HC Deb 12 July 1976 vol 915 cc56-109

4.30 p.m.

Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)

I beg to move That this House views with grave concern the decline of the capital city under Labour; notes in particular that the problems of the Greater London area have been aggravated and accentuated by the policies pursued at Westminster and at County Hall in the spheres of housing, education, transport and employment; and hopes for an early return of Conservative administrations to restore sound and responsible government to London. It is now more than two years since the House last had the opportunity of debating London affairs. Today, we are debating the grave and growing problems of our capital city only because of my luck in the Ballot. That underlines the total inadequacy of the parliamentary time that is allocated to Greater London. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to have that support of hon. Members from both sides of the House.

The voice of London is largely unheard and unheeded. That is one of the reasons why I have been urging upon the Government the appointment of a Minister to be specifically charged with responsibility for London affairs. In that way the claims of London could be voiced both at Government and Cabinet level, and we, as London Back Benchers, would also have the opportunity, at Question Time, of putting the Minister under fire over the handling of London affairs.

I am glad to see the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) in his place, because on a previous occasion he went so far as to submit his own name for consideration for such an appointment. I do not know whether he still holds that view, or whether he maintains a wish to return to the present Government. Perhaps in that connection, as in others, he feels that enough is enough. We shall listen to him with interest later in the debate.

What I am saying is not unreasonable. After all, Wales, with a population of less than 3 million, and Scotland, with a population of just over 5 million, each has its own Secretary of State and its own Question Time. Greater London, with a population almost as large as Scotland and Wales put together, has nothing. That is part of the reason for the growing feeling of anger and frustration amongst those who live and work in Greater London. They feel that our capital's problems are being ignored and neglected. Unless the problems that I outline in my motion—housing, education, transport and employment—are tackled urgently and vigorously, we shall see our great capital city reduced to a kind of urban museum, filled with tourists who visit the Tower of London and the Tate Gallery. It will be abandoned by the real Londoners, for whom life in the capital has become too uncomfortable and too expensive.

Today, the ever-lengthening queue has become the symbol of London. We have to wait longer for buses and trains. But for many, the queue for a decent home becomes daily more disheartening. In many parts the dole queues are growing immensely long, with unemployment as high as 13 per cent. in some areas. There is the new and unattractive face of London. There is now a steady drift of people and jobs from the capital. The responsibility for that rests squarely with the present Government and their Labour colleagues at County Hall, across the river.

In the context of today's debate, it is interesting to recall that on 20th November 1973 we had a similar debate on the position of London. On that occasion the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown)—whom I am pleased to see in the Chamber—moved a motion that condemned the Conservative Government of that time for allowing the public services of the capital city to: deteriorate to the point where they are now reaching breakdown and are causing grave hardship to the population of Greater London." —[Official Report, 20th November 1973; Vol. 864, c. 1133.] If the population of Greater London were consulted today they would gladly put the clock back three years to the happy Tory days of 1973. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch then spoke in tones of strident outrage against the Conservative Government for the levels of unemployment in London.

I have been undertaking a little research, and I find that in November 1973, at the time of the last debate, unemployment in London stood at 46,700, or 1.2 per cent. of the population. In June of this year it stood not at 46,700 but at 148,478—which is higher than in Scotland. In many parts of London—Poplar and Stepney, for example—unemployment now stands at 13.1 per cent. of the population. In Holloway, it is 11.2 per cent. and in Canning Town, 9.1 per cent. As the brief that was sent to us from the Greater London Council says: A climate of depression is becoming firmly established which could easily become self-perpetuating".

Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)

I appreciate the researches of my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt), but is he aware that the Government, in an answer to a Question that I tabled, shamelessly revealed that in the last two years unemployment in London and the South-East had risen by 150 per cent.—a record for the country?

Mr. Hunt

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) underlines my argument. He had some responsibility during the period of Conservative Government and he is therefore well qualified to point to the contrast between the years of Tory rule and the years that have followed. When one makes that comparison and looks at the figures today, not much imagination is needed to envisage the kind of speeches that would now be coming from Labour Members if figures of that gravity and magnitude were occurring under a Tory Administration.

The other major problem afflicting our capital is housing. All hon. Members know, from their constituency surgeries, that council house waiting lists are growing longer week by week and that there is now a sense of deep despair among families who have been waiting without hope for so long. Promises, given so lightly by Labour candidates at election time, have turned sour. There is anger amongst the homeless and overcrowded, who find that they have been cruelly betrayed.

It is not simply a question of complacency or incompetence—although there has been some of that. In one important respect the Government's policy has actually accentuated the problem. I refer to the 1974 Rent Act, which, by extending security of tenure to furnished accommodation, has virtually dried up the supply of furnished accommodation in the London area. The result is that single people, such as young teachers, nurses and students, as well as newly-marrieds, who were dependent upon that type of accommodation, now find it practically non-existent. Even where it is available it is available only at a price that is well beyond their means.

In the categories of young people I have mentioned are those who can never hope to accumulate enough points on a council waiting list to be rehoused in that way. Therefore, they must rely on the private sector, and they look in particular to furnished accommodation to meet their housing needs.

Mr. Nicholas Scott (Chelsea)

Matters are worse than my hon. Friend said. It is possible for Labour Members to have passed the 1974 Rent Act unaware of the effects it would have on certain portions of London, but to destroy the Homes Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane), which would have rectified some of the anomalies of that legislation and made it possible for young people to have a fairer deal, could only have been malevolent and wilful.

Mr. Hunt

I fully support what my hon. Friend has said. I shall be saying a word about the way in which the shortage of furnished accommodation could be dealt with. That links up with the Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane).

Mr. Ronald Brown (Hackney, South Shoreditch)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us the amount of furnished accommodation he believes was available in the London borough of Bromley, and how much he thinks it has been reduced because of the 1974 Act?

Mr. Hunt

I cannot specify the effect on particular boroughs. I think that there has been some effect in Bromley, but it has been felt more severely in the inner London areas. That is the matter with which I am primarily concerned this afternoon, although I know that in Bromley some landlords who previously let furnished accommodation freely and willingly are now reluctant to do so. That is the pattern not only in Greater London but throughout the country as a result of the Act.

A number of surveys have confirmed what my hon. Friends and I have been saying, that as a direct result of the passage of that Act there has been a dramatic fall in the number of furnished flats and other accommodation available. A quick glance at any of the London evening newspapers will amply confirm that. Looking through today's issues, I found that there was virtually nothing available in the central London area for less than £25 a week, and many of the rents being asked were far in excess of that.

One of the side effects of the 1974 Act —and in a way this is a loophole in the Act—has been an increased availability of holiday flatlets and similar accommodation for wealthy tourists, whilst accommodation for ordinary Londoners has declined almost to vanishing point. I ask the Minister to show a greater sense of urgency in dealing with the problem than his Department has so far shown. It is not enough merely to rely on the parrot cry that this is all being considered by the review of the Rent Act that is under way. That review will take a substantial time, and London cannot wait that long. The need for action is urgent and imperative. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some encouragement that action will be taken to relieve the hardship and anguish of so many in London.

One of the suggestions that have come repeatedly from the Opposition side of the House is a system of short-term tenancies that would give limited security of tenure to the tenant and provide some protection for the landlord. That may well be a means by which we could help to revive the market in furnished accommodation—a market that has been grievously undermined by the operation of the 1974 Act, which was a reflection of the Labour Party's longstanding antagonism towards the private landlord and private property.

There is another very important potential source of housing in inner London—the 5,500 acres of dockland which lie idle and unused. It is astonishing that in the comprehensive brief provided by the GLC for this debate, a copy of which reached me this morning, I can find no mention of the redevelopment of dockland. That is a depressing reflection of the priority that the council attaches to that project —one that could revive and rejuvenate an area that has been allowed to run down over recent years, with a dramatic loss of people and jobs. When I recently suggested at Question Time that it was about time the Government injected a new sense of urgency into the redevelopment of London's decaying dockland, the Secretary of State for the Environment reported that I had a great nerve to accuse the Government of being dilatory.

We are entitled to ask how much longer the saga is to be allowed to drag on. The first report on dockland was commissioned in 1971, yet today we are still as far as ever from a comprehensive redevelopment of the area. In France or Germany, by now, the whole dockland area would be a bustling complex, providing thousands of new jobs and homes for Londoners. The fact that it remains idle and neglected is a reflection of the lethargy that afflicts the government of London.

It is because of this that London under Labour is rapidly becoming a depressed area. Faced with unemployment and bad housing, the young and the skilled are moving out of the area, and there is a total lack of confidence in the future. In its brief, the GLC says that it has consistently pressed for industrial development certificate control to be removed. Over the years there has been a number of casings of the Regulations, but the council makes the fair point that the very existence of the Regulations deters firms from applying for industrial development certificates. In view of the deteriorating unemployment situation and the sharp decline in manufacturing industry in London, I hope that the Minister will be able to offer the prospect of further relaxations of the Regulations, if not total abolition of the certificates.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)

Does my hon. Friend accept that more than that is needed? Even if it can obtain an industrial development certificate, not every company wants to invest money in London, where it must pay the whole cost of equipping a new factory, when it could go to a development area or special devel- opment area and have at least half paid by the Government.

Mr. Hunt

My hon. Friend has made a valid point. London would probably now qualify as a development area, with all the investment incentives that apply to to those areas. Something must be done. The rundown is becoming alarming. I hope that the Minister will take my hon. Friend's point into account when he replies.

My speech so far has been a depressing catalogue of decline in London. But if the present situation is grim, as I believe it is, the outlook for London is even bleaker, with severe cuts in local government expenditure now adding to the problems. Confirmation of that comes from the GLC's brief, which says: The problems of Greater London have, of course, been exacerbated by pressure to cut public expenditure". This adds a new dimension to London's problems.

We on the Opposition side of the House have consistently urged economies in public expenditure, and we shall continue to do so. However, in the case of local government expenditure the Government have many of their priorities totally wrong. For example, what is the sense of cutting back on teacher recruitment, of increasing class sizes, of delaying the replacement of archaic and outdated primary schools, while, at the same time, subsidising school meals by £328 million per year in order to provide them at what I would consider, and what most people would consider, to be a totally unrealistic figure of 15p per day? Again, how can one defend the inadequate resources for the provision of more and better housing for Londoners when those who are lucky enough to live in GLC accommodation pay an average rent of only £5.50 per week.

Mr. Tebbit

Or do not pay it.

Mr. Hunt

Or do not pay it, as the case may be. The arrears are now a mounting problem for the GLC. One has to compare the GLC average rent of £5.50 per week with the average industrial wage in London of £67 per week. Yet the £5.50 per week is enough to cover only 35 per cent. of the GLC's housing costs. This subsidy is allowed to continue while many other Londoners are paying more than they can afford for sub-standard and inadequate accommodation.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman speaking against this unjustified subsidy. I hope that this means that he will join me in opposing the London rate equalisation scheme, under which my constituents and his hon. Friend's constituents in Greenwich subsidise by a 5p surcharge on their rates the hon. Gentleman's constituents, who thereby get 6p in the £ deducted from their rates. Is he against that subsidy, as well as the ones he is talking about?

Mr. Hunt

I think that my borough treasurer may challenge the figures that the hon. Gentleman has put forward. I shall be listening very carefully to his speech, and I shall decide my vote in accordance with the arguments put forward. That is one more example of what I regard as perverted priorities in expenditure in London.

Instead of spending money on municipalisation which, in the current year, is estimated to cost £23 million—a policy that does not add a single extra unit of accommodation to Greater London's housing stock—it would be much more sensible for the Greater London Council to spend its money on new sheltered accommodation for the elderly for which there is a chronic need in London. This would help to reduce the under-occupation of council properties and release many three and four-bedroom homes for young families who stand in such desperate need of them.

I have had time in the limited period of this debate to cover only a few subjects. I want to allow as many hon. Members as possible to participate, so I have concentrated on a number of specific issues. The full-scale exposure of the inadequacies of the Labour Government in London would take my speech up to well past 7 o'clock. I leave my hon. Friends to deal with a number of other problems, notably in transport and education, which I have not had time to cover.

In conclusion, I believe that the present state of London is a massive indictment of Labour rule both at Westminster and at County Hall. In spite of that, I feel that all is not yet lost. Real improvements could still come by a change of outlook, a change of policy and a change of philosophy, and, above all, a change of political control.

If this debate is seen in retrospect as the first step in the process of changing political control across the river, and as a prelude to a change of control in the House of Commons, it will not have been in vain.

4.56 p.m.

Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)

I think that every Londoner will be pleased at the luck of the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) in the Ballot. Last Friday's Evening News —a very reputable paper and usually very accurate—said that the hon. Member would raise the problems of London on Monday and that the hon. Member had said that there would be no party politics involved because he was concerned only with the well-being of London people which is so near and dear to his heart.

The Evening News could not have known much about the motion which the hon. Gentleman has put down. He will forgive me if I say that it is going it a bit too much to say that the heartaches and problems of London should be laid at the door of the Labour Government. I shall not make a party political speech except to make this party political point: the problems of London have been getting worse and worse over a period of years because Governments of both parties have followed policies on which we have had the best advice and we have found that that advice was wrong. It was said that the employment needs of the regions outside London were so great and that we in the South were so insulated against unemployment and had so much fat on which we could live that we should divert our industry.

The Conservative Government as much as the Labour Government spent millions of pounds attracting industry away from London. I remember vividly in 1966 pleading with colleagues and industry in my own constituency to leave us and to go to the North. I made a speech to them. This was all part of the policy to get the London population reduced. The hon. Member for Ravensbourne states that it has suddenly happened in the past two years, but we know that that is wrong.

Mr. Neil Macfarlane (Sutton and Cheam)

The right hon. Gentleman made a very important point when he said that previous Administrations had received much bad advice. Would he tell the House the sources that provided that bad advice? It would be very important for the future.

Mr. Mellish

I was then junior Minister responsible for housing. We were advised by the planners in the then Ministry of Housing that the problems of my colleagues and friends in the North were so serious and disastrous, and our position in London was so affluent that we had a policy to get the population in London down to X number of people. We were bursting at the seams, our new towns policy had to continue, so we sent industry away. Professor James, our chief planner, produced facts and figures to show that unless the policies were adopted, disaster would follow for London. We pursued the policy with great vigour. It was a wrong policy. I think that this is a lesson for all of us. We should not follow what the planners say. We should rely on our own judgment.

That policy has been going on, and the trouble is that it has gone so far. I am now back on a party political line. Let us consider the size of the Department of the Environment. The Conservative Party created that Department. Have we ever in our lives seen such a monstrosity as the Department of the Environment? Does anybody know what it is doing? Who is the Minister for Transport? Is it the Secretary of State for the Environment? Who is the Minister responsible for housing? I understand that he is a Minister of State. The Conservative Government believed, foolishly—I do not know whether the Opposition still believe it—that if we made things big they would be more efficient. That was what they did with the Department of the Environment. They made it so big and bloated that I cannot believe that anyone knows what is going on in it. It is an incredible Department when it comes to getting things done speedily and quickly.

The Opposition are in no position to say to us, "Look at all the terrible mistakes you have made".

Mr. Ronald Brown

Does my right hon. Friend recall that from 1967 to 1973 Sir Desmond Plummer did his best to make sure that we lost industry from London?

Mr. Tebbit

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is being less partisan than he thinks. Perhaps his views would find much agreement on the Back Benches on both sides of the House, but there might be considerable disagreement with them on the Front Benches on both sides of the House, and that has been the situation for a good many years.

Mr. Mellish

All right. But it comes ill from the hon. Member for Ravensbourne to try to put all the blame on the Labour Government. It would not be a bad idea to recognise the mistakes made by the Conservative Government.

Which was the party that brought in the great reform of local government in London? It was the Conservative Party. I used to pick up the telephone and say "Do you know that Ilderton Road is in a deplorable state? I want it swept." Half-an-hour later the staff of the borough engineer would be down there and the road would be made clean. Now the authorities do not even know where it is. That is an example of the situation with the edifice that the Conservative Party erected. There is nothing in common between the far end of Dulwich and the downtown part of my constituency. The problems of the sort of people I represent and the problems of the people who live in Dulwich are quite different. The two places are almost like two different worlds.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Ilderton Road is, and always has been, on a borough boundary?

Mr. Mellish

As I was born in my constituency, I know that half of Ilderton Road is in my constituency. That is all I bother about. It starts where the first tree is planted.

One of the saddest features of this matter is that the Government have never become involved in London. That is the fault of all of us. We must become involved. The hon. Member for Ravensbourne made a fair point. The noise and bluster that we get from the Scots and: Welsh is out of all proportion to the size of those two countries. They have Secretaries of State and a period at Question Time specially for them. Who has ever thought of a special period at Question Time for London?

The sad part about the situation of the homeless in London is that, by and large, the problem is concentrated on two or three boroughs. Camden is one of the boroughs in the worst situation because it has a railway terminus. People get off the trains at King's Cross and Euston and go no further. For many of them it is probably the first time they have been to London. The problem of the homeless is to be found in such boroughs as Camden, Tower Hamlets, Shoreditch, Wandsworth and my own borough of Southwark.

Another problem in London which disturbs a number of people concerns the youngsters. It is estimated that tonight 4,000 youngsters, many of them in great moral danger, will be attracted to London by the bright lights. They will get to the railway termini and that will be the end of the road for them. Where will they go? What is there for them? Who will tell them anything about anything? Who will help them? No one.

Governments are only too pleased to use local democracy as an excuse to do nothing. Half the trouble with local democracy is that it has enough problems without sharing other local government problems.

I do not expect my hon. Friend the Minister to give me a snap answer today, but the Government should be involved in these matters. Why should not the Government and the London Boroughs Association be involved in setting up units, north, south, east and west, in London to which the homeless and young people can go for advice and help? There should perhaps be a Government representative there and any expense should be shared equally among the boroughs. The Government must have some authority to ensure that these problems are shared.

To listen to the hon. Member for Ravensbourne, one would think that his constituency was teeming with homeless people, youngsters who were in great moral danger, methylated spirits drinkers, and drug addicts. In fact, the number of such people in his constituency is infinitesimal. As a fellow Londoner. I argue that the problems of the inner London boroughs should be shared by Ravensbourne and other boroughs.

Mr. Scott

I wish not to query the right hon. Gentleman's basic assumptions but merely to ask whether he thinks it right that the Government should establish such centres. Many youngsters, when they come to London, would be particularly wary about becoming involved with anything run by central Government or even by local government. There are a number of local agencies in London, such as the Cyrenians, catering for single homeless people who are being squeezed out by a lack of funds. Rather than establish quasi-Government residential reception centres for these people, to which they would not go anyway, would it not be better to support the voluntary organisations which are already active in the field?

Mr. Mellish

My experience is that children and homeless people who are in trouble will go anywhere for help. One could perhaps link the charities with the centres. I do not deny that dealing with the matter through the charities might be another way of assisting.

The Government must become involved in London's problems. Manchester and Birmingham do not have London's problems with the homeless and young people. With unique problems, the Government must show an interest and must not simply say "We shall set up a study group", whatever that might mean. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to tell us what he can do about getting the Government involved in these matters.

Turning to the question of housing—I was wrong in what I said about the question of party politics; one must keep coming back to it—I firmly and sincerely believe in a genuine property-owning democracy. If I had my way, I would turn the Labour Party's policy on its head and local authorities would be allowed to build council houses for sale to people on the waiting list on the basis of need. For example, in my constituency in Southwark houses would be built for sale to people in need on the waiting list, which numbers 9,000. I do not believe in selling council houses which are already built, particularly in inner London.

I run a surgery every Friday night. The housing problem presents great difficulty because of slum clearance and redevelopment getting the first choice so that hardly anything happens to the housing list. But we have had a great measure of success in regard to the vast number of flats occupied as a result of exchanges and transfers. To take that away from us to any large extent would be a disaster for boroughs such as my own.

On behalf of Inner London, I maintain that any suggestion of selling existing council property is not on. But, having said that, I maintain, as one who has lived in rented property, and in unsubsidised borough council property, before starting to buy my own home, that the vast majority of people want to buy their own homes. Anyone in the Labour Party who does not believe that is stupid. In the long term, it is very much better from the point of view of maintenance. There are no maintenance costs. If a window is knocked out in one's own home it is no good running to the borough council about it. This is something one has to do for oneself.

When these council houses are built for sale there should be 100 per cent. mortgages provided, probably linked with building society funds and Government funds. What we must do is to cut out the lawyers. I am sure there will be a cheer of approval for that.

Mr. Tebbit

Hear, hear.

Mr. Mellish

I am obliged. Whenever the hon. Member cheers there is almost unanimous approval from everybody. The same argument applies to the stamp duty and so on. There could be an enormous breakthrough on the housing front.

Let us consider places outside London, such as Dover, with 3,000 to 4,000 families on the waiting list. How many houses will they get with the subsidised cake? They will be told by the Department of the Environment that they can build about 50. How, in heaven's name, will they ever get rid of their waiting list, under any Government, in those circumstances?

I would say to councils such as Dover, "There will be no more subsidised housing. You will now build for sale. You will build as many houses as you can and sell them to those on your list." In a very short time, places such as Dover would get rid of their waiting lists completely.

Mr. Ronald Brown

Does not my right hon. Friend recognise that the main object of these outer areas is to make sure that people from inner London do not go there, and that the price barrier which would be established would make it impossible for people to buy houses there?

Mr. Mellish

I do not agree with my hon. Friend. If the Government were involved here, as I suggest they ought to be, they would have a great deal to do with determining what the prices should be. If any family on the waiting list in my constituency wanted to get to Dover, where houses were being sold to those in need, they would be entitled to a great deal of priority. The actual cost paid by each person per week or per month would be very little more, if at all, than is already paid in rent. I ask for this suggestion to be investigated and to be shown to be practical. People want to see housing treated as a dynamic topic in this country, but where is the dynamism in housing today, in either the Government or the Opposition?

The last time that housing was treated in a dynamic way was when Dick Crossman was alive. Old Dick was full of gimmicks but he was a great Minister. He really brought housing to life. Perhaps his biggest mistake was when he said "We will build 500,000 houses in a year." It was daft to mention a target of that sort, and it was not achieved, but I was proud that under Dick Crossman we built the largest number of homes ever built in the history of this country. The local authorities were really made to work. They can he made to do what they are told if there is a Department willing to kick them in the right place to make sure that they do it. It does not matter whether it is by a Tory or a Labour Government.

What are the Government's intentions about industry? The future of dockland comes into this. I recently went to a meeting on the subject. I will not disclose the full details but it became abundantly clear to me that the present dockland committee is not the sort of committee to attract industry into dockland. We can have all the plans we like. Anyone can produce plans. What counts is cash. That is what we want. Where does the money come from at the end of the day? The Government have to fund it. To what extent are the Government intending to become involved in dockland? What plans have they? Again, what overall plans have they concerning transport in the area?

The hon. Member for Ravensbourne was very unfair to us. One might have thought, according to his speech, that dockland went down under our Administration. With respect, it was under the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) that the process started. I remember writing to the Prime Minister of the day, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), pleading for something to be done urgently about dockland. I had a splendid letter in reply. The Minister dealing with housing at that time immediately moved into action and set up an inquiry which lasted from 18 months to two years. Eventually a report was produced, which included a recommendation, among other things, for a safari park. What sort of rubbish is that?

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

May I remind my right hon. Friend that it was the Travers Morgan study, set up by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), which was the subject of our mutual dislike. Will my right hon. Friend agree that it would be easy for the Government to take action in dockland without spending more money, It could divert the expansion envisaged for Kent and South Essex, and reduce the expansion envisaged at Peterborough and Milton Keynes, thereby enabling development to be brought back to London. This could be done on the existing budget.

Mr. Mellish

My hon. Friend makes everything too easy. If we are to get dockland off the ground, there has first to be a lot of confidence in areas in which it no longer exists. We have first to get the rest of the South-East to forgo much of its planned capital investment. We have to convince people in the South-East that if any money is diverted from them to dockland, there will be a future in dockland for them as well. It must not be seen as something just for Bermondsey, for Southwark or for inner London.

We have the chance now to do something. If we miss the chance now we shall never have it again. Once this land is built upon, it will not be available again for the next 150 years. Are we prepared to let it go? Can we not generate some energy and get really excited about it? I hope that we are not to have another study group—an excuse for doing nothing.

Of course, I recognise that the economics are terribly difficult today, but I want to get through to my hon. Friend the Minister that no one is asking for untold millions to be spent this year. We are simply asking for a start. We are asking for houses to be built. We are asking for some industry. No one expects the whole thing to be done overnight, but for goodness' sake let something happen, so that the ordinary people of London can see that it is happening.

Only this silly old Britain would have allowed dockland to go the way it has. Which nation would have allowed our wonderful River Thames, the greatest highway in the world, to remain empty, day after day after day, when every one of our bridges is packed with traffic?

We are democracy mad. Nothing can ever be done here without consultation. Consultation is the curse of almost everything we have tried to do in this country. I was involved in a consultation last week about dockland. Only seven people turned up, but we have consulted. I dare say I know all the seven people who were there.

When my hon. Friend replies, I ask him please to be positive. I do not expect anything to be done overnight, but please let us have some hope for the future.

5.19 p.m.

Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton)

I am sure that many London Members will appreciate the sense of frustration that characterised the speech of the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). I wanted to stop the Travers Morgan study when I was on the Greater London Council. Had the right hon. Gentleman's political colleagues voted with me, we could have stopped it and saved Londoners a lot of money, but they did not support me. I only wish that more of the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends had been here to listen to his earthy common sense on the question of housing finance and the wishes of the ordinary people in London.

We are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) both for his choice of subject and for the knowledgeable and moderate way in which he introduced it.

The problem in London is basically the same as that in other inner cities. It is that of the flight of industry and of middle income people, with the resultant loss of the tax base and of funds with which to modernise London's infra-structure and in turn the falling quality of public services in education, transport and housing.

I want to mention two or three specific difficulties. The first is blight. This is a difficulty that we can avoid. The problem of planning blight in London has got worse because the resources are no longer available to implement some of the more ambitious schemes that the local authorities have produced. It seems right that local authorities should review their development plans and that, where it is clear that resources are no longer available, they should drop their plans and let owner-occupiers and others get on with rehabilitating areas which can no longer be comprehensively developed.

In my constituency, we have a large self-inflicted wound in the middle of Ealing which has been blighted by planning blight for more than 10 years, where there is no prospect of the local authority scheme going ahead but where no one else can intervene because the dead hand of planning blight lies on the area. Throughout London we see these derelict sites which are an affront to common sense because the local authorities have been unable to decide what shall be done to them.

One problem that we have not resolved is London's planning machinery and the inter-relationship between the boroughs, the GLC and the Department. It is all too slow. The chances of all three bodies finding the right sort of money at the right time are infinitesimal. As a result, nothing happens. We need to look again at the planning machinery in London.

The second problem that I mention is the plight of industry. London has been bled white to provide blood transfusions for other parts of the country, and this process has to stop. I hope that the Minister will say roughly when he sees the Government arresting this process and reversing it. I am sure that he will accept that it cannot go on indefinitely.

The problem is a simple one. Successful firms in my constituency who wish to expand find that they cannot expand where they are because they cannot get the IDCs. So they leave London entirely. Other firms wishing to set up and exploit new technology do not come to London for the same reason. As a result, we have an imbalance. The successful firms wishing to expand get up and go. Firms employing new technology cannot start. So there is a danger of London being left with those firms which cannot or do not want to expand and firms not employing new technology. We have to reverse this process at some point. I see the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) nodding his agreement. I am sure that he will confirm that in West London we have lost far too many jobs in the last decade. Unemployment in West London is rising and morale amongst employees is at an all-time low as they wonder whether their firms will be the next to go.

Thirdly, on housing, it is nonsense that the GLC should own accommodation which is empty in new and expanding towns to which Londoners cannot move because they cannot find employment there. It is an affront to Londoners living in bad housing conditions that expensive and desirable property owned by the GLC and paid for by Londoners should not be made available to them. Now that there is a cut back on building funds for housing associations and local authorities in London, it is clear that we must use all the existing houses that we have outside London if we are to make renewed progress on the waiting lists.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

I am interested in what my hon. Friend is saying, but I wonder about the direction in which he takes it further. It seems to me that he is saying that we have to encourage the expansion of firms in new towns which take London's overspill in order that Londoners may move there and occupy the new houses, which is rather contradictory to current thinking, which seems to be that we must have the removal of IDCs from the London area so that more jobs can be taken up by local people. I wonder what is my hon. Friend's thinking on that?

Sir G. Young

I take my hon. Friend's point. My conclusion would be to allow people to retain their jobs in London and to move out to the accommodation in Basingstoke and Bracknell. At the moment people are not allowed to do that. They can accept accommodation in new towns only if they renounce their employment in London and find jobs in the destination new towns. If they are prepared to commute for the time being, they should be allowed to have the new accommodation and in that way there would not be any incentive for Londoners to provide more jobs in the areas where the towns are.

If the price of putting more money into more accommodation is that local authority rents should go up, which I believe they should, I am prepared to see some withdrawal of the tax concessions to owner-occupiers. This is quite logical. If we are to get agreement that more resources should go into housing, it seems sensible that everyone should contribute regardless of his accommodation. As a country, we spend far too little on housing, and I see an argument for increasing what owner-occupiers pay as well as for increasing what council tenants pay.

A growing problem in all our constituencies is that of council accommodation built relatively recently which is inadequately maintained. I have in mind tower blocks especially. For reasons of bad management and inadequate facilities, more and more people wish to leave them. We are building up enormous problems on these large tower block estates if we continue to cut back on management and maintenance.

Finally, on transport, I cannot allow this occasion to pass without putting in a plea for those of us who bicycle round London. I see that the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) is nodding his agreement. More and more Londoners are taking to two wheels to get to work and to school. The bicycle sheds in primary and secondary schools are nearly all over-flowing. It is time that the Government, the GLC and the local authorities responded to the increasing numbers of people who have already taken to two wheels and the increasing number who would like to if only conditions were made attractive. A cyclist does the equivalent of 1,600 miles to the gallon, which is an efficient conversion of energy into movement. I am concerned that the response from authorities to this new and revised form of transport is unsympathetic.

I see the answer as putting more resources into London's problems, with higher rents, coupled with reduced concessions to owner-occupiers. We can lift planning blight at no cost and increase rateable value by allowing new houses to be built and allowing shops and new industry to move into the areas. I am convinced that the dynamism is within London to solve the problems if only the Government, the GLC and the boroughs will allow us to get on with the job.

5.27 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) on his choice of subject, and I endorse without reservation his complaint that we in London never seem to get any time for debates unless we are very lucky in a Ballot or we contrive a debate by misusing a GLC General Powers Bill or Money Bill for the purpose. It is about time that Governments of both persuasions understood that London has a standing which should be debated regularly in this House and that London Members should have access to Ministers in the way that Scottish and Welsh Members do for matters affecting their areas.

The hon. Member for Ravensbourne was kind enough to give me notice of his intention to mention the speech that I made in 1973. I have had a brief opportunity to re-read it. I stand by every word that I said. I withdraw nothing of what I said then. I put the blame where it fairly belonged and. having read the speech again, I realise that my own right hon. and hon. Friends have not done as well as I hoped. The end of term report that I give them is about Beta-plus. They could have done much more.

However, the House does itself a disservice when it does not underline what has been done. One factor which has come out today is London's industrial unemployment situation. My right hon. and hon. Friends have moved the limit on industrial development again, but not a word has been said about it. From 1st May they have allowed industry in Greater London to expand to 12,500 sq. ft. without the need of an IDC. I do not suggest that that is enough. I want much more. But it is more than 5,000 sq. ft. We have moved progressively to 10,000 sq. ft. and now to 12,500 sq. ft., and the Government are now waiting to see the validity of our argument that holding down expansion to 5,000 sq. ft. was the reason for so many firms moving out of London. I hope that we shall all make sure that firms in our constituencies understand that they can now expand to 12,500 sq. ft. without the need for an IDC.

It has been suggested that I might like to go back to those happy days under the Tory Government and the Tory GLC. Having re-read my speech, and considered what the situation was then, the answer is "No, I would not like to go back to those days under the Tory Government and the Tory GLC".

What irritates me most is the fact that no one seems to learn from mistakes. We go on remaking them as each new Government take office. One accepts that mistakes are made, but what is unforgivable is for Government to continue to go on making the same mistakes. It is worth while getting on record the sort of figures that we are talking about as far as industry in London is concerned. I regret that some of our hon. Friends from the Provinces, on both sides of the House, seem to consider that London is very well off and that we are cheating if we ask that special facilities be given to us.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

My hon. Friend suggested that we in London want special facilities. We do not want special facilities. We just want the same facilities as exist in other parts of the country.

Mr. Brown

Precisely. Although our provincial colleagues consider that we want special facilities, I agree with my hon. Friend, the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry), that we are not asking for special facilities.

I would quote some figures which may be valuable. In 1961 the number of people employed in manufacturing industries in London was about 1,430,000. By 1974, that figure had fallen by 490,000 people—a decline of some 34 per cent. in the number of industrial jobs available. It may be argued that this decline was due to various factors but, when one examines what the figure was outside London, one finds that the decline in industrial jobs was only 5 per cent. There can be no justification for arguing that London can withstand a decline of 34 per cent. in its industry when the average for the rest of the country was only 5 per cent. That is something which should be looked at seriously. It is something which our colleagues in the Provinces have to understand.

I would submit that the figures which are constantly given for unemployment in London are not true. They are created to cover Greater London and the South-East. It is the inclusion of the South-East which creates the problem because when people become unemployed, they become unemployed where they are living. That fact does not appear in the London statistics where people commute from places in the South-East and beyond. Consequently we never get a true figure.

I would pay tribute to the Minister. I understand that the Department of the Environment and the Department of Employment, are involved in discussing the arguments, which some hon. Members and myself have put, to ascertain whether it would be possible to get a more meaningful statistic which would show what the problem is in the Inner London area rather than giving an overall figure which is so often quoted by our colleagues in the provinces who argue that our difficulties in London are minimal when compared with the difficulties in other parts of the country.

We also have to ensure that publicity for industry in London can still be carried out. I would remind the House that the GLC, for example, is prevented from advertising under Section 73 of the London Government Act 1963 and Section 144 of the Local Government Act 1972—both pieces of legislation passed by Conservative Governments. They make it impossible for publicity to be given for attracting industry into London. Somehow we have got to make sure that this embargo is withdrawn so that the GLC, and the borough councils, will be able to advertise outside London to encourage industry where it is of a suitable type to come to London. Unless we can do that other areas will continue to come into London and run vast publicity campaigns to withdraw industry from London. It is a bit of a nonsense for us to stand here and bemoan our problems without dealing with the very reason why we cannot publicise what we have to offer in London. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some assurance that he and his right hon. Friends will examine the possibility of changing the law to allow the GLC and the London boroughs to advertise outside London for industry to come into London.

Another thing which appeals to me is the possibility of London representation on the National Enterprise Board. If we are to have the NEB running its affairs for the whole country, it seems to me that the large conurbations of London ought to be represented on it in order to make London views known. The Industry Act 1972, and the Industry (Amendment) Bill currently being considered by this House, ought to be amended to provide assistance for those areas in London which are badly affected by the heavy and rapid decline in manufacturing employment.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that he would contemplate putting down an admendment to the Bill in relation to this particular item?

Mr. Ronald Brown

This is an important issue for London but I do not think we want to involve ourselves in party points. I am asking the Minister to listen to our debate, to consider the points raised and, as a result, I shall look closely to see what he does. If it is possible for us to discuss putting down an amendment to the Bill I would do just that, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to remember that while hon. Members in London are the largest group in this House we still do not outvote the rest of our colleagues. We must make out our case tonight so that our colleagues will understand our problems, otherwise the Government will undoubtedly argue. as previous Govern- ments have said, that if they give a special facility to London then every other region in the country will want a similar facility. I would suggest that we press the Minister to consider this point and let us see how he goes on from there.

I agree that from time to time the easiest way for Governments to get out of taking decisions is to set up inquiries. The hon. Member for Ravensbourne suggested that someone ought to be responsible for London so that we can have an overall picture of what exactly is happening. That can either be done by setting up a Royal Commission to examine our case, which means a delay of two years, or perhaps we can persuade the Government to appoint a Minister responsible for London. The Minister will be in a position of saying to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) in no uncertain terms that in the Department of the Environment every major office is held by a London Member. That has not helped us yet. However, if we can get a promise that in the future this will have its rewards I shall be happy. At the moment those hon. Members tend to give the impression that they are leaning over backwards to ensure that they are not seen to be treating London as a special case.

Another problem raised by the hon. Member for Ravensbourne is that furnished accommodation is drying up. In my own constituency one of the biggest factors for homelessness was furnished accommodation. People were being turned out of furnished accommodation with monotonous regularity. The hon. Member for Ravensbourne may not have had the problem in his area, but in my constituency hundreds of families were put into bed and breakfast establishments after being thrown out of furnished accommodation. Consequently, the Government's action on furnished property was a great help in my constituency.

The hon. Member for Ravensbourne does not understand the enormous problems in Southwark, Wandsworth, Hackney, Islington and other inner London areas. I do not wish to be unkind to him. I know that his area has its own problems, but Bromley was a classic example of a London borough being unwilling to co-operate with the other boroughs in providing help to areas of stress.

Many of us have good will towards Bromley. When I served on the London Boroughs' Association, we tried to help Bromley over its gipsy problem, but that council was intransigent in its refusal to help with the problems of the inner London boroughs.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey suggested that councils should be required to build houses for sale. The hon. Member for Ravensbourne could have told him that the price of property in Bromley makes it impossible for anyone in my constituency to buy a house there. The same applies to Kingston and to many other outer London boroughs, none of which has made any contribution to solving the capital's housing difficulties. The Government must take action, otherwise the housing position will be as serious in the future as it was some years ago.

Mr. John Hunt

The hon. Gentleman is being rather unreasonable to Bromley Council, which now has an agreement with the GLC to accept a number of nominated tenants. However, in the council's experience some tenants to whom it has been suggested that they might move out of inner London have said that they do not wish to break their links with those areas to come into the old Kentish areas such as Bromley. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that far greater priority should be given to the redevelopment of inner London, especially the dockland area, which has already been mentioned in the debate?

Mr. Brown

The dockland area has been a difficult problem. There are a number of local authorities involved. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey has never served in local government; he has always been in the Ministries. Some of us understand the need for autonomy in local government. I am not against bringing in the Government, but local government must be responsible and the five boroughs involved must act. Bromley has been one of the most difficult London boroughs. If it has changed, we are always grateful for the sinner that repenteth, but it should have repented a long time ago.

We are dealing with a serious problem. Employment, the quality of life and all the things we hold dear in London are at stake. When the Conservatives were in power, I complained bitterly that they did not give us positive answers. I trust that the Minister will offer us some help tonight.

My hon. Friend has the good will of all hon. Members from London in his efforts to grapple with these vast problems. We need his help to ensure positive action for this great metropolis so that the first-class people who live here can have a first-class society in which to live in happiness and dignity, so that they can believe it is still worthwhile to be a Londoner.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

I followed with interest the remarks of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). The fact that he said that this was one of the few public occasions in the last two and a half years in which he could complain to his own Government for not doing some of the things the last Conservative Government did not do indicates the Government's inactivity as seen by their own Back Benchers and the few opportunities hon. Members have to discuss London problems in the House.

The Ferrier Estate in my constituency sums up, in a small area, many of the problems facing London as a whole. There are 8,000 people on the estate which has a very high turnover because many people are unhappy about housing. They want to buy their own homes and, as this is not possible for London council tenants, they have to move, which does not do much for securing a good sense of community.

The people on the estate are concerned about education and the changes that have occurred over the last 20 years. I do not want this to be seen as a condemnation of all changes or of those schools which have made minor changes but retained the sense of education as serving children and teaching them to read, write and be civilised better than they could be taught if they stayed at home with their parents. On the Ferrier Estate, as in many other areas of London—including council estates and owner-occupied areas—parents want their children to get the best education and they are concerned about some of the things which are happening at present.

How is it that we can build homes in London for 8,000 people—which would be a small town in many parts of the country—and find that there is no sub-post office, no police station, no youth facilities of any size, no opportunity for anyone to set up a small factory to employ, say, 10 people and nothing for people to do except to live there?

Large numbers of old people and young families with children, from the top of the waiting list, are thrown together with no facilities and we wonder at the enormous cost of vandalism and the enormous need for social services to prop up what could be a community that stands on its own feet.

If we realised that people can look after themselves better if they are given the opportunity and that society, the community and the local authorities need prop up fewer and fewer people, we could provide opportunities for those who can to cope with their own future.

The Rochester Way in my constituency sums up many of the bad aspects of London transport. The Minister will not need reminding, as the A2 runs through both our constituencies, that 10 or 15 years ago the GLC and the Government started to build a road from the Black-wall Tunnel to "The Dover Patrol" and from Falconwood into Kent, leaving a three-mile stretch across Eltham.

The A2, the main road to Europe, has been carrying an increasing amount of traffic and is only 24 feet wide in some places in Eltham. Originally named Deansfield Street, it was renamed Rochester Way, as if that would make it any wider, and the GLC said that it would build a relief road. It bought up nearly all the houses on the proposed route for the relief road and for the past 10 years they have been sitting idle. Some are occupied, all are falling apart. At the same time, all the homes on the existing route are falling apart. By its inactivity, the GLC is destroying twice as many homes.

Why is it that over the past 10 years the GLC and the Government have not decided to build the road? I argue that it is a lack of political will. Every time that consideration has been given to building the road someone must have said "We cannot do that. West Woolwich is a marginal constituency. It might mean that 500 people will change their vote. We shall make sure that an extra 40 or 50 people are killed on the road and that art extra 40 or 50 homes start falling apart." If that has been the excuse for inaction, it is a disgrace for London. Let us remember that London is one of the finest capitals in the world. I say that as someone who has lived in London nearly all his life.

I take up my next point as a previous resident of Battersea, a present resident of Lambeth and the representative of part of the Greenwich borough. I think I can claim to speak for a good proportion of South London.

Most of the people in South London can make as good a contribution as those in other areas, but in general those who have the opportunity of moving out of inner London take the opportunity to do so. They leave behind those who cannot move out. This happens in part because of large-scale redevelopment schemes, and in part because people do not like to remain in London because of the education that is available, for example, or because they want to go to an area where their children can grow up and get a home of their own. It has to be accepted that it is not possible to get a new home in London unless one has a wife and three children or £3,000. I suppose that it is possible to get £3.000 by following page 15 of Labour Weekly, which sets out how to win half a million pounds on the football pools. However, for most of us that is not very appropriate.

In the areas in which I have lived school teachers do not want to live where they work. In the main, they do not want to wait on the council list for 15 years before they get a home. They mostly move out of the area. Social workers do not live in the areas in which they work in inner London. They move out. Many politicians do not live in the areas that they represent. They move out, or move to an area closer to where they work. I do not blame anyone for doing that. Policemen and many others have gone. The local vicars in inner London provide the only reference point. In inner London, and in many parts of the other boroughs, those who are deeply committed to their area have chosen to move out. It is time that we started examining our policies. The school teacher moves out because he does not want his children to go to an inner London school. Many school teachers do not like the way in which secondary schools have developed in emphasis. This is not a blanket condemnation of comprehensive schools. The fact is that in many parts of London many school teachers take the view "I shall do my best to make the system work, but it is not for me".

The same applies for the architects and planners who were involved in the Ferrier Estate, for example. They are not saying "May I put my name at the top of the GLC list? I should like to live on the eighth floor of the Kidbrooke block."

We should be giving consideration to what people can do for themselves and what they should be encouraged to do. That would mean that the GLC and the Government would be able to do better that which others cannot do for themselves. Let none of us at County Hall or Westminster seek to provide housing, education or jobs that we would not accept for ourselves. The people on whose behalf we are in this place are not a lower species than ourselves—they are just the same as us. The schools and the housing that is good enough for our own families represent the standards that all the people need.

5.54 p.m.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

I am sure that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) will forgive me if I do not take up his line of thought. Frankly, I agree with most of what he said. We want to know what is going on in the large London estates, some of which have no facilities of any sort. That is a situation that leads to the deterioration of local community relations. Several of the problems that the hon. Gentleman mentioned should be taken up. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will try to do what he can.

I thank the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) for introducing this subject this afternoon. London Members have had to be content with two and a half hours of debate every two years, but the majority of London Members are agreed that London is badly treated when it comes to apportioning parlia- mentary time. I go as far as to say that two and a half hours in two years is not good enough. It is nowhere good enough that Members who represent the capital city of this once great Empire and Commonwealth should be given that amount of time to discuss the problems of London. I hope that my hon. Friend, being a London Member and living in London, will recognise that we believe that drastic changes should be made and that London should get a fair crack of the whip. We do not want special facilities, merely a fair crack of the whip. I might say that we in London think we are very important.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ravensbourne on winning a place in the Ballot. I am only sorry that we have to rely upon a Private Member's motion to discuss such an important matter. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman when he says that things will be different in London if we accept his motion. If he sincerely believes that a return to power of the Tories on the GLC, or even to Government in this place, will make the slightest difference to London, he wants to think about it again. I recall two motions that I put down shortly before the GLC elections in 1972 or 1973. They were almost word for word the same as the motion now before us, except that I used "Conservative" and not "Labour".

London Members are naturally interested in London's problems. My hon. Friend will recognise that Londoners feel keenly the capital's problems. I do not suggest that Labour London Members can cure its problems, any more than Conservative Members will say that they have a solution to the problems. A good idea that has been mooted on many occasions is that London should be represented by a Minister. We have a Secretary of State for Scotland and a Secretary of State for Wales, but London does not have even a junior Minister. Surely a case can be made out for London being represented by a Minister. There should be a separate Minister for London.

I hope that my hon. Friend will convey to his right hon. Friends the sentiments and views, that are sometimes extreme, of London Members on both sides of the House. They feel that it is about time that a Government, whether Conservative or Labour, introduced some ministerial representation for the Greater London authority.

Mr. Douglas Crawford (Perth and East Perthshire)

I hesitate to intervene in the affairs of another country, but surely Scotland and Wales are countries whereas London, with all respect, is not. It is the capital of a great country, but it is not a country.

Mr. Perry

But we have more than our fair share of Scotsmen in London and more than our fair share of Welshmen. Indeed, we have more than our fair share of all the other immigrants from all over the world. The hon. Gentleman speaks of Scotland as a nation, but London is much superior in that it represents the whole of the country. There are people from throughout the country in London as well as from throughout the Commonwealth.

The problem facing London has not suddenly arisen. I suppose there has been a general deterioration since about 1950. I do not use that date because the Tories came into power in 1951, but because in my view there has been a general deterioration in London during that time. Do not let us disguise the fact that immigration has played a part in the problems of London. Many people have moved out of London but many others have moved in. We have had Chinese, Pakistanis, Indians, Africans, West Indians, Mauritians and Guyanans. They all seem to have moved in to Wandsworth. However, I am sure that the problem of immigration is tied up with the other problems of London.

The hon. Member for Ravensbourne mentioned IDCs. I have known, particularly in the last 25 years, large firms, good prosperous businesses with hundreds and thousands of employees, move out of Wandsworth and Battersea to other parts of the country, to Scotland and Wales, and even to Essex, having obtained Government grants to enable them to move, and then the land which they have left in London has been used for some other kind of development which has not provided the sort of employment necessary in London. I can mention half a dozen large firms which have left Battersea and Wandsworth in the last few years, and the sites which they occupied are still lying derelict.

In passing, I would not suggest that that the new Covent Garden market is a white elephant, but I do say that it is big enough to accommodate all the markets in London. Anyone going along Nine Elms Lane will find acre after acre of derelict land which was once occupied by factories which have now been moved to other parts of the country. This has resulted in lost employment, wages and salaries, and to some extent homes in other parts of the country to which the people have moved.

Mr. Ronald Brown

May I remind my hon. Friend that that is only part of the story? It is true that firms, particularly those in the furniture industry, have left London for other places. Unfortunately, they have then gone into liquidation and the employees have migrated back to London where they are unemployed, thus causing even further problems for the housing lists.

Mr. Perry

That is true.

I was glad to learn that the Greater London Council only last week decided to hand over to the tenants blocks of flats built during the war by St. Catherine's Dock. The flats are being handed over lock, stock and barrel. The tenants will be responsible for the management and they will be in a position to decide which tenants to install when there are vacancies. The GLC will have nothing to do with it except that it will be responsible for banking the rents, and improvements and things of that nature will come out of the rents. This idea should be followed in many other parts of London. One of the solutions to our housing problem is some sort of co-operative effort so that people living in blocks of flats should have a pecuniary interest in the block in which they live.

I now wish to refer to a matter which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young). I do not complain at his having left the Chamber because I know that he has other important business. I disagree with him completely on one of his points in connection with housing in London. He said that tax reliefs received by owner-occupiers should either be reduced or abolished. I am totally opposed to that idea because if tax concessions were taken away from owner-occupiers we would restrict the number of people who could become owner-occupiers. It is through the tax concession that many people of modest and ordinary means, such as Members of Parliament, are able to obtain their own house. The hon. Member should look into this matter a little more carefully before advocating such a scheme. Many owner-occupiers at present are in extreme difficulties in trying to meet their interest and mortgage repayments, and to remove these concessions would place a very heavy burden on them. I hope that hon. Members opposite will take up this matter and get the hon. Gentleman's lines a little straighter.

One of our problems in London is that while it is a tourists' delight, it is a Londoner's lament. There is nothing worse for Londoners than to go into the West End or the City to work and be confronted with hundreds and thousands of people from all over the world milling around London on holiday. Good luck to those people, but it makes life very difficult for Londoners.

Finally, I feel that we should do something about the amount of rubbish which is left all over London. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I had intended to dilate on that subject at some length, but it is apparent that I have the unanimous support of hon. Members in all quarters of the House.

I should like to express my thanks to the hon. Member for Ravensbourne for raising this subject of London and allowing us to debate it.

6.5 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)

I do not want to follow all the observations of the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry). I should, however, like to say that although I did not hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) on home ownership problems, I find myself a little more in agreement with the hon. Member for Battersea, South than with my hon. Friend. I also agree with the hon. Gentleman in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt), who has done a great service in giving us this opportunity, in a remarkably bipartisan approach, to debate the subject of London. We all agree that the situation in London, from the employment point of view and in many other respects, is entirely unsatisfactory and that we are not getting a fair deal.

I am delighted to see the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett), at the Dispatch Box, knowing that he is a London Member and that he took a great interest in this subject as a Back Bencher, and we are sure that we shall get a sympathetic reply from him. However, in view of the size and importance of London and the breadth of the subject that we are discussing, I should not have thought it unreasonable if the Secretary of State himself had had the decency to put in an appearance.

Having said that, I should add that I am somewhat doubtful about whether it would be worth while having a Ministry for London. London is probably over-governed already, and to add yet more bureaucrats would pile confusion upon agony. If one abolished the GLC—which idea I must say rather appeals to me—there might be a good case for having a Government Department for London, but I do not think that it is necessary to pile bureaucratic fears upon bureaucratic fears. The most reasonable arrangement might be for a high-level Minister to be designated and to have some responsibilities for dealing with problems in London, but I would not give him a huge bureaucratic Civil Service Department.

I should like to say a brief word or two on employment, which has been the subject of some speeches today. I am—and I think the House is—deeply concerned about unemployment in London, which has changed very rapidly. My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne gave some figures. I do not want to sound partisan, but I should like to draw attention to the fact that during the last two years unemployment has increased in London and the South-East by 150 per cent.—the greatest increase anywhere in the country. When I raised this matter with the Chancellor, he said in his usual laughing manner "That proves that our regional policies are correct". I do not think that they are.

I support the desire of all Governments since the war to see that the less favourably placed areas of the country have a greater share of the economic resources available in order to make them viable, but I do not think that Londoners ought to be told that the long-term problems of places such as West Central Scotland, Tyneside and Merseyside are in any way comparable with the situation in London over the past decade. Therefore, I believe that regional policy should be used to right the situation in London.

There are two basic weapons of regional policy. First, there is straight cash—the money which goes to development areas, intermediate areas and special development areas. There is neither sense nor need to designate London as a development area or any other form of assisted area. That would be wholly unrealistic, and I do not believe that industry or the people of London expect it to be labelled as a depressed area and thus to receive taxpayers' money.

The second important weapon in regional policy is the industrial development certificate, and this is a valuable weapon since it costs the taxpayer nothing. In my view, it is the most valuable weapon one can have. When the Conservatives were in Government and I had some responsibility for these matters, there was a considerable build-up of employment in London and the South-East, and there was difficulty in other areas—in the North-East and the North-West, for example—and I thought it right that we should relax the IDC policy. We did that to a certain extent, but the policy changed when the present Government came to power.

The present Government, unwisely, in my view, immediately tightened up at the lower level of the IDC scheme. I regarded this as wrong, although I well understood the pressures upon them. I was subject to pressure myself. I see the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) in his place, and I recall that he tackled me on more than one occasion to ask why I was being rather relaxed or sloppy over industrial development certificates. But I discovered that even if one stopped a relatively small development in London or the South-East, it did not necessarily have the effect of making that development go to West Fife. That might apply in the case of large firms—perhaps they would go—but it does not apply to small firms. By and large, they do not develop at all.

There is, therefore, a case for relaxation of the IDC policy to some extent, and I support what the Government have done. Although I thought it foolish to tighten up as they did on coming into office, I think that they have been sensible in relaxing at the 12,500 sq. ft. level. Moreover, I believe that they will have to relax a lot more, because the situation in London is bleak, especially for small industries and businesses.

We want a broad spread of activity in London. The last thing we want is to find ourselves awash with car factories and assembly lines in labour-intensive industry. That is not London's character. We need a flexible opportunity for the skills of the people of London. I include here commercial activity as well. Perhaps both Governments have been over-harsh in the application of the office development permit scheme. I understand the irritation experienced when great office buildings appear in various places only to stand empty for a long time. Naturally, this annoys people on the housing list. Nevertheless, London will be a commercial as well as an industrial centre. It will attract head offices of companies which want to be in the right location, near to the Government and near to the Continent.

There must, therefore, be a relaxed attitude in the Government on the question of office development. If this has the result that the occasional office building is not at once occupied, that is a risk worth taking in order to keep employment. For example, very many office workers live in Harrow, yet they have to go a long way each day to work, struggling on London Transport in the unsatisfactory circumstances which commuters have to endure, and I am sure that they could do with more office space in Harrow. The Minister is well aware of that, I know.

London does not want subsidies. London should not be given any more taxpayers' money for these purposes. It is not a development area. It is not a depressed area. Let us give London the right conditions so that firms both large and small—especially small, and in the service sector, too, just as much as in manufacturing—have the opportunity to develop and grow.

Mr. Ronald Brown

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that there is a vast amount of empty office space in London already, and one can find 50,000 sq. ft. any time one wants it?

Mr. Grant

In fact, there is not a vast amount of office space in Harrow. My constituents have to move out of the borough to work more than the constituents of any other London borough have to do. I am sure that I am right in my figures, and I should like my constituents to be able as far as possible to stay within the borough boundaries and do the commercial jobs they want to do. All we want is flexibility in this respect. London must be a commercial and administrative centre as well as an industrial centre.

There has been some criticism of tourism, and I understand the irritation which people feel at the burden which tourism puts upon the metropolis. In my view, however, tourism is enormously important. It provides a vast amount of foreign exchange, it brings enormous invisible earnings, and it is a great help also in international relations if people come here—even young people—to see Britain and come to understand us. London is the magnet. I agree that we must try to get people out of London into other parts so that our capital city is not, as it were, cluttered up, but London will remain the magnet, and if we are inhospitable and tourists feel that they are harassed, the result will be damage to the country as a whole.

My final question is about rates, and I hope to hear a straight answer from the Minister. Last year the then Secretary of State for the Environment rightly told the local authorities "The party is now over". Any sensible person will agree with that, since local government spending had been quite astronomical.

As a result of the instructions given, my local authority—I know that others did the same—behaved wholly responsibly, cutting back on its spending and restricting growth in compliance with all the requirements laid down by the Secretary of State and the Government. Local government expenditure was, indeed, curbed. However, we know that those words fell on deaf ears in some local authorities, and spending has continued to rise disgracefully.

I am disturbed now to have my attention drawn to Circular 45 of 1976, which, if I have understood it correctly, says, in effect, that the Secretary of State, alarmed at the excessive expenditure of local authorities, proposes to haul back the excesses from everybody in his next rate support grant—that is, from all local authorities regardless of whether they have been responsible and have pruned back, as Harrow did. It seems that the ratepayers of Harrow will have to pay for the excesses of other local authorities. This is grossly unfair, and I hope that the Minister will comment on it, or at least draw to the attention of the Secretary of State the strong feelings of Harrow on the subject.

Why should the Harrow ratepayer who has been responsible and curbed expenditure have to pay for £100,000 council houses in Camden? Why, indeed, should Chelsea Football Club be subsidised? Why, in heaven's name, should £10,000 be found for the General Strike exhibition? Why should the Pinner golf course in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) be subsidised? Does the Greater London Council think that it can run a golf course? It is all ludicrous, and I want the Minister to look at it again.

Unless the whiff of decay in London is to become a stench, we must have a far more flexible policy towards industry and commerce than we have had in the past under either Government. The situation now is far worse than it was when we were in office, and we must have financial responsibility among all local authorities in the way they approach their affairs.

6.19 p.m.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

The hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) said in his closing words that the situation in London now is much worse than it was when the Conservatives were in office. It is worse because they would not listen to us when we urged them to do so much that was necessary when they were in office a couple of years and more ago.

I join other hon. Members in thanking the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) for introducing this debate. I agree with his motion so far as it draws attention to the problems of Greater London, although after that there is a lot of biased and unwarranted political verbiage. Nevertheless, I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving us this opportunity, having on so many occasions urged the Leader of the House to provide more time—as much time as the Scots, the Welsh and other regional communities have—to discuss London's problems. All we have had, however, is this short debate today, when we have had to truncate our speeches and keep within four or five minutes. In these circumstances, I hope that hon. Members on both sides will support me if I am ever palmed off again with the suggestion that we are lucky to have a debate such as this only through the good grace of the hon. Member for Ravensbourne.

Some hon. Members agree that the Greater London area and the London boroughs are too large a concept and are too distant from ordinary people. Since that was a Tory creation, it was primarily politically motivated and not in the interests of humane government. We are now paying a heavy price for the removal of local government from ordinary people.

Because we become angry and annoyed about these matters, we are sometimes too inclined to say, as the motion says, that the capital city of Great Britain is in decline. But those who take that view should go overseas and examine what is happening in other parts of the world. Government in Greater London has been subjected to a massive degree of change. The creation of large London boroughs and an amorphous GLC area obviously did not work out as the theorists suggested. The idea originally was that there would be more cohesion, more money and that therefore much more could be accomplished, but that idea has not worked out.

However, this does not mean that all has been disaster. I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) that not all the people who come to the Greater London area and central London are merely tourists coming here to enjoy themselves. He must remember that goods, food and many other items are very much cheaper in the United Kingdom than in the countries from which many visitors come. It is in one way unfortunate that the largest shopping area in the United Kingdom is in London and that because people come to the capital city, that creates problems. At the same time all this activity helps to contribute to the economy of London.

Much has been said about London's housing problems and admittedly the situation is serious. However, the picture is not all that depressing. I remember when I was part of the local government set-up in the London borough of Fulham and the terrible effects of the Tory Rent Act of 1957. That legislation caused havoc and distress, and indeed more suicides flowed from the enactment of that piece of legislation than from any other Act of Parliament. It reduced many ordinary Londoners to the ignoble and degrading status of being refugees in their own land. Covetous and greedy landlords took advantage of that Act and turfed people out on to the streets. The State had to come in to rescue ordinary people who had been savagely treated by private enterprise.

Although there are housing problems in various parts of London, the record of the Labour-controlled areas in terms of slum clearance and many other activities is to the credit of those authorities. They have done an enormous amount to enhance the standard of life of ordinary people. Therefore, it is daft now to say that, because things are not going all that well, we should return to the form of administration that introduced the Rent Act 1957 with all its vicious, unseemly and foul connotations. That measure was backed by people who were not interested in clearing slums—namely, the Tory Party.

I turn to the important matter of the great anxiety about unemployment. I have sought to raise the topic of joblessness in the Greater London area in Adjournment debates and by parliamentary Questions. I should like to examine for a few moments the causes of unemployment. Let us examine the employment situation in my constituency. The policies of successive Governments have caused some industries to move out of the area and no other industries have returned to take their place. I believe that London Members on both sides of the House should join in pressing the present Government—or, in 20 or 30 years' time, possibly a Tory Government—to take steps to deal with this problem.

We are in danger of discovering that land that was once used by thriving industries has now been vacated by industry and is being used for warehousing. Instead of such sites giving employment to 800 or even 1,000 skilled artisans, the warehouses involve the employment of perhaps only half-a-dozen clerks and a few forklift truck drivers.

Another important factor to bear in mind is the downturn in the number of skilled apprenticeships. One of the proud boasts of the Greater London area has been the production of skilled apprentices.

Much has been done in terms of education and housing in the London borough of Ealing. I wish to issue a challenge: I defy anybody in this House or outside to compare the housing record of the London borough of Ealing with that of any administration in any other London borough. I issue that challenge because I do not think that we should make too much of the many agonised words of Conservative Members when dealing with these topics.

I wish to conclude by dealing with a subject that has irritated many people in Ealing. The Ealing, Hammersmith and Hounslow Area Health Authority—another Tory creation—proposes to close two hospitals in Ealing. I refer to the Northolt Community Health Clinic and the Islip-Manor Community Health Clinic. Both are busy and worthwhile clinics that serve two large housing estates. I cannot imagine anything more lunatic or ludicrous than that those clinics should be closed. I hope that the Minister will refer this matter to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services in the hope that he will introduce some sanity into the situation and will stop this appalling proposal.

I join with those hon. Members who believe that the GLC is probably doing its best to deal with these problems, as indeed other local authorities and certainly hon. Members are. However, I believe that these efforts require some form of co-ordination so that our efforts can produce fruitful results. I believe that a Minister with responsibilities for Greater London is required to help to assist in this co-ordination and that this will redound to the benefit of Greater London generally.

6.29 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

This has been an interesting debate, and I am so sorry that a larger number of hon. Members have not been able to participate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) on being able to give the House an opportunity to debate the subject of London.

It has been said by many people that London is not discussed often enough in this House. I am glad that hon. Members on both sides of the House put pressure on the former Leader of the House to discuss this subject on the Floor of the House rather than in some weird regional Committee upstairs. I hope that the present Leader of the House will not repeat that nonsensical suggestion.

The right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), who is the best Londoner on the Labour Benches, made some valuable points, particularly about the sale of council houses, and I look forward for the second time to seeing him quoted as having turned Labour policy upside down. I am sorry that when the right hon. Gentleman had responsibility in the Cabinet he was not able to persuade his colleagues to do anything for London, but what is clear from what has been said on both sides of the House about London as a whole is that there is a general desire for a review of the division of powers among the various authorities in London. I do not think that we can go on in the mould that was established in 1964–65.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) threw out a challenge about the record of his local authority in housing. I am not in a position to deny it, but I can ask him whether he is proud of the fact that one-third of the tenants of Ealing borough council are in arrears in their rent, to a total of £230,000. It may be that the administration of the housing department is not as good as the hon. Gentleman or I would like.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) talked about cycles. He was also quoted as talking about a reduction in tax relief for owner-occupiers. He did not say abolition, and I doubt whether he would find very much support from either side of the House even for a reduction.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) made the important point that one of the things we need to do is to improve the quality of life on housing estates so that we can bring down the amount of vandalism on them. It is poor quality maintenance and of the environment that feeds on itself and causes vandalism.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) was less than his usual self today. I think that the brief supplied by County Hall was well below par. It was a turgid, mucky brief, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was able to make much of it. He was a trifle unfair about outer London, because reports from the Department of the Environment—the mystery housing section—indicated that quite a few of the nominations made by outer London boroughs were not taken up by the GLC. It is therefore unfair, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne said, to try to put too much blame on local authorities such as Bromley and Barnet. Offers were made, but the record shows that they were not always taken up—[Interruption.] I shall refer the right hon. Gentleman to the actual document. I think that the Minister then was the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), but I shall talk to the right hon. Gentleman later.

Mr. Mellish

Speaking with a lot of experience of a once-a-week surgery, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I never heard of anybody in Bermondsey being offered anything in Bromley by Bromley.

Mr. Finsberg

The document was produced by a departmental working committee on which there were representatives of the GLC and London boroughs. It was clear that quite a few of the nominations made by some outer London boroughs were not taken up by inner London boroughs and the GLC. Those are the facts. Whether Bermondsey was in it I cannot tell. I did not have access to the confidential figures, but I saw the report.

The hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry), with his usual sound common sense, said it was time that we gave tenants in council flats—not just in houses—the chance of some sort of participation—perhaps on the Birmingham 50–50 basis, but flat dwellers ought not to be left out in the cold. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) spoke about jobs and IDC regulations and relaxations, and most of us remember the bitter battle when we last debated that subject. The then Minister of State at the Department of Industry, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) stonewalled as much as he could. He did not want to help London in this battle. However, we won, but only because he realised that he would be defeated by a combination of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Most of the debate has been fairly good-natured, bipartisan and quite impartial. One of my hon. Friends told me that I had better do what I usually do. I fear that I had better do a little stirring up because this is necessary or people will not realise what is going on in London.

Let me consider a couple of examples of waste in London. My own London borough of Camden is so bigoted that it will not sell any property it owns. It decided in April as a matter of principle not to accept a figure that was regarded as fair and reasonable by the district valuer for the freehold of a property in Hatton Garden that is leased until the year 2035 at a fixed rent of £550 per annum. There is no chance of a rent increase, but the council will not sell. This will mean a loss of nearly £3 million to the ratepayers of Camden on the invested sale price, but the council has a policy and is not prepared to budge from it. The poor ratepayers have to foot the bill for the principles of their Socialist masters, and I do not think that that is right.

I refer next to the London borough of Wandsworth, where the Government are to be defied by the council. In June the council ran an advertisement in a publication Social Work Today, headed One reason why we will not be making social service cuts this year. It said that, far from obeying the Government's request to reduce the number of social workers, it wanted to recruit even more, and on 1st July the personnel committee of the London borough of Wandsworth decided to upgrade 50 members of its staff even though the advice was that that would be in breach of the Government's pay policy. What do the Government propose to do about Wandsworth's defying them?

It is no good the Government saying, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central said, that they may claw back something from next year's rate support grant. All that means is that the poor, long-suffering ratepayer will have to foot the bill to pay for the consciences of Socialist councillors, and that is not good enough.

The GLC is as spendthrift as ever. In the past two years it has increased its rate demand by more than 235 per cent., whereas in the last two years of Tory rule at County Hall—years which my hon. Friend said ought to be recalled and would be welcomed by London—there was an increase, but of only 1½ per cent., and people would rather pay 1½ per cent. than 235 per cent.

What worries many people about the present GLC is that it is so large that it does not know even what properties it owns. I had a constituency case which concerned squatting. The GLC wrote to me and denied that it owned the property and said that it belonged to the London borough of Camden. After further probing, the GLC wrote to say that it was sorry but it had the wrong name and it was called something different. If it had a new name, that had been its name for more than 30 years and even the old LCC was wrong and the blame cannot be put on the new GLC. However, the GLC is not prepared to do anything about getting rid of the squatters and old people are living in fear of their lives because the GLC will not act.

As recently as the last GLC meeting on 29th June, the Chairman of the Housing Management Committee said: It is necessary in the context of limited resources to give priority to gaining possession of property due for immediate or early rehabilitation. If attention is diverted to New Court this can only be at the expense of part of the current rehabilitation programme. I do not consider this will be justified as New Court properties are not due for rehabilitation until next year and would be at risk of being squatted in again before then. The poor long-suffering non-squatters have to suffer because the GLC will not have even a short-term letting for that property. It is pretty grim that the GLC has to be told how to run its affairs.

We all remember that there was a promise of frozen or free fares for public transport. That was in the Labour Party's election manifesto. Those promises have all gone. Fares have risen by over 85 per cent. and the promises on fares, together with many other Socialist promises, have disappeared to the four corners of the earth.

An interesting statement was made in the Press last week. The GLC Transport Committee chairman was talking about the Speedbus. He said that a change in control at County Hall next year would not alter the decision on the Speedbus, as the officials had taken their decision. Let me make it clear that where councils are controlled by the Conservatives, it is the elected councillors who take decisions and not the paid staff, and the sooner Mr. Daly realises that the better. What will the Speedbus cost? I believe that it will cost £500,000, and it may save only two minutes on some bus journeys. Added to that it will cause undoubted chaos for a large number of Londoners.

Mr. Mellish

I wish the hon. Member would put the record straight. The GLC has implemented free journeys for old people. He should not distort the story too much.

Mr. Finsberg

Free fares for old people were instituted by many Conservative authorities long before the GLC brought them in, and the right hon. Member knows it. He should not try to put the record right with further incorrect statements.

The poor London ratepayers have to foot the bill for a General Strike exhibition at Covent Garden. When the GLC has to make cuts—when the Secretary of State orders further cuts in public expenditure—I hope that Londoners will remember that there would have been £10,000 more if the GLC had not wasted it on such a frippery as this commemoration exhibition.

One subject on which we are all united is that of employment. This is not a party political matter, as we are all agreed that London has been badly treated. This treatment goes back some 10 or 20 years under Governments of all colours. The time has come for the whole system of industrial development certificates, office development permits, and the Location of Offices Bureau to be re-examined.

It is no use the Government or the GLC saying that only 7 per cent. of IDCs have been refused. That is not the point—the very existence of the Regulations acts as a deterrent to many small firms particularly, and they will not apply for certificates because they do not want to be bothered with all the wretched form-filling. I hope that the Minister will give urgent consideration to the system of IDCs and ODPs and will make an examination and take swift action. We want action now to get more jobs into London.

There will have to be major cuts in local government expenditure. Many Conservative-controlled councils, like Harrow, made a start last year in reducing the provision of certain services because they took to heart the advice given by the then Secretary of State for the Environment, who does not seem to wear a white tie on appropriate occasions now that he has been translated to the Foreign Office. These councils knew that the party was over. Such councils should have the support of all sensible and practical ratepayers. There is a responsibility on ratepayers to speak out in support of local authorities who do their duty, however unpopular, against those who think that high spending means sound administration.

This must be put across to people. One hears cries that this service cannot be cut and that service cannot be reduced, or that libraries cannot be closed for two hours. But if cuts have to be made, they must he made and supported.

This motion has helped to focus the attention of the House on London. I hope that it will focus the attention of the Government on the needs of London, and I hope that in future the Government will not rely too much on the charity of London Members to make opportunities for debates. I hope that they will give us some Government time for debate. The Leader of the House seems to have plenty of time to spare, judging from the way he is running parliamentary business at the moment, so perhaps he could find time for a debate in which the problems of London could be discussed properly.

6.45 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Guy Barnett)

I apologise for the absence of the Secretary of State. I know it was his intention to be present and he may well come in while I am speaking. He was very sorry that he could not be here at the beginning of the debate, but his absence does not represent the degree of importance that we attach to this matter. Also the Minister for Planning and Local Government cannot be here because he is meeting the new town chairmen today to discuss many of the issues that have arisen in this debate.

Although there have been considerable points of disagreement—and I refer particularly to the speech of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg)—there are two points on which we are all agreed. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) on raising this particular subject. As a London Member, I concur with what has been said by almost every speaker. We do not debate this subject enough, and we are very grateful to the hon. Member for taking this opportunity to raise the problems of London.

The debate has been most valuable. There has been a reference to the fact that the population of London is nearly as large as that of Wales and Scotland together, and nearly as large as that of Sweden, and yet we debate its problems on very few occasions. That is something that we must have put right.

The second point on which we are all agreed is that London has massive problems. Four of the problems mentioned by the hon. Member for Ravensbourne are education, employment, transport and housing. The fact that the Treasury Bench is littered with papers represents the degree to which I am being briefed by four or five Government Departments in order to deal with this debate. There is no doubt that most of the debate has concentrated on the subjects which are of greatest concern to Londoners—namely housing and homelessness, industry and employment, obsolescence in manufacturing industry, commuter services, and the social problems which arise as a direct consequence of all these difficulties. We have difficulties in schools, problems of vandalism and the difficulties faced by social workers, the police, probation officers and teachers.

Despite the speech of the hon. Member for Hampstead, the House will want to pay tribute to the work done by officials and councillors all over London, and to professional workers of one kind or another who are daily "picking up the pieces" in London. To an enormous extent we are indebted to them for the kind of work these people do in dealing with the problems of London.

Sometimes things do go wrong. I was sorry that the hon. Member for Hampstead saw fit to talk about all the things that go wrong. His speech seemed to go around the dustbins of all the local authorities. Of course things occasionally go wrong and mistakes are made. It would be senseless for a Government Minister, a local council or the GLC itself not to admit that it happens from time to time. The problems are difficult, and the complexity of decision-making in London is much greater than in other parts of the country where the problems are less.

I cannot approve the motion in every way. In fact, I would suggest that we do not approve it tonight. It refers to the decline of the capital city". My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) criticised the suggestion that the capital city is in steady and steep decline. I would also rebut that point. I understand that the Conservative Party in London had a conference last weekend on these issues and called it "Crisis London".

It is wrong for us to try to dramatise the problems with which we are dealing and to suggest that the whole of London is in decline or that it is a city of crisis. I believe that hon. Members opposite got some good advice at that conference, and I hope that they take it. I hope, too, that they will take my advice—that the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit London every year do not visit a city in crisis or in decline, but that many of them are aware that, in comparison with some of the large cities elsewhere in the world, London is tackling, in many ways successfully, some of the major problems that we are facing.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

Is my hon. Friend aware that a great American whom we all love and admire, Bing Crosby, has said that he makes a point of coming to London at least once a year because it is the best city in the world?

Mr. Barnett

I agree, and sometimes we are apt to talk our city down.

It is very important also to recognise the problems that tourism brings. I have some figures here which may interest the House about the number of overseas tourists and the number of nights they spend in London. The number of nights they spend in London has risen between 1972 and 1976 from 47 million to 62 million. That is just one indication of the considerable burden that they place on London, although, as hon. Members have rightly recognised, London gains enormously as a consequence, of their coming and, of course, of the money they spend here.

It has been said in the debate that there is need to have a Minister for London as a solution to its problems. Prior to the debate I examined the possibility of dealing with the problems of London by the appointment of a Minister with special responsibility for it. I think that there are major arguments against it. First, I think that it is generally recognised that London is and must be thought of as part of the South-East Region. Presumably, therefore, if we thought that the solution lay in the appointment of a Minister for London—in parallel, for example, to the Ministers responsible for Wales and Scotland—that would not take account of the fact that the health of the South-East Region as a whole is dependent on the health of London, and vice versa.

Do not let us forget that a great many Londoners have been and are being rehoused outside the GLC boundaries. I met some of them yesterday in Thurrock. Many thousands of GLC tenants live outside the borders of the GLC. Do not let us forget also the important complementary relationship between the GLC and the London new towns and the degree to which London is dependent on people travelling from outside its borders to work here. It would be a mistake administratively to set up a Minister, presumably with a Department of his own, to deal with particularly London problems.

Earlier I pointed out that in my reply I was trying to represent four or five different Government Departments. I do not think that hon. Members would suggest that those powers of each of those Departments should form a new Ministry for London. The sheer proximity of County Hall and the boroughs to Government Departments can be of considerable advantage in the sense that consulation of one kind or another can take place among the Government and the GLC and the boroughs to a greater extent than is perhaps possible for our friends in Wales and Scotland, where big distances are involved and where there may, for that reason, if not for any others, be arguments for a very different type of set-up.

Mr. Molloy

The main point of my submission was that a Minister for London would not have a great Department. His primary rôle would be that of coordination, looking at ideas and proposed solutions, and being able to put them into effect where necessary. London is lacking some sense of co-ordination.

Mr. Barnett

I take the point. My hon. Friend wants to see more coordination. If any Department has that responsibility it is mine. My hon. Friend might be surprised to discover the great amount of co-ordination between my Department and other Government Departments and of the consultation and contact between my Department and the GLC.

I want to refer to a number of points made in the debate. I come first to that raised by the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant), who asked for specific replies. I understood his question to be why, if certain local authorities had overspent considerably, other local authorities should suffer. He must bear in mind that the Government are bound inevitably to be in a difficulty here. If we were to follow the kind of road he was talking about—perhaps it is one that he himself would follow—it would be bound to mean Government intervention with individual local authorities. That is something my right hon. Friend is reluctant to do.

Mr. Anthony Grant

indicated dissent.

Mr. Barnett

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I make it clear that if the Government were to "carpet" individual local authorities, or to make adjustments to take account of decisions taken, wisely or unwisely, by individual local authorities, that must increase the amount of Government intervention and involvement in local decisions, and therefore in local government. That is one reason why I would be reluctant to follow the line suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

The review that we have undertaken is not complete. We expect to have the returns within a week or so. They will be examined and any decision taken will have to be taken on that basis. The hon. Gentleman will understand if I do not say anything further about how the Goverment will act in the light of the issue he has raised.

Mr. Anthony Grant

I do not like interference, any more than the hon. Gentleman does, with individual local authority decisions, but where local authorities have breached what the Government have said, why should those which have complied with the policy bear the burden? Should not the greatest spendthrifts bear the biggest burden? That is all one asks.

Mr. Barnett

The hon. Gentleman should understand that whatever the Government may have said is not necessarily the law of the land. The law of the land has been made by this House. What the Government recommend or ask local authorities to do is one thing; the law of the land is another. Local authorities rightly have a certain measure of freedom to do as they please within the law of the land, and the hon. Gentleman has not referred to any situation in which a local authority has broken the law. Therefore, one has to be careful about going along the line he suggests.

I want to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Ravensbourne, and I hope that the House will understand why I now concentrate on it. I appreciated the moderate way in which he moved the motion. He, too, referred to the suggestion of the appointment of a Minister for London, with which I have dealt.

The hon. Gentleman expressed particular concern about the decline of industry in London. As far as industrial development certificate control is concerned, I do not think it can be shown that the Government have been inactive. He was kind enough to refer to the fact that we have considerably increased the limit below which it is possible for industrial development to take place without a certificate.

The Department of Industry operates as far as it can a very flexible approach in considering applications for industrial development certificates. For example, sympathetic consideration is given to proposals by existing occupants to modernise and improve premises.

This is a matter of great concern to many hon. Members who represent London and who see one of their major problems lying in the fact that premises are outdated and therefore unlettable. That change in policy, made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, is therefore of direct benefit to London.

It being Seven o'clock, the proceedings on the motion lapsed, pursuant to Standing Order No. 6 (Precedence of Government Business)