HC Deb 03 March 1976 vol 906 cc1387-443

Order for Second Reading read.

7.11 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

On this occasion the Bill is concerned primarily with the London boroughs, and much of the requirement is at their behest. For that reason, I am afraid that it is a rather technical piece of legislation.

For the convenience of the House I propose to try to explain briefly the background to some of the clauses, hoping that right hon. and hon. Members will accept that to spend too much time going through the intricacies of each provision is unnecessary at this hour.

If the House agrees, I propose to ignore Clause 6 for the moment. As I understand it, it is the general view that this would be taken more appropriately when we come to the proposed Instructions after Second Reading. In order to get some good order in our debate, I propose to ignore that one and not discuss it in any detail.

Clause 3 is concerned with increasing the penalties for the breach of certain tunnel byelaws where various dangerous goods, flammable goods and explosive goods are being moved through tunnels. The Greater London Council takes the view that the present maximum penalty is not sufficient. At the moment, the maximum penalty for infringing these dangerous goods byelaws is only £20. This was determined in the London County Council (General Powers) Act of 1900. Prior to 1967 the maximum penalty for infringing the general byelaws was £5, but the Criminal Justice Act 1967 increased the figure to £20. At present, therefore, there is no difference between the general penalty and the dangerous goods penalty. Clearly, in these days it is no disincentive to be fined only £20 for contravening these byelaws. Therefore, Clause 3 is designed to increase the penalty to £400, that being more in line with what the GLC considers to be proper for dissuading people from breaking the byelaw. It is a simple attempt, therefore, to make life safer for Londoners and to dissuade people from carrying such goods through tunnels.

Clause 4 is a modification of Schedule 12 to the 1972 Act. This modest clause enables the Council to bring items before a Council meeting at a later stage than it would be able to do otherwise. I understand that occasions have arisen when it would have been convenient for the Council to be able to consider a matter referred from a committee meeting after the printing of the agenda paper for the Council meeting. I think that this is eminently sensible, and Clause 4 makes it possible for matters to be considered even though they have not appeared on the agenda paper for the Council meeting.

Clause 5 has caused many right hon. and hon. Members some concern. It is an understandable attempt by the Greater London Council and the boroughs to tidy up street furniture and to see whether it is possible to affix traffic signs in a more discreet way than can be done at present, since they now have to be placed on the highway itself. The GLC took the view that it might perhaps emulate the action of the City of London Corporation, whose legislation allows it to affix traffic signs to the external walls of certain buildings.

My view and that of many right hon. and hon. Members was that, as drafted, Clause 5 provided no right of appeal to an aggrieved person whose house or wall might be chosen for the affixing of traffic signs. It seemed to many of us to be an unjust situation. However, I pay tribute to the promoters of the Bill, who, following our representations to them, decided to table appropriate amendments in Committee to allow for appeal procedures. As a result, the owner of a building or wall can refuse consent. If the Council feels that the refusal is unreasonable, it can apply to the magistrates' court and it will then be a matter for the magistrates to decide whether they are prepared to accept that the Council has made its case. I think that this proposal now settles the problem to the satisfaction of most of us and that people will have the right to refuse consent to having traffic signs affixed to their walls.

As I said in my opening remarks I propose to leave Clause 6 for the moment because that may well be the subject of a lengthy debate in itself.

I move on, therefore, to Clauses 7, 8 and 9 which are concerned with night cafes. This is a matter of grave concern in all parts of London and has been the subject of many debates in this House. The most recent one was on 28th February 1975, when the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) raised the problem of food shops and take-away meals. Right hon. and hon. Members will find the debate reported in the relevant Hansard at column 999.

On that occasion the hon. Member for Acton made a very powerful case about the difficulties being experienced. He gave details of his own researches, which showed the problems which had to be dealt with, and those of us who were present were extremely impressed with his argument. The GLC has brought forward its proposals in Clauses 7, 8 and 9, which substantialy take care of the hon. Gentleman's arguments.

There is one basic problem arising from these proposals, however. The National Federation of Fish Fryers felt that in some way the proposals would have some effect upon its members. It felt that if its members had to register too, there might be some difficulties. I looked at the GLC's proposals and discussed them with the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg). In the end I asked the promoters of the Bill to talk to the fish fryers and to those hon. Members who were concerned. I understand that the National Federation of Fish Fryers was written to, and its representatives had an opportunity of talking to the promoters.

The Federation received a letter dated 25th February and had an opportunity to discuss it with the GLC. It was addressed to the General Secretary of the National Federation of Fish Fryers, and the last paragraph read: I shall be glad to know whether this wording or some similar form of words would be satisfactory.

As I understand it, there has been no dissent from that. The House can take it, therefore, as far as one can assess the situation, that the fish fryers—the people mainly concerned in terms of the effect of this provision—will be satisfied with the amendment which the promoters will seek to make.

Clause 10 concerns the power to extinguish the right of interment in cemeteries. It is an attempt by the GLC to meet a difficult problem which is increasing as time goes by. There is insufficient burial ground, and Clause 10 would enable the GLC to make more provision for burials by making more room in existing cemeteries. It is an attempt to try to provide the power for the local authority to extinguish the burial rights when there has already been a burial in a grave.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

Does my hon. Friend realise that in London over 60 per cent. of those who have passed away are now cremated, and that the need for burial ground is much less than it was, say, 20 years ago?

Mr. Brown

I do not know whether that figure is correct, but the point remains. Even with the change in the mode of dispatch, there is still difficulty in providing sufficient burial space in London. The City of London Corporation was given power in the City of London (Various Powers) Act 1969 to extinguish burial rights in grave spaces in Newham cemetery 75 years after the date of the latest burial or after any burial has taken place. Southwark Borough Council has a similar right in relation to its cemeteries by virtue of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1975. These local Acts are superior to cemetery Order powers in that they permit the extinguishment of burial rights where there has already been a burial in the ground. It is the view of the GLC and of the London boroughs that the cemeteries Order power has only a marginal benefit to London and that the new power proposed in Clause 10 would help the situation very much.

Clause 11 is a modification of Section 33 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973. It is an attempt by the GLC and the boroughs to come together in terms of the cost of providing the maintenance and reserving of places in and improving specialist residential establishments, particularly for children. It is felt that under this clause it would be easier for the boroughs themselves to co-operate. It is believed that Section 33 of the 1973 Act should be extended, and Clause 11 would enable the cost of providing or approving designated homes as defined in Section 33, thereby including it as designated expenditure for the purposes of a scheme made under Section 33.

Clause 12 has caused a great deal of concern, primarily because it was a little difficult for some of us to discover its origin. We could not see who was claiming the paternity. When I was asked to present the Bill on behalf of the promoters, their view was that they were only the pianists and, therefore, they should not be blamed. They said that I should discuss it with the London Boroughs Association. The Association said that if the House made its view known as to what it wanted, it would not stand in the way of democracy. It turned out, however, that the Department of the Environment had slipped the clause in, which many of us find a bit much.

Unless we had read the Bill rather closely, it is likely that the Department of the Environment could have slipped through something which many of us did not necessarily favour. The matter became pertinent because many London boroughs, certainly the inner boroughs, were involved at that stage in attempting to obtain exemptions from the Minister for sites, as is required, and the situation was one of extreme difficulty. The Minister had given exemptions to Kensington and Chelsea and to Westminster but was refusing exemptions to other boroughs. It appears that there is reasonable doubt as to the strength of the statute whch gives to London boroughs the obligation of providing sites for gipsies under the 1960 and 1968 Acts.

The result is that the Department is anxious to ensure that the statute is full and absolutely firm in this respect. That leads us to the difficulty this evening. Many of my hon. Friends really cannot support the view that Clause 12 should be included in this way. They feel that if the Government wish to bring forward legislation of this nature, they had better do so. The situation arose from an error which appears to have been made in 1972, when the Government of the day apparently updated the 1968 Act but omitted the words "the London boroughs". The result is that there is grave doubt as to whether a London borough has the right to provide or spend money in this way.

I have had discussions with the Department of the Environment on the matter. It has told me that it would regret it if we did not pass Clause 12, but it still of the opinion that, if any fractious item were taken to court, the court would rule that the intention of Parliament was that the London boroughs should have this power. We have no procedure for withdrawing the clause tonight, but I am empowered to say on behalf of the promoters that, having regard to the fact that the Kirby Committee has been set up by the Secretary of State to look into the matter—its terms of reference being the provisions for the exemption of local authorities and the designation of their areas"— they will seek discussions with hon. Members and with departmental representatives in an attempt to see whether they can meet the requirements of those of us who object to the clause being treated in this way.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

I remind my hon. Friend that under the Conservative Government, in relation to the situation covered by Clause 12, officers of the London borough of Ealing tried to get clarification. They sent about half a dozen letters in 1971 and did not get any reply for three years. That is not bad going for a Tory Administration. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will see to it that we get a little more speedy response from the present Government.

Mr. Brown

I support what my hon. Friend has said. Had there been a means of withdrawing Clause 12 tonight, I should have so recommended. As we cannot do that, however, I give an undertaking on behalf of the promoters that they will ensure that in Committee they will do all in their power to meet the wishes of the House.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Is my hon. Friend saying that the promoters are prepared to say that in Committee they will initiate the removal of this clause, which I imagine would be within their power? He is saying that if there is no power procedurally now to arrange for its removal, he, on their behalf, would agree to that. It is not procedurally possible on the Floor of the House, because we shall not come to the relevant Instruction in time, as we know. It would, however, be possible for my hon. Friend to give a firm indication, as far as the GLC is concerned, that it will take this clause out in Committee. Can he be sure that he is saying that and not just saying that there will be discussion in Committee?

Mr. Brown

I tried to get as much clarity as I could. I do not think that I can, on behalf of the promoters, make that pledge absolute, because the clause is not their property in that sense. Some of the London boroughs are involved as well, and they have to come together to discuss whether it would be in the interests of the London boroughs to take such a view.

Therefore, I am empowered to say that before we come to the end of the Second Reading debate I shall consult the promoters about what my hon. Friend has put in absolute terms, and I hope that if I catch your eye again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall be able to give my hon. Friend the answer to his specific question. However, I understand at present that the promoters, in wishing to meet the wishes of my hon. Friends and myself, will do everything in their power to ensure that as far as the London boroughs are concerned they will look at the matter again in Committee. That is as far as I can go at present. I shall attempt to intervene again in order to give my hon. Friend an absolute answer to his specific question.

I point out to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that matters of this sort cause us great concern. If someone has made an error, in my view it would be far better to come clean at the very beginning and not meet many representatives of borough councils and imply that the boroughs are responsible when it is clear, certainly from the viewpoint of lawyers, that they are not responsible under the law.

Therefore, it would have been far better to have brought forward an amendment in the usual way which could have been debated and on which all hon. Members could have had their say rather than to involve a Bill of this nature in a political argument and local government in something which is really a matter for this House. The House should put its own house in order rather than involve the Bill in this way.

Part V has caused a great deal of concern to many hon. Members. My hon. Friends the Members for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) and Islington, North (Mr. O'Halloran) and the hon. Members for Hampstead and for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) have made many representations to me as the person presenting the Bill on behalf of the promoters. I pay a tribute to the promoters, who have done everything in their power to ensure that hon. Members' objections to the clauses in Part V are dealt with.

As this part of the Bill is really the responsibility of the London borough of Camden, the promoters obviously can do only their best to ensure that the London borough of Camden understands the criticisms being made by hon. Members. I gather that they understand that to be the case. I am not empowered to say that Camden has withdrawn or deleted references in Clause 17(2)(a)(iii) to 'gymnasiums' and to clubs etc. having 'athletic' objects". However, I understand that the Camden Council this evening, at this very hour, is holding a meeting and that it is the intention of the appropriate committee to ask for the deletion. I can only say that I understand that there will be a recommendation to the Camden Council not only to delete Clause 17(2)(a)(iii) but That the powers of disinterment as contained in Clause 22 of the Bill should not be deleted or amended. That special cemeteries regulations be prepared for Highgate Cemetery and that the Council's standard regulations should not apply in this instance. That the Council should not agree to make provision in the Bill for the establishment of an Advisory Trust but should inform the Highgate Society of its willingness to establish and participate in a Trust, being solely advisory in nature, and that the officers of the Council be authorised to discuss the composition and constitution of a Trust with the Highgate Society with a view to the setting up of the Trust as soon as possible. I have been reading a letter sent to the hon. Member for Hampstead from the London borough of Camden. From my own meeting with the London borough of Camden representatives, I understand that they have gone as far as possible to meet the objections I have raised. I therefore invite the House to accept that the promoters have put themselves out to ensure that the objections put forward by hon. Gentlemen have been taken care of.

Clause 27 is purely a matter of form.

I have tried to go through the Bill very briefly and acquaint the House with the various clauses. With the exception of Clause 6, which we trust, with your approval, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be the subject of debate, I invite the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

7.36 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

As the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) said, there is little between us on a party political basis, apart from Clause 6. I shall make passing reference to that Clause at this stage, but I shall not deal with it in any great detail now. My one criticism is that the Bill has been brought on somewhat earlier in the Session than it need have been, because it is still not possible to provide much of the information, on nonparty lines, that I have asked for. I shall be making reference to that in the course of my speech. Indeed, had the Bill come on a little later—unlike the Money Bill there is no terminal date—some of the nonsense about gipsy caravans might have been sorted out, without the need for the speech that the hon. Gentleman rightly made criticising people pulling bits of stuff out of pigeon-holes.

The major problem of the Bill arises on Clause 6. I hope that we shall be able to debate the first Instruction, which covers the clause in considerable detail In connection with Clause 5, I welcome the undertaking given by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch that in Committee the promoters will seek to amend the Bill so as to provide that if anyone objects to a sign being put up, and the authority considers that to be unreasonable, the matter shall go to the courts, for them to decide. I am sure that this is right, and I join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming the fact that the promoters have given this underaking, which I believe removes an objectionable feature from the Bill.

I turn to Clause 7, which is the fish-fryer's clause. In a letter from the General Secretary of the National Federation of Fish Fryers dated 2nd March, it is made quite clear that it is not satisfied with what the promoters of the Bill have so far offered.

I now come to the first justification for my criticism that the Bill has been brought forward too early. It is interesting to note that the Bill was originally due to be debated tomorrow but, presumably, the people in charge of Government business were suddenly told that there was to be a by-election in Coventry and that their hon. Members might be needed up there, so the date was changed. However, I have obtained some figures from the London Boroughs Association and also a fair number of letters from people throughout the country in connection with the Instruction that I have put down. Many people are confused. I am seeking to exclude off-sales from fried fish-and-chip shops. I have no desire to remove from the ambit of the Bill off-sales from Kentucky chicken shops, which are a confounded nuisance wherever they are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) said on a previous occasion. All my figures relate to fried fish-and-chip shops.

I met the promoters, and especially the London borough representatives, and asked for some information showing a breakdown of the number of complaints that have been received in respect of shops selling food—that is, curry, chicken and so on, as well as fish and chips. On 20th February the London Boroughs Association wrote to all town clerks asking for certain information to be returned to the Honorary Parliamentary Officer, saying that the "usual ready response" of town clerks and chief executives in producing a speedy response would be greatly appreciated. They were asked in any case to provide the information during the course of the week ending 28th February.

I have here facts and figures relating to only 16 of the London boroughs. That shows the response they give to this sort of letter, and it shows how the House is left to discuss the Bill without adequate information. I shall give the figures as they relate to the 16 London boroughs. The total number of "take-aways" in them are 633, of which 260 are fish-and-chip shops. There have been 106 complaints relating to "take-aways" generally and of them 20 were about fish-and-chip shops. So important do some chief executives regard this matter that they have not even bothered to give the number. In a very sloppy way they have put "some" or "a few". That is a discourtesy to the House. I complain about this sloppiness in a non-partisan way on behalf of all hon. Members.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Lambeth, Central)

It might help the House if the hon. Member indicated how many of the 16 boroughs are inner London boroughs and how many are outer London boroughs.

Mr. Finsberg

I think it would take too much time to do the arithmetic, but I assure the hon. Member that Lambeth, for example, has not replied and, to balance it with an outer London borough, neither has Brent.

If suitable amendments are not made in Committee the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch may well find that when the Bill comes back to the House on recommittal, we shall want to amend it, certainly if the information provided is no better than we already have.

I wish to be brief on Second Reading, because we do not object to the bulk of the Bill. Perhaps I may refer to Part V, dealing with Highgate Cemetery. The London borough of Camden is meeting at this moment in one of its marathon sessions, but my information from the assistant town clerk is that no amendment will be moved tonight to the recommendations that have come from the committees of the council. That information was given to me on the telephone yesterday.

The assistant town clerk said that in the next cycle of committees he hoped to get them to agree to certain undertakings that he has offered in a letter dated 1st March. If that happens, I am sure that the hard work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) and the hon. Members for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) and Islington, North (Mr. O'Halloran), on behalf of the Highgate Society and the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, will prove satisfactory. But that depends on the committees of the council carrying out the undertakings that the assistant town clerk says he hopes they will.

The Bill is an opportunity to look at what local government in London thinks it needs in addition to the powers it already enjoys. It provides an opportunity for debating some matters that affect London. We shall probably have a slightly more acrimonious and wide-ranging general debate on the money Bill. I make the usual point—I am sure that no Labour Members will dissent from it—that if Scotland and Wales can have full-day debates on general subjects in this House, London, too, wants that facility. I hope that London will not be fobbed off with the nonsense of being told that it can have a debate in some provincial regional Committee upstairs. With the reservations that I have expressed about Clause 6, I commend the Second Reading of the Bill to the House.

7.46 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Gordon Oakes)

I shall be brief, but I intend to indicate the Government's attitude to the Bill, mentioning, in passing, some of its controversial aspects. First, I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). Presenting a Private Bill to this House is not the most glamorous thing to do. It is time-consuming, tedious and dull work. All Londoners, regardless of their political inclinations and every London borough, as well as the GLC, should be indebted to my hon. Friend for the great care and attention that he gives to London matters and the great care that he shows in presenting Private Bills to the House. I express my admiration for the work that he does.

I am glad that the Opposition are not taking the same hard line on this Bill that they took on the West Midlands County Council Bill, in the form of blanket opposition. This Bill contains some very useful measures, which will be of great benefit to London.

The Government believe that Clause 6 should be passed to the Committee and, if necessary, restricted and examined there in respect of its operation. In proposing the clause the GLC and the boroughs knew what they were about. A great deal of care went into the framing of the clause. It is possible that there will be general legislation on the subject by the Government, probably in the next Session of Parliament, but it is useful that London should be given these powers, or at least that the powers should be considered in Committee.

The traditional approach of Governments to Private Bills is that they do not whip their Members. I hope that there has been no unofficial whipping, either on the Bill as a whole or on any part of it, because it is for the Committee to deal with it. Our attitude is of benevolent neutrality, but we are certainly in favour of its being carefully considered in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch upbraided my Department over Clause 12 and the provisions for gipsy sites. Section 6 of the 1968 Act provided London boroughs with a duty to provide such sites. The 1972 Act inadvertently removed the power that had been specifically provided. Our legal advice on the matter is that where a statute imposes a mandatory duty on an authority the power follows the duty, and that is how a court would rule. My hon. Friend raised the point about my Department's taking up the question of Clause 12 with the London Boroughs Association, particularly concerning certain provisions that will tidy up the general law. The Association was very willing that this should be done. When the error of the 1972 Act was pointed out to it, it suggested to the Department that the Bill would be a convenient vehicle in which to put the matter right, and Clause 12 was consequently included.

With hindsight, I have considerable sympathy with what my hon. Friend said. I do not think that this is the proper way to go about this matter. It was an error in general legislation, which should be put right in general legislation. Therefore, whatever steps my hon. Friend takes over Clause 12—I know that it is a complicated procedural problem, it being now in the Bill and he being the promoter—if it is now felt that that clause is repellent the Department would not object to its being removed. It was put in because of a previous omission, and it might have been done better than in private legislation.

I shall not enter into a discussion with Opposition Members about the relative merits of Kentucky fried foods and fish and chips. There are constant references to "fish fryers". In my part of the world, we refer to "fish-and-chip shops" but, no doubt due to the price of potatoes, they fry only fish. Chips are going out—not only in legal wording but in practice.

When the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) and I discussed Nunhead Cemetery on a previous Bill, he pointed out the need for provisions to deal with Highgate Cemetery, and there are provisions in the Bill to do so.

We do not whip our Members on Private Bills in any circumstances. The Government look with favour on the Bill, including Clause 6. If the Committee wants to curtail the clause or discuss it in detail, that would be the right and proper way to do so, rather than by means of an Instruction.

7.52 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)

I want to address myself only to Part V, which relates to Highgate Cemetery. In doing so I speak not only for myself but for my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) and for the hon. Members for Islington, North (Mr. O'Halloran) and St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard). All four of our constituencies border the cemetery, and the question of how Camden Council handles the matter is of great importance to us all.

Perhaps I should admit responsibility for having set in train the events which have led to the appearance of Part V in the Bill—incidentally, the largest part of the Bill, accounting for over half of it, both in terms of clauses and in terms of pages.

It was in September 1973 that I first wrote to my noble Friend the Baroness Young, then Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, following a number of representations that I had received from constituents about the deplorable state into which Highgate Cemetery had degenerated. It was a veritable wilderness, vandalism was rampant and various occult practices were taking place. This was a matter of considerable distress to the relatives of those buried there and also of concern to constituents in those four constituencies.

As a result of that approach inquiries were put in hand, from which it became clear that the private company owning the cemetery was making a substantial annual loss and had no funds at all available for urgent maintenance. As a result of discussions, Camden undertook the care and maintenance of the cemetery for about two years and has now put in hand this legislation, which will enable it to acquire the cemetery.

It is gratifying that Camden should have responded in that way. I am grateful that it should be considering action to preserve the cemetery and also the not inconsiderable expenditure which will be necessary. According to estimates that I have seen, the minimal capital cost of restoring the fabric of the cemetery will amount to £350,000, followed by annual running costs of about £50,000. At a time when local authorities are being asked to cut back on their expenditure, it is indeed far-sighted of Camden to contemplate that sort of expenditure. But one must see this matter in the unique context of the Highgate Cemetery. It is, in effect, a national monument. It has a site of about 40 acres on the southern slopes of Highgate Hill, adjacent to Hampstead Heath. In that alone, it is a matter of major significance for the residents of North London.

Beyond that, however, the cemetery dates back to 1839 and contains many remarkable monuments. It is probably best known as the resting place of Karl Marx, whose tomb is alternatively the subject of international pilgrimage and the object of daubing. However, it is the western part of the cemetery, in which Karl Marx's tomb does not lie, which is of unique interest as a national monument.

That part of the cemetery is a fine example of nineteenth century funerary architecture, set in an area of great natural beauty. The buildings and monuments of great interest are the Egyptian avenue, the circle of burial chambers, the chapels of rest, the colonnade and the entrance gates. I should like to describe the architectural merit of these monuments, but I know that hon. Members are anxious to move on rapidly to the first Instruction. Therefore, I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not go into these matters, which may be of interest to the House—and certainly of greater interest to people outside who are concerned about the future of these monuments.

As well as the architectural merit of these mausoleums and tombs, it may be of interest to the House to know that interred in the western part of the cemetery are the bodies of Michael Faraday, the famous scientist, John Galsworthy, Sir Rowland Hill, Christina Rossetti, George Eliot and William Friese-Greene, the inventor of the cinema, to mention only a few.

The Royal Fine Art Commission and the Nature Conservation Council have shown an interest in Highgate Cemetery and expressed the view that it should be preserved very much in its present state and as an area of natural beauty. By their interest they have encouraged the Highgate Society and the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, who have taken a vigorous part in seeing that steps are taken in the best interests of the nation.

Therefore, the House may ask, why am I raising the matter in this way, by speaking upon Part V of the Bill? The reason is that within Part V there seems to be a requirement by Camden for extremely wide powers going far beyond what many people consider to be necessary for a simple conservation of the cemetery in its present state as a national monument. It is the seeking of these wide powers and the way in which they are expressed that cause concern.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) referred to Clause 17. If passed in its present form, that clause would enable the Council to alter the user of the western part of the cemetery so that it could be used for the purposes of gymnasia or centres for the use of clubs, societies or organisations with athletic, social or educational objects under the Physical Training and Recreation Act 1937.

This immediately raises a question in people's minds. If the atuhority is to spend so much money taking over a cemetery, and is seeking these powers, surely it will try over a period to turn the land area into something different. It is feared that alongside the mausoleums and monuments, in this area of controlled but wild natural beauty, some ghastly concrete structure will be built for use as an athletics hall. To be fair, Camden has had discussions with the residents' organisations, the Highgate Society and the Friends of Highgate Cemetery. It seems that Camden would be prepared to delete reference to gymnasiums or centres for athletic clubs.

In the view of those who are interested in the matter, that does not go far enough. They believe that the dangers would remain if the wording was not further cut down. This is borne out in a letter from the town clerk to the representative organisations. He says that passive and active recreation is the objective of Camden Council. It is the use of the words "active recreation", coupled with the power that would remain, even after amendment, to use the grounds as a centre for social purposes which causes concern. The word "social" is extremely vague. It could cover a whole variety of activity for which centres could be built in the middle of this area of natural beauty.

We feel that Camden has not accepted sufficiently readily the basis of objection. The area should be preserved as one of natural beauty, open to the public for recreation, for walking and enjoyment of the surroundings, but recreation should go no further than that.

The promoters must consider this matter. Although the Instructions to the Committee which appear on the Order Paper and which would deal with the matter cannot be reached today, the Bill will come to the House for further consideration. If Camden Council, in the cycle of Committees, does not produce the formula for which residents are asking, we must reserve our position and at a later stage table amendments and vote upon them.

The wide powers in Clause 18 also give rise to concern. The clause gives Camden Council the power to remove any tomb or mausoleum after three months' notice. When the House appreciates the character of the area, it will be able to imagine the concern which is felt about a blanket power of that kind. Already Clause 10 of the Bill gives a general power to the borough to deal with cemeteries in their areas, but it is a restricted power. There is reference to graves which have not been used for 75 years. Under this clause a notice has to be served upon the owners, who must be given various opportunities to object. When there are safeguards which we are asked to approve, dealing with the overall situation of council cemeteries, why is it necessary to have a special clause with special powers going beyond that which is considered necessary for the generality of local authorities? For that reason I ask the Camden Council to reconsider its refusal to contemplate an amendment to Clause 18 and Clause 22, which deals with interment. If the Council is not prepared to do that, on another occasion my hon. Friends and hon. Members of all parties representing neighbouring constituencies will seek to persuade the House to amend the Bill.

I now turn to the setting up of an advisory council. There is no reference to this in the Bill and we would like to see it added to the Bill. We cannot deal with the Instruction to set up an advisory council today because of the time available. The kind of advisory council that we have in mind would be of great advantage to Camden Council because it would immediately make available to it a great deal of expertise and specialist knowledge for the preservation of the monuments which I have mentioned, and also for the conservation of the area. It would also be a vehicle by which public funds could be raised nationally for the preservation of the monuments. Camden would benefit because it would not have to undertake the expense of restoring and maintaining the monuments. In return we would require a little more than consultation between Camden Council and the advisory council. We would not want Camden Council to act unless it had the approval of the advisory council.

We want to ensure that Camden Council, faced with the difficulties of a London borough with 40 acres of land, will not be tempted to use that land for purposes which local residents feel to be inconsistent with the character and nature of the cemetery. Camden is prepared to consider setting up an advisory council if the Bill is passed. We would prefer the Council to be referred to in legislation and its powers and objectives to be specified in the Bill. There could then be no doubt or difficulty about the relationship between Camden Council and the advisory council.

I hope that the promoters of the Bill and Camden Council will consider my observations, which represent not only my views but those of hon. Members from adjoining constituencies and a wide range of public opinion.

8.8 p.m.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich, East)

I intervene briefly to refer to Clause 12. I was a little perturbed by the different legal interpretation of the current state of the law on caravan sites given by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) and the Minister. I represent one of the only two London boroughs that have provided caravan sites under the Act. It is an extremely expensive business. Greenwich provided a site not just for 15 caravans, as required under the Act, but for 54. The capital cost to ratepayers has been more than £300,000. I was leader of the council at that time and I was concerned that our action was ultra vires and that the spectre of surcharges might arise.

The provision of this extremely expensive caravan site has not eased the problem of gipsies or travellers. It has considerably increased them in my constituency. In addition to the 54 caravans on the site, with all the management problems that go with them, we have a travelling circus of caravans. About 50 of them camp on the public open spaces and roadsides in the general vicinity of the authorised caravan site.

The nuisance is well known to a number of hon. Members. It is not just the car-breaking all over the place, the rubbish, and the dogs; a burning issue on a GLC estate in my constituency over the past year has been wild horses roaming over the public open space and people's gardens, scaring schoolchildren, and getting into school playgrounds and just about everywhere else. We have had to waste a great deal of police time and manpower to round up those wild horses

As a borough designated under the 1968 Act, we have tried to move on unauthorised caravan dwellers—and a fruitless operation it has been. We have had to take them to court. It is staggering how many Browns, Smiths and Joneses live on the caravan sites. When they come to court they turn out to be different Browns, Smiths and Joneses. Even if one succeeds in taking them to court and moving them on, all they do is to move a few hundred yards down the road, where the whole circus starts all over again, or they move into the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) and the Lon- don borough of Bexley has to take legal action.

It is distressing that organisations such as the Romany Council—organisations that are rightly concerned about the welfare of travellers—are now pressing my borough to do even more. Having provided a site for 54 caravans at a cost of more than £300,000, we are apparently now expected to provide even more facilities for such people. It is unfair to my constituents and ratepayers that having spent that gigantic sum they should have on their doorsteps the continuing nuisance of the unauthorised caravans.

The attitude of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Planning and Local Government is not particularly helpful. His view is that the London borough of Greenwich should think carefully before moving on the unauthorised caravans and should consult neighbouring authorities. What sort of response is the borough likely to have if it asks its neighbours whether they would like it to move the caravans into their areas? I doubt whether it would receive a great deal of co-operation.

If there is to be, as I hope, a consideration of the present situation under the 1968 Act, I hope that it will be borne in mind that the Act does not provide adequate safeguards for those authorities that have tried to meet their obligations under it. I hope that there will be some tidying up in that respect.

8.13 p.m.

Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton)

I wish to speak briefly about Clause 12, but first I have something to say on the Minister's comment about the Whip. If there are more Conservatives than Labour Members in the House at 10 o'clock, that will mean only that the Conservative Party views the affairs of the capital with more concern and affection than the Government do.

The hon. Member who moved Second Reading, the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), spoke with less enthusiasm about Clause 12. It is disturbing that he and the Minister do not support it and yet we are still lumbered with it. There seems to be no way of getting rid of it. I hope that we shall be reassured later that the procedural problem has been overcome.

The clause is needed because the parliamentary draftsmen made a mistake in the 1972 Local Government Act, unintentionally depriving some London boroughs of their powers to provide sites under the Caravan Sites Act 1968. I understand that the object of the clause is to clarify the position by giving London boroughs the powers that everyone thought they had.

There are two powerful reasons for objecting to the clause. First, the Minister declared himself unhappy with the operation of the Caravan Sites Act, and therefore it is nonsense to try to extend that Act to the London boroughs. Secondly, the financial implications of implementing the Act in London are disastrous.

On the first point, I am indebted to the Minister for Planning and Local Government for his answer to the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Lamborn) who asked whether the Minister was satisfied with the operation of Part II of the Caravan Sites Act 1968. The right hon. Gentleman replied: No. I have asked Mr. John Cripps … to undertake a study". The terms of reference included the provisions for the exemption of local authorities and the designation of their areas".—[Official Report, 26th February 1976; Vol. 906, c. 314–15.] The designation and exemption provisions are of particular concern to London boroughs, which believe that land in the boroughs could be put to better uses than providing sites for gipsies. This has caused particular resentment in boroughs such as my own in Ealing, which has been unable to gain exemption although it has asked for it several times.

My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) spoke movingly on 16th January about the problem in his constituency. I know how hard he has been trying to see that his own borough does not have to implement the Bill. As the Minister is unhappy with the Act, there can be no case for extending it to the boroughs in London.

The implications of extending the Act are frightening. If the London borough of Ealing is compelled to make provision for gipsies, the cost will be £275,000 for 16 pitches—about £16,000 per pitch. Furthermore, the annual deficit will be £34,000, or more than £2,000 a pitch, which is economic nonsense. How can the Government tell the people of Acton that we are in such a financial crisis that the hospital building and school building programmes must be cut, and yet tell them that the borough must provide sites for gipsies? In my book—I am sure that my constituents agree—that must have lower priority than the items that the Government are cutting.

We are looking for specific assurances from the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch and the Minister that they will suspend the implementation of the measure in boroughs such as Ealing and Lambeth, which have a particular problem, until the study has been completed, and that in the meantime there will be no compulsion on boroughs to provide sites. If we do not have such assurances tonight, I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will insist that Clause 12 is removed at a later stage.

8.17 p.m.

Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

Many of us very much appreciate what the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) has done about Highgate Cemetery, but I cannot agree with all that he said.

I have an interest, first, as a member of the executive of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society and, secondly, as a member of the Historic Buildings Council, although the Council has not officially considered the matter. The Society has been in discussion with the Camden Council on the question of open spaces, and is satisfied that the proposals put to it by the Council will satisfy its argument that there should be open spaces in part of the cemetery. I fully agree.

The Society has played an active part in trying to have old cemeteries all over the country taken into public ownership. One such was Nunhead Cemetery, which I recently visited. Its landscaping is very successful, and I hope that there will be similar landscaping and use of the site at Highgate. A part of the cemetery at Nunhead is to be open space, with most of the trees remaining as they have grown up naturally over the years and the monuments of architectural and historic value being maintained. Part of the space will rightly be changed into an open space for young children to enjoy. We must consider not only the dead and their relatives but the young people of such an area.

Discussion of the best use to be made of certain parts of a cemetery is well worth while, but if there is to be an open space one must have power to remove graves, many of which have no architectural or historic merits, though many people may have sentimental feelings about them. I remember a canon of Carlisle telling me, many years ago, that he had an enormous battle to clear the graves around the cathedral so as to have a green, open space to set the cathedral off. He had to move some at night, because of local feeling.

I do not think that that will be necessary at Highgate, but the area should be well landscaped and the monuments well preserved. A certain part should be an open space. That does not mean that we should cover it with buildings of various kinds. As I understand it, the discussions now taking place are based on an understanding that it should be kept as an open space.

I am opposed to Instructions 5 and 6 but I think that Instruction 4 might be discussed further. I do not think that the powers of Camden Council should be legally limited by its having to consult a public advisory trust. But provision should be made for discussions to take place with the Council as to the way in which the area should be developed. The Council should not be mandated, however.

All of us who are interested in the general London scheme will compliment the local Members on the lead that they have given in trying to get action taken to preserve the cemetery and to utilise it. No one likes a place that is a wilderness—an area comprising overgrown grass and brambles. Such a place is a disgrace to London. That is especially so when people come from all over the world to pay homage to, or at least to see, the Marx tomb. I am sure that all Londoners wish to see the best use made of this area. We should all like to see the Camden Council given the power to ensure that it is utilised in that way.

8.22 p.m.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

support the remarks apropos Clause 12 made by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) and the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young). I am bound to say that some of the hon. Gentleman's Conservative colleagues in the borough of Ealing would have been seeking to slash and cut just as much if the gipsies had never left Egypt, or wherever they come from.

We still have a gruesome problem. Those of us who seek the removal of the clause wish to draw to the attention of the House that for over a decade local authorities have been placed in an almost impossible situation. It is not a bit of use our trying to put the blame on the administrators in the Department of the Environment or anywhere else. That is a remarkable Department because the Minister, who took part in the Adjournment debate which I raised on this subject and who was present at the beginning of this debate, has now vanished.

The gipsies have presented us with a serious problem. In fact, they are not gipsies in the sense that most of us would use the term. I understand that the current phrase is "itinerant caravan dwellers". Under previous legislation they had the right to go into Buckingham Palace and on to the greensward where the garden parties take place. It seems that they had that right and that the police would not have been able to remove them. Of course, the police would have found some means of removing them if that had happened, but if the itinerant caravan dwellers had decided to move into a public park in Ealing—I am sure that the hon. Member for Acton will confirm this—the police would have had no powers to remove them. That is an extraordinary state of affairs.

If someone drove a London bus on to a public park in Ealing he would be summoned, but it seems that an itinerant caravan dweller could move on to such an area because of the slipshod legislation which has been pushed through the House. We must all accept responsibility for that state of affairs.

The problem which I have described has taken place in my constituency near Church Road, an area in the north of the borough. Indeed, the same problem is being faced by the hon. Member for Acton. The House must understand that, aided and abetted by the Southern England Gypsy Council, which is active in these matters, itinerant caravan dwellers have a complete disregard for the law of the land. I do not know that any of the do-gooding gentlemen concerned have any itinerant caravan dwellers at the end of their gardens, but my constituents in Ealing are fed up to the teeth with what is happening in the borough. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East mentioned wild horses. My constituents would be willing to swap their problem for the problem of wild horses.

This is a problem which is now on the verge of leading to some form of action being taken by ordinary people who live on the council estates near the itinerant caravan dwellers. They have appealed to their Members of Parliament, but they have not done very much. They have appealed to their councillors, and not much has been done. They have appealed to the police and, again, not much has been done. The problem still remains. Where are they to go, and what are they to do?

It seems that the law allows anyone who has a caravan to move safely on to someone else's ground. Under previous legislation the London borough of Ealing thought that it had powers to make a contribution to the provision of sites outside the borough. When the Conservative Party was in government, the London borough of Ealing wrote to the Department of the Environment on umpteen occasions. I believe that nine or ten letters were written. Over three and a half years not even an acknowledgement was received. That is slipshod behaviour in anyone's language. I believe that it is downright insulting behaviour. I agree that in many instances local authorities have displayed slipshod behaviour, but that argument is destroyed when Departments of State behave in an even worse manner.

I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to do me the courtesy of listening to my remarks. Perhaps he is having a talk with the Clerk, but that is not good enough. I repeat that in Ealing we are on the verge of having a form of race riot. Perhaps my hon. Friend will take note of what I have said. Let him understand that shopkeepers have been smashed up and police have been injured. Council officials have been savagely attacked, as have ordinary citizens going about their everyday business. The police tell me that there was an increase in crime when the caravan dwellers moved in.

I ask my hon. Friend to take full cognisance of what my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East and the hon. Member for Acton have said. If necessary, I ask him to see all those who are concerned with this problem after the debate, or some time next week, so that we can introduce legislation that will clear up this ludicrous situation once and for all.

8.28 p.m.

Mr. Harry Lamborn (Peckham)

I wish to refer to Clause 12 of the Bill. We must remember that inner London boroughs, such as Southwark, have a high density of population—indeed, in my area it is as high as 130 to the acre. Therefore, when a gipsy site is put down in such an area, the deplorable conditions and the consequent mess created have considerable repercussions on the people who live in adjoining properties. I recently took part in a deputation from the Southwark Council to the Minister. We gather that the Minister cannot suggest to the borough a suitable site on which caravans can be situated. In an attempt to achieve designation, Southwark must provide a rolling programme of sites over the next five or six years. Therefore, as one site is redeveloped, the council face the expense and problems of moving to the next development area. The present situation is quite impossible for the council. I believe that there is a case for the exemption of inner London boroughs such as Southwark.

I know that initially the local inhabitants in my area had an open mind on the subject and took a benevolent attitude to gipsies. I remember that the Rev. David Sheppard, who lived in the area, took a great lead in persuading the local community to accept the gipsies, but the conditions that they created were so bad that the whole area is now seething with hostility. Therefore, if it is thought that legislation is ineffective surely steps should be taken to deal with the situation.

I have every sympathy for hon. Members who have put the case for areas such as Ealing, but they must realise that the densely populated areas of inner London have even higher housing densities and extremely depressing housing lists. Southwark has a housing waiting list of 8,000 and certainly cannot spare land to provide a permanent site, as is suggested. Indeed, under the present situation the council must provide a series of sites. I have already said that it must provide a rolling programme of sites.

I understand from the local authority in my area that it has never been able to collect rates or rent from the people concerned, although it has spent a great deal of money in laying out sites. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will pay heed to what I and other hon. Members are saying, and will appreciate the concern felt by people in the London area. I hope that he and his colleagues will re-examine the situation.

8.34 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Brown

With the permission of the House, I should like to reply to the debate on behalf of the promoters of the Bill.

I have taken advice on Clause 12 and I can only say that the matter is precisely as it was left in the first place. We can only undertake to examine the matter in Committee to see whether something can be done. The promoters are willing to re-examine the matter in consultation with all the interests concerned to see whether some solution to the problem can be found.

I should like to thank the Minister for the courteous way in which he has dealt with the criticisms levelled at the Government on this issue. I gather he feels that at the end of the day the matter will have to be solved in some other way. Following complaints raised by many hon. Members, I hope that after consultation we shall be able to resolve the situation.

It would be satisfactory if the promoters could provide some accommodation for the views expressed tonight either by withdrawing the clause in Committee or getting the Minister to invite all those concerned for a discussion about how to escape from this dilemma. I remind hon. Members that if we are dissatisfied with the action taken on Clause 12 in Committee, we can take the appropriate decision on Report.

Mr. Arthur Latham (Paddington)

May we have an undertaking that there will be wider consultations with the London boroughs? It would be very unfair to allow a problem to be shifted from inner London to outer London, and must be careful not to undermine the original principles under which the arrangements were to be made. I do not wish to prevent a debate on this issue, but it would not be healthy or helpful to kick the gipsy issue around the House. I hope that in giving an undertaking my hon. Friend will not go too far in his assurances of what might be done—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. Let us have reasonably brief interventions and not speeches.

Mr. Latham

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was responding to a sedentary intervention, which I should not have done.

Mr. Brown

I understand the point my hon. Friend is making, but this matter has been fully discussed by the London Boroughs Association and between individual London boroughs.

We now have a situation in which the law is indeterminate. There is reason to believe that London boroughs do not have the powers which it is alleged they possess. Therefore, my hon. Friend will understand that the boroughs are having great difficulties and will use this opportunity to clarify their position.

Mrs. Millie Miller (Ilford, North)

While I appreciate the problems of the inner London boroughs which are required to provide sites when they have so much difficulty in providing housing for local residents, I hope that what emerges from this debate will not be a blanket condemnation—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Lady making a speech?

Mrs. Miller

I am asking a question.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It sounded more like a speech to me.

Mrs. Miller

I am asking my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) not to give the impression in his response to the debate that we are condemning all the people who have been established in perfectly acceptable situation in some boroughs.

Mr. Brown

I have not made an issue of the re-siting of gipsies. I have merely suggested that, on reflection, perhaps the Government will feel that this is not the way to put right the statute book. I have attempted not to get involved in all the other arguments. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Fins-bury (Mr. Cunningham) is not present, but I hope he will read what I have said and realise that I have tried to give the assurance he requested.

On Clauses 7 to 9, the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) made some carping criticism about London boroughs not responding and the insufficient time allowed for the debate. I cannot say why the debate was called at this time. That is a matter for the Chair. The hon. Gentleman has greater courage than I to criticise the Chair. I want to speak again. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has given up hope. I know of no conspiracy for bringing the debate forward by one day.

I do not want to be critical of the hon. Gentleman. He sought a sample of the views of three inner London boroughs and three outer London boroughs. He was given the views of 16, and the promoters thought that they had more than honoured his request to know something about the reaction of the London boroughs. The promoters are speaking on behalf of Camden Council, and I quote from a letter written by the hon. Member for Hampstead: The council's proposal therefore would be that Clause 17(2)(a)(iii) is amended to read 'for the purposes of centres for the use of clubs, societies or organisations having social or educational objects'". For many years Camden Council has done great work. I was given a list of six former cemetery grounds which are now being used as children's play areas and are supplied with play equipment. Camden is attempting to be as helpful and understanding as possible of the needs of the area.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) is champing at the bit at being unable to say his piece. His constituents should know that he has been present at the debate all the time. Over the past weeks he has been hectoring me and has told me of the close interest he has taken in this matter.

I have tried to answer the points raised in the debate, which is being closely watched by the promoters of the Bill. The promoters have undertaken to answer any point which requires an answer. They have undertaken to give further information to any hon. Member who wishes it. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I remind hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has selected Instructions No. 1, No. 3, and Nos. 5, 4 and 6 taken together.

8.43 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clause 6. Harmony may now cease.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not trying to stir up some strife.

Mr. Finsberg

As we are not debating devolution, no, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Harmony will cease between the two sides on the principle of the Instruction. It should come as no surprise that we are utterly opposed to the proposals in the Bill that cover direct labour. The Instruction seeks to remove that power from the Bill. There is no evidence that over the years there has been any benefit to the ratepayer from construction by direct labour by any local authority; indeed it has acted to the detriment of private enterprise, as I shall try to prove.

On the maintenance of council property, there may be a case, although I am not certain, because I have yet to find an efficient direct labour force that does maintenance work. In order to be satisfied that it was efficient I should want to see it in competition for at least 50 per cent. of the work.

Let me give the House some examples. First, I cite the example of the metropolitan district council of Wigan. In October 1975 that council gave its own direct labour department some work on 249 houses, although two contractors had submitted lower tenders. There were protests and, in the end, the Minister for Housing and Construction decided that the estimates and tenders were too high. He said that new tenders should be sought.

During that year the direct labour department of Wigan obtained only one project—an old people's home and a community centre. It tendered for seven and got one. It was successful on that job by only 1½ per cent.—that is, £5,000 out of £305,000 against a firm price tender from a contractor. On a fluctuating basis—that is, where there is a rise and fall clause and allowing for some compensation if certain costs rise—one contractor was prepared to tender 2½ per cent. below the direct labour figure. That was the largest job that the direct labour department of Wigan sought. On the next largest job, which was over £200,000, seven contractors produced lower tenders. On the next largest job about £140,000—three tenders were lower.

The department's estimated overheads, on all work—capital, refurbishing and maintenance—in 1975–76 are about 65 per cent. of labour costs, but a notional on-cost rate of only 50 per cent. is charged on all tenders. Therefore, the unrecovered portion of overheads has to be met from the rates. That is not fair competition.

I may be told that I should confine my remarks about bad direct labour to London. So be it. I can find plenty of examples, and I propose so to do. The first is that of the promoters of the Bill, namely, the Greater London Council. The GLC carried out some work in 1973 on behalf of the Inner London Education Authority, which relies upon the GLC for its school maintenance work. It transpired that the costs of the GLC at that time were between 50 per cent. and 60 per cent. higher than those in Manchester or Birmingham.

I mentioned earlier the failure to obtain information. I regret that I accused the London boroughs of not giving as much information as they should. They offered me three pieces of information for inside and outside London. They even sent a chart setting this out. I regret that I omitted that, and I apologise. However, I do not apologise for the letter dated 26th February from the Controller of Housing of the GLC, who said: You asked for information showing the detailed financial results of the GLC's present direct labour organisation in the construction field over recent years. Reports on the final costs of individual jobs are being assembled and will be supplied to you shortly, together with an analysis as soon as this is complete. I should have thought that even the GLC would know that the latest time of arrival for that information is this debate. That information had not been supplied to me by 6 o'clock this evening. At least that criticism can be completely sustained.

I want to give one or two examples of what is happening in Loudon. London is in a difficult situation. People want to know exactly what has been happening, and whether there is any justification for local authorities asking for the powers that are so badly needed—so they say.

Let me take as an example the London borough of Enfield, which closed down its direct labour department in 1971. Following a National Building Agency inquiry, it was found that complete figures could be compiled for only two major projects, and these showed an overspending of £1 million on the original figures. Documents for another £3½ million worth of work were missing, and officials did not report some overspending to the responsible committee. The council wants power to carry out more direct labour work.

The next example is that of Wandsworth. A number of Wandsworth's major building projects being done by direct labour are running late. In June, one was reported to be 90 weeks behind schedule, and another to be 65 weeks behind. After all, penalty clauses cannot be imposed upon direct labour departments, because in the end it is the poor ratepayer who has to pay. Wandsworth's direct labour department has been expanded again in recent years, although in 1969, when Wandsworth was Conservative-controlled, its new work turnover was reduced from £2 million to £500,000 a year. At that time the works committee chairman stated that from 1964 to 1968, when it was Labour-controlled, the department had been allowed to take on increasingly large work-loads without evidence whether the work could be completed efficiently in terms of cost. In 1971 the council was still awaiting the final costs of direct labour work completed in February 1967. It wants more power and more direct labour.

Next comes Hammersmith. In July 1975 Hammersmith's director of housing reported that of 30,000 repair orders sent out in a year, many jobs were not done and many were bodged. Those are his words, not mine. Because of staff shortages it had been a long-standing practice not to check work in progress or to carry out final inspections to ensure that work had been completed to the estate manager's satisfaction. Orders were often returned stamped to show that they had been completed, and it was not discovered whether certain items had been completed until tenants complained that they had not been. In the year 1967–68 the district auditor had reported that the department overspent by 10 per cent. on its new work, and final accounts were outstanding for up to three years. Hammersmith wants power to have more direct labour.

All these boroughs want the power to do work not merely for themselves but for private individuals anywhere in Greater London. They do not strike me as very efficient.

Let me come on to Southwark, which is almost the worst of all examples. There was an investigation into Southwark because of an overspending of about £500,000 in 1967. This revealed features that are common to most direct labour departments—not all, but most. Those features included bonuses paid without regard to output, overtime payments without regard to cost, and bonuses of more than 30 per cent. over standard wage rates paid without ascertaining whether they had even been earned. An investigation into one instance of excessive overtime payments revealed that 31 men were recorded as working a total of 574 hours on one particular Sunday, most recording 22 hours or more in the 24-hour day. They were paid double time, plus bonuses, on 100 per cent. of all the hours worked—four times the normal rate.

The district auditor commented: I am left with the firm impression that cost was clearly regarded as very much secondary to the speed of completion and that there was no positive or informed encouragement by the building manager towards cost-consciousness. This was on a job that was expected to cost £7¼ million and to take 181 weeks to complete. The job was finally completed for a cost of £11 million in 300 weeks. Southwark wants power to build for private persons anywhere in its borough or throughout London.

I turn now to my own borough—Camden. An investigation showed that, for a large proportion of work on which bonuses were paid, there were no written orders, no records in the men's timesheets, and no records of essential materials for the jobs being issued. Less than 1 per cent. of the bonused work was inspected, and nearly one-third of the claims inspected were overstated. Nearly 50 separately targeted jobs claimed had not been done.

It is true that the GLC, in the letter from which I quoted earlier, has tried to give certain undertakings to comply with the report of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. I am grateful for that having been said. The fact is that the Bill confers powers not only on the GLC but on the 32 boroughs and, fairly, the London Boroughs Association states that it cannot give those undertakings, because it is not empowered so to do. Only individual boroughs can do that. They have not done so. If they did, in the light of what they have been doing, I am not sure how much value could be placed on them.

The clause goes much further. It widens the normal powers to provide work for the local authority. It now seeks to go into competition and to try to do work for private individuals.

We are getting reports all the time, confirmed by the Department of the Environment, that the construction industry is going through a bad time. This Bill is trying to shift the load of work from one section to another. It is attempting to shift it from a private enterprise section to a public ownership section, where the losses will be footed in the end by the poor benighted ratepayers. That is not good enough.

I do not accept the Minister's complacent attitude. He said that the House should pass this clause and let the Committee look at it. I hope that the House will be wise enough to delete this clause, so that the Committee is not burdened with having to listen to the nonsense of justification to which it might otherwise have to listen.

The clause goes further. I wonder how many hon. Members have carefully studied the Bill. Do they realise that Clause 6(1)(c) seeks to give power to the GLC and the 32 boroughs to provide for the person for whom they are doing the building work any administrative, professional or technical services. In other words, the boroughs are entering into competition with quantity surveyors, architects, and the like. From my knowledge of local government, frequently the boroughs' departments are so overloaded that they invite outside architects and surveyors to do work for them. Yet they are trying to take powers to do that work themselves. How will that speed anything up? I do not believe that prices would be competitive, because they would be undercut.

The GLC—I must read this word for word—states: The Council has been somewhat surprised by the strength of opposition to the provisions of Clause 6(1)(c) which it had included purely as a consequential and incidental matter arising from the main proposal to provide a building works service for construction, improvement or repair. An undertaking would be given that there is no intention or desire to exercise the powers in the field of professional or technical services beyond that which is reasonably necessary to offer building work services. Again the Council would undertake that these services would be charged to the private owner, including all overheads, on the professional scale basis appropriate to the type of work. As far as it goes, that seems all right. The House will remember the case of Wigan, where there were 65 per cent. overheads and where only 50 per cent. were recovered. I do not know what the 32 London boroughs would do, so I am not prepared to accept just this statement from the GLC.

The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy report was made in June. This is from the professional organisation that used to be the Institute of Municipal Treasurers. The Government have not taken up CIPFA's recommendations have set up a working party. To my knowledge they have not agreed to have a representative of CIPFA on it. If I am wrong, the Minister will no doubt correct me. I believe that it is purely a departmental working party, and that is not good enough. It would have been wiser for the Government to wait for the report before taking a decision and before commending this aspect of the Bill to us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ash-ford (Mr. Speed) has said quite firmly for the Opposition that we accept the recommendations of CIPFA, which is an utterly independent body and understands how these things work. The Minister, on behalf of the Government, displayed a reasonable face when he graced us with his presence earlier, and we now have the presence of another Minister who is a very reasonable man. But in the end the Government are dragged along—squealing, perhaps—and they still vote for the most outrageous measures of municipalisation and of State ownership. In the end, all the so-called moderates give their support to direct labour.

It is time the House realised that there are no moderates on the Government Benches. When the time comes they all vote for full-blooded Socialism. Sympathies may be expressed for the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice) and for the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney), but they voted for the measures relating to the Clay Cross law breakers. They voted for the removal of the freedom of speech and the freedom of the Press.

The measure commended to us by the Minister is just another example of the nastiness of Socialism and its determination to make all private enterprise so bankrupt that it is driven out of business, so that we are left with direct labour organisations such as those at Southwark or Wigan. They are both exactly the same—utterly inefficient, and proved so to be.

I hope that the House will accept the Instruction.

9.2 p.m.

Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)

I am grateful for the opportunity to attempt to bring not only some sanity but also a great measure of honesty and correction into the debate, following the speech by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg). I have never heard such rubbish or such a distortion of the facts as that given when the hon. Member referred to the London borough of Enfield and the alleged reasons why the direct labour organisation was run down.

I shall concentrate most of my remarks on trying to answer fairly the charge which has been made. A great number of measuring rods and yardsticks have been used by the hon. Member as to what an efficient business ought to be. He tells us that it needs to be efficient, profitable and reliable. He says that in housing it needs to have adequate design standards—in other words, it needs to be as good as, if not better than, the organisations with which it is in competition.

I am, in a sense, delighted that reference has been made to the London borough of Enfield. The hon. Member was no doubt given some facts by someone, and those facts have become distorted in the course of their transmission. The hon. Member might accuse me in the same way if I were to use my own version of the events. I shall therefore give to the House very briefly the views of what might be considered to be an independent source, the journal Municipal Engineering of October 1971.

The headline reads: How Enfield LBC killed its direct labour department". The sub-heading is Officers' advice rejected", and the report states: Next week's Institute of Municipal Building Management annual conference at Scarborough gathers in what has been a gloomy year for direct labour. The saddest single blow was the decision by Enfield LBC to close EDLO, the oldest continuously operating direct labour department in the country. It was a decision taken by the Conservative controlling group against the unanimous advice of all their most senior officers.…EDLO's epitaph is the thousands of houses and all the public buildings in Edmonton which it has built since its formation in 1925. Every aspect of this district—merged into the borough of Enfield in 1965—and the whole well-being of community is a monument to public enterprise. EDLO's last task, now being undertaken, is to rebuild Edmonton Green—the largest town centre in Europe to be tackled by a council department. Since the war it has built nearly 6,000 houses and flats, at least four schools, three libraries, numerous clinics, a fire station, several community centres, a Civic Trust award-winning scheme of shops and flats—even a Scouts HQ—but most important of all, two industrial estates of six and 17 acres.…But the beginning of the end came when fol- lowing closely on the retirement of Tom Wilkinson, the borough architect who had done so much of the design for EDLO building, the town planning committee on 13th January resolved that as it could no longer envisaged a work-load sufficient to maintain the direct labour capital building department, the finance and administration committee be recommended to consider closing the department'. The major reason why it was said EDLO must be axed was a shortage of land—a situation not totally unconnected with the sale by the council of considerable areas which it had been intended to develop for housing". I suggest that anyone looking for effect should also look for the cause.

One of the most significant paragraphs in the article is the conclusion: A very senior Enfield officer told me: 'An appreciable slice of the savings which EDLO has achieved on its contracts in the past may well be translated in future into profits from private contracts, of which of course our ratepayers will see nothing'. He summed up the whole affair by saying: 'I like to see a bit of good local government. This is not it'. That is the manner whereby ELDO was wound up. It was a disgraceful, shoddy, squalid, typical Tory manoeuvre, and Enfield's Tories were able to carry it out because they controlled the Council at the time.

I ask right hon. and hon. Members to examine some of the yardsticks which have been used to underline the way in which an efficient organisation should be run. More than one reference has been made to completions of contracts. A first-class record in this respect is shown by the report of the building manager produced when the whole issue was under review. I invite the hon. Member for Hampstead to appreciate this and to study it. In order after order projects show completion dates which are either on time or in advance. If Conservatives in Enfield are looking for efficiency in terms of completions, they will see that they had it in their direct labour organisation.

Opposition Members also talk in terms of profitability, and the hon. Member for Hampstead gave some figures which I am not in a position to dispute. But in Enfield the organisation which was closed down in 1971 for doctrinaire reasons achieved a total of work, for which it tendered and won in competitive tender every time, of £4,287,000. The actual bills presented at the end totalled £4,690,000. That represented a saving on the lowest tenders of £197,000 and, what is more, a saving to the ratepayers of an additional 4 per cent. These figures were certified by an independent firm of quantity surveyors and not by any organisation in the Council.

In the comparable period, £1,437,000 worth of work quantified by an independent firm of surveyors was done for £1,378,000—a saving on those works of £58,000, or 4 per cent.

Then I come to Edmonton Green, the largest single development of its kind built by a municipality in Europe. The lowest tender was £3,575,000. The actual bills presented amounted to £3,334,000, representing a saving to the ratepayers of £240,000, or 6.74 per cent.

Opposition Members must realise that if their colleagues in Enfield were such good business men and were so fair-minded and so determined as to judge these matters on their merits, they should ask themselves why, in the light of these facts, they decided to close down their direct labour organisation.

I give another illustration of the value of a direct labour force. Tragically, in 1968, the Ronan Point disaster occurred. The Department issued a circular, 62/68, concerning the improvement and radical strengthening of tower blocks above seven storeys. In the London borough of Enfield, eight such blocks had been built by private contractors. The cost of strengthening them was £350,000. The 24 which had been built by EDLO cost £32,000 to strengthen. If all the work done by EDLO had been done by outside contractors, an additional £1 million would have been required to put these high-rise developments right.

Sometimes Conservative Members talk as though all direct labour work is inferior and all private work is superior. That is nonsense. Sadly, in Enfield over a number of years—I make no great point of it except in rebuttal—there have been a number of situations in which private contractors have left a great deal of work to be done, such as remedial work, leaks at roof level and basement flooding in one development. Car parks had to be done again. The private developers clearly needed far more supervision to ensure that the quality of their work was up to standard.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the report from the National Building Agency. I have here a report by the Agency which is larded with phrases about work done by EDLO: A high standard has been maintained throughout the contract", and The standard of finish and general workmanship is extremely high". Then we come to the question of competitive tendering. There is always a veiled suggestion that, somehow or other, all direct labour organisations have an unfair advantage. During the years of Tory rule in Enfield, a great attempt was made to say that, somehow or other, the tendering was not right. For a number of developments in 1971, for instance, the Council went directly to tendering to Lindsay Parkinson, Reema Construction, Bernard Sunley, J. and J. Dean, and Cook's of Enfield. In every case the lowest tender came from EDLO, with the highest profit for the ratepayers.

The report at the time of the National Building Agency—I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman's reference to it—said: The Cost Controller has prepared a sound system of cost control which has been installed and is in operation on the Edmonton Green site. This is a comprehensive system, covering all elements of cost (labour, materials, subcontracts, plant etc.), and also includes routines for showing up any such items as variations and delays and the costs these have incurred. It is a good system, comparable to those in use in well organised large firms of commercial contractors. The report commented on the Brettenham road development: We wish to draw the council's attention to the excellent manner in which the construction work is organised on site, which reflects very well on the capability of the site staff. Much nonsense has been talked by Conservative Members. In my view, their motivation is exactly the same as that of their political colleagues in the London borough of Enfield—pure spite and malice, with complete disregard for the interests of the ratepayers. They have been more concerned to destroy a successful and efficient piece of municipal enterprise and to provide opportunities for their friends and supporters in the land and building business. The Enfield Tory councillors then were not without their links with the building industry, and, believe me, they have not altered much since then.

For purely doctrinal reasons, Enfield Tories committed municipal murder by destroying one of the finest pieces of municipal engineering that we had. They have criminally ignored the facts and the evidence and have clung to their prejudices and petty party politicking. Direct labour in Enfield was murdered for party and private gain. I welcome this clause, because at least it may provide a partial remedy to that disgraceful, squalid and dirty deed.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Baker (St. Marylebone)

Once again we are debating a Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill. I am sure that all hon. Members who represent London constituencies, irrespective of their views on direct labour, agree that the amount of time devoted to London debates in this House is totally inadequate. Once a year between 7 and 10 o'clock we debate London matters in connection with a Bill of this nature and sometimes a Money Bill. When we consider the amount of time that we spend debating Scottish and Welsh affairs, it is wrong that we should debate the affairs of our capital in snatched moments and usually on very narrow Bills and measures.

This Bill extends the powers of the boroughs and, to some extent, the powers of the Greater London Council. I am sure that most of the London electors would like to have a debate not about the extension of the GLC's powers but about their restriction. We have not debated that matter for almost 10 years. There is no doubt that there is a growing feeling in all the London constituencies that the powers of the GLC must be fundamentally revised and reduced.

We should consider the whole question of housing. It is rather presumptuous of the GLC to impose upon the London boroughs the opportunity of direct labour when its own direct labour has not been successful for many years. The brief which the GLC sent out refers to direct labour and states: The Council's own housing department DLO is, in terms of both size, and performance, high in the national league of building contractors. It may be high in terms of its volume of business, but it is not high in terms of the reputation it has earned in the building world or among the people who suffer from it—the GLC tenants.

The brief goes on to say: In recent years there has been some criticism of the performance of the housing maintenance branch of the Council's DLO". It can say that again. this branch employs over 5,000 staff and maintains over 250,000 dwellings". I wonder why some of these men never manage to visit my constituency to deal with many of the complaints from GLC tenants. I am sure that there are many hon. Members with GLC estates in their constituencies whose letters about constituents' complaints have gone unanswered. There are long delays before plumbing, plastering or painting gets done.

I am convinced that one of the powers we shall have to look at when the Conservatives gain control of the GLC next year—as we shall—is housing. I am convinced that the GLC housing estates should be returned to the management and control of the respective London boroughs in which they are sited. Indeed, in the whole area of housing management the GLC has a totally dismal record.

In 1971–72 GLC rents represented 69 per cent. of the total housing revenue. This year, 1976–77, they will represent only 30 per cent. What does that mean? The direct labour part of the GLC will be managed and run on exactly the same basis as its housing department. We cannot expect a higher level of management on the direct labour side when we get in the housing department.

The point I am making is that the GLC housing department is now getting a net rental income of £51 million a year after it has given rebates. The cost of GLC housing maintenance this year is £55 million. Therefore, the maintenance and management of the estates is not covered by the net rental income. This is financial lunacy and a control of housing finance which is matched and only exceeded by that of the London borough of Camden.

If the system of direct labour is extended, it will certainly lead to an increase in the rates, particularly in my borough of Westminster. I see that my two Westminster colleagues are in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Tugendhat) would probably be making this very point but, unfortunately, he has lost his voice. It no doubt happened when he heard of the increase in the rates in Westminster this year. It is a Conservative-controlled council. Domestic ratepayers there face an increase of 18 per cent. and commercial ratepayers one of 12.7 per cent. I hope that Labour Members will not tut-tut at that increase, because it is not at all the fault of the Westminster Council. Of the 52p which Westminster ratepayers pay out, Westminster itself is responsible for only 9p. The rest is the responsibility of other sources.

The large increase is due to the unfair treatment that Westminster has received from the London Boroughs Association. It has meant that the ratepayers of Westminster, Paddington and Marylebone will this year have to bear a disproportionately high increase. Westminster already pays 16½ per cent. of all GLC expenditure and 28 per cent. of all ILEA expenditure. Westminster will be paying £120 million to ILEA this year. There is already a substantial equalisation in these payments, but on top of this the Socialist-controlled London Boroughs Association has imposed this year an additional heavy burden, and this means that the constituents that I and my hon. Friend the Member for City of London, and Westminster, South represent will have to pay a very large rate increase.

Other boroughs will be getting about £3 million or £4 million each to reduce their rates or to reduce the level of rate increase. Westminster will get only £100,000. This is not fair. We must examine the whole rate equalisation scheme within both inner and outer London, the proportion that goes from one borough to another and from the inner boroughs to the outer boroughs.

The high level of rates in inner London is leading to depopulation. It is estimated that the population in my borough from 1971 to 1981 will fall by 58,000. In Camden there will be an estimated fall of 45,000.

Mr. Cartwright

We have been through the equalisation scheme, London rates and now London depopulation. Is this all due to the wickedness of direct labour?

Mr. Baker

When the hon. Member has been in the House a little longer, he will know that the General Powers Bill is an occasion for a general debate on London matters. It is all very well—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) is quite right about the General Powers Bill. We are dealing here, however, with Instruction No. 1, which confines the debate to a very narrow point.

Mr. Baker

Of course I accept your benign guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was seeking to show what I admit is a slightly tenuous link between direct labour and the subject under discussion. On the subject of tenuous links, I am reminded of what was said by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch (Mr. Brown) four years ago when a Bill similar to this one was debated. There was a clause dealing with walkways and the hon. Member spoke for an hour on the deficiencies of London Transport, which were so great that the bus routes were being made into walkways.

It is of concern to everyone in London that we do not debate London enough in this House. Depopulation of central London is a national problem. The population of inner London over the 10 years ending at 1981 is estimated to drop by 572,000 and of outer London by 339,000. If there were depopulation on that scale in Scotland or Wales, there would be debates on it in this House night after night. The Government should have a programme to deal with it. Yet we can debate this matter as it affects London only on measures of this sort. These important measures deserve more time, and I hope that in future they will get it.

9.25 p.m.

Mrs. Millie Miller (Ilford, North)

The Association of Municipal Authorities has particularly asked for the support of its vice-presidents in getting this Bill through because of the number of anomalies which have arisen since 1970–72, when confusion reigned in the reorganisation of local government.

It is generally admitted that the AMA does not indulge in party political activity. I was therefore bewildered to hear one of its vice-presidents oppose the clause in such virulent terms. It is as if he is living on an island of direct labour forces, unaware of what the situation in the building industry in London is and has been over the last few years, unaware of the volume of bankruptcies and delays in housing plans, unaware of the inefficiency of the maintenance work done by private industry.

On Second Reading we talked about Highgate Cemetery. I invite the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) to go and visit that cemetery and on the way to pass the Highgate New Town development, which is so far behind that people have almost forgotten its existence. Yet it is one of the largest schemes in the borough of Camden, operated by successive unsuccessful private companies, which are seriously depriving the borough and those who live in the area—where I live—of the new homes for which they have been waiting for many years.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) has made clear, this singling out of direct labour is a party political issue, and it should be exposed as such. My hon. Friend talked about the competitive tendering which is demanded of direct labour forces unless, because of their record, they are allowed to negotiate prices on new schemes. Of course there has been, especially in the past few years, great difficulty for direct labour in inner London, but the greatest difficulties have developed because of the greed and speculation involved in housing and office building in central London. That has siphoned off men who would otherwise work regularly, either for private firms or for direct labour forces, by the offer of wages above national and London rates. A direct effect has been to harm not merely direct labour forces but the industry itself.

Surely the hon. Member for Hampstead is as aware as we are of the problems which have arisen both for direct labour and for private building through the development of the "lump"—the so-called self-employed system which has done irreparable harm to the structure of direct labour and private constuction in inner London. One cannot separate the clause and the allegations about inefficiency in that area from the almost total collapse of the building industry in inner London.

The hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) spoke about financial lunacy. As a former member and leader of Camden Council, I know that perhaps the greatest example of financial lunacy on record was that of the previous Conservative majority on that Council, in which the hon. Member for Hampstead played a direct part, which resulted in a district auditor calling upon the Council to say why its rent arrears had increased fivefold in less than three years. Yet here we are talking about the financial lunacy of the development of direct labour. London deserves far better.

The local authorities have had to survive, particularly during the 1970–74 period, under impossible pressures, including those of depopulation. They have also been affected because most of the skilled workers and their families have moved out of inner and outer London, leaving the area with the greatest concentration of population in the country almost denuded of its service workers. The origins of the problem can be found. They certainly do not rest at the door of local government in London.

9.31 p.m.

Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)

I do not wish to take up the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) after your remarks to him, Mr. Deputy Speaker, except to say that I entirely agree with him that it is better to talk about restricting the GLC's powers than about widening them. The GLC has almost disastrously moved from its original and proper function as a planning authority to that of an authority that is far too much involved in housing management and housing construction, to the detriment of its true planning function. A clear example is the problem of the London docks.

Clause 6 deals with the possible widening of the GLC's powers and those of the London boroughs with regard to direct labour. A dramatic defence of direct labour was made by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham). I say to him that about £69 million in capital is available to the GLC's Department of direct labour for construction. That is a considerable sum for any city in any part of the world. The GLC seems to have adequate powers already. It has at least £69 million for building, so it cannot be regarded as being hampered or hamstrung.

We should have two criteria. First, will it benefit the ratepayers? Secondly, will the competition be fair and just? Hon. Members on the Labour Benches must accept that private builders are also ratepayers and do a valuable job in the community. The House must agree on those two criteria.

Let us consider the benefit or disadvantage for taxpayers. There is a scheme at Bayonne Road, Hammersmith, costing £11 million. When it is completed there will be fewer homes on the site than those previously demolished. The cost of each home will be over £18,000, exclusive of land cost. I look forward to visiting these magnificent dwellings when they are completed.

The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) spoke of delays in completions by private enterprise builders. Of course there are sometimes delays by private enterprise.

The GLC Housing Construction Branch—New Works lists the job name, the original completion date given to the job when it started, and the anticipated completion date, as at February 1976.

I take two jobs at random. One, in Juniper Street, which was expected to be completed in August 1974 is now expected to be completed in November this year—27 months late. The expected completion date of one in Wynyatt Street, which was April 1974, is now June this year—26 months late. Reading down the right-hand column, I see periods of 15 months, 27 months, 12 months, 24 months, 26 months, 19 months, five months, and so on. Of a total of 42 jobs, one has been completed before the expected date, four have been completed on time and 37 have been completed late or are expected to be late. Of those, 12 will be at least a year late, and many will be far more than a year late. Last year there was good weather, and building was not delayed. Most builders were able to get on with the job, but the GLC did not seem able to do so.

I turn to the maintenance branch. In the 1976–77 estimates of the GLC there is a figure of more than £34 million for the managed dwellings account. That is to fix things that go wrong in GLC properties. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone said that all of us with GLC estates in our constituencies well know tenants' problems in having work done. If we divide the number of GLC homes into the total of £34 million a year we have a figure of £160 per dwelling. The GLC is certainly not spending an average of £160 per dwelling a year in my constituency—or, if it is, it must be spending it very badly, and the ratepayer and the GLC tenant are not getting value for money. I suspect a certain degree of inefficiency in both the construction branch and the maintenance branch.

It can be said with some justice that housing management is not in the direct labour department, but it is direct labour because it need not be carried out by the council; in some parts of the world and in some parts of this country it is done by private contract. The staff cost to chase rent arrears has risen from £160,000, in the last year of a Tory GLC administration, to £900,000. That is what the ratepayers are spending to try to persuade people to pay their rents on time. The interest charge on £900,000 presumably comes to another £90,000 or £100,000. In the same period the housing staff of the GLC has been increased by 2,000, with no apparent increase in efficiency.

In one week earlier this year rent arrears topped £3 million for the first time. In the week beginning 12th January they totalled £3,064,000. In addition, when a GLC tenant leaves a GLC dwelling with rent arrears the arrears are removed from the rent arrears account—a nice bit of financial management—and put into what I understand is called the "rent on vacation account". I must confess that I do not know why that is done. The rent on vacation account totals £762,000. That is in addition to the £3 million. The ratepayers of London are paying £900,000 a year to keep it at that level. Perhaps there is a hint of inefficiency in a body that is promoting a Bill to widen its powers.

I do not wish to labour the problem, but the GLC has squatters in about 3,200 homes in the Greater London area. I understand that 2,000 are licensed by the GLC on a no-repair-no-rent basis. Another 1,200 squatters are in GLC homes without any permission from the GLC. Again, perhaps, there is just a whiff of inadequate management.

Finally, will the competition be fair? That is the second criterion which I believe the House should apply. I quote from Mr. Richard Balfe, the Chairman of the GLC Housing Committee. He said: Private contractors should not cower in the corner at the prospect of an expansion of direct labour activities, but accept the challenge of competition. I point out to Mr. Balfe that the building industry probably is one of the most competitive industries in the country. Every contract attracts a good many tenders, and competition is always fierce. I do not believe that the building industry is cowering in the corner at the threat of competition from the GLC.

Mr. Molloy

Does the hon. Gentleman concede that for decades we have had a massive problem in Greater London? Try as it might, the private enterprise sector could not resolve the problem. A solution depended on the major contribution being made by local authorities. Much of what the hon. Gentleman has said is true, but the basic fact is that the boroughs and the GLC have provided for Londoners the homes that the private sector could not provide.

Mr. Shelton

We are discussing widening the powers of the GLC, and I was querying whether the competition would be fair. I do not believe that the building industry is cowering in the corner, to use the rather inelegant phrase adopted by Mr. Balfe, through fear of competition from a super-efficient GLC or super-efficient boroughs. Quite rightly, the building industry is frightened of unfair competition. Much play is made in the brief from the GLC, which I expect all hon. Members received, about fair accounting procedures and other matters. The Bill provides that best endeavours must be made, taking one year with another, not to make a loss. I remind the House that that fatal phrase is to be found in all the instruments that have been used to set up the nationalised industries. Need I say more? Can the House, or London ratepayers, repose any confidence in the Bill when it uses a phrase that has been used in the past to create, for example, the Post Office, the railways and a nationalised steel industry? I do not believe so.

There is no penalty for overspending. It seems that a direct labour organisation cannot go broke. I was prepared to give an example of overspending but I shall not do so because my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) gave an excellent series of example. One could go adding to the list indefinitely. I cannot see any benefit to the ratepayer from widening the GLC's powers. I cannot see any benefit to the ratepayer in allowing the GLC or the boroughs to go further. I cannot see that the competition will be fair. Indeed, I believe that it will be unfair.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

May I remind hon. Members that the debate must finish at 10 o'clock? I should like, if possible, to call two Back Benchers, then I should like to provide time for the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) to reply to the debate on behalf of the promoters.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

In the short time at my disposal in this debate, I shall try to be concise in my remarks.

The last two contributions from the Opposition Benches have sought to do nothing else but deride the efforts of the Greater London Council. It is strange that, as soon as there is a change of power from one political party to another that organisation, its officers and staff suddenly become incompetent and of no use.

I must take to task the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker), who complained bitterly and blamed the GLC for the decline in Westminster's population by 58,000. He sought to suggest that that was a result of direct labour. Surely, with a little more direct labour in the Westminster area that population would increase.

I wish to apologise to the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) because I was absent when he dealt with Wandsworth. I was out of the Chamber because I was seeking information on the Bill. However, I have been informed about the hon. Gentleman's remarks, and I can only say that it is not true that the saga of Wandsworth in respect of direct labour is one of incompetence. At present, private building contracts in Wandsworth have been held up for over 18 months—I do not say as a direct result of incompetence, but certainly due to a failure to get on with the job. I am not arguing that direct labour or private labour will be the solution to the problem. If, however, there is to be a direct labour system—and that seems necessary to provide some element of competition—the authority must have power to carry out its task.

We have been successful in Wandsworth on many occasions in direct labour schemes. Battersea has had a record of direct labour dating back to 1900. The estates built under that scheme are a credit to Battersea. I refer to the Burns Estate in the area of my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). There are many other similar estates in Battersea built by direct labour which are a credit to the area. However, in parts of Battersea some schemes built during Tory control are nothing less than slums because of the way in which they were constructed and because of their design and the meanness of expenditure when they were built. Direct labour has produced some of the best ideas and buildings in Wandsworth today.

It is not true to say that direct labour schemes are behind schedule. I refer to the Battersea Park Road scheme and the Winstanley Road scheme, which are a credit to the area. Those schemes were built by direct labour in co-operation with the private enterprise concern of Bovis. Bovis supplied the technical ability and the London borough of Wandsworth supplied the labour arganisation. I repeat, those estates are a credit to direct labour and to private enterprise.

It is a pity that the whole purpose of Opposition effort tonight has been aimed at deriding public enterprise, as if to suggest that only private contracts are ever successful. We have only to look at the record to see that that is not the case. My experience on a local authority was to the effect that private companies came back again for payment for what they called "extras". If a scheme was three months or six months behind time, what did those firms do? They asked the Council for one reason or another, to pay more money. Many local authorities have to pay private contractors tens of thousands of pounds because they have not completed a job on time or within the costings.

I am being assailed on all sides, with some hon. Members urging me to keep going and others urging me to keep quiet. I conclude by saying that we want direct labour in competition with private enterprise to ensure that we get good building and fewer slums.

9.51 p.m.

Mr. John Moore (Croydon, Central)

This has been an astonishing debate. For the third time, I have sought, like many other hon. Members, to address myself to the problems of London—the greatest city in the world—and I have just three or four minutes to do so. It is very difficult to seek to represent one's constituents in a debate that, in essence, is about an extension of the power of government in a State already benighted by government, whether at local or national level. What an absurd situation!

The time limit makes it difficult to illustrate to one's constituents the appalling nature of the extension of more government by the GLC. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) asked why hon. Members on the Government Benches opposite failed miserably to follow their own voices in the debate into the Lobby. I remind him of Clemenceau, who said: A good speech can change my mind—but my vote, never. That is the attitude we shall see again from hon. Members opposite tonight.

I wish to refer to efficiency and competition to illustrate the absolute nonsense of extending direct labour any further. How can we consider it efficient to run a housing stock and manage it, like the GLC, when its income is only 30 per cent. of its expenditure? That is not efficiency; it is crass moral turpitude. Yet that is how the GLC manages its financial affairs.

The GLC talks about fair competition and addresses private enterprise firms in an attempt to persuade them to advertise in a magazine that the Council plans to send to all its tenants. This is the sort of competition we are talking about when we refer to direct labour. An editorial in the magazine says: 'You and your home' a new magazine to be introduced by the GLC will have a guaranteed 220,000 door-to-door distribution backed by the security of the GLC's own organisational network". It goes on with incredibly peculiar words, which might be appropriate for Mayor Daly, in Chicago, but certainly not for London: Council employees such as residents and mobile caretakers—who know their areas and their tenants—will deliver the handbook personally to all householders. In this way you can be sure that 'You and your home' will reach its target audience in the most direct and sympathetic way. How on earth can we talk about fair competition with this illustration of the way in which the GLC uses its own labour force? This is a classic illustration of an unnecessary extension of government and a failure to serve constituents, from wherever they may come.

9.54 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Brown

The debate on this part of the Bill has been very peculiar. I was prepared to listen to the arguments put by the Opposition, but I could have found better reasons for not having direct labour than they submitted. It was a pretty squalid effort by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) and his hon. Friends. The hon. Member for Hampstead could get nothing more up to date than 1967, and some of his hon. Friends were wallowing about in information from before even that date.

Clause 6 is designed to make direct labour schemes in London efficient and effective. Many of them are. An opportunity is given by Clause 6 to enable the work to be done by direct labour schemes more efficiently than it is now done by private enterprise.

Ratepayers complain when they see the borough council working on a site and the Greater London Council working on an adjacent site. Ratepayers want to know why one authority cannot do the work on both sites. Clause 6 provides an opportunity to ensure that costs are reduced in that way.

We are all urging improvement schemes on our local authorities. It is absurd that a housing association has to go to the local authority for money to do its work, and has to employ its own architects, engineers, surveyors, administrators and builders because the local authority that gives it the money cannot offer to do the work. It is stupid to perpetuate that state of affairs. I am saddened that no Conservative Member seems to understand that that is an expensive way to do business. Clause 6 tries to put that right.

I understand Conservative Members wanting undertakings. The clause gives an undertaking in relation to the accounts. The promoters assure me that the intention is to work within the rules of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. I cannot understand why Conservative Members argue that that is a wrong procedure. The accounts will have to be balanced one year with another, and auditors are available to audit the accounts. The safeguards are already there.

I am surprised by the idea that only direct labour organisations are poor timekeepers. The building of the Ealing Hospital was commenced five years ago by private enterprise and is being paid for by the regional health authority. It is running more than 40 weeks behind time and it will be even more behind time as each week goes by. The private builder has no intention of finishing the hospital and is holding the authority to ransom by threatening to sack the men on the job, which is a great threat to the health service. He is blackmailing the health authority in this way to try to screw more money out of it. It is the most deplorable and disgraceful exhibition I have ever seen.

It saddens me to see the House interfering in local government in this way. We can all make party points and pick out examples, but I hope that the House will decide to vote against the Instruction. The Instruction will not help local government, it will not help the taxpayer or the ratepayer, and I urge the House to vote against it.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown)—

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly:

The House divided: Ayes 228, Noes 159.

Division No. 80. AYES 10.0 p.m.
Aitken, Jonathan Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Alison, Michael Gray Hamish Mudd, David
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Griffiths, Eldon Neave, Airey
Arnold, Tom Grist, Ian Nelson, Anthony
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Grylls, Michael Neubert, Michael
Baker, Kenneth Hall, Sir John Newton, Tony
Banks, Robert Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Normanton, Tom
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Nott, John
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Hannam, John Onslow, Cranley
Benyon, W. Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Oppenheim, Mrs Sally
Berry, Hon Anthony Hastings, Stephen Osborn, John
Biffen, John Hawkins, Paul Page, John (Harrow W)
Biggs-Davison, John Hayhoe, Barney Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Blaker, Peter Heseltine, Michael Parkinson, Cecil
Body, Richard Hicks, Robert Pattie, Geoffrey
Boscawen, Hon Robert Higgins, Terence L. Percival, Ian
Bottomley, Peter Hordern, Peter Peyton, Rt Hon John
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Price, David (Eastleigh)
Braine, Sir Bernard Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Prior, Rt Hon James
Brittan, Leon Hurd, Douglas Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Brotherton, Michael Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Raison, Timothy
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) James, David Rathbone, Tim
Bryan, Sir Paul Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'dt'd) Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Jessel, Toby Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Buck, Antony Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Budgen, Nick Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Bulmer, Esmond Jopling, Michael Ridsdale, Julian
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Rifkind, Malcolm
Carlisle, Mark Kaberry, Sir Donald Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Carson, John Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Channon, Paul King, Tom (Bridgwater) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Churchill, W. S. Kirk, Sir Peter Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Kitson, Sir Timothy Royle, Sir Anthony
Clark, William (Croydon S) Knox, David Sainsbury, Tim
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Lamont, Norman St. John-Stevas, Norman
Cope, John Lane, David Scott, Nicholas
Cormack, Patrick Langford-Holt, Sir John Scott-Hopkins, James
Corrie, John Latham, Michael (Melton) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Costain, A. P. Lawrence, Ivan Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Crouch, David Lawson, Nigel Shelton, William (Streatham)
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) Le Marchant, Spencer Shepherd, Colin
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Lester, Jim (Beeston) Shersby, Michael
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Silvester, Fred
Drayson, Burnaby Loveridge, John Sims, Roger
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Luce, Richard Sinclair, Sir George
Dunlop, John McAdden, Sir Stephen Skeet, T. H. H.
Durant, Tony MacGregor, John Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Dykes, Hugh Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Speed, Keith
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Spence, John
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Elliott, Sir William Madel, David Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Emery, Peter Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Sproat, Iain
Eyre, Reginald Marten, Neil Stainton, Keith
Farr, John Mates, Michael Stanbrook, Ivor
Finsberg, Geoffrey Mather, Carol Stanley, John
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Maude, Angus Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Mawby, Ray Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Fookes, Miss Janet Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stokes, John
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C't'd) Mayhew, Patrick Stradling Thomas, J.
Fox, Marcus Meyer, Sir Anthony Tapsell, Peter
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Fry, Peter Mills, Peter Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. Miscampbell, Norman Tebbit, Norman
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Mitchell, Davild (Basingstoke) Temple-Morris, Peter
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) Moate, Roger Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Monro, Hector Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Glyn, Dr Alan Moore, John (Croydon C) Townsend, Cyril D
Goodhart, Philip More, Jasper (Ludlow) Trotter, Neville
Goodhew, Victor Morgan, Geraint Tugendhat, Christopher
Goodlad, Alastair Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral van Straubenzee, W. R.
Gorst, John Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Viggers, Peter
Wakeham, John Wells, John Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Walters, Dennis Winterton, Nicholas TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Weatherill, Bernard Wood, Rt Hon Richard Mr. John Hunt and
Mr. Neil MacfarIan.
Armstrong, Ernest Gilbert, Dr John O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Golding, John Ovenden, John
Atkinson, Norman Graham, Ted Palmer, Arthur
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Grant, John (Islington C) Park, George
Bean, R. E. Grocott, Bruce Parker, John
Beith, A. J. Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Pavitt, Laurie
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Harper, Joseph Penhaligon, David
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Perry, Ernest
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hart, Rt Hon Judith Phipps, Dr Colin
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Helfer, Eric S. Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Hooley, Frank Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Price, William (Rugby)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Radice, Giles
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Roberts, Gwilym(Cannock)
Buchan, Norman Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Canavan, Dennis Hughes, Roy (Newport) Rooker, J. W.
Cant, R. B. Hunter, Adam Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Carmichael, Neil Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Rowlands, Ted
Cartwright, John Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Sandelson, Neville
Clemitson, Ivor Jeger, Mrs Lena Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Johnson, James (Hull West) Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)
Cohen, Stanley Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Coleman, Donald Jones, Barry (East Flint) Silverman, Julius
Concannon, J. D. Jones, Dan (Burnley) Skinner, Dennis
Conlan, Bernard Judd, Frank Small, William
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Kaufman, Gerald Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Corbett, Robin Kerr, Russell Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Lambie, David Spearing, Nigel
Crawshaw, Richard Lamborn, Harry Spriggs, Leslie
Cryer, Bob Lamond, James Stallard, A. W.
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Stott, Roger
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Leadbitter, Ted Strang, Gavin
Deakins, Eric Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lipton, Marcus Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Dempsey, James Litterick, Tom Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Dormand, J. D. McCartney, Hugh Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce McGuire, Michael (Ince) Tierney, Sydney
Duffy, A. E. P. Mackenzie, Gregor Tinn, James
Dunn, James A. McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Urwin, T. W.
Dunnett, Jack Madden, Max Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Eadie, Alex Marks, Kenneth Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Maynard, Miss Joan Ward, Michael
English, Michael Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Weetch, Ken
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Mendelson, John Wellbeloved, James
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Mikardo, Ian Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Flannery, Martin Millan, Bruce Wise, Mrs Audrey
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Molloy, William Woodall, Alec
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Moyle, Roland Woof, Robert
Ford, Ben Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Wrigglesworth, Ian
Forrester John Newens, Stanley
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Noble, Mike TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Oakes, Gordon Mr. Arnold Shaw and
George, Bruce O'Halloran, Michael Mrs Millie Miller.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clause 6.