The remedy for all this is extremely simple to state but difficult to practise. It is that there simply must be more homes in London. In the main, this must be achieved by providing more council dwellings. I appreciate that owner-occupation, house improvement schemes and private tenancies can play a part, but far and away the greater part of the housing problem has to be solved by an increase in council house building.
Owing partly to the mortgage rates of the past three and a half years of Conservative Government a large number of Londoners cannot hope to achieve owner-occupation in the near future. This is extremely unfortunate. Owner-occupation is what they would really like and what they ought to have but, unhappily, it 829 cannot today be the solution for many Londoners.
The right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) referred to improvements. These can provide part of the remedy, but all too often one of the evils has been that improvement grants have been used by landlords as a means of making houses more attractive. The houses have then been sold off to people who have already been housed, and this has been of no benefit to the London housing problem as a whole.
I am glad that my own London borough, Hammersmith, was the pioneer in dealing with this abuse. I understand that it is now to be national policy that steps should be taken to ensure that improvement grants are used almost exclusively for the benefit of existing tenants, and this should genuinely help the housing problem.
With regard to private tenancies, the record of housing legislation from 1955 until 1964 was a series of efforts and bribes by Tory Governments to get private landlordism to make a real contribution to solving the housing problem. This record included the enormous bribe of the Rent Act 1957, which produced Rachmanism. Policy at that time produced social evils and did nothing to solve the housing problem. That was not because anyone was especially wicked, but simply because private ownership and private landlordism cannot solve the housing problem of the great majority of the public, no more than privately owned schools run for profit can provide a national system of education.
Whether we like it or not, we must accept that the major way to tackle the housing problem in London is to step up council house buildings. We therefore welcome the help which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is giving to boroughs throughout the country to get on with housing.
One thing at least will not be disputed —that the record of the previous Labour Government was infinitely better than that of the last Conservative Government, in providing council housing, which is by far the major factor affecting the housing problem of our people, particularly those in London.
If we are to build more council dwellings—for my part I would rather see more houses than flats, or if we must 830 have flats, small blocks rather than high-rise flats—two major questions must be answered. First, on what land are the houses to be built? Here I take issue with the hon. Member for Chislehurst. I agree that it can be a matter of judgment and argument as to what extent land in the hon. Gentleman's constituency ought to be used to contribute to the housing problems of the desperately overcrowded parts of London. But he said that he thought that this was a matter which should be decided locally—that is, borough by borough—which is an impossible approach to the solution of London's housing problem.
I never thought much of the legislation on greater London government in 1965 the main purpose of which was to take control of the capital out of the hands of Labour majorities, although I am glad to say that in that it failed. A body as big as the GLC should have been given powers to tackle London's housing problem as a whole, but it was denied those powers, and Londoners have been suffering ever since. I hope that at some stage in the period of the Labour Government that will be put right.
The second major question about land is not merely where is the land but how much would it cost. We eagerly await Government legislation on the longstanding problem of what to do about land needed for public purposes. Time and again the nation, through various Governments, has tried to solve this ; yet we are all, as rate and tax payers, being exploited by the land profiteer. I do not say that as a piece of abuse. If society is slack enough to create a legal position in which a man can make a very large sum of money by doing nothing at all, there is no great point in telling him that he is frightfully wicked because he does it. Our business as citizens is to see that the laws are such that that kind of thing cannot be done.
The right hon. Lady the Member for Finchley wailed about what she regarded as the passion of the Labour Party for increased public expenditure. If one is worried about public expenditure and about the level of rates and taxes, particularly rates, one has to do something about private profiteering in land. The total amount of public service expenditure is going up, and it ought to go up. The richer our society becomes, the greater 831 the proportion of our wealth we ought to spend through the public purse, for a very simple reason. If society is very poor it cannot care properly for its aged. It cannot care for its mentally handicapped. There are many things it cannot do. The richer one becomes, the more one can do for people like that. But to care for them involves public expenditure, money publicly collected and publicly spent—and it is none the worse for that.
One of the great services that Herbert Morrison rendered to the people of London was to get them to understand that if they wanted to live in a civilised city they had to pay for it through higher rates. Although Londoners are not casual about their rates, they know that if they want a civilised city its costs something. We in my borough of Hammersmith were very glad to find that our rates were 6p in the pound less than they would otherwise have been but for the action of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment, against which the right hon. Lady the Member for Finchley voted. At least she had the courage to stay here and vote. It was more than a number of her hon. Friends were prepared to do.
We have a situation in which total public expenditure must go up. As it does, the inadequacy of rates in raising money for public expenditure becomes more apparent. The unfairness of rates, the fact that the amount of rates a man pays is seriously out of proportion with how well off he is, would not matter so much if the total amount raised in rates were less, but with every increase in the total amount of rates raised the greater the injustice becomes.
Therefore, we must look again at how to make local income tax a practicable proposition. I used to be told that it was administratively impossible. As for the problem of deciding whether to raise the tax in the place where the money is earned or in the place where the ratepayer lives, I do not believe that with computers and with modern methods of making calculations it is sufficient to go on saying that it is administratively impossible. Also we should consider giving local authorities powers to raise revenue in other ways—for example, a tourist tax.
832 Finally, on this point of public expenditure I want to take issue with the right hon. Lady the Member for Finchley when she argued that the Labour Party was always trying to increase the power of government, local or central, and reduce the right of the individual to determine his whole life. The fact that she makes that criticism shows that she has not understood the nature of the great city in modern civilisation. In the first place, the great cities of the world ought never to have been allowed to grow to their present size. That happened not because of tyrannical Governments but because of unrestricted and unplanned private enterprise creating the problems of traffic, squalor and all the things which we have to unravel today. An absence of sufficient government means that a few wealthy people have what liberty they like and the rest of the population have to put up with it.
There has been one period in our history when the power of government was at its weakest and there was the greatest possible individual freedom for those who could get it. It is the period known to historians as the Wars of the Roses, and it was an extremely uncomfortable time for ordinary people. In the same way. with the growth of the great modern city, until the public woke up to the fact that they wanted something like decent government the wealthy did very well and we got the squalor, the slums and the difficulties for ordinary people.
We have found out now that the only way to put this right is not by having less government but more, more intelligent government, more public ownership, particularly of land, more public enterprise, more public planning, and government in which the people are encouraged to participate. They way to liberty today is not a sort of Robinson Crusoe way, saying "I want as little government as possible ; I will live on my own." It is through enthusiastic participation in government, and the full exercise of one's rights as a citizen.
I refer once again to Pericles. He said of his contemporaries:They count their minds most truly their own when they are employed on their city's behalf.That is the road to civilised government in great cities.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Baker (St. Marylebone)
It is a pleasure to me to congratulate the two maiden speakers in this debate. The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee), who is no doubt temporarily out of the Chamber checking his speech with HANSARD, made an attractive speech. I remember him at Oxford many years ago when I was a young undergraduate and he was President of the Union. He had then the air and manner of an elder statesman. I note that over the years he has not lost it.
I was very glad that the hon. Member spoke about the cultural heritage of London. The thing that makes London rather special, not only in our country but in Europe and the world, is its cultural heritage. I noticed that, among other things, he spoke in favour of a public lending right. I hope that he will be in his place on Friday week to support my Bill introducing such a right. I know only too well that members of Governments and particularly members of Cabinets express sympathy with a public lending right, but when it gets down to Cabinet committees having to allocate funds there are other worth while uses for the money rather than spending it on a public lending right.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims). In the last General Election I limited my speaking outside Marylebone to Conservative marginal seats which we were likely to win, and one of those was Chislehurst. It was won by a decisive majority by my hon. Friend, and I am sure that he is now going to make it his own. He spoke very well about the problems facing his constituency, largely a commuter seat. I hope London debates will hear much from him.
It is rather extraordinary to be debating London on a separate day. It is very rare. I think I speak for hon. Members in all quarters of the House when I say that we all feel, as Londoners, that the Scots and the Welsh get a very fair crack of the whip
§ Mr. Baker
The hon. Gentleman has not been here long enough to know how fair a crack of the whip they have had. 834 Rarely do we have an opportunity to debate London matters. It usually arises on an obstruction motion on a GLC Powers Bill or a Money Bill, usually undertaken by the Opposition. I think I can guarantee that that will be done again this year.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
I think I am right in saying that it is the third time in 30 years that we have had a special London debate as such.
§ Mr. Baker
It does not surprise me to hear that. I hope that this is the shape of things to come, and that we shall debate London matters rather more frequently, since the problems of London are immense.
Since the debate is taking place in an election week for London I was expecting the Minister to open the door and catalogue a variety of goodies for Londoners, but I listened in vain. There were no new proposals, and Labour back benchers, judging from the expressions on their faces when the Minister sat down, were obviously disappointed that he had nothing to say. I should have thought that he would have said something but his speech was no more than a humdrum little homily.
London's problems are immense, and I wish to deal mainly with housing. However, I had hoped that the Minister would say something about the other major problems facing London. such as the lack of a transport policy, which is approaching a national scandal. Since Labour took over control of the GLC it stopped the inner ringroad and it is now withdrawing a number of parking meters from central London. These two measures do not add up to a transport policy. We Londoners feel there has been little constructive thinking in that direction.
I had also hoped that the Minister would say something about the provision of public services in the capital. In my constituency, for example, there is now no distinction between first-class and second-class post. I would have been glad of some idea from the Minister of what he proposes to do on that. Will he speak to the postal workers' union and suggest that it agrees to the employment of women to deliver letters on a full-time basis? That would certainly ease the situation in central London.
835 The Secretary of State for Education is here and, therefore, we can acquit the Minister for failing to deal with education. Nevertheless, as all London Members know, education in the capital is at a crisis. I do not believe that the crisis is solely or even primarily concerned with the London weighting. The problems of education in our constituencies go very deep. My area is controlled by the ILEA, which is now a demoralised authority. The ILEA was the great proponent some years ago of the large comprehensive schools of 1,500 or 2,000 pupils, but in the last year it has had to revise its plans and abandon its basic philosophy. Many of us who knew something about education were instinctively aware that a school of 1,500 or 2,000 pupils could not be right for the children. It is expecting too much of children to ask them to identify with a school as large as that. The ILEA has had to backtrack from that and to some extent from the concept of comprehensive education, because if a child goes to a neighbourhood school that is working against the comprehensive concept.
The difficulty that faces the Government was demonstrated on Thursday and Friday last week. On Thursday the Secretary of State for Education attacked the Kingston education authority—I think he called it "inglorious Kingston "—for retaining a system of selective education. However, in inglorious Kingston at least the education process was continuing. The boys and girls were attending schools and being educated. On Friday the right hon. Gentleman visited glorious Newham, where he found that the process had ceased and that pupils were not being educated. The teachers were on strike not just because of pay but because of the general working conditions imposed by large schools.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
The hon. Member need not be sarcastic. Surely he realises that the difficulties in Newham have not arisen only in the last two months or even in the last two years. They have arisen because of the neglect of the Treasury under successive Governments, and I am sorry to say that the situation persists even now.
§ Mr. Baker
I do not suggest that the problems facing London schools have appeared only since 28th February. They have not. However, I should like to see a correlation between the lists of large comprehensive schools and the lists of schools with staff shortages. I suspect that those lists would be almost identical.
In any debate on housing in London there is a general assumption that the problems are the same for the whole of the capital. That is not so. There are three distinct geographical areas in London—the outer suburbs, the inner suburbs and the heart. Each geographical area faces different problems. In the outer suburbs the people are concerned primarily with the mortgage rate, the availability of mortgages, the problems of house ownership and the price of houses. In the inner suburbs the housing problems are possibly the most acute—I refer to my old constituency of Acton, to Newham, Hammersmith, Lambeth and Willesden.
The problem is essentially one of regeneration and redevelopment. We have to do something about the Victorian and Edwardian heritage in these areas. The previous generation believed that the answer was demolition and the construction of tower blocks. Thank heavens we have moved ahead. It took Ronan Point to prove that this was not the right way to rebuild London. It took death and disaster to show the answer. Thank heavens we have turned our backs on that sort of development. In my old constituency a Victorian area in South Acton was being redeveloped. Every architectural and social engineer used it as a practice place for his particular fad, and a living community was slowly destroyed. That is typical of other parts of the inner suburbs.
837 In those areas the private tenant and the private landlord also have their problems. I believe some degree of security of tenure should be extended to furnished tenancies. However, I hope that in formulating housing policy the Government will not put furnished and unfurnished tenancies in London on the same basis. One lesson that we as Londoners have learnt is that rigid control eventually leads to a drying up of the supply of rented accommodation.
The problems of the centre of London are different from the other areas. By the centre I mean Westminster, St. Marylebone and parts of Paddington, Hampstead, Kensington and Chelsea. Events here have taken a markedly different turn from events in other parts of the capital. The rich can go on living in the heart of London because, by and large, they can afford whatever the market demands. Side by side with them are the poor and the relatively poor who are subsidised. I do not begrudge them a penny of the money that is paid to them to enable them to continue living in London. One of the largest council house estates in London is being built in St. Marylebone at Lisson Green, where the subsidies on some flats amount to about £20 per week.
Between the rich and the poor the middle groups are being squeezed out. The middle income groups, the middle classes and so often the middle-aged cannot afford to continue living in central London. Over the last few years the electoral roll for Westminster has declined at the rate of about 5,000 residents a year. That has been going on almost consistently for the past 20 years. It means that there is a very socially unbalanced society in the centre of London. Policy must be so modified as to create a greater social balance.
When we talk of social balance in London we are usually talking about preserving accommodation for the very poor. I am talking about preserving accommodation for the middle classes and the middle income groups. I appreciate that it is a problem of central London. There are various ways in which we can help such people.
First, we must stop the misuse of residential flats for offices, which is a considerable problem in the centre of London. 838 When we go canvassing and knock at the door of a flat we can hear the typewriters banging away behind the door. The residential occupier has long since gone. We must examine the procedures for enforcing residential use and the initial penalties. Westminster City Council is now following a much more vigilant policy on the matter. I am sure that my hon. Friends the Members for the City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Tugendhat) and Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) will confirm the erosion of the residential base in the centre by the misuse of residential flats.
Secondly, there must be a check on the conversion of unfurnished to furnished lettings. In parts of central London an unfurnished block of flats slowly moves into being a furnished block, first let on an annual basis, then six-monthly, then three-monthly and monthly, even down to a nightly basis, which has given rise to what is known in planning terms as the creeping hotel. Measures were introduced last year which were meant to deal with the problem, but they are not adequate.
Thirdly, I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart). I would promote the housing association as the essential agency for creating middle class, middle income group housing in central London. Every survey in London shows that on the whole people do not favour becoming council tenants. They would like, if it is at all possible, another form of ownership or tenancy. I believe that some of the housing associations operating in central London give us a unique opportunity to provide just that for many people. I have one substantial association in my constituency, the St. Marylebone Housing Asscociation, which does a great deal of good by rehabilitating old Victorian buildings and providing homes for people of modest incomes at low rents.
I apologise to the House for dealing with problems specific to the centre of London. I appreciate that some of them may not be particularly relevant in the outer or inner suburbs. One problem which has become apparent in the past few weeks is that of service charges, which are not regulated closely enough in our legislation. I do not believe that the new Housing Bill is tight enough upon them. In central London we arc seeing the replacement of the tenancy by the 839 owner-occupier, with vertical owner-occupation as the blocks are being sold off. Hon. Members will know of this from their own experience. The rents of those that remain are controlled. When the property is sold there are service charges, but they are not controlled very well. More controls are needed. I have two big blocks in my constituency—29 Abercorn Place and Clifton Court— where the owner-occupiers pay substantial service charges of several hundred pounds a year.
I am sorry that I have been so detailed in what is a general debate, but all London Members know that housing is the most important subject for us in our constituencies. We all inevitably become experts upon housing law. As London Members, we are all poor men's lawyers on the law of landlord and tenant, and we see the sort of problems that arise daily.
The problems of central London are unique. I do not want to see the centre of London—Westminster, Marylebone, St. John's Wood, parts of Paddington, parts of Hampstead, and parts of Kensington and Chelsea—become a deserted shell where people go to work but do not live. The City of London is like that. It is empty and, apart from its commercial activity, does not add to the vibrant life of our city. A city is vibrant and alive only if its heart beats. I believe that the sort of measures I have outlined are necessary to keep a living and well-balanced community here in the centre.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
I join the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) in congratulating the Government on providing a full day's debate on London, but I was a little sad to hear the hon. Gentleman say that he will continue to block London legislation. I thought that he and I and many of our colleagues agreed in the last Parliament that that was a most unsatisfactory way of dealing with our business, no matter who was in control at County Hall. It seemed to us an absurd system.
I recall going with the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members to try to persuade the Leader of the House, in Governments of both parties, to give time for debate on the Floor of the House, so that 840 we could discuss London matters and cease the stupid practice of having to block Bills in order to have such debates. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reflect on what he said and realise that, if we wish to encourage any Government to give time for a London debate, to continue to harass Bills will have the opposite effect.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
What my hon. Friend has just said should not encourage the Greater London Council to promote Bills containing clauses which it knows are strongly opposed by hon. Members. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that we shall still have to oppose the GLC if it acts unreasonably.
§ Mr. Brown
I support my hon. Friend on that. If I misunderstood the hon. Member for St. Marylebone, I apologise, but I thought that he said that Members will go on blocking Bills. I would not dream of suggesting that my hon. Friend should not seek to stop any legislation that affects his constituency.
The problems in London have been exacerbated since 1967, when the GLC became Conservative-controlled. Its attitudes produced the present situation in London. The Conservative GLC sought to make transport profitable, with a target profit of £2 million a year. The hon. Member for St. Marylebone spoke about London going dead at night. The Conservative GLC closed down the Barbican station in my constituency to make sure that nobody could travel by Underground. It also forced the cutting down of bus services, because they were not profitable. The GLC under the Conservatives since 1967 deliberately set out to create the present situation. The problem was further exacerbated by the election of the Tory boroughs in 1968, which, combined with what had happened in 1967, produced the most inefficient, ineffective and incompetent administrations in London that we have ever had.
I thought that the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) had her tongue in her cheek when she mentioned 1968 as the year when housing in London began to decline. That should be no surprise to her, because her right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) advised the Conservatives on the GLC and the boroughs not to build houses for what were seemingly good 841 purposes. Regrettably, his friends accepted his advice. Therefore, when the right hon. Lady identifies 1968 as the bad year, I can reply that we were telling her and her right hon. Friends that a long time ago.
It was distressing that we had superimposed upon those bad administrations an equally inefficient Conservative Government, who only made life even worse for us in London after they came to power in 1970. We tried hard to inform the Conservative Government during their three and a half years of the true situation. We reminded them of the housing waiting lists. We urged them to review their policies and encourage the building of homes in London. They were aware by December 1973 that the housing waiting lists in London boroughs had increased by one-third. In human terms that represented approximately 204,000 families. Any administration should have been alive to what that would mean, but regrettably the Conservative administration did not appear to realise what would happen. I believe that they knew but that they deliberately turned the other way. We are now arriving at the situation in which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) has said, the local authority is the only salvation for people in London wishing to obtain a home.
The Conservative Government made it impossible for people to buy homes. A modest house in London in 1972 cost approximately £35 a month in monthly repayments. The same modest house in January 1974 cost £99 a month. Therefore, the previous Conservative Government made it hopeless for any young married couple, such as teachers, doctors, nurses or any of the public servants, to be able to provide themselves with their own homes in London.
At the same time we were reminding the previous Conservative Government of the rising tide of homelessness. From January to June 1972 5,200 cases appeared before the rent tribunals. From January to June 1973 the figure rose to 7,000. It was clear then that furnished tenants were being treated particularly harshly. Three-quarters of the applications made before the rent tribunals came from London. Anyone who was watching the situation on behalf of London 842 could foresee the sort of situation that would arise.
We reminded the previous Conservative administration that homelessness in London was increasing. That was challenged. The previous Government denied that that was so, yet they knew full well that in January 1973 1,000 people were being accommodated in London hotels and in bed and breakfast accommodation. It was known that by June 1973 the figure had already increased beyond 2,000. In those six months alone the trend could be seen, and the Government knew clearly what was happening. They chose to take no action. The bulk of those people being accommodated in that way had been evicted from furnished tenancies. The Tories did absolutely nothing, yet they knew just what was happening. That was criminal. On reflection any Minister in the past administration must despise himself for the failure of that administration to grasp the problem.
The Labour-controlled authorities that came into power in 1971 must be congratulated. They tried hard to grasp the nettle—namely, the problems with which they had been left. In my borough many homes that the borough had owned had been distributed to other sources. Land had gone and there was no land with which the authority could work. Many authorities are now spending their time trying to find land on which to build homes. It seems that the only thing that we can believe the Tories did in that time was to design misery for London. Regrettably, London has suffered that misery.
The present Government have been in power only eight weeks. They have done more during those eight weeks than the Conservatives did in three and a half years. The rent freeze has been a tremendous boon. Rent increases were a burden that people could not carry. The extra money that has been given to the councils to enable them to carry out their work is also a boon. The Government are bringing forward a Bill to provide even more land. That should provide over 120,000 homes. That will be extremely valuable.
My right hon. Friend has already referred to security of tenure. The Government's action will stop the figure increasing from 2,000 to 4,000 in six 843 months' time. Further, there is the help which is given in the form of rate support grant. We do not hear very much about that from Conservative hon. Members. No doubt some of my hon. Friends will wish to congratulate the Government on what they have done in that respect.
In November I talked about the public services, and I identified the teachers. I say to my right hon. Friend that it is of great regret to me that we are not able to do something for the teachers and the public servants in general. As the House is aware, I have seen the Secretary of State for Employment on about three occasions in an attempt to persuade him that the London teachers are a special case. There are grounds for believing that unless something is done to give them their extra money before 31st May the teaching situation will become disastrous.
I do not believe that it is sufficient to say to the teachers that they must take their chance or just wait. I am not interested in what the Pay Board finds. Those of us who know anything about London and teaching in London know that the teachers are entitled to an increase in London weighting of about £400. That would not be an increase in their ordinary wages. I sometimes suspect that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment confuses the normal issue of any group of workers going for an increase in their wages with an increase in London weighting. London weighting has been with us for a considerable time and the teachers have been waiting since 1970 to get their increase. It is unreasonable to make them wait any longer.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will be able to say, even at this eleventh hour, that no great problems will be caused and that there will be nothing wrong if the London teachers are given an extra £82 or £100 to show good will. We know—at least I hope that it will be so—that in June the teachers will get a much larger amount of money. I cannot see that giving an interim award of the amount suggested would cause any difficulties for my right hon. Friend. I am certain that Mr. Jack Jones and Mr. Hugh Scanlon would not regard that as being a breach of any pay agreement or social contract.
The London weighting is a specific issue, and I appeal to my right hon. 844 Friend to answer my plea on behalf of London. We need teachers for the London schools. My hon. Friends and I plead for the children and not necessarily the teachers. I want to see the children of my constituency in school. That has not been the position for some time. I want to see them well educated by well qualified teachers. If we refuse to pay the London weighting I must say to my right hon. Friend that he has taken me to my limit.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)
I add to the congratulations that have been given to my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) on his maiden speech. He is not only my political neighbour and personal friend; he appropriated two of my best wards under parliamentary redistribution. I like to think that those wards made a substantial contribution to the majority of 5,493 by which he was returned to the House. I hope that they will help to sustain him in his continued representation of the Chislehurst constituency for many years to come.
I welcome the provision of this one-day debate on London. I share the view that has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House that in the past insufficient attention has been given to the affairs and problems of Greater London. Until now we have had to be content with an occasional debate whenever it could be conveniently fitted in to the parliamentary timetable. All of us who represent London constituencies feel that that is not good enough. Today's debate is an augury of a better arrangement in future. Not only should there be a regular allocation of time for London debates; we should have a Minister for London who should be specifically charged with the duty of ensuring that the voice of London is heard loud and clear at Government level. I am pleased to see that an impressive and influential endorsement for that view came the other day from no less a source than the Government Chief Whip, who, in a speech in Bromley, is reported as saying:There ought to be a Minister for London; I could do that job.We would be prepared to accept him in the post in a temporary capacity. I think that it is important to establish the principle of direct ministerial responsibility 845 for the Metropolis, and I hope that it will come.
I propose to speak primarily in the context of the problems currently facing the London borough of Bromley. I begin by warning the Government that I detect a growing mood of exasperation and resentment not only amongst the ratepayers and residents of Bromley but amongst many of our councillors, at the way in which, they believe, decisions vitally affecting the interests and amenities of the borough are taken not at the town hall but at County Hall and in Whitehall, by authorities whose political approach and outlook are totally alien to the great majority of Bromley residents.
In housing, highways, education and rating policies, the vital decisions are taken not by Bromley but by the GLC and the Government, and Bromley Council finds itself forced into the rôle of a reluctant and protesting municipal underling. It is, I believe, a humiliating and potentially explosive situation for any council to find itself in. We saw in the shambles of the fixing of this year's rate demands the kind of anger and resentment that this situation can produce.
Here was Bromley, which has always prided itself, justifiably, on its wise financial housekeeping, suddenly being saddled with an increase of 85 per cent. in the GLC precept and, on top of that, a further imposition as a result of the Government's revised rate support grant proposals.
In the housing situation, Bromley also finds itself subjected to outside influences and decisions. On housing matters the record of Bromley Council has been persistently misrepresented. We hear a lot about the housing problems of inner London, but anyone who sits in my monthly surgery knows that we still have many desperate housing cases amongst Bromley people, and we are entitled to point out that many of the inner London boroughs have shown a marked lack of imagination and urgency in redeveloping their own areas.
A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) and my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst, have referred to the interminable delays which have taken place in the redevelopment schemes for 846 London dockland. Here we have 5,000 acres of land which could provide homes for up to 80,000 people in the heart of London, and it is assuming the proportions of a major bureaucratic and administrative scandal that this delay should continue. So we are entitled to ask why Bromley and other boroughs in outer London, in a similar position, should be threatened and cajoled by the GLC and the Government when vast areas like dockland are still available for redevelopment in central London.
Reference has also been made to the policy of creeping municipalisation now being pursued by the GLC. I have here a list of houses which have been acquired in my constituency by the present GLC. They are isolated properties, spread over a widely scattered area, creating considerable administrative difficulties for the housing officials at County Hall who will have to look after them and their tenants.
Apart from that, it is important to stress that the mere acquisition of these houses by the GLC does not create a single new dwelling. It merely means that young couples in my constituency who are desperately searching for a home of their own will have their task made that much more difficult by the GLC acting in this way to reduce the stock of owner-occupied houses available for purchase.
Another aspect of the housing situation is the position of furnished accommodation. We have heard repeated references by the Labour Party to the possibility of extending security of tenure to furnished accommodation. The time has come for a specific statement from the Government of their intentions in this respect, because the present uncertainty is creating a difficult and, I believe, deteriorating situation.
Only last weekend I was approached by a constituent who has converted the top part of his house into five self-contained units of accommodation. One of these units is vacant but he is reluctant to relet it if, as he fears, the Government introduce security of tenure for furnished accommodation. I have already written to the Secretary of State for the Environment asking for this uncertainty to be brought to an end. If it continues, it could lead to a serious reduction in the amount of furnished accommodation available.
847 In outer London areas such as Bromley—indeed, throughout London—this kind of accommodation is used largely by people such as young teachers, nurses, students and so on—all people who would be in desperate straits if the amount of furnished accommodation on the market were to be further reduced. I trust that we shall soon have a clear indication of the Government's intentions in this respect.
I should also welcome a comment from the Government on another aspect of the housing situation—the provision of council mortgages. Unfortunately, Bromley has recently had to suspend its home loans scheme as a result of current interest rates. It legitimately points out that it finds it hard to justify borrowing cash on the money markets at 15 per cent. to lend at 11 per cent. The fact remains that this clampdown on mortgages has come as a bombshell to many young people in the borough who already find it difficult enough to get a foothold on the ladder of home ownership, with even the smallest terraced house fetching up to £15,000.
If special Government help is to be given to the building societies to enable them to keep their mortgage rates down, similar assistance should be available to local authorities in Greater London so long as the present very high interest rates remain.
My final point concerns an amenity problem which affects not only Bromley but every London borough—the continuing menace of the heavy lorry. Roads in my constituency which 10 years ago were pleasant streets with only a moderate flow of traffic have been transformed into nerve-shattering highways, with all the noise, fumes and dangers which come with that. A few years ago, grants were paid for the insulation of houses on the flight path to Heathrow, and a good case could now be made out for similar grants towards the soundproofing of the homes of those condemned to live on these juggernaut highways. I hope that favourable consideration will be given to that.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
Does my hon. Friend not agree that another important factor to be considered in terms of payment to householders is compensation for damage to houses caused by the weight of these vehicles?
§ Mr. Hunt
Indeed. There is no doubt that the volume of traffic is growing and creating substantial structural damage to many homes. I hope that consideration of my hon. Friend's point can be combined with the plea that I have made about soundproofing.
My hon. Friend's intervention leads me to say that in the meantime some alleviation will come from the implementation of the measure that he successfully piloted through the House—the Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Controls and Regulations) Act. The Greater London Council appears to have been regrettably slow in grasping the opportunities which this Act provides for improving the quality of life in our capital city. For example, we are still waiting for the designation of lorry routes which would bring relief to many residential roads, particularly in the outer London boroughs.
In correspondence I have had with the Greater London Council's Traffic Commissioner he has written ofsurveys, investigations and evaluations of alternative options.However, he gives little indication of positive decisions emerging from County Hall, apart from some lorry parking restrictions and the central London ban. I hope that Ministers will be prodding their colleagues across the river into urgent action on this issue.
The situation in London today is not a happy one. Many public services are in danger of breaking down, partly as a result of the lack of suitably priced housing for people such as railwaymen and bus workers, nurses and teachers. and partly as a result of what I regard as the quite excessive time taken by the Pay Board in dealing with the vexed question of the London weighting. I see the right hon. Gentleman smiling. I would point out that I made this point when my own party was in Government, just as I make it today in opposition.
Many of us have a vision of the kind of London we should like to see. To many this means not only the removal of the slums and the squalor of the inner area but the protection and preservation of the rural amenities of the outer areas, which provide peace and pleasure for the residents of those areas and those who come from the inner boroughs to enjoy the green belt, common land and 849 countryside. Our aim must be to see Bromley and Bermondsey, Camden and Kensington not confronting but complementing one another. This is the spirit in which we shall build that better and happier London that we all want to see.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
I agree with those who have said that housing is the most important problem, certainly in central and inner London. Even so, I doubt whether everyone realises how serious it has become in the sort of area that I represent. It is much too serious to be dealt with on a partisan basis. This debate will certainly be of value if it convinces all of those who are already comfortably housed that bad housing is not merely far and away the worst social problem in London but that the shortage of good accommodation is far more acute than at any time since the war.
Having wrestled with this problem since 1946 in my constituency I can say that I have never known a time when urgent housing cases in which I am asked for help have been less than 10 times as great as all the other kinds of problems put to me. In the past two years this has risen to something like 20 times and the distressing cases have become two or three times as numerous as they were a few years ago. Appeals for help with urgent cases reach me now at the rate of 25 to 30 a week.
I do not want to harrow the feelings of hon. Members today but I hear almost every day of cases of families with three or four in a room, with children in bad health as a result of disrepair, damp and the rest, of parents whose marriages are breaking up, who are losing their mental stability, and of old people trapped in deplorable conditions and unable to move. Not one in 200 of the families who come to me with problems of this sort can ever dream of affording to buy a house. It is almost wholly in their case a problem of finding some-where to rent.
The cause of this deterioration is all too plain. Since about three or four years ago two things have been allowed to happen. First, far too few new council dwellings have been built. The number completed last year was not much more than half that of 1970. Secondly, 850 Government policies together have produced a flood of homeless people caused by evictions, mainly from furnished tenancies. The figures in my borough of Wandsworth prove this. They are set out in Wandsworth Council's excellent report "The Arithmetic of Despair" published this year. I hope that the Minister has a copy. If not, I will send him one. The recent Shelter report "Housing Plan for Action" published this month very largely confirms the Wandsworth conclusions.
What has happened is that the flood of homelessness caused on the one hand by excessive financial advantages given to owner-occupiers as against tenants and the ease of eviction from furnished tenancies on the other has made it nearly impossible for the inner London boroughs to take anyone off their housing waiting lists. This produces a desperate situation. In Wandsworth the number of homeless families that had to be admitted to temporary or permanent accommodation—and those without children are excluded altogether—rose from 196 families in 1971 to 764 in 1973.
As a result the number of families housed from the waiting list fell from 529 in the first half of 1972 to 57 in the second half of 1973—a reduction of 90 per cent. in the number of families rehoused from the waiting list. The Wandsworth report found that after 1973, assuming a continuation of the policies of the previous Government, Wandsworth Council would not have been able to rehouse even all the homeless and those needing rehousing because they came from clearance areas, let alone anyone from the waiting list—a truly disastrous situation.
Nor is there any doubt that evictions are now the main cause of this mounting homelessness. The Wandsworth report says:The greatest single cause of the huge upsurge in the number of homeless families during the last two years is the intensification of the trend towards owner occupation. … One of the principal causes of homelessness is the eviction of private tenants by landlords or owners who want to dispose of the property with vacant possession.Later the report says:The explosive inflation of house prices in London has encouraged landlords to empty their houses of unprofitable tenants and to cash in on their valuable capital assets. … The ease with which tenants of furnished accommodation may be evicted produces the 851 most serious problems in the housing stress areas of Wandsworth and accounts for a large proportion of the homeless families.The Shelter report comes to the same conclusion when it says:There is overwhelming evidence that the lack of protection of furnished accommodation has led to widespread insecurity and eviction.That confirms my experience.
We must therefore have urgent practical reforms now, and I shall briefly summarise what seems to me to be necessary. First, the Government must carry out with the utmost speed their promise to give security to furnished tenants. I agree that the sooner we know what the policy will be the better from everybody's point of view.
Secondly, every conceivable weapon must be used to speed up the building of council dwellings in London, and no obstacle of interest rates, yardstick or land values must be allowed to stand in the way. I shall be bringing some cases to the notice of Ministers before very long.
Thirdly, compulsory purchase orders should be confirmed with far greater speed in derelict areas. The delay in one case in my constituency under the previous Government was near to a scandal of maladministration. I congratulate the present Minister on making the right decision within a week, even though I had to write two letters to him to persuade him to do it.
Fourthly, the Government should carry on with the excellent policy of encouraging and assisting local authorities to buy private houses offered for sale on the market and add them to the pool of rented dwellings. The object would be to add them to the rented dwellings pool and not to take them away from one owner-occupier to give to another.
Fifthly, the sale of council dwellings anywhere in London should be stopped. As I listen on Friday evenings to harrowing stories about the present conditions in which some families are living, I become convinced that the sale of council houses is absolutely indefensible. I should like it to be prohibited altogether except on the condition of resale to the council by the purchaser.
Sixthly, the demolition of houses in London for motorways, schools, shops, 852 offices or indeed for anything other than the building of dwellings should,be stopped. We now see that the proposal by the Conservative Government and by the previous GLC to demolish thousands of houses in order to build inner London motorways was not so much a blunder as an act of insanity.
Finally, I support the suggestion made in the Wandsworth report that councils should be encouraged to allow their tenants to take in lodgers, under suitable supervision by the councils, which they are not allowed to do at present.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
Would not the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that tenants should be allowed to take in lodgers simply lead to the return of under-occupation? If all the larger houses in London were lived in by the larger families and the smaller houses were lived in by the smaller families there would be no under-occupation or over-occupation.
§ Mr. Jay
Yes, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that some council flats are under-occupied and the space could usefully be used for a time by lodgers. As I say, it would have to be done under council supervision. I do not suggest that it would entirely solve the problem, but it would help to do so.
If all that I have suggested were done quickly, resolutely and consistently, the present desperate situation in London would at any rate not get worse. But it will remain acute because underlying it is the continued pressure of people to come to London, for many of the reasons we have heard today, and to the South-East, mainly in search of jobs. If we give excessive subsidies to owner-occupiers and weak protection to the tenant, we encourage this tendency, which then operates through evictions and sales with vacant possession to owner-occupiers from outside the area, which I believe has been happening.
I welcome the very moderate restraint put by the Budget on the tax reliefs to owner-occupiers, but we must continue and intensify the effort— by industrial development certificates, by planning, by office control and by employment policy generally—to correct the persistent imbalance in employment between the 853 South-East and the North and West. If the present housing conditions in London, which are a disgrace to the country, are to be corrected, we must provide far more houses and flats in London and many more jobs elsewhere.
The Government have started excellently and deserve all support. Provided there is no return, either at Westminster or in the town halls, to the disastrous policies which have produced the present situation, there is some hope for the future.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I speak without having the advantage of representing a London constituency. Therefore, I apologise to hon. Members present who do. However, I was brought up in North London, in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), and can therefore claim some allegiance to that part of the country.
I am honoured to speak on behalf of the many hundreds of thousands of people who voted for my party at the recent General Election and who no doubt will again be voting on Thursday. The top priority for London, as for all other authorities, must surely be to give the Greater London Council freedom to raise some of its own finance. This matter was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart). The Deputy Chairman of the GLC makes that point in an article in the Daily Telegraph today and calls for the introduction, among other things, of a tourist tax as well as freedom for the council to run its own lottery. The latter may materialise as a result of the Private Member's Bill which I think is to be introduced on Friday.
Such finance, which would be of a limited nature, could nevertheless play a very important part in ensuring the continued provision and improvement of the cultural and recreational facilities referred to so eloquently in maiden speeches we have heard today. Some of them appear to be under constant threat. We are always hearing about the London theatres which are under threat of redevelopment or demolition. With the necessary finance, the GLC could do something tangible about the matter.
The principal source of revenue comes from the rates, supplemented to a large 854 degree from the national Exchequer. But many hon. Members, who I am sure receive letters similar to those which I receive, agree that the present rating system has reached the end of the day and there is a very strong case either for switching entirely to some form of local taxation or even taking the money out of national taxation.
That might take time. Therefore, one helpful step which could be taken immediately would be to place responsibility for the payment of teachers' salaries entirely on the national Exchequer. Steps of that sort are essential if the Greater London Council and other authorities are to be able to deal effectively with the many problems which beset them. In London, as elsewhere, that means housing, and this debate has been taken up almost entirely by housing. The situation just described by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) is probably worse than the situation anywhere else in the country, but even in my constituency I receive at least two or three letters a day on the subject.
Housing is necessarily inter-related with the provision of land and its cost. Had we adopted the principle of site value rating of building land long ago, which the old LCC wished to introduce, with rising percentages on a sliding scale, I do not think that we would have experienced the astronomical price rises of recent years. There may well be a case for making the GLC the sole agent for the distribution of all development land. Perhaps that would also stop that authority from casting its eyes on cheaper land in rural areas which is now urgently needed by the authorities in them to house their own residents. It is a questionable practice, especially when elderly people are removed from their family surroundings to an alien environment.
There is also an urgent need for more effective co-ordination in house building not only between the GLC and the London boroughs but between the GLC and the provinces. Why cannot there be a computerised general housing register to help to fit some of the priority cases into suitable houses?
The Secretary of State referred to impending legislation to give security of tenure to occupiers of furnished accommodation. This measure is no doubt 855 desirable in London and the larger cities, but why should it apply to rural and seaside areas? It would lead to the immediate withdrawal of freely available cheap winter accommodation if owners could not be assured of possession during the summer months. In other words, it would worsen the situation in those areas. Surely this legislation should be imposed either on a regional or county basis. I look for an assurance on this in the winding-up speech. I welcome the Minister's statement about unoccupied office blocks. I suggest that those remaining empty for three consecutive years should be automatically compulsorily acquired.
In London there is a need for tourist accommodation at reasonable rates. Once again it is for the GLC and the boroughs to take the initiative. There is also a need greatly to improve public transport and to provide more frequent bus services in the early and late hours, although we are well aware of the difficulty the GLC has in staffing these services. We look for a low flat rate fare system and ask when an effective plan will be implemented to divert heavy transport vehicles out of and not into residential areas. All recent administrations have failed to tackle that problem, despite the publication of many elaborate plans most of which have now been pigeon-holed.
Has not the time come to give consideration to the election of a well-paid "supremo" for London—not a Minister but someone above that—for perhaps a five-year term, on the Canadian or American pattern, to take the steps which, however unpalatable, we all know must be adopted if we are not to come to a standstill in one big snarl up.
Finally, I make a plea to clean up the streets, canals and parks of London, which have become steadily dirtier in recent years. Let us have some television advertising on this subject. We have become the throw-away society. We no longer have street sweepers to deal with our litter. Authorities can help by taking space in local newspapers to advertise where and when rubbish and larger items can be dumped or collected. There must be a change of heart in people towards this subject, and I suggest that local authorities and London in particular, should give a lead.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
This has been a quiet and thoughtful debate. Only from the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) did we hear the argumentation we might have expected from Labour spokesmen a couple of days before the elections to the London boroughs on 2nd May. So many valid points have been put so cogently by hon. Members from both sides of the House that I will deal only with one or two matters.
The thoughtfulness and quality of the debate was interrupted by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross)—a Liberal spokesman and not a London Member—who interjected pavement political themes in the classic Liberal tradition. He created an awkward interval, perhaps to enable hon. Members to go out for tea or to do something else in the short time during which he spoke —and I am grateful that it was short—before coming back to the essential subject of London.
As we have been able to concentrate on several basic themes that are of crisis proportions in London—education, housing, transport and the environment—it falls to me briefly to refer only to one or two subjects. I do this in no spirit of saying that the others are not of key importance to everyone who lives in London but because, inevitably, some degree of concentration will enable the debate to become less amorphous. My right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was right to highlight the difficulty of a debate on the gobal subject of London which entails perpetually flitting from one theme to another. I hope that I take the House with me in putting forward some propositions which may be partly repetitive.
I fear that the rates burden in general and particularly in London is becoming unbearable and that, as a consequence, the need for alternative sources of local revenue is urgent. I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Ravens-bourne (Mr. Hunt) emphasised this.
There is a grotesque education crisis in the capital. The teachers' action on London weighting and better conditions is a symbol of the deep crisis. One aspect that has not been mentioned is the 857 dangerous size of the London Transport deficit now and in the foreseeable future. A scandal is arising over the failure to tackle the redevelopment of London's derelict dockland. This enormous site that could prove to be the new heart of a residential London, covering all income and social groups, is being ignored by bureaucrats and petty politicians in certain town halls and in County Hall who for their own reasons wish to resuscitate the old Morrisonian doctrine "Let us get our supporters into certain outer key areas so that we have Labour support for the long-term future". It is a disgrace that the people's lives and the physical future of a planned kernel and heart in our capital are being cynically ignored and abused by people with public responsibilities and also by the public service and the bureaucracy in London. I hope that this will soon come to an end.
The buying up of private houses causes alarm not only to Conservative Members but to many members of the public. They view with puzzlement the fact that so many Government supporters feel that this policy will make the right contribution to one of the key problems, which is to protect the powerless homeless as well as the temporary homeless.
The theme of traffic control and the protection of the environment is of vital importance. I could mention many more themes but I will refer only to two of the subjects I have listed.
The first is rates. I am disturbed—as I am sure are other hon. Members on both sides of the House, and perhaps even some Liberal spokesmen who are not in London—at the number of respectable bill-paying citizens who come to my surgery to grumble about electricity charges, gas bills, rates and so on, and are literally reaching the end of their tether. I have been struck recently by the number of people who come to see me with conventional housing problems which need urgent action. I pay tribute to the Harrow council officers for the way in which they always respond to these problems. Members of various income and social groups come with a desperate plea asking "What shall I do about the latest rate increase, and what shall I do next year bearing in mind that I cannot pay the present rate bill? What advice will you as my Member of Parliament give me about getting a pro- 858 test going?" That has never happened before. It symbolises the intolerable proportionate size of some rate demands received by people with modest incomes in outer London. It also symbolises the need to look at alternative sources of revenue referred to by the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart). It is surely not impossible to devise a new system involving an alternative source of revenue. It should not be an undesirable or particularly complicated exercise to ask millions of tourists—who, incidentally, despite the problems we are discussing tonight, still come to London in increasing numbers—to pay local sales taxes in shops. Those taxes could be on a graduated basis, according to the expensive nature of the goods and services which tourists purchase in the capital city.
I come to my second theme among those matters which fill me with a great sense of frustration. County Hall, with all its resources and expertise—and this applies to many highly intelligent people in town halls in the London boroughs—is failing to tackle the problem of the protection of the environment, particularly the difficulties created by the juggernauts and heavy lorries and by traffic in general. In the foreseeable future there must be a break-through by showing a real determination by using the powers vested in County Hall in an effort to protect the citizens of Greater London, whether they be in the heart of dockland, the inner London boroughs, Pimlico, in Bromley—or in Harrow, which faces increasingly serious problems.
At long last there must be a real determination to tackle these problems. We must say to citizens who live in roads which were never designed to cope with the volume of traffic created by heavy lorries "We shall act at long last, by acknowledging our fiduciary responsibility to you as ratepayers, to protect you and your interests." Those powers exist. But the GLC has sheltered behind its attitude of not taking any action because the situation is all too complicated, or alternatively by taking the view "If we do something in that area, there will be an immediate clamour to take similar action somewhere else." We must be careful not to become hog-tied by fears about the consequences of taking courageous action. I hope that the GLC will overcome its fears, because I believe that much could be done.
859 The community as a whole should say that there should be protection against the depredations caused by juggernauts of over 3-tons unladen weight which have been allowed to impose themselves on our environment willy-nilly, with no protective counter-devices of any kind being brought into play. The Greater London Council already has substantial powers that go beyond the powers enjoyed by local authorities elsewhere in the country. The Act which I introduced last year, with the considerable help of hon. Members on both sides of the House, bestows substantially increased powers on the GLC and also on local authorities in the rest of the country. Local authorities throughout the country can work together to protect the environment of citizens who feel increasingly desperate about the situation on the roads. The town halls, and County Hall in particular, must not fail to heed their urgent pleas for help and assistance.
The message which must go out from this debate is that the whole House is worried about the future of London and feels that tough decisions will be necessary in future. We are determined to overcome many problems which, although grave a year or two ago, are now rapidly becoming hideous.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
It will not have escaped the notice of the people of London that it has taken the return of a Labour Government to ensure that the House of Commons has been given a full day's debate on the serious crisis that faces our capital city.
I have been touched by the sentiments which have been expressed by a number of Conservative Members about the necessity for London to be taken seriously and for time to be provided for a debate on London's problems. What a pity it is that in the last few years we have had to resort to other means, such as the holding up of private legislation, to give us an opportunity to consider in a proper fashion in this House the great problems of London.
The hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) said that there should be a Minister for London. I think he was being far too modest. When we consider the number of people who daily pass 860 through the Metropolis as tourists, in my view a Minister would not be sufficient to deal with the problems that confront this great international city. I believe that London, with its vast population and its immense problems, deserves more than a Minister. It deserves at least a Secretary of State for London who will sit in Cabinet and deal with the problems that confront 8 million people and see that they receive proper priority Government consideration. I believe that if there had been a Secretary of State for London the terrible situation which has now arisen over NALGO and the teachers' London weighting allowance could have been avoided. Because London was not adequately tackled as a specific problem in the Cabinet, we have now reached the farcical position that we have had to wait until probably the end of June for the Pay Board's report before we can deal with the basic cause of many of our problems involved in the difficulties of adequate recruitment of staff.
The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) has provoked me into saying a few words about the rating system. He mentioned a tourist tax. Other hon. Members have spoken of the urgent need to reform the rating system, and perhaps to introduce some form of local income tax. It must be remembered that one of the last pieces of legislation placed on the statute book by the Conservatives was the Local Government Act 1974, an Act to which amendments were tabled asking for London to be given the right to have a tourist tax. There were also amendments seeking a re-examination of other ways of raising revenue for local purposes. But on every occasion those amendments were raised the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) turned them down. That right hon. Gentleman now has the audacity to present a Private Member's Bill furthering the very theme which a few months ago, as a Minister of the Crown, he turned down in the proceedings on the Local Government Act 1974. It is beyond belief that the people of London should face a situation in which, for purely party political gains, the right hon. Member for Crosby and the hon. Member for Harrow, East now speak in their present terms, when on that earlier legislaion they had the opportunity to do something to relieve the burden on the domestic ratepayer.
861 I do not believe that a local income tax would be the answer to the problem. Already the national Exchequer provides some 60 per cent. of the average expenditure of local authorities throughout England and Wales, and I do not think that we want to increase that total amount of Exchequer grant. What we need to see is whether there are other means as well as a local income tax whereby the money can be raised, because it is essential that local councils should be fully accountable to their electors for a substantial proportion of local expenditure. However, I shall not go any further into that argument because I wish to keep my remarks reasonably brief.
The hon. Member for Harrow, East also referred to the trend of the Greater London Council and some of the inner London boroughs to try to obtain land in the outer London boroughs for housing development. The hon. Member referred to the dockland area. However, there is a big difference. I have in my constituency Thamesmead—a completely barren area where to provide the infrastructure necessary to sustain a new population takes a great many years. In the case of Thamesmead it will take 15 years. If a dockland scheme begins to be developed it will be between 15 and 20 years before all the supporting services required for a decent civilised life can be provided. But in the outer London boroughs where land is available which is not being used to meet the crying needs of London's desperate housing situation, the infrastructure already exists. So from a social point of view—let alone a Socialist one—it is desirable, it is in the national interest and certainly it is in the interest of Londoners that those unused housing sites in outer London boroughs like Bromley, Croydon, Harrow and others should be used. The new communities moving into housing estates in such areas will be off to a good start immediately since the necessary facilities already exist there.
My chief purpose in intervening is to put special stress on the very serious situation that we face in London as a result of this stupid dispute about the London weighting allowance. Until the problem is solved, I do not believe that we can get down to dealing with all the other grave issues confronting London.
862 To the National Union of Teachers and the other teaching unions the position is quite clear. Many of their members find immense difficulty in retaining their interest in employment in the London area. The problems and the cost of housing and the problems and the cost of travelling from home to their place of employment in London schools are matters that they can avoid if they move out of London into other local education authority areas. The London teachers say to my right hon. Friend that if by 31st May —which is the last date for them to give their notice if they wish to go to other employment—some interim agreement has not been accepted for implementation two basic things will happen. More teachers already employed in the London area will seek employment outside the Greater London area and will be giving in their notice on or before 31st May. Second, other teachers now working outside London who might be encouraged to come in to help deal with the under-staffing problems in London will be deterred from doing so because of the absence of any firm move and undertaking on their claim.
The situation is made even more stupid because the Inner London Education Authority has already agreed with the teachers that it is prepared to implement a substantial increase in the London weighting allowance. I understand that the same situation applies in respect of local education authorities in the outer London boroughs. They, too, have indicated that they are prepared to meet an interim award to the teachers.
What stops my right hon. Friend from taking the sensible view that that joint agreement ought to be implemented Immediately? He owes it to this House, to the teachers and to his right hon. and hon. Friends to spell out in this debate the reasons why he feels unable as Secretary of State for Education and Science to adopt what almost every member of his party considers to be a sensible solution.
The other situation which applies to London is the position of members of the National Association of Local Government Officers. I am not prepared to condemn as irresponsible members of that union. I can recall the difficult days of 1964 and 1965 when London was struggling to survive after the implementation 863 of London government reorganisation. I happened to be leader of the London borough of Bexley at the time, and I know what would have happened in my authority if it had not been for the dedication and loyalty of NALGO members who worked enormously excessive hours with great enthusiasm and dedication to ensure that local government survived and overcame the problems of reorganisation. With that experience under my belt, it does not lie with me to think of NALGO as an irresponsible union.
NALGO members, too, are in the position of having arrived at an agreement with the Greater London Whitley Council which provides for an interim payment in respect of the London weighting allowance for the administrative, professional, technical and clerical grades covered by that Whitley Council.
In respect of both local government staff and teachers, all that stands in the way of their having implemented these two agreements with their employers for an interim increase in the London weighting allowance is this wretched Counter-Inflation Act of the previous administration and the report of the Pay Board inquiry set up under that Act.
Although I do not share all the views of my noble Friend the Minister of State, Department of Energy, I agree with him that it is not acceptable for this Government to have said one thing in opposition and to do another in government. When we were in opposition, we said that we would have no truck with the Pay Board and that we wanted to return to a situation of free collective bargaining between willing organised workers and willing organised employers. Why do we now say that these two agreements, reached on those criteria, cannot be implemented until we receive the report of the Pay Board set up under the previous administration and condemned by us when we were in opposition? I do not believe that to be an acceptable situation, and I hope that we shall hear from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science that the Government accept what could be a sensible outcome to this unnecessary dispute.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
May I remind my hon. Friend that even when the Pay 864 Board reports it will have no validity since that body will have gone out of existence? What we should be asking my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, surely, is why we should wait until then since the Pay Board's report will be meaningless, anyway.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
My hon. Friend has pre-empted me by about two sentences. I was about to make that point. What we want from the Government Front Bench tonight is a genuine attempt to deal with this crisis situation in London by getting an understanding that could lead to the resumption of full-time education and normal working in local government offices. That could be partly on the basis that my hon. Friend has already put to the House: that we on the Government side of the House know that just as soon as we can do it the Counter-Inflation Act will go because it is useless, and not because we are against measures to counter inflation. We want effective measures, and that Act we know to be ineffective. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has said so on numerous occasions. We shall not make Pay Board reports binding upon trade unions.
Therefore, why cannot we get the situation in which we know that when the Pay Board reports in June no one will need to take any notice of the report because it will have no force in law and, even if it had, my right hon. Friends are committed not to implement it? Why cannot it be said now to the teachers and local government staffs "We have got the Act and we are bound to await the Pay Board's report. If we do not do that we have to use a special provision in Schedule 6 of the Act. We do not want to do that because that may mean a vote in the House and the Conservatives and Liberals together may thwart the desires of the teachers and members of NALGO in London. We will not be exposed to that"?
What we should say is that once the report is in and we are no longer constrained by those laws, it will be possible for the Greater London Whitley Council agreement in respect of the NALGO staff and for the ILEA and the outer London education authorities' understanding with the teachers about interim payments to be implemented forthwith. If that undertaking could be given—I see 865 no reason why it cannot be given—I am certain that responsible people in the teachers' unions and in the local government professional staff unions would say to their members, "Let us get down to the real job of dealing with the problems of London. You have the promises from the Government. They will be implemented."
A start on the road to a solution to some of the problems of London requires two vital factors. It requires some action by the present Government along the lines of the policies which they were putting forward before becoming the Government. It also requires on the part of the people of London an intelligent decision on Thursday 2nd May to ensure that there are Labour councillors to implement the successful agreements that I hope my right hon. Friend will announce this evening.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)
I am particularly pleased to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved). I remember a previous occasion in a debate on a GLC Bill which has been referred to this evening. I rose to move, "That the Question be now put" a few seconds before 10 p.m., when the hon. Gentleman was speaking. About a week later I received a cutting from his local newspaper in which he informed his readers that I had prevented him from making his views known to the House by, he implied, some rather smart practice. He omitted to tell them that he had caught Mr. Speaker's eye only one minute before 10 pm, and would have had to stop speaking anyway.
I am in agreement with some of the things that the hon. Gentleman said, particularly about the teachers' position. I certainly join in the general welcome which has been given to this general debate on London. I am very pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) on the Opposition Front Bench. His reappearance in the House after the General Election gave us almost as much pleasure as the appearance of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane).
I am, however, a little suspicious about the reason why we are having this debate. Obviously, the local elections have some- 866 thing to do with it. But if we were to have a debate on London with the local elections in mind, I should have thought that we should have had it last week rather than this week. As one who voted against the House having a second week's Easter Recess, I would have hoped to have a debate on London last Tuesday, which could then have received full coverage in our weekly newspapers last weekend. The action of the Government in giving us the second week's recess at Easter—the longest Easter Recess since the war—was in marked contrast with the speech of the then Deputy Leader of the House, the present Secretary of State for Trade, who, introducing the motion on the last Easter Recess before the 1970 General Election, told the House that the Government had a very full programme ahead and were anxious to make progress with it. It would seem on this occasion that they do not have a very full programme and that with what there is of it they do not wish to make much progress. The only legislation that we have this week is a Bill similar to that which received a Second Reading under the previous Conservative Government, and a measure to tax sweets, ice cream and crisps. That does not show great urgency. However, I want to be fair to the Government. I am grateful for this debate on London, whatever the motives may be.
The first thing that we should have from the Minister is an assurance that when the electors in London go to the polls on Thursday and elect councillors for a four-year period—they were told some months ago that the period would be four years—they will know that the period will be four years, and that the Government will not steal another year as they did last time. I do not think that this time they will be in office for four years. They will not have the chance.
The present Home Secretary, who came to the House on the eve of the recess and told us how strongly he deprecated retrospective legislation, is the same Home Secretary who introduced the Act which gave councillors an extra year in office for which they were not elected.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
The hon. Gentleman is doing a slight injustice to the 867 House. He is aware that his own Ministers said that an adjustment would have to be made either at the beginning or at the end. They did not intend it at the beginning because all the elections had to be got into phase. Therefore, someone who was in power half way through this four-year period would extend his period of office. The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) particularly made the point.
§ Mr. Berry
The hon. Member is not being accurate. It is a very different position. What happened in 1967 was that councillors who had already been elected were given an extra year by Act of Parliament. That is something very different from what happened on this occasion, when the electors were told several months ahead that they would be electing councillors for a four-year period. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree, upon consideration, that that is a very different situation.
As the Secretary of State for Education and Science is present, it is very relevant to remind him of what happened in my local authority during that fourth year. All the secondary schools in the borough of Enfield were changed into comprehensive schools. That was something which the council had no mandate for doing, but it was Socialist dogma and the council went ahead and did it. I wonder what, for example, the teachers who are rightly requesting an increase in pay now think of the cost of the taxicabs which have to take them several times a day between two schools some blocks away from each other because those two schools have been turned into one comprehensive school. Also, at that time no extra money was allowed by the then Labour Government to help those new schools to be set up. As a result, those which had previously been grammar schools lack certain facilities and those which were secondary modern schools lack others. Since then they have all suffered, from the "bulges" and so on, through not having the right facilities and equipment available.
Then there is the question of the teachers' London allowance. I, like other hon. Members, have received green cards today. I have received more than my fill, possibly—about 30. One came from London E5, which is further than my 868 constituency goes. It shows that whoever this constituent is he would rather trust his luck with me than with his Member of Parliament. I have not yet discovered who it is.
I know that the Secretary of State will be thinking seriously about this question, because he wants to do the best for the teachers. I also know about the reference to the Pay Board. However, the teachers are in a difficult position. We have all had correspondence. I have received a letter from a young teacher aged 25, saying, "I am thinking seriously of leaving the profession." Another is moving to Bournemouth at the end of this month. This movement will escalate.
I have received representations today from teachers at the Southgate Technical College. Some of the employees at the college are paid more than the teachers. In other cases, students who do holiday work are paid at a higher annual rate than those who are teaching them.
The Secretary of State must give some assurance to teachers in outer London as well as to those in inner London. Another point which was put to me today is that the Inner London Education Authority has reached an agreement or made on offer, and it may be that in future ILEA teachers will be paid at a higher rate than outer London teachers. I do not believe that this is in the Secretary of State's mind, but an assurance on the point will be appreciated.
I suggest to the Secretary of State, without knowing what solution he can offer us, that he should do something during the next few weeks. The numbers of teachers in my borough and in other London boroughs will decrease steeply, and the sufferers will be the pupils.
The questions of housing and land must obviously figure in any debate on London. I should like an assurance from the Secretary of State or from another Minister that it is not the Government's policy to allow compulsory purchase orders on council land from other London boroughs. I cannot refer to a particular case in my constituency because it is a sub judice, but I submit that it is a wrong practice for CPOs to be attempted in this way. I know that there is a procedure to be followed after that. I understand that the Labour Party's view is that this should not happen without 869 prior consultation. I am not sure what that means, because even consultation does not prevent the other borough from going ahead.
I heartily agree with the comments that some of my hon. Friends have made deprecating the higgledy-piggledy purchase by the GLC of dwellings in different parts of a borough with no apparent link between them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) said, this is bound to cause considerable confusion at County Hall. What is the GLC up to? Has it a bottomless purse? Do the Government intend to subsidise it? Will a Bill which is to come before the House shortly give the GLC even more freedom than it has had in the past?
The rent freeze has had an adverse effect in my area. I believe that the way in which it was done—suddenly, with no warning and with no allowance for those whose increases in rents had been agreed but not promulgated—will cause great harm. Many of the houses in my constituency were built in the last century and were occupied by one family. Now, perhaps, the widow has let out part of the house, and the tenant is often much better off than the landlady. As she cannot increase the rent, the house will fall into disrepair. This is greatly to be deplored.
The Leader of the House, replying to the debate on the motion for the Easter Recess, said that the Government hoped to introduce legislation on this matter in the autumn. We wait to see what that legislation will be. The Government should not wait until the autumn to act on this matter, if indeed they are still the Government by that time, as I greatly hope they will not be. I suggest that they should act even before then in those cases which are most in need.
Although the issues we talk about in these debates are of general interest, it is almost impossible not to give examples of one's local problems. However hard one tries, this inevitably happens. Roads have been mentioned, and various hon. Members have talked about the motorway box. I have a constituency problem which is also a national one. Where the North Circular Road passes through my constituency, great road widening plans are in hand. The Minister concerned has assured me that full details of 870 the proposals will be published by the end of the spring. I appreciate that this year spring has not even started, but I hope that the Minister will go ahead with publication. Many local bodies and individuals have spent a great deal of time preparing alternative schemes. There is a great fear that many houses will be affected. There is, in particular, a scheme for tunnelling the whole length of the North Circular Road in this area. I do not know what the cost will be. The project is highly technical. I hope that the Secretary of State's colleagues will look at this matter carefully. It could be of tremendous importance environmentally, as well as having the essential advantage of widening the roads and getting lorries off side streets.
The Government and the GLC are anxious that there should be fewer cars in central London. We would all welcome it if this were to happen. If people are to be persuaded to leave their cars in outer London and come in by public transport, whether by underground, overhead railway or by bus, facilities must be provided in outer London for parking cars during the day, instead of their just being allowed to clutter up the streets, causing great hardship to local residents.
Finally, the green belt means a great deal to all of us who have constituencies on the outskirts of London. I know that there are areas of so-called green belt where that colour no longer applies. Equally, the green belt means a great deal to Londoners, and it must be preserved.
I was very concerned that the local Labour Party announced, in its manifesto for the local election, what it calls the limitation of housing development in the green belt to self-contained village units. This phrase worries me. How big are these village units to be, and where are they to be put? Unless that can be clearly spelt out it will be greatly resented—rightly so—by all those living in the area.
This is a very helpful debate. I am sure that the Secretary of State will find much to answer and to pass on to his right hon. Friends. I do not agree with those hon. Members who have said that there should be a Secretary of State or a Minister for London. After all, the whole of the Cabinet work in London. We all spend part of the week in this 871 building. We all know London and its problems. The Cabinet, from whichever party it is formed, should be able to judge as a whole what London's problems are.
In particular, we have the Department of the Environment. I am not detracting from the importance of the Secretary of State for Education and Science in replying to the debate; he has a special rôle at this time. However, he will agree that one of the great things that the last Government did was to put the different Ministries into the one great Department of the Environment. I am delighted that the present Government have continued with the combination of planning and local government, transport, housing and construction, and pollution—a combination which has already helped Londoners very much and will continue to do so. I hope that the team at the Department of the Environment, with which I had a silent but interesting connection for two years, will carry on the good work. In that I wish them well, as will all Londoners.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry Lamborn (Peckham)
I shall spend some time dealing with the special problems which arise in inner London from the development which has taken place over the past decade. The inner London boroughs generally, in conjunction with the Greater London Council, have done a magnificent job in clearing many of the slums of the Victorian era and getting rid of many larger, ill-equipped tenement blocks.
One of the problems from which inner London suffers acutely is that successive Governments have never been able to make money available to local authorities to provide the essential services which are necessary to go with the housing. In my borough of Southwark there has been tremendous housing development as slums have been cleared. In the centre of massive redevelopment is an area which is still derelict. It is earmarked as a 130-acre open space. In such redevelopment schemes proper communities will not be created until essential supporting services are simultaneously provided with other developments. Supporting services have of course been provided if development is taking place in a new town, or if a town is being extended, or even if there is a Thames- 872 mead. as referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved).
One of the problems of redevelopment in inner London is that it has been almost entirely in housing, without provision being made for essential services which go side by side with housing. In my area there is the Aylesbury estate, in which, surrounding new houses, there is a school, built in 1874. It was condemned in 1936 and was evacuated in 1939, but it remains in existence. It still has outside toilets and the sort of facilities which, apart from the other problems which they face in London, make the life of the teachers much more difficult. Recruitment of teachers in such areas as mine is particularly difficult.
I make a plea for money to be provided. London is a special case and money should be provided for essential services in the inner areas where housing development has gone ahead while supporting services have remained deficient, making it particularly difficult to create proper new communities in such areas.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
My hon. Friend will recall that we on these benches opposed the Conservative Government when they brought forward, late at night, a Prayer to transfer from the Tory-controlled GLC the responsibility for providing these essential services. The GLC failed for years to produce these services, and these are now the responsibility of the appropriate boroughs.
§ Mr. Lamborn
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, but the matter is not confined to open spaces and schools. Inner London still has many other buildings and institutions inherited from the Victorian era. In my borough 52 acres are taken up with a derelict cemetery, which is a relic of the early 1830s. My constituents are not able to visit the cemetery because, for the past three years, it has been locked and barred by a cemetery authority which has abandoned its responsibility. The Government should provide legislation enabling local authorities to acquire such land and put it into proper order. The Government must also give local authorities power to take action to deal with tremendous problems which arose in the early years of development in large cities, at a time when church 873 authorities were no longer able to make provision for burials in areas with expanding communities and before local authorities had power to do so.
Areas such as inner London have inherited large derelict spaces which are blots among surrounding development. Special provision is needed to deal with these.
Mention has been made of the London docks, which cover an area of 5,000 acres, 400 acres of which are within my borough. Despite what was said earlier in the debate, much planning has been done for the redevelopment of the dockland area. It is essential that the Government should intervene to ensure that local authorities can acquire land from the Port of London Authority at prices which will make possible redevelopment of housing and other essential services at rents which will enable local authorities to build and will attract some element of industry back into the area. I am certain that we have gone too far in the removal of light industry from inner London. We must take steps to ensure that inner London does not become merely an office conurbation.
I return to my opening theme—of finding the money to deal with the problems arising from redevelopment of inner London, in cases in which housing has proceeded and in which the inner London boroughs and the GLC have done a magnificent job in clearing slums. We must have Government assistance to provide essential services if we are to recreate real communities in the London area.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
I wish to draw attention to the great injustice being done by this administration to the people of South-East London in the matter of fares. It concerns the whole of the area but some parts of it more than others.
The whole of the London area is at present suffering from the profligate expenditure of the Greater London Council, resulting in an extremely high rate precept on the London boroughs. In addition, the Government's own rate support grant arrangements this year have provided that some parts of South-East London, notably the London borough of Bromley, have also had to suffer a huge 874 increase in rates. This area is not served at all in any meaningful sense by the London Underground rail system. It ventures across the river to New Cross briefly but, apart from that, it does not serve South-East London at all.
It seems to be the policy of the Greater London Council to subsidise London Transport in order to maintain fares at the existing level. There being no London Transport rail services to South-East London, and in particular to my own constituency of Orpington, it follows that the rail services which are used by the rail commuters in South-East London are those provided by British Rail. Yet British Rail fares are to be increased by 12½ per cent. by a deliberate action in the Budget.
In other words, my constituents catch it in two ways. As ratepayers they pay extra rates in order to subsidise the users of London Transport, whether they are residents of London or not—and, of course, London Transport is used by millions of people who are not London residents and are not ratepayers but enjoy the services and make no contribution to their cost. Secondly, my constituents suffer as commuters, because as commuters they have to pay extra rail fares, unlike other Londoners who are using London Transport rail services.
This seems to me most inequitable and quite disgraceful, in view of the Government's stated intention to be equitable and egalitarian in their treatment of the citizens of this country who enjoy Government services. I do not know whether the intention is to force such people in areas like mine to travel into town by private motor car, for this is properly discouraged by the Government, who do not want to increase congestion in Central London. But, if that is the case, some equivalent concession should be given in the matter of rail fares on the Southern Region rail system, in particular from South-East London, so that there might be some appropriate compensation for people in the position of my constituents who travel to town every day.
This debate has ranged over many topics concerning London, and the greatest problem of all has been touched on many times. That is housing. I wish to refer briefly to the subject of housing because I think there is one aspect of it 875 which is not properly considered by Government supporters. The contribution made by the Labour Party to solving the problem of inadequate and insufficient housing is to create a greater amount of council housing. They believe that the problem of inner London could be solved if only the outer London boroughs could be persuaded or forced to give up building land for the purpose, and if there were more security for tenants. It is proposed that there should be security of tenure for furnished tenants in addition to that already existing for occupants of unfurnished tenancies. This seems to be the extent of the Labour contribution to solving the problem of providing more housing.
Even if that were legitimate, it would be unsuccessful because even at the rate at which it seems possible to provide such housing it will not be achieved in the time available. The problem grows apace all the time. The problem of increasing the supply gets even greater. Therefore, it is surely time for the supporters of the Government to consider other methods.
The present reality of the situation, as previous speakers have said, is that there are many sites in inner London available for those people who do not wish to be rehoused in outer London. Indeed, many of those who are rehoused from inner London to outer London including my constituency do not like it. They do not like being uprooted and taken away from the areas in which they were born and brought up and in which have their friends. They do not like to have to pay the extra travelling costs. Sometimes they do not like the high densities which are involved in council housing estates and the relative isolation which follows from that. On the other hand, in some parts of inner London—and I saw some of them in the London borough of Hackney where I was canvassing for the borough elections the other day—many houses lie empty, derelict, under-occupied and neglected. The situation exists in which nothing has been done by the public authority to remedy a state of under-occupation and gross neglect of housing resources. The Greater London Council is gobbling up good houses by purchase in outer London, and in doing so is not adding one house to the housing stock, whereas 876 the housing stock of places like Hackney is being destroyed by that sort of treatment. The basic cause of the shortage —and this applies not only to Hackney but to other inner London boroughs and other areas—is rent control and the demand for statutory security of tenure.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
The hon. Member is referring to Hackney. Is he referring to my constituency, because if he is I should like him to come with me and show me the areas he is describing.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I was canvassing in the Queensbridge Ward and I should be glad if the hon. Member would accompany me.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
Perhaps we could canvass together before Thursday and we may both gain some education out of the visit. I have enjoyed my visits to Hackney and I should be pleased to do more work in that connection. It showed me an excellent example of what happens when a housing situation is neglected because of the theory that the proper approach is demolition and replacement by council housing estates either on site or in outer London. These are human problems which cannot he dealt with by political theory. The basic cause of the problem is the Labour Party's attachment to the idea that housing problems can be solved by rent control and security of tenure. Even if it were a legitimate course of action, the problem could not be solved by the building of more council houses.
The only pool of available accommodation is in that which is now in owner-occupation. About 50 per cent. of houses come into that category compared with about 35 per cent. just after the war. That increase represents an important statistic. In that time 15 per cent. of houses have been lost to the rented sector. There was a time when a young married couple did not expect to be able to buy their own home within a few years of getting married. They expected to have to rent accommodation, and sometimes it was not self-contained. It was certainly not a house. Expectations have naturally and quite properly risen, but that means that fewer houses are available for rent. Within the owner-occupied sector there is potential pool 877 of accommodation for thousands of people which is not made available to them because owner-occupiers fear it would be impossible to get rid of unsatisfactory tenants once they agreed to let part of their premises. Unsatisfactory tenants are the basic cause of the reluctance to let accommodation. Once security of tenure is granted, the landlord, living in his own premises, has no control.
Short of compulsion, which presumably the Government do not intend, such accommodation will not be used. Many houses in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch (Mr. Brown) are occupied only by the parents in a family, the children having grown up and moved away. They are often three-bedroomed houses in which two and sometimes three rooms could be let to young couples, possibly with small families, if there were encouragement for owner-occupiers. It cannot happen under the existing arrangements for rent control and security of tenure. Only by the exemption from rent control of owner-occupied houses with accommodation to spare will this pool of housing be made available.
I wonder whether the Government will have the courage to tackle the problem on that basis. If they do not intend to do it by compulsion, which is not possible anyway, they should consider revising their whole attitude towards housing and rent control. They should say "If we are to encourage people to allow accommodation in their homes to be used to ease this desperate problem, which causes so much hardship and unhappiness, then the way to do it is not by increasing control but by relaxing it completely for those who are prepared to provide more accommodation where it is needed in this way."
That is all I wish to say about housing, but I should also like to say something about a big problem affecting my constituency, the problem of juggernaut lorries, which has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt). My constituency has been invaded in recent years by juggernaut lorries, which grind their way across the constituency from east to west on their way to Croydon. They use an unsuitable road which is residential in character and was not built for cross-traffic. As a result, its condi- 878 tion has suffered. The lorries cause tremendous torment to local residents, especially those whose homes are on the road. Perhaps I should have declared an interest, as my home is on it.
The Greater London Council is responsible for the present position. It has the power to designate lorry routes, but for a reason that I cannot understand it has not exercised those powers. Lorries continue to use unsuitable routes within my constituency, as in other parts of London, when powers exist for them to be transferred to roads which were built for the purpose.
Last weekend I arrived at the corner of a road in my constituency just after a 26-tonner loaded with rubbish had overturned. Whether it had overturned because of excessive speed at the bend or because of a mechanical defect I do not know. I know only that that is a typical example, and that there might have been dangerous consequences. Fortunately, no other traffic was on the road at the time, and there were no pedestrians nearby, or there might well have been terrible consequences. That incident illustrates how wrong it is for the GLC not to use its powers to compel juggernauts to use suitable roads when traversing residential areas.
For those reasons, the GLC bears a heavy responsibility. I hope that on Thursday people will register their protest and disapproval of the way in which in these matters London's affairs have been managed recently.
§ 8.45 p.m.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
Inevitably, the debate has concentrated on the major problems which face London, but I feel that it would be a great mistake to leave the impression that the story is one of total gloom. I do not take that view by any means. Indeed, I believe that we have an almost unique opportunity at this time for some sort of renaissance for London arising out of the redevelopment of our inner dockland areas.
I do not share the concern expressed by several hon. Members representing outer London boroughs about the speed with which the Port of London Authority and other authorities are formulating their ideas for redevelopment. I think it far better to take time and get the mix right, 879 so to speak, than to go in for some of the schemes which I have seen—there is no time now to say much about them—which, I believe, would do grave damage to the great traditions of inner London.
It must be remembered that there is no great desire on the part of people living in Poplar, East Ham West Ham and the Greenwich and Surrey Commercial Docks areas to move out to Bromley. They are not suburbanites, and they do not wish to become suburbanites. In my view, any redevelopment of the Surrey Commercial Docks, the East India and West India Docks or the old London Docks must take into account the desire of Londoners, many of whose families have earned their living in the docks over hundreds of years, to continue to live in that part of London. They do not want to be rushed out to some of the outer London boroughs. I do not, therefore, share the concern expressed by some hon. Members opposite who seem to be worried about the speed with which the Port of London Authority and other developers are formulating their ideas for future developments.
We have heard a good deal about juggernauts. Everyone is against juggernauts. But too little has been said about the prospect of using the River Thames properly. In my view, with the redevelopment of the areas to which I have referred, we have an opportunity also to encourage as much cargo as possible on to the River Thames and away from the roads. This is quite possible now, with the development of containers. Two or three barges could carry about 200 separate containers up river, which would mean that those containers would not have to use the roads. It would be possible for them to discharge their cargoes at intermediate points, in the East India or West India Dock areas, or for there to be outlets to the South-West and the Midlands through old Brentford Dock.
One should, therefore, appeal to the Port of London Authority not totally to exclude the future development of the old lighterage industry, which has been losing about 1 million tons of cargo a year since 1945. There is a real opportunity here to get the balance right, so that we may take cargo off the roads and back on to the river, where, in my view. it properly belongs.
880 I appeal to all the inner London boroughs which are concerning themselves with the development or redevelopment of the dockland area to recognise that it is far better to take time to produce their plans than to skimp things and produce ideas which might do grave damage to the interests which Londoners have held for generations and to the ancient traditions of the areas to which I have referred.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton)
I am obliged to the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) for his brevity, and I shall try to match it.
It is convenient for us in the House to try to put the blame for London's problems on the Greater London Council and the boroughs, and it is convenient also to try to put the blame on the policies and practices of the political party which opposes one's own. But we deceive ourselves and Londoners if we take that line. We should remind ourselves that the central Government are to a large extent responsible for London's problems.
For example, Governments of both political complexions have ruthlessly depressed the standard of accommodation, of services and of design and landscape for millions of Londoners through the armoury of the housing cost yardstick and the other controls at their disposal. If there is one thing that is accelerating the decline of the new housing estates into tomorrow's slums and twilight areas, and aggravating the social tensions in London, it is the unsympathetic use of the housing cost yardstick. The central Government have failed to reform local government finance, leaving it with an archaic and regressive rate. Whatever cosmetics have been applied recently by Labour hon. Members, we cannot get away from the fact that there is an ever-declining number of Londoners having to finance the redevelopment of London for the benefit of many people who do not live there but benefit from the services. It is the central Government, through their inability to make up their mind on planning decisions, who are responsible for large tracts of land lying derelict.
The central Government have given many local councillors apoplexy by obliging them to carry out an ever-widening range of services without letting 881 them increase their expenditure. When we criticise the boroughs in the run-up to the local elections we should remember that we share some of the responsibility.
On looking round London it seems that the boroughs, with the Government's help, are producing rather paternalistic and technical solutions to deepseated human and social problems. We have identified rightly the outrageous housing problem. We have mobilised the resources of modern technology and mass production techniques and constructed huge council estates, but we have totally failed to provide Londoners with an acceptable living environment.
Canvassing on council estates is one of the more depressing things that many hon. Members have to do. Canvassing on such estates is a duty that should be lived through by the architects and planners who designed the estates. They would then know about the slow and smelly lifts, the blocked refuse chutes and litter all over the place. They would see the children desperately looking for somewhere creative in which to play. They would meet the old people who are frightened to go out at night or to answer the door after 8 o'clock.
The breakdown of relationships between the tenants and the local authority and the inhuman way of dealing with people as numbers instead of individuals, by stacking them into filing cabinets 20 stories high is a worrying situation. However, Labour hon. Members go on talking about the need to build more council estates. I wonder whether they know what the conditions in many of them are like.
The planners have their own jargon of plot ratios, habitable rooms per acre, open space per 1,000 people and the rest, but they have failed to provide homes. Planning and redevelopment in London is an intensely complicated process. We have not realised the way that the problems are interrelated, and we continue to tackle the housing problem in a single-minded and dogmatic fashion. We have aggravated many problems and we have created some new ones.
I use a medical analogy for what I see happening in London. Some 10 years ago transplants were the rage. If anyone had a defective organ—for example, a heart—medical technology could be 882 mobilised, the offending organ removed and a new one put in. Then things began to go wrong for reasons which doctors did not foresee and which they have not since fully explained. The human body reacted against the new organs and sought to isolate them. To use the well-known medical expression. the operation was successful, but the patient died.
If we look round London the same process is taking place. New shopping centres and new council estates are being transplanted into the villages and communities of London. In many places those communities are rejecting the new developments. Although the local authorities can claim proudly that they are clearing the slums, I wonder whether they really are clearing them. I draw to the attention of the House the definition of a slum that has been used by a well-known American sociologist—namely:A slum is an area which because of the nature of its social environment can be proved to create problems and pathologies.We must ask ourselves which are the real slums in our constituencies. Are they the comprehensive development areas which the planners now call slums, which have the intense devotion of the residents and a highly developed community feeling, an informal but effective relationship, or the new council estates which exhibit pathologically all the social problems that they are meant to solve?
§ Sir G. Young
No. I promised to be brief and to leave time for another hon. Member opposite to speak.
Before we spend tens of millions of pounds renewing the urban fabric, as planners call it, or tearing London to bits, as most of us see it, we should spend more time and money on research. In our understanding of urban problems we are far behind other countries. Instead of the combination of paternalism and the bulldozer which we use at the moment, we should spend more effort trying to harness the energies which exist in rundown parts of London, enabling them to rehabilitate themselves. This problem transcends party political debate. Political dogma is the worst enemy of these areas, and the obsession of the Labour Party with municipalisation will not 883 solve London's problems but will aggravate many of them. On this side of the House we must recognise that the free market in land, and soaring land values which have resulted, are the cause of many problems.
Let us hope that those who are elected on Thursday will approach their duties with some humility and an appreciation of the job they have to do. Let us give them every assistance we can.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)
One of the problems in being called to speak with so little time left in the debate is that one must throw away a number of points one wished to make. But, representing Edmondton, I am pleased to have this opportunity of speaking of some of the problems of living, working and going to school which are faced by my constituents. Many people who live in Edmonton work outside the borough, so the problems of commuting and travelling are of great concern to them.
It has been stressed in the debate that public sector employees, wherever they work—in teaching, hospitals, transport, and so on—have somehow or other been allowed to slip behind employees in the private sector. This is nowhere better summarised than in the annual report of London Transport and in the Press release with it by Sir Richard Way, who said:We are short of staff for three main reasons. The first is that there is an overall shortage of labour in London. This is not a problem we in London Transport can solve, and you do not need me to point out the dangers of a situation in which too many employers are bidding for too few staff.he second is that we are now living in an age in which social habits are such as to make people very reluctant to accept some of the conditions of service which are an inescapable feature of working for a transport undertaking. I mean, of course, shift working involving very early and and late turns, work at weekends, and vulnerability to abuse from the travelling public and, far worse, to hooliganism.The third is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for staff to afford to live in London, and especially to live near their work.I suggest that the problems as seen by the management of London Transport are those very broadly which are seen by a great many other public sector managements. For example, the authorised uni- 884 formed establishment of the London Fire Brigade is 5,434, but at present there is a shortfall of about 10 per cent.—514.
I want briefly to touch on the problems of the teachers and their justifiable demand, which I fully support, for an increased London weighting commensurate with their responsibilities. Like many others during the debate, I have left the Chamber in order to meet constituents outside time and again, and one of the things which I hope my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will reflect upon is that, whilst teachers are primarily concerned about what I believe is a justifiable claim for a proper allowance, they are equally concerned about the damage that will be done to the fabric of education if the quality of teaching in our London schools is affected even more. They stress that their main concern is for the children and for the future of our country. I very much welcome the spirited defence of the teachers' case which we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch (Mr. Brown). I hope that even at this late stage, the Minister can give us some encouraging information.
I want to mention an attempt made by the London borough of Enfield to deal with a problem common in the boroughs. I refer to the situation in which, every working day, 62,000 people living in Enfield leave to work in London and elsewhere and 38,000 people who live outside the borough move into it to work in its factories and offices. Enfield has recently decided, in conjunction with the Manufacturers' Association, the Trades Council and the Chamber of Commerce, to try to reverse this. Such efforts are to be encouraged. I support the call made from both sides of the House that London should have a Minister with special responsibility for its affairs, so that he can give time, attention and energy to the problems faced by those living and working in London.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)
I start by congratulating the two hon. Members who have made maiden speeches today. The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) gave us an extremely cultural, lyrical and geographical speech. We all found it extremely fascinating. 885 My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) showed a clear knowledge of the problems of London. He presented some interesting ideas on London's transport problems, some of which are certainly worthy of close and urgent study.
This has been an interesting debate, both for what has been said by right hon. and hon. Members and perhaps even more for what has not been said. Why did we have this debate today? As a London Member I welcome the opportunity to debate London matters. But why today? I noted with interest the endorsement of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker), that this will not necessarily prevent debates on any Greater London Council (Money) Bill or on the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill.
It is useful to have an opportunity to debate London affairs in a somewhat calmer atmosphere and at a more civilised hour than is normal. I would have thought that the Government had a stock of Bills which they could have introduced. They say that they have much vital legislation to get on the statute book, yet they choose to give a whole day to debating London. I wonder whether there is any connection with 2nd May. Perhaps it is a coincidence. I shall do no more than say that I believe a lot of people think there is a connection.
The Minister for Planning and Local Government said that his Government had been in office for only eight weeks and that that was not long enough for them to identify all the problems. With respect, I would have thought that anyone with one week's knowledge of London would know that London's two major problems are and have been housing and transport. It is not necessary to be a clever person to know that Herbert Morrison said this well over 30 years ago. This Government, who presumably claim to be one of Herbert Morrison's successors, ought to know what the problems are.
The trouble is that up to now no one has found a solution to those problems. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that there were 190,000 people on London's housing lists. That is not the way to tackle the problem. How are those 886 190,000 broken down? How many are in the urgent category A? How many in category B? How many in category C? They cannot all be lumped together. Some boroughs do not update their housing lists. It is no good lumping them all together and saying, "This is the extent of the housing problem," because it may well exaggerate it.
We had the well-known case of the London borough of Hackney, which decided to do something for young married couples who otherwise would have had no opportunity of getting to the top of the housing list on a points basis. It said, "We shall have a ballot for a very limited number of houses", and, to its great embarrassment, when the chairman of the housing committee went hot-foot to the homes of three of the first seven people whose names were drawn out of the hat he found that the people had moved; they had rehoused themselves. But they were still numbers on the waiting list. It does none of us any good to say that the extent of the problem in London is the sum total of the London borough housing lists.
The Minister went on to talk about the Government's decision to bring into occupation the many empty houses scattered all over London. I suggest that he pays a visit to the London borough of Haringey. where his friends in control of the council have acquired properties which were bought two years ago and are still empty, and where there is no prospect of rehousing the people for another two years. Why could they not have used the idea adopted in Camden, when it was Conservative-controlled, of offering the property to, say, a student housing association? Haringey has left the property empty for more than two years.
The right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) spoke about land and Socialist theory. He said that the community must decide where and when offices and hotels should be built. If he believes that—and I do him the credit of thinking that he does—why did his colleagues in the last Labour Government provide massive capital grants to encourage the building of hotels in central London? Perhaps it is convenient now for them to forget that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) referred to the question of compulsory purchase orders. 887 He was chided by an hon. Member opposite who said that a CPO would be decided by a public inquiry. That may be true, but in London many small owners are subjected to blackmail. A compulsory purchase order may be put on a property because the owner has had the temerity to apply for planning permission to make an alteration. He then has two choices—to sell by agreement or to stand and fight, have his capital tied up for two years and not know what the result will be. This is loading the scales against the small owner. We need to do something to improve the position.
I regret that the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) has not spoken in the debate. To me he is the authentic voice of Labour London and the true inheritor of Herbert Morrison. My politics differ from those of the right hon. Gentleman but I admire what he has done because he puts people before woolly theories. He practises what he believes, which is not the case with many of his Left-wing colleagues who are in power in London local government.
I cannot imagine the right hon. Member for Bermondsey supporting the decision of Labour-controlled Camden to withdraw block library facilities from private schools. He would not permit innocent children to suffer because of political theories—but his supporters do. Not content with the decision to prevent private school children from using public library books, his colleagues are now trying to prevent them from using swimming facilities. Let me quote a letter from the headmaster of North Bridge House, a private school—
§ Mr. Finsberg
If the hon. Member had listened instead of interjecting he would have heard me say that this private school has been—
§ Mr. Finsberg
The hon. Member was not present for most of the debate, and I must get on. This private school has been using the facilities at Swiss Cottage since 1935 and—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Order. If the hon. Member 888 for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) does not give way, he must not be interrupted.
§ Mr. Finsberg
If I may continue, the letter states:the former superintendent at Finchley Road Baths told me that the facilities that existed then for instruction in swimming to school parties owed their existence largely to the enthusiasm and persistence of … the former headmaster of the Hall School. It seems to me very sad that the Socialist majority in Camden should be so determined to carry out divisive policies to the point of distinguishing children in this way, when it would be illegal for them to do so on any such basis as colour, race or religion.That is the borough that is so besotted by dogma that it is now building houses the rents of which the director of finance estimates will be over £130 a week each.
Let me deal with London Transport, which has been mentioned by more than one speaker. We all accept that the services are deteriorating and have deteriorated over the years, and that there is no blame and no praise for any political party. To some extent I regret that London Transport has the sort of management it is forced to have under the Act that was introduced by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), but we have the service.
Some alleviation of the situation could have been found if London Transport, as happens in other cities in the world, had been permitted earlier to recruit women bus drivers. Until a few months ago there was constant obstruction. That is mentioned in the report on London Transport that has been quoted today. London Transport says that a few months ago the bus delegates of the Transport and General Workers' Union agreed that women may now be employed. When people make so much song and dance about the rights of women I hope that it will be realised that the major obstructionists are the trade unions.
London Transport is being subsidised this year to the tune of £25 million to keep the fares down. I wonder whether that is the best way of spending money. True, it will subsidise Londoners. It will also subsidise the stockbroker belt, and the poor of Hackney will be helping the rich of Horsham. Eight million tourists are coming into London. They will be using London Transport services, and the poor ratepayers of Wandsworth will be subsidising the rich of Washington. The 889 answer is clear. London Transport must be allowed to stand on its own feet and to do exactly what the right hon. Member for Blackburn intended—pay its way. That is in her Act, and we should not forget it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) spoke about plans for the North Circular Road. He said that the Minister had said that my hon. Friend would have a letter from him by the end of spring. He is right in surmising that spring will be a little late this year. After 2nd May he and his constituents will know what devastation is to be wreaked upon them.
This brings me to the staggering 85 per cent. rate increase levied by the Labour GLC. I note that no one on either side of the House has attempted to defend it. It is one of the most staggering rate increases in history, but, then, we have one of the most spendthrift administrations London has ever seen. I wonder whether we should be surprised at this vast rate increase after the encouragement given to the GLC by the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) who, at a Press conference on 22nd April, at Transport House, said:In the campaign ahead, rates will no doubt be an important issue—the somewhat hysterical reaction in certain quarters to the announcement of the GLC precept showed that. We in the Labour Party accept that high rates are an inevitable result of high public spending, and we believe in a high level of public spending.I hope that London ratepayers will realise that when they go to vote on Thursday. They will know exactly what they are letting themselves in for.
It is all very well for the right hon. Member for Grimsby to make instant rate recalculations, but somebody has to pay. As a result of the rating system, the domestic rate in Brent will increase by up to 11p annually, which is an average of £30 per head. Commercial ratepayers in the area will have their rates increased by 18 per cent. The commercial ratepayer, whether he be involved in a shop, or the Co-op, or a business, will pass that on to the customer, and we shall have to pay. No 5p subsidy on Stilton or Caerphilly cheese will help that situation.
The National Chamber of Trade, a reputable constituent member of the Retail Consortium—a fellow constituent 890 with the Co-op—is greatly worried, and it estimates that for every £100 paid in rates in 1972, a trader in 1974 will have to pay £500. I believe that somebody must find an answer to the rating problem.
I appreciate the point made by the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart). He mentioned the hoary old chestnut of local income tax, which many people have picked up, shaken a bit and discarded, but none the less something else has to be found. I do not know whether we shall be able to use a local income tax, because the question is whether anytbody can find a workable, fair or sensible method, but certainly something must be found as an alternative to our present system.
On the question of rates, I should like to put one point to which, if possible, I should like an answer this evening or, at a later date, from the Department concerned. As I understand the situation, under the Local Government Act if a ratepayer wishes to pay his rates by instalments he must give statutory notice by 30th April. I understand that no rate demands have been issued in at least two London boroughs—Camden and Haringey. I am told that problems have been experienced because of computer difficulties and the NALGO go-slow or strike. Can publicity be given to the fact that if the statutory deadline has been passed, people will not be prejudiced as a result of action taken by NALGO?
§ Mr. John Silkin
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting that point. I did not know that to be the case. It surprises me, and I shall look into it. Since it is my responsibility, I shall see what the situation is and let the hon. Gentleman know.
§ Mr. Finsberg
I thank the Minister for that assurance.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone mentioned the problems of the middle class in inner London and the growing scandal of service charges. I have looked at the Government's Bill on service charges and note that it is virtually word for word the same as the Bill introduced by the Conservative Government two days before the last Parliament was dissolved. However, the Bill does not go far enough, and no doubt we can return to that matter some time next week.
891 The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Ronald Brown) spoke at length about London weighting and said that there should be an interim award. Views on London weighting are not confined to Labour Members. I can remember a time when I asked a previous Secretary of State to invite the Pay Board to produce an interim report if it could not produce a final report until June. The Pay Board gave him something of a brush-off, as indeed, in other circumstances, it has given to the present Secretary of State for Employment. We shall have to wait a little time to see what the answer it.
The problem is that if one gives an interim London weighting to teachers—and nobody would say that the teachers have not a case—how can it be said that the same weighting allowance should be denied to the police, to transport workers to NALGO, or indeed to the Civil Service or bank clerks, merely because there is a deadline date for the handing in of resignations? I do not believe it is possible to say that one section may have the allowance but no other section may.
§ Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)
The hon. Gentleman has been talking about the London weighting allowance. Is he aware that his right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) made offers to the teachers which they rejected as being derisory, and that to this day they have not had this increasee?
§ Mr. Finsberg
Having spent 25 years in local government, I understand a little about the London weighting allowance. The present allowance structure dates from the previous Labour administration. I always understood it to be a principle of negotiation that a wise negotiator who was offered less than he wanted none the less took it and came back for more later. Small though it was, there was an amount on the table. If I had been at the negotiating table, like Oliver Twist I would have accepted it and gone back for more.
I make a final appeal to NALGO not to frustrate the wishes of the electors on Thursday. If for that day NALGO members gave their complete co-operation, so that democracy might not be frustrated, they would have a better opportunity to retain public support. I 892 hope that they will not hamper the elections next Thursday.
One cause of high rates is the recruiting of additional staff. In the past three years, Labour councils throughout London appear to have been creating jobs with little regard for priorities or costs. Havering, for example, has increased its staff by more than 1,500 since 1971, at a cost of £5.85 million. Lewisham has 1,200 additional staff, costing about £4 million. A good, sound local authority faced with requests for more staff will look at its priorities and its staff ratios and see whether the public really wants to pay for the services that they will provide—not automatically assuming, as most Socialist councils appear to do, that more staff and more costs must mean a better service to the public. Anyone who doubts what I say has only to ask the majority of council tenants, who are becoming more and more frustrated as repairs are not carried out, whether additional staff means better service to them.
There are Labour councils in London which are becoming more and more extreme in their policies, and it is right that the public should be warned about this before Thursday. They are driving out what I call the good, old-fashioned Labour man, who wanted to help people rather than to advance theories. I have in mind a case in Wandsworth where the son of Sir Norman Prichard, one of the most distnguished Labour politicians of his time, has left the party and is standing next Thursday as a Conservative. Incidentally, he was Labour leader of Wandsworth Council. According to the Wandsworth Borough News, Brian Prichard said:It has become increasingly difficult for men of moderate persuasion to remain in the Labour Party. The recent manifesto contains many Left-wing policies including widespread nationalisation. The country does not want this Socialist medicine.I noted with some amusement on Sunday an item in the Observer to the effect that the Labour group at County Hall had decided to fly the Red Flag over County Hall on May Day and that it was significant that the only way that it could get a flag was by borrowing one from the International Marxist Group, which was lending it to the group for the day.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart
That is completely untrue. It is denied in this evening's newspapers. The hon. Gentleman should withdraw the allegation at once.
§ Mr. Finsberg
The statement was made in the Observer yesterday, and there was no contradiction in this morning's newspapers. If it has been denied, I am glad. Clearly, the Labour moderates at County Hall realise the damage that it would have done them.
§ Mr. Finsberg
If the Observer was right—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] —it means that the Labour Party realises that it would have done it immense harm. I am perfectly happy to accept what the right hon. Member for Fulham said if he is contradicting what appeared in the Observer [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]
I turn to housing, and to Circular 70/74. Section 38 of that circular gives encouragement to housing associations. I welcome the recognition that the Government are giving to housing associations, but they need to take action at once on the damage which the rent freeze has done to housing associations. I have details of one charitable housing society which will lose an income of more than £15,000 this year as a result of the rent freeze. By not being allowed to cover its increased service charges it will be subject to costs of £1,000 per month on 95 centrally heated flats. A charitable housing society can modernise its older properties only if it has a surplus coming from newer properties. If it cannot make a surplus, it cannot modernise. The Minister for Planning and Local Government and his colleagues ought to reverse their instant decision and at least do something to help housing associations and societies which have provided evidence that they are losing money as a result of his policy. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman must not say that we did not vote against it. One cannot vote against an order if one merely wants to amend it. It is the Government's responsibility to lay a clear order. Oppositions cannot amend orders, as the right hon. Gentleman knows full well.
894 What about vacant land in inner London? My information, from GLC statistics, is that Lambeth has 270 acres of vacant land, Southwark has 324 acres and Tower Hamlets has 340 acres. Dockland has this 5,000 acres. No organisation has been set up. I do not mind how often I am contradicted by right hon. Members, but the reason that there has been no progress on dockland is because the Labour GLC and the five Labour boroughs involved cannot agree. I say to the Government that they should knock their heads together and, if necessary, set up a statutory corporation and take the responsibility away from them, because they are letting down the people of London who could be housed there.
Finally, I comment on what was said by the hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford. He chided his Government for not doing what he wanted them to do. He went on to tell the people of London that they should vote Labour on Thursday. There is not much point in that sort of contradicition, and I hope that the Government will note that the hon. Gentleman does not like what his own party is doing. The Labour Party talks as though the housing problems of London have only just begun to be tackled seriously. Inner London has been controlled by the Socialists for many years, and some of the worst areas—Hackney, Islington and Southwark—have had only three years of enlightened Conservative local government in 40 years. The Labour Party could not solve these problems; all that it could do was to blame the Conservatives.
I believe that Conservative policies were not good enough to solve the problem. I said so, as did many of my hon. Friends. I remember that in our manifesto we said that there were problems which we had not solved. I entered local government 25 years ago next month, by beating Anthony Greenwood. I said 12 months after I was elected that London's housing problems could not be solved within the context of London. Successive administrations have come and gone at County Hall, town hall and here. The problems have not yet been solved.
What we need is a sense of fairness and a sense that people will accept that the Londoner is a peculiar animal who loves his city and wants the opportunity to live not on the 17th floor of a 20-storey 895 block but in a small home with a garden, even if it is a home that was built 40 years ago. The Ministers have been scrupulously fair in what they have said today. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Education and Science runs the grave danger of being called a modern Ray Gunter. But he and his right hon. and hon. Friends ought to tell their friends that some honesty in housing policy and politics in London would benefit the electors in London.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Reg Prentice)
I congratulate the two hon. Members who have made maiden speeches in the debate. Anyone who has had the formidable experience of being interviewed on television by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) would expect him to make an impressive speech. The House will agree that he did that and brought to bear in the debate a great deal of understanding and feeling both for Leyton in particular and for London in general.
The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) brought to bear a great degree of local knowledge. He presented very powerful arguments, with some of which I am in complete disagreement. However, we all listened to his speech with great interest and we all hope to hear a great deal more from both hon. Members in the future.
As a Member for a London constituency I join those who have welcomed the fact that we are having a debate today on the affairs of London. It happens to be in the same week as the municipal elections. That is a happy coincidence. If this point embarrasses some hon. Members opposite, as it appeared to do, it can mean only that they have a lack of confidence in the ability of their spokesman in the coming election and of the case they are putting. This is a coincidence that I welcome and which my hon. Friends should welcome. We can be partisan, and I shall be partisan to some extent in my speech.
The House will expect me to concentrate to some extent on matters affecting education and the vexed question of the London allowance. This affects teachers but it affects also many other public servants in London.
896 Running right through the debate has been a series of expressions of anxiety about the affairs of London, on which we need not be partisan. We are concerned about the future of our capital city, and there are many features of its life at present which are disturbing. The Labour group of the Greater London Council said in the opening sentence of its policy statement when it first assumed control:The state of London today diverges radically from the sentiments of its people.That sentiment has been voiced in the debate on both sides. This is a great paradox.
My experience as a London Member goes back almost 17 years. For six years before that I was a councillor in another part of London. In that period I have seen, as we all have, the living standards of the people we represent improved. In my constituency there are higher living standards now than when I first represented it. We have seen public services improve, particularly in the borough of Newham, which has not had what the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) called a period of enlightened Conservative control. There has been Labour control in Newham and in the two boroughs which make it up. This has led to the housing record there being the finest for any borough. I have seen the housing standards of my constituents improve.
There are three basic causes of concern in London. One is the pace of life which applies in all large cities. The pace of life in an industrialised, urbanised, motorised community seems to be creating strains and tensions the answers to which we are only groping.
Secondly, there is a growing contrast between the more prosperous parts of the London area and the older, poorer areas which suffer from overcrowding, from poor quality housing, from lower average incomes than the rest of London, from a relatively high degree of unemployment. That last factor is true in many parts of East London, including my constituency. These are areas where people are more dependent on the social services than they are in other areas. The inequalities which disfigure our national life generally appear in an exaggerated form as between different parts of London.
897 Thirdly, I believe that in a city such as London poverty nowadays, for those who are relatively poor or relatively deprived, for whatever reason, is in some ways more lonely and more cruel than it was in the past, in the London of Charles Dickens or of General William Booth, or in the London of the 1930s, when compared with today there was mass poverty. No one wants to go back to that, but there was then a kind of community spirit and comradeship derived from the fact that people were in it together. But in our affluent society these people, for one reason or another, fall behind, have a worse time of it and have a harder lot to endure.
It is against the background of these developments that we must consider our policies regarding London. I shall make one general point and then specifically refer to matters raised in the debate. The general point is that, given the situation I have tried to describe, what is needed in local government in London and in national policies affecting London is that certain basic principles should be followed in planning which will be in the interests of everyone and are not produced just for a few people. The principle of a high degree of priority for housing programmes, particularly in the public sector, is also necessary.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Hampstead in what he said about overestimating the degree of housing need in London. My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) got this problem in much better perspective. We need a compassionate approach to all the social services in London, to an even greater degree than in other parts of the country. London has needed and deserved a Labour Government in the centre, at County Hall and in the boroughs.
I turn from that relatively non-partisan statement to the problem of the London weighting, mentioned many times in the debate. It was particularly mentioned with reference to teachers and was also mentioned in relation to other public services. Deep concern has been expressed from both sides on this matter and I fully share that deep concern. In the ILEA and in the outer London boroughs there is a shortage of teachers, particularly teachers of certain subjects, 898 science, mathematics and handicrafts. There is a higher rate of wastage and turnover in London schools than there is in the nation as a whole. I shall be publishing a survey of these matters later this week. It shows, amongst other things, that the national gross wastage in the teaching profession is 10 per cent. and the turnover average for schools throughout England and Wales is 20 per cent., but in inner London the figures are half as much again both for wastage and for turnover, and the figures for outer London are not far behind.
I was told last week of a school, not in my constituency but near it, in which the headmaster said that he had an excellent staff but he was worried that they were aged either over 50 or under 25. This was an indication of the way young people enter the teaching profession in London and then move out of London. That school, like many others, lacks middle-aged experienced people. The situation in that school is serious and will become more serious when those teachers over 50 reach retirement age.
There are serious situations in other public services in London. The police force is 20 per cent. under strength, the probation service 11 per cent. under strength and the fire brigade nearly 7 per cent. under strength and it has the obligation to recruit extra firemen this year because of a new agreement on a shorter basic week. We are told in a communication sent today to all hon. Members from the GLC that London Transport is 27 per cent. below strength. All of these services and many others which are vital to the well-being of London are below strength and suffer from too rapid a turnover, and their efficiency suffers as a result.
I believe that two conclusions follow. One is that, whatever may be the future development of incomes policy in this country, it must be one that has special regard to the needs of the public services because people in the public services have fallen relatively behind, not only in London but throughout the country, both during the periods of free collective bargaining and during previous income policies. Therefore, we have to try to find a way to solve the very difficult problem of achieving a fair basis of reward for people in the public services.
899 The second conclusion—this is the basic matter being discussed today—is that the outcome of the present discussion of the London allowance must be fair and must be seen to be fair by the people concerned. I believe that this matter was mishandled by the last Government. I believe that their incomes policy, which was deficient in so many ways, among other things failed to measure up to the challenge of this difficult situation in London. It must be put right at the earliest possible moment.
Then the question arises—it has been put to me several times in the debate—whether we should have for all of these categories or for the teachers in particular an interim payment now in advance of the Pay Board's report in June. This is something which, after very careful consideration, the Government have been unable to accept. They have been unable to accept it for the reasons made clear by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment in the letter which he sent to the joint secretaries of the National Joint Council of the Local Authorities and the joint secretaries of the Burnham Committee recently—letters which he made public. But in making those reasons public he also said —I want to put this clearly on record tonight—that what he and what the Government are expecting is that there will be a substantial improvement in London allowances following the publication of the Pay Board's report, and also that that improvement will not itself necessarily be confined to the terms of the Pay Board's report.
Here I quote a sentence from the letter of my right hon. Friend, a sentence which I do not think has had the attention it deserves:I am not saying that the Board's report will provide the last word, but it will offer guidance on which negotiations can sensibly proceed in an effort to seek a long term solution of the London allowance and the problems with which they are meant to deal.If I am still asked "Why not, in that situation, allow the negotiations to take place?", the reasons that we have had to give are that we have inherited a system of statutory income controls which we did not create and do not like, but we are trying to move away from that statutory system to an agreed voluntary system. In the interim period we really have to stick 900 to phase 3 limits because we have inherited a situation which is the most difficult and desperate inflationary situation which this country has ever known in peace time.
An interim increase in the London allowance would mean a rise in pay for about one-fifth of the working population of London, those who work in the public sector. In my view, this could not be done without repercussions elsewhere, repercussions on the private sector in London and in many other parts of the country where other groups of workers have long-standing and genuine grievances and reasons for impatience, and reasons for feeling that they have a special case in the most genuine sense of the word. This has been accepted by the TUC in the statement which it issued on 16th April, in which it accepted the need for settlements for the time being to be within the limits that have recently prevailed.
I feel bound to point out to my hon. Friend's—and I do so without any criticism of the unions concerned—that NALGO, the NUT, the NAS, the Fire Brigades Union and others are members of the TUC, and that that statement was made in their name along with other members of the TUC. Therefore, when we discuss the London workers we must remember that most of them are members of unions for which the TUC, along with other trade unionists, still speaks in the statement it made.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Will my right hon. Friend comment on the suggestion that from the date of publication of the Pay Board's report on the London allowances it will be open to the ILEA, the other London education authorities and the Greater London Whitley Council to implement forthwith the interim arrangements which have already been agreed between the NUT and NALGO and their respective employing bodies?
§ Mr. Prentice
My hon Friend is trying to lead me through a complicated jungle, because in these various forms of public service there exist all kinds of joint negotiating arrangements. In the case of teachers it is within the Burnham Committee. It will be open for these matters to be negotiated within that Committee.
My hon. Friend said that there was already an agreement by the ILEA, for 901 example, which is willing to pay more than it is permitted to pay. It is the essence of a statutory incomes policy that it prevents employers paying what they would otherwise have been willing to pay. There is a statutory incomes policy in force, and the TUC has accepted that in this situation it is reasonable that these limits should prevail.
A special point has been made about the teachers. It has been explained that the teachers who decide to hand in their resignations to take effect by the end of this school year must do so by the end of May and that, therefore, we should make a special interim award to them before the end of May. I do not believe it would be rational for teachers to hand in their resignation a few weeks before the Pay Board's report to take effect a few weeks after that report is published knowing that there will be a substantial increase as a result of it. There will be a substantial increase. I cannot announce how much and I cannot give the starting date, but we expect a substantial increase arising from the negotiations which will follow publication of the report. Therefore, whatever reasons teachers may have for staying in their jobs or for leaving them, they should not assume, and it would be illogical to do so, that the London allowance will remain unadjusted into the coming school year. My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton made this point, and it is a good one, and I hope that others of my hon. Friends will make the point to the teachers with whom they come into contact.
It is in that setting that as we look at the coming weeks we must accept that any further industrial action by teachers or those groups should not take place for two very simple reasons. The only people to suffer from such action are those they serve. In the case of the teachers that means the children. The second reason is that any such action would be irrelevant to the outcome of this issue. It will not help one way or the other. For that reason, I agree with the hon. Member for Hampstead in what he said about the NALGO action over the elections this week. I do not see how their action will affect the outcome of the negotiations. Their case has been made, and the employing authorities and the staff generally recognise the justice of the case. I therefore repeat the appeal made 902 on behalf of the Labour Party by my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, who is also Chairman of the London Labour Party, that this action would not be helpful in the circumstances.
I turn briefly to one or two educational issues in London which have been raised in the debate. From my talks in recent weeks with the ILEA, the outer London boroughs and the teachers I should like to pay a sincere tribute to what is being achieved by the schools in London in spite of the difficult circumstances in which they are working. I recommend hon. Members to read the recent ILEA report "An Educational Service to the Whole Community", both as an illustration of what has been achieved already in the ILEA area and as an indication of its imaginative approach to ways in which the education service can be of greater help to the community in the period ahead.
Last Friday I visited, schools in the London borough of Newham. I should like at this Dispatch Box to pay the tribute which I paid publicly afterwards to the first-class work being done in those schools by the teachers. I was able to see a whole range of schools, from nursery schools through to secondary schools. The work they are doing is excellent. I wish the publicity attaching to education in London would focus rather more on the achievements of London schools than concentrating entirely on their deficiencies. They have deficiencies in terms of very old buildings and shortages of staff and many other grave problems, which unhappily sometimes affect the quality of education. But the fact is that a great deal is being achieved by London teachers in spite of those difficulties. I wish the Press and the other media would focus on those achievements as well as on the problems.
The right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) made one or two comments about education policy. There are two in particular to which I should like to make a brief response. The right hon. Lady had a thundering cheek in criticising me for the fact that education expenditure has not gone up. We inherited a situation in which plans for the expansion of education expenditure had been cut back by the Cabinet of which the right hon. Lady was a member. Since then the economy has suffered from, 903 the effects of the self-inflicted wound of the three-day week, a wound which cost the country between £1,500 million and £1,750 million in national output.
It is not a situation in which it is possible to expand education spending or the spending of other Departments, except on the limited items of public expenditure to which we gave priority. I asked the right hon. Lady which of those she would have excepted in order to have more to spend on education. She replied that she would not have spent money on food subsidies. But it is precisely because of that kind of attitude that we face an inflationary crisis as severe as it is. It is precisely because the previous Government failed to take action to fight inflation that we face the present situation, which is as bad for education as it is bad for every other aspect of our national life.
The right hon. Lady made a passionate attack on my circular on comprehensive education, Circular 4/74, which she described as very tough and drastic. I believe that she has got her wires crossed a little with the Shadow Minister of Education, who has been reported as saying:The Secretary of State's new circular is meaningless because it has no teeth.I do not agree with that criticism either, but the Opposition Front Bench had better decide which criticism it is making. Is it that the circular has no teeth or too many teeth?
We shall debate these matters on Wednesday. Therefore, I shall not dwell on them now except to say, as the right hon. Lady said what she did, that her remarks show how out of touch she is, and how out of touch she was as Secretary of State, with the broad stream of educational thinking. Before we issued the circular we had consultations with the local education authorities, the teachers' unions and the Churches. Incidentally, they were all glad we had consultations with them, because when the right hon. Lady issued her circular in 1970 there was no such consultation. Those whom we consulted all gave us broad support for our objectives, though they made certain criticisms, some of which we noted and which influenced the final draft of the circular.
Since I have been in office some Conservative leaders of Conservative-con- 904 trolled education authorities have told me "We hope you will approve our plans that were thrown out by your predecessor." Plainly, the right hon. Lady is very much out of touch with thinking on these matters. As for saying that my circular is doctrinaire and harsh—this is a figment of the imagination of Mr. Ronald Butt and the right hon. Lady, but of no one else.
I hope that comprehensive education in London will be an issue in the elections this week. As regards the outer London boroughs, the state of play at the moment is that four of them have gone completely comprehensive and 100 per cent. of their secondary pupils are in comprehensive schools. These are the boroughs of Barking, Brent, Newham and Waltham Forest. Another eight have had approval to reorganise completely, though the percentage to which they have done so varies considerably, from 93 per cent. in Enfield to none in Richmond. However, at least those eight authorities have plans which have been approved. Another seven have approval to reorganise in part of their area. Again, the percentage varies, but I am very much hoping for further progress among those authorities, and many of them have indicated that they will be resubmitting plans which were rejected by my predecessor.
That leaves only one authority, Kingston-upon-Thames. All I say about that now is that I hope that wiser counsels will prevail, since Kingston remains not only the one authority in London but the only one now in the whole of England and Wales where no progress has been made in this direction.
I should have liked to speak on many other aspects of education in London, but I shall conclude with a brief mention of only two. In the debate about education which we had on the Queen's Speech, both the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) and I reaffirmed our belief that the raising of the school leaving age must prevail. I repeat that conviction tonight—I am repeating it on many occasions—because there has been a good deal of defeatism on this matter in quarters where I should not have expected it. Far too much of the comment that one hears is focused on the difficulties of the extra year at school. It has created extra pressures, extra duties and 905 extra stresses in secondary schools, but I have found in many London boroughs—I found this on my visit to Newham last Friday—that when people talk about their problems in secondary schools those who are actually doing the job seldom come to the conclusion that the right answer is to go back and cancel the raising of the school leaving age.
I welcome also the priority which has been given by the ILEA and other London authorities to the expansion of nursery education. I am making sure in London and elsewhere that the plans for nursery building which I inherited from the last Government—I acknowledge this —will be maintained despite the difficulties which authorities face and despite the wish of many of them at the moment that they could reallocate these resources to other aspects of education. But the plans for nursery education must prevail. I am glad to say that in the inner London area the 4,000 extra places which should arise from the building programme in nursery education this year and next year should mean that by 1976 inner London should have 70 per cent. of the places needed to meet the Plowden target for nursery education.
At the NAS conference about 10 days ago, I spoke of the need to do more for children who are at present achieving less than their potential and are getting least out of the country's education provision. I announced certain steps which I was taking, and I asked the local education authorities and the teachers to use all their energy and imagination to give the maximum help to children who are achieving less than their potential in various ways.
I believe that there is a larger percentage of such children in London than there is in most other areas. I reaffirm tonight that it is in that spirit that I shall approach the decisions on priorities which must be faced in education for London and the rest of the country. This is the philosophy with which we on this side will want to determine all our policies towards London—a philosophy of positive discrimination in favour of areas and people who have not had a fair deal from society up to now. This is the policy which a Labour Government and Labour councillors will bring to bear on the problems of our capital city.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.