HC Deb 14 January 1977 vol 923 cc1809-908

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

I beg to move: That this House, recognising that life in the major cities of Great Britain has been steadily deteriorating since 1945, urges the Government to set in hand urgent studies covering the problems of unemployment, housing, health, planning and transport in order to improve the quality of life for all their inhabitants. It seems somewhat easier than usual, Mr. Speaker, to catch your eye, and I am grateful for the opportunity. I equally welcome my good fortune in winning, certainly for the first time since I have been in the House, any sort of ballot. I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's ballots for premium bonds may soon prove equally successful for me.

I wondered what subject to select, and I decided to try to select a wider-ranging subject. I carefully worded the motion, because I do not think it is possible to define a major city. I thought it would be helpful to Members on both sides of the Chamber if they had an opportunity of talking on the problems that they have found in their cities, whether they are cities of 10,000 or 10 million inhabitants.

My firm intention is to avoid any sort of party-political dog-fight on this occasion. I hope very much that the Government and the House will find it possible to accept the motion, which does not do more than ask them to have some urgent studies undertaken. I may certainly make some critical references but they will be against both political parties.

The broad case that I want to deploy will range over England and Wales as a whole, though obviously I may go into much more detail on specific London matters. It is my intention to include the topics of housing, health, transport, planning and police—all essential components of a civilised life. I appreciate that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment cannot be expected to answer in detail those matters that fall outside his Department. As I am sure that many Members will raise subjects outside his Department, I ask the hon. Gentleman to ensure that his appropriate ministerial colleagues reply to any Member who makes a point that requires an answer.

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

indicated assent.

Mr. Finsberg

I note that the hon. Gentleman nods in assent. Perhaps Hansard did not notice the Minister's nod, but it will have recorded that I have acknowledged his nod.

No one can deny that the inner cities are decaying and may well soon be beyond rescue. Many Members on both sides of the House have been saying that and little notice has been taken of us. I welcome the Inner Area Studies Report, which was published on Wednesday, which gives ample proof of what all of us have been saying.

I seldom find it possible to pay tribute to the Minister for Housing and Construction but on this occasion I offer him wholehearted compliments on a first-class report. It is of immense value to the country, because it goes wider than London, taking into account Liverpool and Birmingham. I shall make one quotation from page 35 of the report. The report there deals with Birmingham, but the words apply to the other areas. The report says: Yet, if these areas and their residents are not helped soon and effectively their decline would accelerate and could lead to a situation when conditions would become too difficult and costly for us to retrieve. That message needs to be put over time and time again by Ministers and Members, especially to local authorities. The report is a valuable document and the right hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on letting the House have these summaries.

Over the past two or three years many of us have read various interim studies and documents from the consultants on Lambeth, Birmingham and Liverpool. They have been an invaluable source of interesting reference and I am sure that we all look forward to the full report promised for later this year.

Some people have already criticised the interim report and its conclusions. I can only feel that they have not read it and that if they have they have not understood it. They certainly cannot have read some of the preliminary documentation to which I have referred. No one can say that that is not an invaluable basis for considering what can be done to retrieve the situation in the inner cities.

What is a city? Is it a place in which to work? Not wholly, or we should have cities comprising merely factories, offices and shops. Is it a place in which to live? Not wholly, or we should have a city comprising purely homes, with people having to travel miles for their recreation, education, pubs and jobs. A city must be a place where people can lead a full life in every sense, where there is work but in attractive working areas, where there are places for leisure and education and places in which we can live. Yet all these must be combined so that we do not get the curse of modern civilisation, uncontrolled traffic.

Equally, we must not follow the popular fad of condemning all traffic. We must find a way of making transport arrangements fit in so as to satisfy the needs of those who have to use public transport and private transport and at the same time remember that if we decide to ban 10-ton or 20-ton lorries from delivering to shops in big cities, their loads will have to be redistributed on to ½-ton vehicles, thus enormously increasing the volume of traffic and raising costs. We must be realistic and see what we can do to make the quality of life bearable.

In any major city we can see monuments to the real villains of the present age—the dedicated planners. In the issue of New Society for 23rd-30th December there is an indictment which we should all read so as to recognise what is happening in our own areas. It says that the whole postwar system of town planning, with its rigid division of built-up areas into separate compartments in which people work, shop, play and live has in many places been economically disastrous —I think that the hon. and right hon. Members for Holborn and St. Pancras South (Mrs. Jeger), Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller), Battersea, South (Mr. Perry), and Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), whose areas I know well, will recognise their own areas— closing small shops, destroying small businesses, squeezing out back-street workshops and light industry, in the worst cases bringing economic activity to a virtual standstill. The aim was to increase the rateable value. But often there has been little real gain because of blight, delay, letting difficulties and purchase and compensation. In how many areas of London, and certainly of Birmingham, have we seen these living communities destroyed and then rebuilt as concrete jungles?

I am not surprised that we read in the Press that Mrs. Buggins has been found dead on the seventh floor of her tower block after three weeks because no one took an interest in her. The bulldozed properties may have been bad, but people knew their neighbours, and if Mrs. Bug-gins' milk bottle was not taken in, someone soon popped in to see what the trouble was.

We have all now united against this trend, but each of us fell for it in the past. We are united now on the policy of rehabilitation but we were all sold on the policy of redevelopment. It does no harm to admit that the majority of us were completely wrong.

How often have we heard the planners extol the virtues of high-rise flats? We fell for it. How often have they told a committee chairman "It would be much nicer and tidier if we took in that rather larger area; I know that one or two houses there have 20 or 30 years' life left, but to leave them would be untidy and make the scheme difficult"? The fault of local government is that when elected representatives are faced with these enormous plans costing tens of millions of pounds and are told that any delay will set the whole thing back two years, we have fallen for it. We have been told how much neater the job is if done by a bulldozer. We have all learned now that the answer is rehabilitation not redevelopment.

What has resulted from the folly that local government, irrespective of party policy or central Government policy, has allowed to happen to this country since 1945? In Liverpool, 80 per cent. of jobs in redevelopment areas have been lost because the small firms' premises have been knocked down and never gone back. In Birmingham, a city that I know well, 1,500 firms were displaced in the first phase of the city's redevelopment. More than 400 of them have gone out of business. In Kensington, over 100 shops were demolished and are to be replaced with five. Do we wonder that people in major cities are becoming unhappy and uneasy and feel that the whole machine is out of control and that they count for nothing?

I do not say that the House or local government should bend over backwards to accept every argument of every conservationist—that would be equal folly—but we must be certain that we are not fooled by either argument and that we take a long hard look at what we have caused. The document "Inner Area Studies" is the best example of how things have gone wrong and what we may— I do not say that we will—be able to do to put things right.

Inner London, especially the east and the south, is in absolute decline. In the 1960s, the capital recorded the largest single population loss of any British city. It is currently running at 100,000, or 1½ per cent., per annum. The revised figure for 1981 is a total population of 6.3 million. The main loss has been from the skilled working sector. The financial burden for the provision of services is carried by a decreasing base. Rateable value is being lost by firms and industry being thwarted by prohibitive office rents, land rates and development control.

There may be grounds for the argument that London needs another method of additional finance—perhaps a tourist tax. I merely throw that out as one idea which cannot be ignored.

Despite the general view that London's wealth and conditions should make it a source of redistributory resources, inner London is in severe danger of becoming a ghost city, with only a facade of the commercial and cultural status once accorded to it and relying on an increasingly deprived population.

The total number of jobs in London fell from 4.3 million to 3.9 million between 1961 and 1974. This loss has led to high and persistent levels of unemployment. In July 1975, 15 London employment exchanges had rates above the average for England and Wales and in April 1976, 21 out of 60 local employment office areas in London had unemployment rates at least 10 per cent. above the national average. I get a little tired of some of my colleagues from other parts of the country talking as if London's streets are still paved with gold. Canning Town's unemployment rate was 9.2 per cent. above the national average, that for Poplar 15 per cent. above the national average, and that for Stepney 13.4 per cent.

What is, perhaps, worrying for all of us is that this rate of unemployment is particularly severe among young West Indians, and we are building up trouble for ourselves.

Manufacturing industry has shown the most dramatic shrinkage—from 1.43 million jobs in 1961 to 0.94 million in 1974. There has also been a decline in service employment in the capital. Even London's growth services—financial business and public administration—although they are expanding, are doing so 50 per cent. more slowly than the rest of the country.

The losses are due roughly, as I have been able to discover, 50 per cent. to firms closing down, 23 per cent. to firms cutting down on employees, 9 per cent. because they have moved to assisted areas, and 11 per cent, because firms have moved to the South-East.

Firms are closing down, first, because of planning controls, IDC controls and ODP; secondly, because of sudden rises in rents and continual rises in rates—up over 90 per cent. in the period 1971 to 1976; and, thirdly, because of the decentralisation policies of successive Governments.

Total employment fell in central London by 6.4 per cent. in the years 1966 to 1971. In 1971 there were 1.25 million jobs. If the decline continues there will be only 1 million by 1981. With office employment down to 663,000 compared with the 750,000 on which London's office policy is based, planning controls must be removed; yet the experts suggest that there is little point in attempting completely to revitalise inner London.

I do not accept this. Particular encouragement should be given to those activities for which London is highly suitable—office demand and services catering for national and international enterprises, and with strategic development in areas such as the docklands.

I will consider the matter of office development first. The Government's current policy is to raise ODPs from 10,000 sq. ft. to 15,000 sq. ft. Controls will still be strictly applied to larger developments. Applicants will be required to show that a move to an assisted area is not really practicable.

However, the Government recognise that ODPs cause rigidities and distortions in the market and that the named tenant requirement reduces the supply of speculative building for small premises. However, they see control is providing an opportunity for steering office development and are still in part committed to a policy of decentralisation, although I think that there is now some recognition of the dangers.

However, because of the fall-off in clerical workers, the severe cutbacks in the public sector, and progress towards automation, the danger is that there will be a decline in office employment compounded by that in manufacturing industry. I suggest that the ODP system must not be renewed after August of this year when its present powers expire.

The Location of Offices Bureau, whose terms of reference were to encourage the decentralisation of office employment from central London to suitable centres elsewhere, was set up in 1965. Despite protestations, it continues its work. There is a danger that the new downward trend in London will be accentuated and accelerated if the bureau continues its activities. Although it maintains that London's problem has been caused by the closure of firms, the publicity it gives to the benefits which can derive from a move from the centre is clearly detrimental, and it is questionable whether it should continue its efforts to encourage businesses to move out of London. I do not think that the Bureau has any further function.

On IDCs, it is clear to all of us that London's industry is in decline, yet even a firm that is already operating in London has to apply for an IDC if it wishes to expand. There have been relaxations in the policy which allow developments of up to 10,000 sq. ft. and replacement IDCs for outmoded premises, and there are indications that these will be further increased.

I suggest that IDCs are redundant and should be abolished if the Government —I do not mind the party of the Government—want industrial rejuvenation in London. Many companies are put off from applying for an IDC even though they might get it. They do not want to go through all the rigmarole.

In support of measures to increase the attractiveness of London to existing and new manufacturing industry, London should like other parts of the country, be allowed to advertise for industry. I welcome the Government's intention to examine whether they can relax the present restriction.

I want to make it clear that I am not asking for any financial support for London. All I am asking is that the policies which have tied our hands behind our backs should at least be relaxed and we should be allowed to compete fairly with other parts of the country, many of whose problems are not as bad as ours although they are receiving financial help.

The rate support grant is one of the arguments used by those outside London who say "You are doing marvellously in London". Rate support grant settlements under successive Governments regard London as having a high rateable value, which theoretically it has. They disregard the fact that rateable value bears little relationship to the ability of the population to bear the rates levied and no direct relationship to potential rate income.

The present financial system is severely biased against London. The reason lies in the needs element of the RSG. This year the RSG has been cut from 65.5 per cent. to 61 per cent. and clawback increased from 33 per cent. to 62.5 per cent. On the face of it, the metropolitan authorities have done better than the shire counties, but in the case of London the effects of the clawback, due to London having a unique concentration of valuable rate-yielding property, are that London will get an increase over last year's allocation of only 0.5 per cent. This means that the RSG for London is up £255 million on last year, but with the clawback at 62½ per cent. the amount taken back is £193 million. Therefore, the basic benefit for London is up by only £62 million.

I am certain that rates will have to rise above the 15 per cent. predicted in many London boroughs. The irony of this lies in the fact that the Department of the Environment has professed deep concern about the plight of inner cities. Yet what it gives openly with one hand it surreptitiously takes back with the other.

As a result of the high level of claw-back, London receives substantially less in support than many other areas. In 1974–75 it received as a whole £300 million less, yet its problems are more pressing than those of many other areas. This points to the need for a change both in central and local government relationships and in the financial arrangements dealing with London. I do not think that the Minister, as a London Member, can be unaware of the problems, which will clearly have been represented to him by his local authority amongst many others.

The proposed Water Charges Equalisation Bill, which we are to discuss on Monday, will similarly disadvantage London. The Thames Water Authority will be required to make a net payment of approximately £4 million, which amount will have to be recovered by a minimum increase of 7 per cent. in the domestic water rates of the hard-pressed Londoner. I still venture to be an optimist and hope that that Bill will somehow be dropped from Monday's business.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)

Can my hon. Friend tell us how much extra this water equalisation charge will cost the North-West?

Mr. Finsberg

I recall that the North-West will have to pay an extra £1 million, as will Yorkshire and Severn Trent. All of these are in hard-pressed areas. I hope to be able to catch the eye of the Chair on Monday to make a more detailed attack on the Water Charges Equalisation Bill.

I turn now to the problem of health care and look for a moment at the work of the Resource Allocation Working Party—known as RAWP. RAWP recommended that the NHS revenue purchasing power of the four Thames regional health authorities should be altered and reduced. It wants to redistribute the cash geographically to less well-off areas and to switch from acute to community services. The Government, although they seem to be worried about the Thames regions, especially in relation to the position of the teaching hospitals, have reinforced this commitment to a fairer allocation of money between the differing regions of the country and between rich and poor areas of districts. They have decided that the north-east region will have a ¼ pet cent. increase in real terms in its revenue allocation. The other three Thames regions will get a "higher" increase. It has, however, been recognised that a ¼ per cent. increase really represents a cut in the region's ability to meet the growing demand arising from demographic changes, in some places actual reductions in some services are likely to be unavoidable". However, this year's allocation bodes even worse for the future because the RAWP formula for computing additional revenue need is potentially more detrimental to London than the Department has yet realised.

I turn now to teaching hospitals. There is something called the service increment for teaching, which is delightfully reduced to something called SIFT. If I refer to "SIFT", and "RAWP", I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will know what I am talking about. The SIFT formula is to deal with the additional costs of providing facilities at teaching hospitals. It is computed at an average rate on a national basis without making any differentiation for London. Therefore, the total SIFT allowance is 2.6 million less than the former teaching and research allowance. Regardless of the fact that London contains the majority of "centres of excellence"—that is a Ministry term, not mine—and has a high prestige in this area, there is intended to be equalisation of these resources throughout the regions, which will be to London's detriment.

I wish now to deal with the question of national bed norms. Ignoring different areas of deprivation, for example, between Brent and Harrow, the mathematical formula allocates exactly the same amount of beds to each area regardless of relative need. The formula takes no account of the need for acute beds by the teaching hospitals. This is an almost standstill allocation. It will prove to be a great strain on resources and will create a climate in which it will be impossible to carry out much-needed rationalisation.

I refer hon. Members to an excellent article in the British Medical Journal of October 1976 by Sir Francis Avery Jones which contains a first-class analysis of this subject. The effect of this policy is clear. There will be a severe cut-back in the number of acute beds in inner London, especially the Camden and Islington area, despite the fact that that part of London has a wide catchment area and many of the patients will not come from Camden and Islington local authorities.

The loss of acute speciality beds will make it extremely hard for present standards of clinical tuition to be maintained. In a way we are eating the seed corn. Once that is done, it cannot be used again. The SIFT formula will make it impossible to maintain teaching hospitals at their present levels. In the North-West Thames area, six centres of excellence would have to be closed. The formula ignores the special needs of Central London and its expense, extensive areas of poverty and the importance of teaching and research which makes London unique. I do not believe that anyone would gainsay that.

The Government have said that there is no "imminent" closure of any major London teaching hospital. I submit that it is not a question of a conscious policy decision. The economic climate that DHSS policy is creating will make it impossible for many units to continue. London's specialist function and its prestige value in medicine must be recognised as a separate entity and treated as such.

Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

I strongly agree with everything the hon. Member is saying about health policy in central London. Would he care to add to the difficulties he has mentioned a fact that seems to have been overlooked by the planners, namely, the enormous day-time population in the area? This puts a particular strain on casualty and out-patients departments. This factor places the area in a completely different situation which does not fit the arithmetic of the norm.

Mr. Finsberg

I agree. This has always been the problem in central London, whether we are talking about hospital provision or public library provision. It is necessary to cater for a vast increase in the day-time population. Th hon. Lady and I have been working hard on a related matter, namely, the closure of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital. I regard that closure as monstrous. There is no other word for it.

Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)

The hon. Member is making a jolly good speech. While he is dealing with the medical aspect perhaps he will comment on something which I am sure he will have experienced, as I have. Today, more than ever before, there is a demand for psychiatric help. The demand for mental health care is great and hospitals in the inner London area are under enormous pressure. They have difficulty in providing the places required to rehabilitate these people.

Mr. Finsberg

The right hon. Member for Bermondsey, as so often, is right. This is a major problem. It points to the fact that perhaps at some stage the House will find it useful to have a debate on health service problems. We may, alas, find a certain amount of political acrimony in that debate, but I do not think that we need to have that today. I agree with the right hon. Member that much more attention needs to be paid to what could be called the day care of patients requiring treatment for mental conditions. Under present policy this is not possible.

I know that I shall be accused by some of advocating increased public expenditure. Consequently, I shall make what I hope will be my only controversial comment. It seems to be folly that at a time when the health service is under such pressure the Government should throw away the £20 million income from private beds.

I turn now to the subject of Dock-lands. This has become the most extreme example of the blight and deprivation that is becoming common in most inner cities. The closure of the docks, partly because of containerisation, the surplus of unskilled workers, the drop in rate revenue, the old and unfit housing and an appalling communications system epitomise the urban malaise. Yet there are few single areas with such large redevelopment potential. The potential is vast and its implications far-reaching. It would re-invigorate the whole economy of East London. The Docklands area has land available for industry, employment and housing. Most of its 5,500 acres are available for redevelopment. There is no need for large-scale compulsory purchase. What is needed is incentive, sensitive planning, a balance between residential and industrial uses and an end to the bickering that has been going on for too long between local authorities in that part of London. At some risk of being unpopular I can recall that when I was sitting on the Government side of the House I said that if I had to make an instant decision on the future of Docklands I would create a Docklands redevelopment corporation with the right hon. Member for Bermondsey as the chairman. At least action would be taken and Docklands would be developed.

Mr. Mellish

The hon. Gentleman has been very kind. If I am offered such a job, I shall take it at once.

Mr. Finsberg

I hope that the present Patronage Secretary will note that.

I hope that all impediments to growth in Docklands—the ban on advertising, the IDC controls—will be removed. It is now generally agreed by the more sensible people in planning and in this House that there must be a proper housing mix to bring about a balanced community. I do not think that a 20 per cent. level of owner-occupation is necessarily the best way of encouraging the professional sector to come into Docklands. We do not want anywhere to create the sort of community that some of the planners have been looking at so far. Docklands must not become a vast housing estate with no character. We have seen the results of that too often, with vandalism and so on. There is also a need for private financial investment and for property development companies to play their part in the redevelopment of Dock-lands.

Transport is also a vital problem in Docklands. Communications are completely inadequate. There is no Tube line, except at the very west of the area, and the roads are inadequate and congested. The rail services are infrequent and not the most pleasant. Because of the economic climate, the possibility of the new River Line is receding. I suppose that at present roads may be more important, for they carry both freight and people. The Department has not yet committed financial assistance for the roads, but I believe that they should be one of the key areas of resource commitment, for poor catchment areas do not encourage new development.

Transport is the bloodstream of London and any other modern city. An efficient transport infrastructure is vital to London's well-being. London Transport has a good Chairman. I pay tribute to Kenneth Roinson. His predecessor, Sir Richard Way, was equally good, but Kenneth Robinson has the advantage of having been a Member of Parliament and a Minister, and he knows how to respond to political pressure from Members of Parliament as opposed to members of the GLC. It is important that hon. Members are not overlooked.

London Transport needs efficient management and it needs to try to secure productivity increases and restrain rising costs. We need to re-examine London's bus system. Having travelled on buses in Manchester and elsewhere, I suggest that too many London bus routes have remained untouched for half a century. Too many of London's buses still try to cross the whole city in one journey, despite the fact that 70 per cent. of bus journeys are under two miles. New bus routes might meet people's requirements and save time, patience and money. If people say that that means buying two or three tickets, my reply is that Amsterdam has the solution. There one buys a tram ticket and can make as many journeys and change as many times as one likes for an hour, which is the normal time that most people wish to travel. Therfore, there is no difficulty if London Transport will bring itself up to date.

We need to put some pressure on the Home Office to ease the licensing restrictions so that we may have an experimental development of new and unconventional services—shared taxis, jitneys and the like—all of which would make a major contribution towards solving the problem. It was in October 1970 that the Maxwell Stamp report on the London taxicab trade was presented to Parliament. As the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) has often pointed out, the Home Office has a reputation as the most dilatory of all Government Departments. There have been intolerable delays by the Home Office under both Governments, and Londoners are suffering as a result. Nothing is being done to modernise London's taxi and general hire trade.

I turn to the problems of the police. Crime, especially violent crime, threatens the whole fabric of city life. I am horrified when I walk down some streets in my constituency and hear people say "I would not walk down there at night now". It is a terrifying thought that in a London suburb people are unwilling to walk down a street at night. Indeed, there have been attacks upon people in daylight. To me, this is one of the most blatant signs of the problems of the inner city. I know that the problems in Hampstead and Camden bear little resemblance to some of the problems in areas such as Lambeth and Brixton, but they are growing, and we want to do something to stop that.

We must prevent further increases in the crime rate. The police have a vital part to play. They are society's frontline troops in the war against crime. London has been remarkably well served by Sir Robert Mark, one of the most distinguished post-war police officers. Under his determined leadership the Metropolitan Police have come through what I can only describe as a very difficult period remarkably well. The recent corruption trials do not demonstrate the weakness of the police force. I am sick and tired of all newspapers putting as their headline to a report of a criminal case "Ex-policeman in front of the court". The man may have been a special constable 25 years previously. One seldom sees in a headline a reference to "ex-journalist" or "Ex-editor", though there are references to "MP", "MP's relation" or "Ex-MP". It would be nice if, occasionally, the Press was as fair as it says it is and said whether the person concerned had ever contributed one article to one newspaper. That would make him as much of an ex-journalist as a man who was a special constable for a week or a month in Rhodesia is an ex-policeman. Let us have fairness.

What the recent corruption trials have shown is the strength of the police and their determination to root out troublemakers in their ranks. I wish every good fortune to the new Commissioner and hope that he will have the same firm backing from this House as his predecessor had on almost all occasions.

The bobby on the beat is in the end the most important person in the fight against crime. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We were taken in by the planners on high-rise. Were we taken in on the matter of the bobby in the panda car and the bobby on the moped? I think that some of us were. Certainly, the Home Office seems to have been. It gave a great deal of encouragement to the concept of the bobby in the car. I still think that the best deterrent is the sight of a policeman walking the beat. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear".] We must do all we can to encourage people to join the police as full-time policemen and special constables. I hope that all hon. Members who have been saying "Hear, hear" to what I have said will give their active encouragement to their local police in the campaign later this year to recruit special constables.

We need to get establishments up to strength. I hope that all will agree that, certainty in the inter-city areas, the police should be immune to public expenditure cuts. There need to be stricter punishments, especially for crimes of violence. We also need to reform the Children and Young Persons Act, which has produced the horrifying situation of hardened child criminals being beyond the reaches of the criminal law. Something must be done to protect society from the eight-year-olds. The present legislation gives no such protection.

Whatever we talk about, housing in the inner cities is the core of the problem. If there is not proper housing, one cannot expect people to do a proper job or bring their children up in proper surroundings. London's housing problems have worsened. I do not think that anyone can deny that. We all thought that with the enormous housing programmes we might begin to see an end to the problem, but that is not happening. Things seem just as bad.

I am worried at the increasing choosiness of people on housing waiting lists. People who come to my surgeries say "I am on the housing waiting list, and have heard nothing from the council for four years". The same evening somebody else comes along and says "I am in desperate trouble, I am living with my four children in a damp, rat-infested basement in two rooms. What are my chances of getting on the housing waiting list?" Frequently on investigation one finds that the first family has been offered two or three units of accommodation which it has turned down. How can one say to the second family which is waiting to go on the waiting list "Sorry, but you are just one family on the list after some 8,000 people", when those people are turning down accommodation? If a local authority is doing its job properly, it should not offer sub-standard accommodation to people on waiting lists.

Mrs. Millie Miller (Ilford, North)

The hon. Gentleman may also appreciate that it can mean a lifetime of misery if a family accepts unsuitable accommodation.

Mr. Finsberg

The hon. Lady anticipates what I am about to say. I am grateful for her comment, which reinforces my argument. I find it impossible to say to the family which is not on the waiting list "You will wait even longer because people are being choosy."

The solution lies in improving the transfer system in local authority housing. The worst aspect of local authorities is that they are utterly insensitive on these matters. I have pressed the Ministry on more than one occasion to set up a working party to examine the transfer system. So many local authorities take the view "We have rehoused these families and therefore do not need to bother about them any more". If the property is unsuitable, it should be sufficiently rehabilitated to make it suitable. If it is not suitable for anything other than short term accommodation, those people should be urgently considered for transfer as soon as possible. Therefore, I agree completely with the hon. Lady. The present system is the weak link in local authorities.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

So far I have agreed with practically everything the hon. Gentleman has said. Does he not agree that council house tenants have come to expect a first-class flat on their first application? Does he not think that there should be a progression from the older properties in councils to newer properties, so that the 30 and 40-year-old properties may be occupied rather than left empty?

Mr. Finsberg

That is a possibility. There are some people who prefer 40year-old properties because they have better proportions compared to some of the new concrete coffins. We need more flexibility in the allocation departments of councils and staffs locally need to read more carefully the details in housing applications so that they do not send a person who is crippled with arthritis to a 17th-floor flat in a block where the lift frequently breaks down.

One of the problems in London lies in the slowness of the building operations. The average pre-contract period for inner London and GLC schemes has increased by a period of two years, whereas in major provincial cities that time has been reduced. London contracts on average run at only half the speed of contracts in major provincial cities, and in some London boroughs they run at only one-third of the speed elsewhere. The situation to which I refer runs across party boundaries.

The result of this slow development process is that capital sums of £700 million to £800 million are tied up in London's construction programme, which is about half the national total, and yet produce only one-fifth of the dwellings required. Site labour productivity is also low at about two-thirds of the rest of the country, and if the figures were available they would probably show that professional productivity was low as well.

Construction costs are high, as indeed are the costs of maintenance and management. In regard to maintenance the Greater London Council in 1975–76 spent £157 per unit and the management figure amounted to £98 per unit. In Lambeth, the respective figures were £191 and £160; in Birmingham £83 and £38; and in Manchester £71 and £36.

There must be a reason for this situation. It arises not merely from London weighting, because there is some form of provincial weighting as well. I believe that the difficulty arises because of the lack of care on the part of the Committees that control development and management. This situation needs to be examined much mere carefully.

The cumulative effect of what is happening has discouraged the effective use of the housing stock in London and most of the large cities. According to Shelter, the estimated number of homeless is increasing. As housing costs have risen, middle-income families have been driven out of central London, and that has had serious long-term effects. Other families are forced to take what they are given by councils. A city in which ordinary families find it increasingly difficult to obtain reasonable accommodation at reasonable cost is bound to suffer serious and cumulative social problems.

This seems to me to be a singularly inappropriate time for public expenditure cuts to fall so heavily on housing associations. It seems inequitable that cuts of £180 million in housing terms should be distributed so that housing association programmes which take only 10 per cent. of housing expenditure should be cut by one-third.

Let me try to draw together the threads of my argument. Neglected cities breed their own problems of vandalism, mugging, decay, unemployment and, perhaps worst of all, despair. I have tried to paint a picture of London as I know it, and indeed, of other major cities as I know them, but less well. I have not necessarily offered solutions, but I have tried—I hope in a constructive way—to pose the problems and see what common ground may exist in all parts of the House.

The studies carried out by the Government on the situation in the inner area of cities give cause for much thought. However, the next generation will not accept thought, but will require action. If we fail that generation the heart of our major cities will decay and will become carbon copies of what one sees in New York and Washington. They will become places from which people try to migrate if they wish to obtain jobs and to maintain their self-respect. We should not allow this to happen.

11.58 a.m.

Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)

The whole House is indebted to the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), first, for his luck in the Ballot, and, secondly, for choosing this subject for debate. He half apologised for concentrating on the problems of London. He certainly did not have to apologise to me. When we are talking about the cities of our great country, almost inevitably the argument turns to London, because there is hardly a problem which is not to be found there, particularly in the inner areas. I thank him for raising the matter and for the non-party spirit in which he did so. That is to his credit also. Nothing is gained by introducing party politics into some of the issues involved. I shall try to follow the hon. Member's example.

I plead guilty to the fact that some of the problems with which we are faced in London were initially my responsibility. That shows how non-party I am being. In my defence, however, I should add that some of the actions were begun even before I took office as a Minister in 1964.

When I was appointed a junior Minister with responsibility for London housing by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) in 1964, we received the advice, which had also been given to the previous Conservative Government, that at all costs London had to be denuded of population and industry. We were told that it was growing fat and bloated and that the other regions were suffering as a consequence. Foolishly enough, I believed it. I took the advice of those great planners. For many months I spent much time urging industry and people to leave London.

Looking back now, I realise that it was about the worst advice that any Government were ever given. We continued the course which the previous Government had started, and it reached such a momentum that it had enormous success. I remember going to a big firm in my constituency and pleading with 600 of my constituents to leave there and go to Scotland. The very thought of it almost makes me feel ill. How stupid I was to do it. But it is a fact.

Amid all the talk of devolution, I feel angry at some of the ideas going around that we in Lindon are still in a lush position. It is not true. But we did it in those days because we were given planning advice that London was getting too big. We made the mistake then, and we might make it again today, of talking of London in the context of the South-East Region. There is a difference between the South-East Region and London. The capital is an entity in its own right. It has its own, separate problems. Those problems are even more acute in the inner areas.

When I took office in 1964, my lord and master was the late Dick Crossman. One of these days I shall write my own book and tell what really went on. I shall not say anything about that now, however, because I am in a peaceful mood. But I will say that, to his everlasting credit, Dick Crossman was a dynamic Minister. He did not know the difference between a flat and a maisonette, but he did want housing to go up in London and the rest of the country. Once he got to understand something about the housing problems, he was appalled by many of the things he saw and read about.

We talk a great deal about the appalling mistakes made in building high-rise blocks of flats. But let me make a defence of what was done in that era, which was the responsibility of both Conservative and Labour Ministers. I shall give a simple explanation to show how we all made what is now seen to have been an appalling blunder.

In my area we had blocks of Victorian flats with densities of 850 to the acre. The Victorians achieved that by having no toilets for individual families and by having one tap shared by five families. They were incredible slums. Living in one of these blocks were about 600 families. Of course, we said in that era "These slums must go because they are an affront to humanity. We cannot allow them to go on." So we built blocks of flats by the industrialised systems. We literally threw them up, and we made mistakes sometimes in the building. We did it to get people out of filthy slums. At the time, the new blocks were heaven upon earth to many of those who occupied them. They were given separate toilets, separate baths and other facilities. Architecturally the buildings looked appalling outside, but nevertheless they were looked upon then as heaven.

I remember visiting one of those new flats where the woman was so pleased that she had tied red ribbon on a tap. "What is that for?" I asked her. She replied "Bob, this is the first time I have ever had a tap of my own." She celebrated by christening it with red ribbon—note that it was red and not blue.

We know now, of course, that the high-rise blocks were a mistake. But they were built for good motives. I have suffered at local level for them because we have some rather bad examples of the great blocks of that age. We have a right to criticise what was done in those days, but these blocks were constructed for the best of motives. No local authority today would have the temerity, now that we know what we do, to put forward any schemes for tower blocks. They are out. I see that the Greater London Council, for example, has unanimously agreed never again to build such tower blocks.

Even in London, however, the planners, the statisticians, the bright characters—who do not live in London anyway —can produce figures to show that there is more housing than families in London. As the years go on, we shall get more and more municipal housing. I used to be Member for the old Bermondsey constituency until the Boundaries Commission—that thick-headed lot who are always on our backs and reorganise things as soon as we settle down, and who do so with no regard for some of the problems we have to live with—added part of Southwark and created a new constituency. But the part of Bermondsey that I represent now does not have a single known scheduled slum, and I say that with pride. We have cleared them all. In the area, nearly 70 per cent. of the housing is municipally owned.

While some of my hon. Friends have been writing articles, papers and theses and passing resolutions, even on the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, the people I have been associated with have been doing the job. We do not pass resolutions or write papers: we build houses and get rid of slums. Before some of my hon. Friends write any more theses and pass any more resolutions, they should ask themselves at local level whether they have got rid of their slums. Until they have done so, I am not prepared to listen to them.

The biggest heartache in an area such as mine, with its large proportion of municipal housing, is transfer. We are going to face demands for more and more transfers. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, representing Greenwich, knows a lot about this problem at his local level. When a family living in three-bedroom accommodation wants to transfer to one-bedroom accommodation, there is no justification for not doing something to meet its wishes. The transfer system is deplorable. The key is decentralisation—and I am not entering party politics on that either. If ever London has suffered, it has been from the wretched reorganisation of local government. For years we had to spend time building up new empires. I ended up with three town clerks, three borough engineers, three of this and three of that. But all this was not getting anything more done.

The transfer scheme ought to be given special attention, and the Department of the Environment ought to help in matters of this kind. I believe that the Ministry of Housing should be more involved in helping with these social problems than it now is. It is silly to refer to the Housing Department as the Department of the Environment because it is so vast. I refer to it as the Ministry of Housing. That Department cannot turn its back on the problems of the inner London areas.

We also have youngsters coming from the North and other places down to the bright lights of London. All of us know that tonight several thousand young people will have nowhere to sleep. We know about the social problems. To its credit, the Evening News did a first-class job in spotlighting the problems of these children, both boys and girls. It is no good the DOE saying "It has nothing to do with us. It is a local authority problem." When the Department takes that attitude, the local authorities move in and say "It is not a matter for us. It is a problem for Camden". Camden came out of the argument rather unfortunately because it has a railway terminus. The children arrive at the railway terminus and think that this is London. King's Cross and Camden have some special problems, but so does my own area.

The Government should help with regard to homelessness and youngsters of this kind. There should be four centres—north, south, east and west—in London run by the Government. The Government should be involved along with the borough councils and the GLC. They need to be involved so that the homeless and these youngsters have somewhere to go.

Everyone knows what happens now. The local authorities do their best to push these people on to someone else. They say that they can help only if a person lives in the borough, but one has to live there for five years. What sort of an attitude is that? The DOE knows of this. I want Government involvement in homelessness and youngsters of this kind. If the Government are not involved, the problem is simply passed to the local authorities, who are compelled to accept the responsibility.

Under the results of the Boundary Commission, I inherited half of what was the old London borough of Southwark. I have more lodging houses for vagrants and unfortunates in my constituency than has any other hon. Member of this House. I am not bragging about it. I am stating it as a fact. The result is that those who are without homes—vagrants and people with special heartaches—come to my constituency because that is where some of the beds are likely to be found for a night's sleep.

Many of these people must be mentally ill. They do not work and they do not even look for work. They are not scroungers. They do not go to social security. They are rather sad and pathetic. They are not given lots of money. Do not let the Press make something out of that. They are given Giro cheques to enable them to pay for hostels in my constituency.

That in itself creates problems. I have just lived through an ordeal because the DHSS honourably wanted to transfer a centre that makes these special emergency payments about 150 yards into the main road between two schools. There was an outcry from the local residents. No other hon. Member could have a problem worse than that. I understand the point of view of the residents, but I also understand the need of the DHSS.

The Government cannot land us with a problem of that sort. It has to be shared. It has to be clearly understood that some of the inner London boroughs in particular are taking a stress that is out of all proportion.

I wish that a place like Cheltenham had some of these heartaches. It would then know what social heartache was like. I have more meths drinkers who come into my constituency because we have railway arches which they use for a night's shelter. What does the DOE know or care? What is it to the Department?

A borough like mine has to have special provision of social services and special money to do special jobs. It needs more money than the Cheltenhams of this world which do not have these special problems. My borough cannot be compared with any other with regard to problems of this kind. I want special money for special facilities in areas such as mine in inner London.

I have two famous teaching hospitals in the London borough of Southwark. One is King's and the other is Guy's. I was on the board of governors of both hospitals and I have a great affection and respect for them. One of the trends in the hospital world today is that more people are suffering from mental stress, but, thankfully people nowadays are not ashamed to say that they have a mental illness. Years ago a great stigma was attached to this. Thankfully we have got away from that attitude and there is now nothing terrible about a person having mental strain. It is just the same as someone who has a broken leg.

Medical and psychiatric treatment is now very good. Electrical treatment and all the rest is doing a tremendous job. But the local demands are tremendous. There is now some argument about how much of the hospital service that we have available should be handed over for psychiatric cases and how much should be retained for surgery and all the rest. There is still an antipathy towards psychiatric medicine. If Government aid is required, it should be given.

I join the hon. Member for Hampstead in his tribute to Sir Robert Mark. Sir Robert is a magnificent police officer who has done a job of which every Londoner should be proud.

One part of police work that does not get any publicity relates to the neighbourhood police. These are policemen who are usually in plain clothes and are designated certain estates. They get to know the kids in those areas and they certainly know the parents. I have a number of them in my constituency and I am very proud of them. They do a first-class job. One does not need laws to deal with an 8-year-old child. One needs a policeman who will take them by the scruff of the neck and go to the parent and ask "Does that belong to you, because he has just done so and so?"

The trouble with this House is that it thinks that if we pass laws everything will be all right. I wish that were true. We would all be living in Utopia. But all of us know that what is required is more neighbourhood police. I am not so keen on the "bobby" walking down the road —he does not impress me so much. I am concerned with areas having their own particular "bobby" who is one of the local people. I want to see a far greater extension of the neighbourhood police scheme.

I come from a police family, and I have great affection for the service. The greatest deterrent to men becoming policemen is that one-third of their lives is spent on night work—from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.; and then there is that terrifying shift from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. How many people would do that? Policemen get one weekend off in three or four. Yet in this House we spend a lot of time criticising the police. We must be joking. I think that a man must be half mad to be a policeman anyway. I wish that this night work rota could be looked at, because I do not think it is necessary for every policeman to be on at night time.

The crooks—and I know a bit about them too—generally pack up at about midnight. Most robberies in London occur in the afternoon. Things have changed. The old idea that everything to do with crime went on after midnight is just not true these days. London, like many cities, is pretty dead after midnight, with the exception of Saturday night, of course.

Finally, I want to take up this matter of Dockland. Much of the 6,000 acres is on my river front. It stretches down to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett), who will be replying to this debate. I have always had a dream about this—and perhaps dreaming is all one can do these days—that this is the one big chance for London. It is our first chance since the Great Fire of the seventeenth century. When all that area was burned, Christopher Wren produced a wonderful plan which, had it been adopted, would have made London, without doubt, the greatest city the world has ever seen. Christopher Wren envisaged three-lane dual carriageways in London. Of course he did not understand about motor cars, but he believed in space and vision. He believed in tree planting and he wanted industry isolated from living areas. However, the powers-that-be at the time—I am not making a party political point here—would not let that happen. The vested interests of that day said "Not on your life" and the plan was destroyed. The Church took an interest, and that is why we have St. Paul's Cathedral, as the Government at that time was frightened of the Church.

Now, once again, we have a chance, and I urge my hon. Friend not to let that chance go. Are we going to muff it again and use every single economic argument today that was used in the past? I know the economic problems of Britain, but I also know London. No doubt some of my hon. Friends will criticise me for this and say that London should not have anything that Liverpool does not get, for example. But Liverpool does not have the same chance with the docklands. We have six miles of Dockland which could be developed into the greatest city in the world, if we start on it now.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

I appreciate the point my right hon. Friend makes, but he must keep to the facts. The problem of dockland in Liverpool is the same as it is in London. We have six miles of docks, at least, lying derelict. We are in the same position as London, and it is a tragedy.

Mr. Mellish

I accept that from my hon. Friend. But I understand that this dockland in Liverpool was not intended for the development of housing. What has happened in London is that we have a whole area which has become derelict because industry has moved away and will never return. We do not want it back. We are talking about a redevelopment of new industry and light industry, and it is the chance of a lifetime.

I believe that a joint docklands committee has been set up, but it cannot really make any move unless there is an extension of the river line. It is an integral part of anything planned for Dockland that there must be an extension of the river line. I know that the cost involved will be millions of pounds. But I appeal to the Department, because no one is asking for hundreds of millions of pounds to be spent this year, or even next year. It will be spread over a period of years, and it is money that would be well spent.

I dream of that area being colourful, the sort of area which people going up and down the river in boats will look at and say "This is not a council development. It is the finest Britain can produce." I want housing in the area, not council flats. I want gardens with people living in conditions that will attract every young married couple in London. I believe that this is the greatest chance we have ever been offered. I can see the river being used by people to go to the shops—and why not?

No other country in the world, except this daft country, would allow the river to be empty from morning to night. Stupid Britain. The trouble is that we are democracy-mad. Everything we do has to be preceded by a committee and consultations. I am basically a dictator at heart. I would say "This is what I am doing, this is what it will be like. If you do not like it, do the other thing." But I would provide the very best for the sort of people I belong to and represent.

12.27 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)

After that robust speech from the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), if the Government take up the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) woe betide the bureaucrats assisting him.

I find myself, not for the first time, in agreement with almost everything the right hon. Gentleman said. I was delighted to hear him criticise the argument that everything can be solved by legislation, by more laws and by more regulations. He is absolutely right. Both parties have been wrong over the past few decades in imagining that if the statute books are filled every problem will be resolved. That is not true. In fact, we bring the law into disrepute by pandering to those who always use the phrase "They should do something about it."

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead on his good luck in the Ballot and his wisdom in choosing this important topic for debate. I also congratulate him on the really admirable way in which he approached the subject. He has chosen one of the most important aspects of our society which will be with us for a very long time. I believe that failure to resolve, the problems of the cities could create a cancer in our society which, in the long term, could destroy us as surely as failure to deal with the economy or conflict with other nations. Unless we seize the nettle, I believe that future generations will feel that we have deceived them gravely.

I was glad that my hon. Friend adopted a non-party political tone, because this subject is too vital for any antics of that nature. I find myself agreeing with nearly everything my hon. Friend said, with one small exception. I think that we should apply our minds much more seriously to the question of a tourist tax. It sounds a glib and easy solution, but it is by no means as simple as that. I advise my hon. Friend to hesitate before advocating the setting up of a complicated tax structure involving another bureaucratic body of people to enforce it. As the Layfield Committee found, such a tax would be likely to produce next to nothing in yield and it could do considerable damage to an absolutely vital section of our economy—namely, the tourist industry.

I want to move on now to more agreeable and conciliatory matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead used a broad brush in his motion, highlighting most of the vital matters that affect urban areas. I am glad that he mentioned the problem of unemployment first among the subjects in his motion. There has been a dramatic change during the last few years. I can illustrate that by drawing attention to an answer I extracted from the Department of Employment just a few weeks ago. It showed that the rate of unemployment in Greater London and the South-East was 4.3 per cent. That is exactly the same level as existed in the development areas about three years ago. Therefore, the problems that then concerned us in development areas such as Merseyside and the North-East are now with us to a large degree in places such as London. That means that we must take an entirely new look at the problems involved. We cannot go on applying the same old solutions as we did some years ago.

If we are to conquer the problems of unemployment and all that flows from them—crime, desolation and decay—we must create a balanced development within our cities. There must be development of manufacturing industry, and it is important that we should encourage small firms. Small businesses have a vital rôle to play if there is to be a balanced community. Unfortunately they are finding life increasingly difficult, for a number of reasons that I shall not go into now because that is a subject for a separate debate. Many hon. Members know of small businesses that are being squeezed out of their constituencies.

It is important that there should also be office development. I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead made that point. We must get away from the prejudices that attach to office development, because it is extremely important. I shall illustrate that point later with an example from my constituency.

If we are to achieve sensible and viable economic development in our cities, there must be radical changes in the office development permit and industrial development certificate policies. When the previous Government were in power, I administered the IDC policy. I was able to see both sides of the coin—the problems of both the assisted areas and the non-assisted areas. I tried to maintain a sensible regional policy while at the same time getting away from the rigidity of IDC policy, particularly as it affected smaller firms. A further relaxation is necessary.

When I was in office I was unable to find any evidence whatsoever that the effect of refusing an industrial development certificate to a relatively small firm ever resulted—except in a minuscule number of cases—in the firm immediately going to Liverpool, Glasgow or the North-East. It simply stopped firms from developing. We must take another serious look at the problem.

I now turn to the ODP policy. I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead said about the bulldozers moving in and breaking down city centres. We should not underestimate the effect on morale of the people of urban areas when they see physical decay of buildings and of their surroundings. That is happening not only in the inner cities but also to some extent in the outer suburbs.

I will illustrate that with a specific example from my own constituency. Harrow is an urban area, a famous place and a healthy and agreeable place in which to live. I do not suggest that it faces the appalling difficulties that exist in the inner parts of some cities or in inner London, but such difficulties are spreading all too rapidly to some of our outer suburbs and Harrow has its problems. It has a large immigrant population. It suffers from commuter frustration which results from Harrow being outside the city centre and from our miserable transport system. Harrow suffers from the curse of the GLC octopus on its back and from the bureaucratic incompetence that is attendant upon the GLC. I have sympathy with the right hon. Member for Bermondsey, who I understood to say that the creation of the GLC was not an unalloyed blessing upon mankind.

The part of Harrow that should be a thriving commercial area is threatened with decay because of our inability to redevelop the centre of the town. I want to tell the House about this and to register a complaint against the Government. The Government have prevented the local authority from resolving the problem. Over the years various attempts have been made to redevelop the centre of Harrow. There have been many different ideas but too little action. The deterioration has now become so marked that almost all of us in the borough are united in our resolve to bring the centre of Harrow back into line with modern requirements and to restore it to its rightful place as the principal shopping centre for the north of London.

Harrow has almost the lowest office content of any London borough and it exports the largest proportion of its workers to other areas. It has almost no unlet office accommodation of any size. Because of this deficiency, Harrow has been allocated an extra 200,000 sq.ft. of office space over and above the normal strategic allocation. The cornerstone of its redevelopment scheme was an office development by County and District Properties of 150,000 sq. ft. at Queen's House, College Road. No public money was involved, but progress has been stymied by the lack of an office development permit and by the bloody-mindedness of two Government Departments, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Industry. As a result, other beneficial development that would flow from this will not take place.

On 12th April last year the then Minister for Planning and Local Government announced that he would ease ODP control where the development would produce substantial public benefit". The case in question—an application by the proposed tenant, the First National Finance Corporation, which is already in Harrow—clearly falls within the criteria. There would be transport benefits, people would not have to crowd on to the busy transport system, and it would ease the increasing unemployment problems of the borough.

In addition, the First National Finance Corporation obtained an ODP some years ago to develop roughly the same amount of office space in another part of Harrow. That did not materialise for planning permission reasons concerned with another borough, Brent. Nevertheless the ODP for that amount of office development existed for the same company, and it should have been perfectly simple for it to be transferred to the new development.

On 12th April last year the then Minister for Planning and Local Government said that he was advocating the promotion of the decentralisation of office work from central London."—[Official Report, 12th April 1976; Vol. 909, c. 369.] This is precisely in line with that criteria. However, the Department of the Environment refused permission on the ground that the Department of Industry thought that the First National Finance Corporation could move to an assisted area. The FNFC is certain that, for good commercial reasons, it cannot do so. In fact, it will not do so. Therefore, we have reached a total impasse.

I must protest at the bureaucratic and intolerable way in which three Members of Parliament, a borough council, including its Labour opposition, and two reputable companies have been treated by the Government. The Minister knows that I have given notice of my intention to mention this matter. Indeed, I have also mentioned it to his opposite number in the Department of Industry.

My two colleagues and I who represent Harrow met the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment in May last year. The hon. Gentleman was extremely courteous and sympathetic. I have no criticism whatever of the manner in which he conducted the interview. He pointed out, however, that the ball was in the court of the Department of Industry on the assisted area point.

I took up this matter with the Minister of State, Department of Industry but could get no satisfaction. Therefore, I asked for a meeting with the Secretary of State for Industry. I suggested that the three Members of Parliament representing Harrow and borough council representatives should form the deputation. However, I was told that the matter was the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, and a meeting was refused. So back we went again. We are now back to square one.

Apart from the absurdity of this buck-passing between two Departments, the delay is serious for Harrow. So far from public benefit being gained, there is positive public harm to the people and commercial life of Harrow. It is ludicrous that Harrow should decay for want of a measly office development permit of a similar kind to the one which had been granted for an adjacent area.

I ask the Minister who is to reply to the debate seriously to reconsider the whole matter urgently in the light of the broad observations which have already been made in the debate, to grant this office development permit and, if necessary, to receive a deputation, jointly with his opposite number in the Department of the Environment, of the three Members of Parliament concerned.

This is a specific and outrageous example of the harm that is being done by the present ODP and IDC policies. I accept entirely the broad concept of regional policy and the vital need to help stricken areas of the country, but the administration of the Government's present policy is making the so-called prosperous urban areas of London, and possibly elsewhere, stricken. In any event, the intransigent attitude of the Government on this matter is not helping the assisted areas one wit in the process. If it could be shown that by adopting a rigid policy on ODPs and IDCs we could see immediate benefit to Merseyside—I know of its problems—Newcastle or West Central Scotland, I am sure London would say "In these difficult times we must take our share and give up something, but there is no evidence that that happens.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

I thank the hon. Gentleman publicly for the help he gave to Merseyside during his term in office. Does he agree that there now seems to be a change of emphasis in Government thinking from the strict geographical basis of aid and grants to one of more occupational or industrial aid for individual companies or types of companies? Does he welcome, as I do, this change from the geographical basis of aid to a specific industrial or commercial section which requires aid and help?

Mr. Grant

I go along with the hon. Gentleman in the sense that the too rigid drawing of boundaries involved in regional policy produces silly results, because circumstances change. In example after example there are anomalies because a boundary is drawn somewhere delineating what shall be an intermediate area and what shall be a development are. Therefore, it must be changed. But if we constantly change boundaries we shall get uncertainty in industry. People will not know what will happen next week or next month. I go along with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that there should be greater flexibility, if that is what he is advocating.

For heaven's sake, let us stop regarding sensible and responsible office development as sinful. If we are to have a thriving economy providing gainful employment, good offices are essential. Cities generally are the natural and logical places for offices to be located, provided that we do not get an appalling conglomeration in one small area. Greater London is not like that. There is room for proper development to take place in outer London as well as in other areas. Such development would add greatly to the economic help of Greater London as a whole.

I am not necessarily calling for a change in the law or for new legislation of any kind. I seek only a recognition of the changes which have taken place in the London area, which can perhaps be applied to the rest of the country. I merely call for reality and a little common sense in the way in which the Government administer their powers.

12.47 p.m.

Mrs. Millie Miller (Ilford, North)

I regret that the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) is not in his place. We have faced each other across the council chamber, and now the Chamber of the House of Commons, as opponents on many occasions. I had hoped that the hon. Member would be present to hear me congratulate him on the excellent speech that he made and the responsible way in which he put across the problems that face inner urban areas.

I am probably the only Member present who was not only born in but has lived in inner London all her life, and who, since 1945—the magic date to which the hon. Member for Hampstead referred—has been involved in local government in inner London until coming into this House. That is possibly why, when I spoke on the Queen's Speech on urban problems, an Opposition Member implied that I was not talking about my constituency, which is in an outer London area. My heart is in inner Lon- don, though I do my best to represent the people of the outer London area who elected me. In view of my experience. I am able to understand and appreciate the deep problems not only of inner London but of boroughs similar to the one described by the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant). The situation in my constituency is a mirror image of the one in Harrow described by the hon. Gentleman.

I want to talk about the London problem and the way it has developed in the post-war years. I have always lived in the centre of London. I lived in London during to blitz and during the time of the brave new world when the representatives of local authorities—of which I was one —were planning the kind of London that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) referred to as the city of his dreams. I remember visiting the Abercrombie Exhibition, with the wonderful dream of St. Paul's Cathedral surrounded by open space, a tree-lined avenue reaching down to the Thames. I remember the dream that the slum conditions would be no more and that London would be rejuvenated after its suffering. That is one reason why London needs special consideration and why, 30 years after, it still needs that consideration.

In spite of what the hon. Member for Hampstead said, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey has revealed that it is conscious and not unconscious decisions that have brought about the decay of London. The conscious decision to move people and industry out of London brought about the cycle which has developed into the chaos that exists today in our capital city. I do not blame Governments for that; I blame those who advise Governments, both at national and local levels. I blame those who were prepared to doctor the figures in order to prove statistics that have been shown to be completely false.

A report on urban deprivation has been published. I have not had the opportunity to read it, because I could not obtain a copy, but I have seen a quotation from it in one of the national newspapers which said that people who want to move out are trapped in London by poverty. I believe that they do not want to move out but that they wish the degradation that they suffer to be removed, so that they can remain in London. They want provision to be made not only for themselves but for their children and grandchildren, so that families can live together again.

I represent an outer London borough to an area where hundreds of thousands of Londoners have been moved out, many miles from the centre, and where their children are being moved even further out, to the new towns. I am in the middle of a sandwich. There are middle-aged people who plead with me to get their parents out of London so that they can care for them. Children are being forced out into the new towns, and they claim that their parents need them. The pursuit of rigid policies first by the Government and secondly by local government is distributing families over hundreds of miles of territory, so that we have to create new families in the form of social workers. The heaviest spending is that on social problems which would never arise if families were close enough to each other to give assistance.

I turn now to the question of employment. In my early days in local government, when the movement of industry from Central London began, small firms with histories stretching back as long as Londoners had existed were doing excellent work employing small groups of local people who could walk to work. They were forced to close, not because their presence meant a loss of rateable value—indeed their going often meant a loss—but because redevelopment, according to the views of the experts in those days, meant that there had to be huge parcels of land to redevelop. They were not content with small infill development or with filling in the gaps left by the bombs. The planners wanted everything parcelled up, and huge areas were destroyed. They contributed to the greater "uglification" of London. The planners no doubt acquired their theories from eminent teachers, but they did not understand the living pattern of the London families. They did not live among the families of London. They did not know what the new estates and new areas would mean to the people who were used to living among their families and neighbours and enjoyed living together. They did not know about the people living in tall tower blocks which, 10 years ago, I described to the Camden Society of Architects as "accusing fingers pointing at the sky".

Those people in Hampstead who live in 28-storey blocks of flats certainly do not have much gratitude for the architects who designed them. Admittedly, there is more space around the estates than in the old days of high density. But what is the cost of living piled on top each other in virtual prison cells where families living on the same landing hardly know each other's names or exchange a word?

These conditions have contributed towards forcing young families out. First, provisions has not been made for growing families. Secondly, the misery of waiting year upon year for housing, knowing that the end-product will be the offer of a flat on an estate which is unsuitable for children to live and play in, has forced many working people—many skilled people, whose services we need to keep London going—to scrape together the deposit for a house and move out. They do not move out because they want to leave London or because their jobs are not secure; they do so because there is no prospect of the homes that they want being provided in the inner area.

This has added to the problem of commuters. We have to bring in skilled people such as telephone engineers and transport and office workers from the new towns into inner London to keep London going. It is a tragedy, and most wasteful. It is a situation for which the planners who advised us and we who accepted their advice have much to answer.

Much can be done to bring life back to London in addition to the development of Dockland. Docklands offer a great opportunity, but its real development will take many years. Many small sites are suitable for industrial development in the London boroughs.

A few month ago I attended the exhibition of the National Development Association for the Centre of London at the Royal Lancaster Hotel. Cities all over the country exhibited the sites they had to offer. The demonstrators were dressed in special regional clothing. They gave away ball-point pens and booklets describing the facilities that they had to offer in far-flung parts of the country. Good luck to them. But I was amazed to see London had a stand barely as large as the Table in the centre of the Chamber, and literature which modestly explained how it might be possible for industry to develop here.

There were people from overseas looking around at that exhibition, willing and interested to come to London, but for whom it was not possible for any negotiations to take place because of the restrictions on industrial development in London and because there was no advertising of what the possibilities were in London. In the same way that existing companies in the London area often do not ask for industrial development certificates because they think that they will not get them, people who come from overseas wanting to invest in London think that there is no point, because when we exhibit what London has to offer we give the impression that we shall not be able to provide them with the sites that they need.

The Greater London Council and the London boroughs between them are now working on developments, but they need Government aid. In this respect I do not support the views of the hon. Member for Hampstead. I believe that the whole problem of London is that it does not have sufficient Government aid to overcome its difficulties, certainly not in the rate support grant area, as we know perfectly well. Whatever people outside the House may say, we know that not nearly sufficient account is taken of the problems of London. Even where the Government have taken proper account of those problems, they have not been prepared to pay up according to the need that has been exposed.

I believe that in many parts of London new small companies could be set up. In many cases they were driven out by the redevelopments that have taken place. They either went reluctantly or folded up altogether.

Many small shops have been forced out of business because no alternative provision was made for them when new estates were being built. As a member of Camden Council, a few yars ago, I fought to try to keep a row of small shops in a huge redevelopment area. I was able to get the council's agreement that those shops should be subsidised in some way to keep them alive for the life- time of the building scheme. Having done that, the builders on the development scheme, tragically, have gone bankrupt after years of vacillation about the development, and the poor people concerned are now living with virtually no business at all. Their living has virtually collapsed.

We have to try to maintain balances, not merely in London but in all communities. It is no good saying that there must be no change. We want rehabilitation and redevelopment. Change will always be taking place. However, it is our duty to ensure that the Ministries, which seem to have so little understanding of the overlapping that takes place between them and the gaps that exist between their functions, understand that communities in London and in all cities are living and thriving things, and that every aspect of their life must be balanced.

I have mentioned only briefly my own constituency. I want to talk a little about the problems in Redbridge today, partly because they support the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Harrow, Central and partly because of much suffering that occurs in the outer London boroughs.

We tend always to talk about these "deep city blues"—I am as guilty as anyone in that respect—but on the outskirts the problem is extending. The borough in which I have my constituency has recently joined with two other outer London boroughs to try to do something about industrial development. There is a good deal of industry in the area, but the bulk of it is based on only one commodity—the motor car. The car and all the parts associated with it almost entirely dominate the industry of the northeast part of London. If there were a serious recession in the car industry it would be fatal for the well-being of those outer London boroughs in that sector.

That is just one aspect of their problems. We have heard today that the regional allocation working party for the health service has allocated the northeast region of London a ¼ per cent. increase in funds for the coming year—which means an absolute cut in services in an area that is already seriously deficient in many of the health services. Wearing another hat—that of the Department of Health and Social Security—the Government are trying to force people out of hospitals and into the community for their treatment, whilst denying the community the means to treat them when they leave hospital. That is very much the case in the borough that I represent.

Transport is no less a problem. It is even more of a problem in outer London than it is in the inner London areas, where, at least, by some juggling of disposition, one can move from a Tube train to the bus service and back again. In the outer London areas, some bus services are so infrequent as almost to resemble country bus services, regardless of the fact that the people are having to come into inner London and need transport services in the outer areas just as desperately as they need them in the central areas.

There is a massive waiting list for housing in Redbridge. To the shame of that borough, only nine houses were completed in the last civic year. People are waiting desperately, yet some property is being under-occupied and some is being allowed to stand vacant, and nothing is done about it. I ask the Government why that is so. This is the fourth or firth time since I have been a Member of the House that I have asked why property is allowed to stand empty.

I now ask another question. Why Cannot the Government discuss with local authorities better ways of using existing property? Hon. Members have referred to the transfer system. That is a very good idea. Others are talking about giving increased security of tenure to local authority tenants. I should like to know why there was ever a change in the rule that when a local authority tenant no longer needed accommodation of the size that he was given, he would be expected to accept a transfer.

I am not sure that I would want any compulsion in this matter. I propose an entirely different idea. Instead of giving lifelong leases to council tenants thereby completely stultifying housing in our city areas, I suggest that when people move into their council houses we should offer them seven-year leases, renewal at the end of the seven years depending on negotiations between the council and the tenant on the tenant's actual needs at that time. They should be permitted to live in their council accommodation for that seven years as long as the need remains, and if they wish for a transfer in the meantime, by all means that should be made availabe to them.

The reason I put forward that idea is that the Building Societies Association information tells us that the average period that an owner-occupier spends in a house nowadays has come down to seven years, and that within that period there are family changes which in many cases cause owner-occupiers to seek different types of accommodation. I believe that if we could have that kind of system it would avoid what I have in hundreds in my constituency—three-bed-roomed and four-bedroomed houses occupied by just one or two people.

We must start being imaginative and breaking down the logjam that exists in housing. I do not believe that we can do that by the outright sale of council property, which cannot be replaced except at twice the price at which we try to sell it. I think that we can do it by using what we have, and we ought to be using all kinds of empty housing accommodation that is standing about.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey spoke about the young people who come into London and the lack of provision for them. In recent months I have been encouraged to see at least one London borough take the initiative of purchasing a hotel within its borders to give shelter to young people. A great deal could be done by acquiring large and uneconomic property in other forms to convert into hostel and short-term accommodation for the many young people whom we have not even considered. That applies to the many students who come to London for their education. Some come to the universities and many come to the polytechnics. Many young people attend London's evening classes because London offers such wonderful facilities. I think that the local authorities should take responsibility for those young people. They should not cast them off so that their only choice is to break into uninhabited houses and squat in miserable conditions.

I hope that the Government will take seriously the arguments that have been advanced today. Everyone who has spoken so far has tried not to apportion blame. We could all cast stones at each other in dealing with the record of the past 30 years, because each party has had a period when it might have improved matters and has not done so. The Government are now in the hot seat. They have recognised the inner urban problems, and it is up to them to do something about them.

1.12 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Baker (St. Marylebone)

The combination of the debate on a Friday with the subject of inner city areas has created a remarkable degree of unanimity between the two sides of the Chamber in the contributions that have been made so far. I found myself in substantial agreement with the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller). It has been the London Members who have spoken so far, but I see that Members from other parts of the country who represent urban areas are now present.

Mr. Heffer

We have been here all the time.

Mr. Baker

As the hon. Gentleman reminds me, they have been here all the time, or most of the time. No doubt they will catch your eye presently, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall stay with London because I think that it represents the quintessence of the urban problem. It has all the problems that are evident in Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester and other great conurbations.

London is suffering from a continuing and in aggregate a massive decline. The population of Greater London peaked in 1961 at about 8 million. It is now down to about 7 million. By 1981 it is expected to fall to 6½ million. By 1991, if present trends continue, it will be down to about 5½ million.

We were all led to believe that the decline would result in enormous improvements for the citizens of London. We were told that a declining population was a good thing as the problem of homelessness would become less pressing. We were told that congestion would ease, that living conditions would get better and that travelling conditions would improve. We were told that as the general level of life in the community improved there would be less need for subsidies.

Every one of those hopes has been dashed. As London's population has declined, the city's congestion has become worse. Travelling conditions have become worse. Every London Member knows that there are still massive problems of homlessness. Subsidies, quite apart from falling off, have become much higher. London now receives half of the nation's transport subsidies and one-third of its housing subsidies.

The decline in the centre of London has been most acute in the part of central London that I represent. The estimated decline in population between 1971 and 1981 in Westminster is about 58,000. That is about one-quarter of the population of the City of Westminster. I ask hon. Members who represent areas outside London to appreciate the impact that that decline would have upon the communities they represent. It would, of course, have a shattering effect. As is happening in central London, it would lead to the destruction of many local communities and of much of the cement that holds our society together.

Mr. Heffer

In Liverpool we have lost more than one-quarter of our population. We have lost almost one-half of the population since the end of the war. That has had a shattering effect on the city. We understand the problems of London and elsewhere, which are now beginning to breed the same type of problems as, unfortunately, we have had in Liverpool for a long time.

Mr. Baker

I lived close to Liverpool for most of the war. The Liverpool I knew during the blitz was entirely different from the centre of Liverpool today, which appears to many to be a foreign town in a foreign country. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's intervention as it supports my general point.

The general feeling about the area I represent—namely, central London—is that it is one huge champagne belt in which the rich, beautiful and lucky live. That is not the case. There is much urban deprivation in parts of Westminster. For example, North Westminster is rated sixth in the list of deprived areas in the United Kingdom. If we take a short bus ride from this place, we move through areas of real social deprivation and poverty.

The decline in population has been accompanied and to some extent precipitated by a decline in jobs. London is losing jobs at the rate of 60,000 a year. That is a permanent loss of jobs. What is more, it is usually the skilled jobs that is being lost. We are losing the skilled engineers. The small firms are moving out or closing down. That movement is leaving a large number of unskilled workers in London. It has been claimed by some that there is now a surplus of unskilled labour in the centre of London. That in itself presents considerable problems for London. The rate of decline in terms of jobs is probably greater than in Liverpool.

The rate of decline in manufacturing jobs in London over the past 13 years has been seven times the rate of England and Wales. The loss in office jobs has been nine times the rate for England and Wales. We are bound to ask why this has happened. Half the jobs that have been lost in London have been lost because firms have closed down.

Why is that? In this context the hon. Member for Ilford, North made some pertinent comments. The first reason is that the whole philosophy of post-war planning was hostile to the small business being next to houses and based in residential areas. If it were possible so to organise one's life, one of the greatest attractions would be to live so close to one's job as to be able to walk to it—for example, to live over the shop or in a collegiate community. That concept has a great deal of attraction for me. However, in the period immediately after the war the planners took exactly the reverse attitude. They took the view that it was necessary to take out of the suburban or inner city streets the small workshop, the small garage or the small factory and to designate an area—it was usually exceedingly inaccessible—for industrial growth. Faced with that problem, an employer or an owner of an undertaking employing, for example, 5, 10, 20, 30 or 40 people would shrug his shoulders and say that it could not be done. Exactly the same thing happened in Liverpool and Birmingham. That is why there has been a loss of jobs.

As the hon. Member for Ilford, North said there was a mad desire comprehensively to redevelop vast areas of our city centres in the belief that that was the only way to deal with the slum problems that existed in the centres. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) rightly said, those plans have destroyed whole communities. Once one starts pulling down the terraced rows of Victorian and Edwardian houses, two up and two down, and replacing them with vast open spaces dotted with tower blocks and estates, one breaks up communities which have been estabilshed for 30, 50 or 100 years, destroys family connections and, above all, obliterates the sort of social tenacity which makes those communnties work. They work not when they are put 10 or 20 storeys up but only when they are close to the ground.

The plans for comprehensive redevelopment are still rolling on in London. Lambeth, for example—I am not making a political point—calmly takes it for granted in its present plan that some 300 firms will close, with a loss of 3,000 jobs.

The third reason why firms have moved is the sheer cost—for example, the massive rates increases in central cities quite disproportionate to the increases borne by other parts of the country. What action do I recommend in regard to London? I know that in what I suggest I shall take some London Members with me but not all those who represent other cities.

First on my list is the abolition of industrial development certificates. It is an anachronism to require firms wishing to expand in the London area to apply to the Department for permission to do so. Secondly, I would abolish office development permits. They were introduced in 1964. The right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) in a frank moment said that he accepted all the arguments behind them; he was a junior Housing Minister at the time and no doubt was in some part responsible for their introduction. I would do away with them because London is losing office jobs at a rate nine times faster than the rest of England and Wales. London Transport says that commuting to the centre, which is essentially what office workers do, is falling at the rate of 20,000 a year.

Mrs. Jeger

Surely the hon. Gentleman, who is a constituency neighbour of mine, will appreciate that there are still many vacant offices in central London and even plenty of empty spaces at Centre Point. Surely it would be a pity if housing were lost in order to build even more offices to stand empty.

Mr. Baker

I shall come to that point later. One of the tragedies is that the policy of office development permits operated when a good deal of older property was becoming available, particularly in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Bermondsey. That area south of the City between Southwark Bridge and London Bridge was to be designed as a new office area for the whole of London. It is a great pity that basically it is still empty wharf sites.

The hon. Lady is right, there is a considerable number of of empty offices. But the trouble is that many of the offices that are empty in central London, as we both know from our own constituencies, are in old buildings which are not entirely appropriate and which themselves need redevelopment.

I am trying to make the case that office employment in London is declining rapidly, for a variety of reasons, one of which is the system of office development permits. Thirdly, I also wonder whether there is any longer a need for the continuation of the Location of Offices Burean.

Fourth, I would ask London boroughs to postpone, delay or even stop comprehensive redevelopment plans. As I have said, such plans are the real job destroyers.

London cannot expect any more help from the rest of the country. That is the political reality surrounding London's problems. London get substantial subsidies. Londoners are not helped by measures like the Water Charges Equalisation Bill which is to be introduced next week, which will move money from London and the North-West to other areas, quite gratuitously, on the erroneous idea of equalising water charges throughout the country.

If that is the argument, I should like to equalise charges for rates across the country and let the recipient areas which will get some of London's water money have some of London's rate levels. The average level of rates in inner London is £159 a year—in my constituency, more like £259—whereas those other areas have rates averaging £50 or £60. That sort of transfer does not help London.

Nor does the study presented to the Secretary of State for Social Services by the Resource Allocation Working Party help London. I am concerned about the implications of RAWP. It is clear that central London, with its enormous daily influx of people, has to cope with unique medical and health services problems. I therefore hope that the dust will be allowed to accumulate on the report of RAWP.

London must look to itself for its own salvation. I do not put housing as the top priority for London, although other hon. Members have done so. This is not callousness on my part. My top priority for London is to stop the rotting away of jobs. If jobs continue to decline at the present rate of 60,000 a year, however good the housing policy and however much money is put into housing, the problems will get worse.

London grew over the centuries because it was an economically active area. People came here and established businesses and were creative and economically active and created real wealth. That is now drying up in the inner ring of London. I should like some of the money spent on housing to be reallocated towards the creation of opportunities for an expanding job base.

Last year London spent £825 million on new council house building. It is not realistic for Londoners to call for more money to be spent both on housing and on industrial infrastructure. We must face this difficult question and decide that some of that money should be reallocated to creating the infrastructure which will encourage industry to expand and grow again in London.

I am supported in that idea by the report published only last Wednesday on the inner cities. It considered three inner city areas, including Lambeth. I am not particularly familiar with the affairs of Lambeth, but apparently last year the borough spent £34 million on new council houses. The gist of the report is to suggest shifting a lot of that money away from building to house improvement programmes, with which most people would now agree. The second suggestion is that a lot of the money—perhaps £10 million—should be used to create the infrastructure to encourage small firms to start up again.

Without doing that, we shall not improve the household income of people living in Lambeth. With a declining job level, we would compound our problems. Therefore, my top priority for London is the creation of jobs.

It is easy to talk about the creation of jobs. The phrase falls glibly from the lips, particularly of Ministers, but one thing that has to be done in London in order to provide the opportunity for firms to expand or to start up is the improvement of the road structure in South and East London. If hon. Members try to get to the Isle of Dogs, which forms part of the constituency which I contested in 1964, they will find it difficult by public transport. I understand that some people are saying that the Labour Party's headquarters should not be moved from Transport House in Smith Square to somewhere in Walworth because it takes half an hour to get there and it is an awkward journey. Many of the journeys in the East End, both north and south of the river, are exceedingly awkward. No industry will set up in Dockland with its present road network because it is so difficult to get in and out of the area.

This is an entirely separate matter from the argument about the Fleet Line. The case for the Fleet Line is concerned with commuting and the movement of people, whereas I am arguing that industrial regeneration will not take place in East London unless the basic infrastructure—especially the roads—is improved.

London must also take a new look quite soon at the relationship between the powers of the GLC, the London boroughs and the Department of the Environment. Few people are satisfied that the present relationship is correct. The GLC has been in existence for 12 years and it would be sensible to have a review, as has been advocated by Mr. Horace Cutler, Opposition leader on the GLC. I strongly support his far-seeing proposal and regret that the Labour Party on the GLC did not see fit to support it. Few of us who spend our political lives, our working lives and our family lives in London think that the relationship between those three groups is at all appropriate.

I emphasise that, unless we arrest the decline of jobs in the whole of Greater London, London's problems will not diminish. London cannot expect more money from the Exchequer or from other parts of the country. It is difficult to put our case to hon. Members representing constituencies outside London and to make them see London's problems, but those problems are acute and grave. We must create opportunities for an expanding working base in London. This is what made London such an attractive place to live in over the centuries.

If the present trend continues, the heart of London will become a ghost city. That is already beginning to happen in the constituency represented by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger) and in my own constituency. More and more people are moving out.

An inner band is already being created in places such as Willesden, Acton and Brixton which are becoming very seedy and are decaying rapidly. Added to that is the colour problem. London cannot expect more help to come from the Government. It must look to its own resources, reallocate those resources and determine its priorities. My first priority is the creation of jobs, and in my view it should be jobs before homes.

1.33 p.m.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

I agree with the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) in many of the points that he was putting forward. I particularly agree with his last remarks about the emphasis which is needed on the creation of jobs, especially in my constituency.

On the question of office accommodation, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger) that in the constituency of the hon. Member for St. Marylebone and in Westminster there is a good case for reconverting the good property that was originaly used for housing, especially property within a mile of this House, which has been converted into offices in the last 50 years. To deal with the problem he raised, of the movement of the population from the city centre, we should ensure that office buildings such as Centre Point are occupied. Then we could have people living in the good residential-type buildings now used as offices so that we do not have a city that after 6 o'clock is full of caretakers and cats.

I hope that the evidence submitted in support of this motion will not be seen as playing off inner London against outer London, or playing off London against Liverpool, Bradford, or anywhere else. The emphasis and whole basis of the debate is on social deprivation. Inevitably, hon. Members representing London constituencies will have evidence of social deprivation in these areas, but other areas will have differing influences which have led to the same result. Social deprivation is a growing blot on our so-called civilisation. To eradicate it we must use all the economic and social weapons of central and local government, as well as voluntary bodies and the community at large.

I speak as a Cockney, born and bred in East London, who believes—and here I echo the heartfelt speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), and also the sentiments of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr.Finsberg)—that it has been soul-searing to see so much taken from a great city like London in the past 10 years. The changes do not affect the heart of London. It is more like a wasting disease that affects the guts and the muscles of the body of this great conurbation. This can be seen in terms of employment. If there are no jobs, if skills are depleted, then it is inevitable that we cannot create the social conditions and the quality of life that we all hope for.

My constituency adjoins the constituency of Acton, which the hon. Member for St. Marylebone once represented. At one time we shared the industrial estate of Park Royal.

On the subject of deprivation, there are four areas in my constituency—Harlesden, Kensal Rise, Roundwood and Stonebridge—which have been identified as having the worst sort of deprivation of any area in London. One of the prime factors that has brought this about is the fact that firms have moved from the industrial estates, and there has been a change not in the number of those employed but in the type of employment. The area once had a mix of skilled and unskilled workers. Now the highly skilled workers have gradually moved away and there are large areas where only unskilled jobs are available.

This does not show in statistics. We can produce statistics to show that the rate of unemployment is this, that or the other, but when we put families into the figures we find a very different picture. This is where London has been disadvantaged. Statistics can be produced which appear to be not too bad when compared with other regions, with the result that the reality behind them does not emerge. Figures for the places of birth of those living in areas where social deprivation is at its worst are revealing. In Harlesden, those born in England totalled 56.5 per cent. of the population, those born in Ireland 15.6 per cent., those from the new Commonwealth—mostly West Indians—20 per cent. and those from other parts of the world 7.2 per cent. This excludes the fact that the largest number of children born of ethnic groups with a different colour skin from mine are born in the London borough of Brent. When we consider social deprivation, we can see in microcosm in Harlesden what can be seen in Bradford and a number of other constituencies.

I am not making a racial point here, because I am proud of the racial integration and respect and the great contribution made by all ethnic groups in my constituency. It is as good as anywhere else in the country. Nevertheless, if differing cultures bring new problems there have to be the social mechanisms to deal with them. Consider, for example, the issue of healthy delivery. One of the greatest changes in the areas of inner city urban deprivation has been in the growth of infantile mortality. That has nothing to do with racialism; it has, rather, to do with the different customs of the people living in these areas but brought up in countries with different traditions, and the fact that they have lived in parts of Asia in which antenatal and post-natal clinics and such things—accepted for generations in this country—do not exist. We need to make changes in the organisation of services in our areas to achieve a change in the social fabric and in the economic status of these citizens.

My mind was concentrated on the inner city problem last August, when I saw a recurrence of something that happened in 1958, known as the Notting Hill riot. The troubles of August bank holiday in that area, adjacent to Harlesden were not basically racial but arose from unemployment, bad housing, social problems, and all the other basic problems that have affected my area for the past 100 years, whatever the colour of the skin of those concerned.

Therefore, we look immediately to the problem of employment. I am appalled that in my area many school leavers with first-class examination results do not secure the kind of employment that they could very well have, because the colour of their skin is wrong. Industry should be tackling that problem and making sure that there is no colour bar. Once there is a feeling of racial injustice there are disastrous consequences for the way in which the police and social services deal with subsequent difficulties.

In the past two and a half years 28 firms in my area have closed, with 3,700 redundancies. In the past five years 66 factories have closed. In the Park Royal area, an industrial estate, there is now more than 250,000 sq. ft. of vacant factory space.

There has been a tendency in this debate to blame the planners. I recall a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South in which she said that if all local authorities discussing planning allocations were deprived of lovely little models of motor cars and trees, and everything that looks like the product of a Meccano set, councillors might have more control over the planners.

But I blame the accountants. In my area there has been rationalisation of industry. It is true that the climate of opinion in the Government in favour of moving industry out of London has made that possible, but, in addition, large national and multinational combines have found that by rationalising they can show a better balance sheet, though they produce less and provide fewer jobs. That happened because the cost of land over the past 15 years made asset stripping possible. I think of GEC, Unigate, Joe Lyons, and ENVV Engineering. Factory after factory has been taken over by a large combine and rationalised, with the result that many skilled jobs have gone.

I hope that we shall not blame the planners too much. I do not want to throw out the baby with the bath water, which is what would happen without planning, with no intelligent approach. It is not planning that is wrong but the way in which we have used it to exclude certain social needs and to look to only one need.

The classic example in my area, famous in Private Eye, is Neasden. Although his name escapes most people today, the name of a previous Tory Minister of Transport was once to be seen in the back window of nearly every car, where we would read "Marples must go". He started the Neasden Bypass scheme. My Government and the following Conservative Government continued the scheme, which meant the domination of the motor car passing along the North Circular Road, destroying a whole community in doing so. Nobody was prepared to listen to the protests of people in the locality, who said that that would be the result, until finally the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton)—the transport Minister in the last Government—met me and my local colleagues and apologised for the Ministry's having made such a mess of its planning and assured my local authority that never again would such a monstrosity occur.

It is not so much that the planners are wrong as that the information fed to them is wrong. We have talked about Abercrombie today. Who remembers Buchanan, whose basic philosophy was that planning should be used for human purposes rather than bricks and mortar, roads and transport, and that it should be integrated into the general living pattern of the community? When capital gets to work the only important consideration is whether it pays. Is there a profit?

Hon. Members will know of my particular interest in the Health Service. There has been considerable discussion about the Resources Allocation Working Party and the way in which it has affected the socially deprived areas, particularly London. London has the four biggest regional health authorities and the biggest spending. In the cut-back, those authorities have inevitably had to make much bigger cuts. The basic principle of trying to share resources effectively is right, but Rawp is too blunt an instrument. My constituency and that of the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) share the same health authority, but the health problems of Harrow and Harlesden are as different as chalk and cheese. Harrow is a residential, affluent community, whereas in Willesden we are still clearing substandard houses, and two-thirds of the population live in accommodation where they share one roof, one lavatory and one back yard. Yet the same resources allocation must cover both areas.

The effect upon the London teaching hospitals has tended to dominate the debate. I do not minimise that, but those hospitals have one of the most powerful voices in the country on NHS matters. When one is having to cut one's coat according to one's cloth, the social services department, welfare of the aged, disabled and mentally ill, and community health, particularly in general practice, are equally important. The cut across the board affects those areas as much as the teaching hospitals.

The hon. Member for Hampstead mentioned an article by a noted consultant who serves the Central Middlesex Hospital, in my constituency—Sir Francis Avery Jones, who is perhaps the greatest gastroenterologist in Europe. Sir Francis made clear in that article the nonsense that is made of health care and treatment when one applies a rigid formula such as that in the RAWP report to places which have very differing health needs and basic social backgrounds.

I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Hampstead on the considerate way in which he put forward his extensive case. My only regret about his securing such an important debate is that it has ruled out the possibility of our considering hare coursing. I commiserate with my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Shaw), who had hoped to initiate a debate on that subject. I should have liked equally well to speak on it. I hope that my hon. Friend, who was second in the list today, will come first out of the hat on another occasion.

When we consider the problems of social deprivation we must look not only to central Government and other forms of Government, but beyond. I commend to the House an experiment in my area, where 200 sixth-formers spent two days of their own time at a seminar to discuss urban deprivation and hear a professor from London University. The youngsters involved formed study groups.

If we are to solve these problems, we must not merely look to social service departments or to voluntary agencies—although those sectors must play their part—or, indeed, to the central organisation of government or the GLC; we must seek to involve the community as a whole. If people are to be involved, they must be made aware of the problems. The hon. Member for Hampstead has given us the opportunity to open people's eyes to these problems.

I was moved by the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey, who spoke of the vision after the war, of a brave new city on the side of the Thames. We then thought that we had before us an opportunity to make London the greatest city in the world for the people living there—a city that was beautiful to look at. We had the Abercrombie Plan, and other plans.

At that time I was associated with one of the greatest philosophers in these areas, Lewis Mumford. I remember discussing with him the opportunities for rebuilding London. Ten years later, when I met Lewis Mumford again, he said that the only place in which planning had been effective was at Lansbury, in East London. Elsewhere the planners had made a complete botch of the job, and the opportunities after the war to regenerate the city were lost. They were lost because of negative planning. Provided that one could pay a Queen's counsel a large enough fee per day to argue the case, the London County Council—as it was then—and the boroughs were in no position to stand up to the argument and say "This must not happen because it will spoil basic community, leisure and other facilities".

In this debate we have discussed housing and transport, but we have not devoted a great deal of time to leisure facilities. I am extremely concerned at the fact that the cutback, in terms of the six-monthly moratorium, will affect a community project in the Harlesden area in my constituency. The project known as "Moonshine" was to be rebuilt and money had been allocated. An old, dilapidated building has been used for some time as part of this community project. A cutback at this time will make an enormous difference, but I still believe that after the six-monthly moratorium on capital building projects this one will go ahead.

This debate has shown a common concern, compassion and intense feeling on the subject of urban problems. These feelings have been expressed across party boundaries, because no one political party has a monopoly in such matters. What must emerge from this debate is commensurate action in the areas that have been ventilated today. This must come from Government and local authorities, and also from all of the various sectors of the community which are affected by our deliberations in this House.

1.54 p.m.

Mr. Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)

I admired the efforts of the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) to defend the planners, although he then went on to deliver a fairly effective criticism of some of their efforts.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) on his choice of subject and to say how much I agreed with his description of the functions and purposes of a city.

Speeches so far have tended to concentrate primarily on the problems of London. My purpose is to deal with problems affecting the large industrial towns and cities of the Midlands and the North, particularly Birmingham, because I believe that the essential nature of many of the problems is shared in these important provincial industrial centres.

There is no doubt that the recession and our economic difficulties have produced dire and disappointing consequences for the great mass of the people who live in these large towns and cities. The Government cannot afford to do other than reduce the resources available in real terms to local authorities and to State organisations providing services. As a consequence, education services, hospital services, housing and transport facilities, all suffer cuts. Furthermore, the urban aid programme and local social services are reduced.

These measures are bound to strike hardest in the large industrial towns and cities where a substantial part of the in- frastructure of hospitals and schools is old and heavily worn, and where the mix of population has a higher proportion than average of those in need. Furthermore, many towns in Lancashire, Yorkshire and the East and West Midlands have, as has London, vast areas of old housing in need of modernisation and improvement.

In all these areas the reduction of resources means a set-back in the hopes of improvement. It means further heavy responsibilities borne by local authorities to cope with growing problems. It means that hospital staffs and patients have to endure the continued use of outdated buildings, and teachers and pupils have to make do in tired and dilapidated school premises. It means cuts in public transport services and more and larger potholes in roads used heavily by industrial traffic.

I want to emphasise an important point in considering the problems of large towns and cities which I think has not been fully understood by the Government. Although these problems, and others to which I shall refer, can be seen in most dramatic form in the decaying inner areas, nearly all these towns and cities have, like my own city of Birmingham, cleared extensive central areas of housing and population and transferred people in large numbers to vast housing estates in the outer wards. Many of these estates are lacking in community facilities, and great strain can be thrown upon basic services—such as existing schools—which have to cope with increased numbers of pupils coming from the recently enlarged populations.

Yardley Wood School—in my constituency—built as a secondary modern school in the 1920s and now struggling to provide adequate services as a neighbourhood comprehensive school, is an example of this. By this process of clearance and rehousing a proportion of the human problems of the inner areas are transferred with the people to outer wards of cities.

This is one of the reasons why the problem of cities must be seen as a whole, because the capacity of local authorities and councillors and local government servants and all those providing other services to cope with the problems and maintain good conditions is stretched in this way. It is of the utmost importance that the morale of those providing these services in large industrial towns should be maintained at the highest possible level during these difficult times, because the "tone" that is established throughout the city has important implications for the manner in which the problems affecting the whole city—including the inner areas—is tackled. Thus, what happens in inner wards, such as Ladywood or Small Heath, Birmingham, has direct consequences upon outer wards, such as Stechford and Brandwood, Birmingham—and not only because of obligations which add to rate burdens.

As the cuts in resources deepen, we see a pattern developing which is common to almost all the major industrial towns and cities—a pattern of declining services and deteriorating conditions. At the same time, unemployment has struck particularly hard in the industrial areas —having doubled in many areas, or even trebled in the last two and a half years, as is the case in the West Midlands. Furthermore, there is little prospect of an early easing of this problem, and one particularly worrying aspect of this is the large number of young people living in these areas who face relatively long periods ahead without work, despite whatever help the Job Creation Programme can offer.

It must have been clear to any of us who spent the recess in one of these industrial cities that many people, throughout the whole range of ages and occupations, are despondent and deeply worried about the future they see for themselves, their families and the country as a whole. The danger is of demoralisation spreading in these cities, so that the will to overcome our problems is lessened. In seeking to point a way out of this desperately unhappy situation, it is of great importance that the people should not be misled into thinking that the delivery ashore of North Sea oil will transform our economic position within the next five years. Nobody should be allowed to divert attention from reality by pretending that we as a country, can continue our process of spending more than we earn and borrowing to make up the difference, and that, without special effort of will, all will come right in 1979 or 1980 as a result of the oil bonus.

Although our balance of payments situation will be improved, the amount of surplus benefit from North Sea oil and gas over the next four or five years is charged, and will have to be set aside, to pay the interest on the Government's massive foreign borrowings as well as to repay the overseas loans falling due for repayment within the next five years. So the most that we can realistically hope for is a limited benefit, which gives us a little extra breathing space in which to restore the effectiveness of our industrial and commercial base and its profit-making, wealth-creating capacity. A much higher proportion of our national product must go to these essential purposes—otherwise there will be a further continuing decline in our industrial sickness and the job situation will become even worse. Not only that, our opportunity to create the wealth needed to solve our outstanding social problems in these very areas will be lost.

This country needs to pursue for the next decade a sustained, stable policy of encouraging success in trade and industry, and in the meantime we must realistically accept constraints upon public expenditure which make the necessary shift of resources possible. Against this background, how can we restore confidence and hope for an improving situation for the 20 million or more people living in these industrial towns and cities and the nearby associated urban areas?

In my view, we have to acknowledge past errors and bring about changes of attitude and policies in a number of basic respects. First, there must be, in the interests of us all, particularly throughout the industrial areas, a willingness to make the mixed economy work. Governments should interfere less with market forces in both the public and the private sectors, so that a more vigorous process of wealth creation may be achieved. Managements and unions should co-operate fully to increase the profitability of industry, which is essential for secure jobs, better pay and conditions, and the expansion of investment which makes new jobs.

The status of industry and those who work in it must be better recognised, and I hope that the media will realise how they can help here. Industrialists and educationists should come together to develop a better understanding of each other's needs and problems.

Secondly, I think that in looking at these cities we have to understand that one of the least satisfactory forms of bureaucratic control exists in the vast council estates in which so many of our people in the large towns and cities make their homes. However hard the officials may try, all the impersonal disadvantages which apply to size operate in the administration of these estates. Councillors and Members of Parliament know that their advice centres are besieged by tenants complaining about repairs, environmental problems, the difficulty of obtaining transfers, and many similar things.

Although it is hard enough to get a transfer of tenancy from one side of a city to another, it is almost impossible for a tenant to get a transfer from, say, Leicester to Birmingham, or vice versa, and the mobility of labour is restricted as a consequence. We ought not to accept that this is by any means the best we can do to increase the dignity and status of citizens, as well as to improve the quality of their lives.

In my view, the sale of council houses improves substantially the personal independence of the occupier and his family. It is one of the most effective ways of widening the spread of wealth, and pride of ownership is frequently shown in the improvements which the new owners carry out on their homes. For these and many other reasons, the sale of council houses should be encouraged.

I also believe that the satisfaction of tenants would be increased by a tenants' charter which freed them from irksome restrictions and more clearly established their rights. I shall shortly introduce a Bill to this effect. But in by view there is need for us to go further in trying to counter the impersonal nature of living in one of these vast estates in large towns.

We should try to introduce a better concept of neighbourhood, of belonging to a locality. These residents need to have a better say in the environmental and other conditions directly affecting their homes, and we need to have a more effective and dignified system of dealing with maintenance matters and transfers.

Consideration should be given to pilot schemes which divide up the vast estates and encourage the formation of neighbourhood or village areas with rights of association to the tenants, linked more closely with the decentralisation of powers to officers at a more local level. I think that the strengthened feeling of community would help to reduce the awful, wasteful toll of vandalism, now costing about £1 million a year in Birmingham and possibly as much as £100 million a year throughout the country.

Thirdly, in relation to the older inner area of cities, I think that the Government must review their policies for the allocation of resources for housing. The recent Inner Area Study Report on Birmingham questioned the need for continued new council house building on the scale at which it has existed for some time, and especially questioned the need for building at the periphery of the city. A recent revision of the council house waiting list in Birmingham reduced its size considerably, because checks revealed that many applicants had found accommodation and that some duplication had taken place. It could well be that the revision of housing lists elsewhere would reveal similar overstatements of need.

Not only that; the extremely high cost of new council house building and the enormous burden of subsidy falling upon ratepayers and taxpayers as a consequence strengthen the view that the present rate of additional cost cannot be borne for long. It depends, of course, on local circumstances, and I realise that these vary throughout the country. But economies made by the Government in this respect, in reducing the total amount of new council house building, could partly be used in expanding the programme for improvement work on older houses which resulted in increased housing accommodation being available in the inner areas.

There is no doubt that rehabilitation is to be preferred to the use of the bulldozer and clearance and the scattering of families now living in those areas. Many hon. Members have made clear the terrible disadvantages that have followed in the past from too easily adopting programmes of clearance.

We need wherever possible to stabilise these inner areas so that the residents have a sense of continuity and belonging. They would also be helped by a programme of modernisation, because they would feel that the process of decline had at last been halted.

Fourthly, it must be admitted that planning mistakes and over-drastic clearance have been carried out in such a way as to neglect the provision of jobs in the cities in general and in the inner areas in particular. Many industrial undertakings, large and small, have been removed or have ceased to exist. This point has been made many times throughout the debate.

We must be more aware of the dangers of unemployment in these large industrial centres of population. Clearly the constraints of IDC policy cannot reasonably be used to prevent the siting of new industry in a city such as Birmingham, with the unemployment figures that apply today. But the economic reality is that few large industrial developments are likely to be available for some time. The Government must therefore realise, and so must we all, that the best contribution that can be made to employment in these industrial centres is likely to come from the establishment of small new businesses. They need every possible encouragement.

The need for innovators, for business starters and for people who can get an undertaking going to provide jobs for local inhabitants—particularly for young people—is of prime social importance. Government training and retraining schemes should be responsive to these needs and should recognise that service industries have a valuable part to play in providing employment.

Fifthly, against this background of constraint upon public expenditure we should go back to basic principles and think again about the importance of cultivating feelings of self-help and self-reliance. The expensive development of bureaucratic systems has not brought happiness or satisfaction to these densely populated areas. Collectivisation weakens the will of individuals to help themselves. Yet we all need the help of each other.

Out of the neighbourhood proposals that I have mentioned I would look for opportunities to increase the activities of neighbourhood help and for an extended framework in which voluntary organisations can involve more people on a local basis.

Finally, I want to support all that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead said about the vital rôle of the police in the cities. The seriously increased incidence of violence and hooliganism causes great anxiety. Enormous demands are made upon the police force and it is essential that it should be brought up to full strength and supported in its difficult and often dangerous duties. Police strength must enable the force to meet requests for beat duties in the residential areas and for all the special attention that the disturbing incidence of violence in the city centres requires.

The economic future and the social stability of this country will largely be determined in the huge industrial cities and we must more urgently seek to ensure that we shall be successful in coping with their problems.

2.13 p.m.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich, East)

As a London Member I make no apology for limiting my remarks to London. As a representative of what used to be the leading industrial engineering borough in South-East London, I shall direct most of my remarks to the problem of employment in London. I agree very much with hon. Members who have indicated that it is industrial decline in London that has caused most of its other difficulties.

The decline in manufacturing industry in the country as a whole between 1966 and 1974 was around 7 per cent., yet the decline in manufacturing in London during the same period was 27 per cent. That indicates how much more considerably industrial manufacturing has declined in the Greater London area. It is interesting that only 27 per cent. of the jobs lost were lost as a result of firms moving out of Greater London. The total closure of firms accounted for 44 per cent. of the lost jobs. That indicates the need not simply to hang on to what we have—that may be important—and to restrict the movement of firms. It is a question of encouraging new firms to come and expand in the Greater London area.

The South-East Joint Planning Board's report published last year gave a number of reasons for the marked rundown in industrial activity in London. It gave as an example the question of Government attitudes towards industry. It is widely held by industrialists that the Government did not want industry to develop and expand in the Greater London area. That is a view widely held by industry and elsewhere.

As a result of planning policies, particularly of local authorities, it has been extremely difficult for industrialists to expand their activities, modernise their plant and provide all the facilities they need for modern industrial processes. The constant lack of sufficient skilled labour is particularly important. This is a point that many of us have made whenever we have talked to industrialists in the London area. They bemoan the fact that it is difficult to get the skilled labour that they need. The problem partially arises because when a firm moves out the skilled people usually go with it, leaving the unskilled behind in Greater London. Skilled workers by and large tend to be a more mobile people who flee from the city and search for better environment and housing situations outside the Greater London area. That is certainly an important problem.

As has also been mentioned, there are continual problems with regard to transport in London that cause difficulty not only for workers getting to and from work but for firms getting their goods in and out of their factories, particularly in East and South-East London. The result is that each time the spiral takes an upturn in economic activity London-based firms cannot get the maximum output to take advantage of that upturn. Each time the depression comes, the troughs generally become deeper still and the despair of industrialists tends to become worse.

I support many of the solutions that have been put forward in the debate with regard to London's employment problems. We need a positive attitude by both central and local government to make clear to industrialists that there is a place for manufacturing industry in the Greater London area. We also want a moratorium on Government jobs being removed from the Greater London area. Already work has been removed from Woolwich Arsenal, and now the office of the Industrial Chemist is threatened. Many other jobs that are important to London's economy are threatened by the removal of firms to other parts of the country. The Government cannot stand by in the present situation.

I agree about the need for more help for small firms. Many of the problems that we face in London could be eased by giving more encouragement and practical assistance to small firms. I shall return to this point later. Perhaps the National Enterprise Board and its regional agencies could take up opportunities that arise when major firms strike difficulty. The problem now facing Harvey's, in the Minister's constituency, might possibly be something in which the National Enterprise Board could interest itself.

I support hon. Members who have called for a relaxation of IDC control. There is little evidence to suggest that the tight controls with regard to industrial development in the Greater London area have done anything to help industry in the assisted areas. I hope that we shall get more publicity for the fact that it is possible for firms to get IDCs inside the Greater London area. I hope we shall see a relaxation on the restrictions to advertise for industry in Greater London. We had a relaxation with regard to Dockland, and we want to see a relaxation throughout Greater London as a whole. Nothing infuriates people in London more than to see a London bus advertising the delights and charms of Peterborough or other expanding areas. We need to have all sorts of encouragement in Greater London.

I support also the need for improved transport opportunities. Some of us should be telling the Government that the problem of commuter fares is a major headache for Londoners. Some of us do not accept that everyone who commutes in and out of central London is so tremendously rich that he or she can afford to meet the full economic cost of commuter fares.

I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) about the need to use London's river. Many of my constituents do not understand why goods bound for central London should be unloaded at Dover or Sheerness on to leviathan lorries which then pound through our constituencies in order to bring the goods into central London while the river is largely unused and the goods could come in by water with no environmental hardship. Surely the river provides the broadest and swiftest highway for goods and people coming from outlying areas into the centre.

We must place tremendous emphasis on industrial training and retraining in London. Before my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) achieved his present office, he was very strongly in favour of the earliest possible opening of a South-East London skillcentre. Some of us are still fighting for that skillcentre, which is long overdue. I hope that before the end of this year there will be some provision for training opportunities in South-East London.

I turn to the problems of industry, and here we must accept that the housing and environmental problems of Greater London have had an impact on industrial development. Many industrialists feel that their workers are leaving Greater London because of the environment and the unsuitability of a great deal of housing in London. Forty per cent. of London's housing stock was built before 1918, and this is an indication of the sort of decay and decline we may face in the immediate future.

In many parts of London there is a one-tenure spread of housing. In inner London there are parts which comprise almost exclusively council housing. In outer London many parts are exclusively for owner-occupation. We need more opportunities for choice in housing stock in Greater London. In particular, we need to get greater mobility in the housing stock. It is not much good an unemployed worker from Woolwich getting a job in North London when it is impossible for him to get a transfer from his council house in Woolwich to one in North London. Other hon. Members have spoken of the difficulties in getting a transfer within an authority, but it is much more difficult to get one between authorities when the 32 London boroughs each act like independent principalities.

In inner London there is insufficient opportunity for owner-occupation. The figures show that a number of people who move out of the centre move out to become owner-occupiers, and 40 per cent. of council tenants who move out become owner-occupiers. As well, 60 per cent. of those who live in private furnished accommodation who move out, and 54 per cent. who live in private unfurnished accommodation who move out, become owner-occupiers. We should take account of this trend.

I want to give an example of the help which some of us have tried to give to small firms. The London borough of Greenwich suffered some very dramatic industrial closures in the 1960s, some of which were exceedingly painful, such as the Royal Ordnance factory at Woolwich Arsenal and AEI which accounted for more than 10,000 jobs. There were a lot of other smaller but nevertheless serious closures which represented 20,000 manufacturing jobs in just over a decade. The borough council in Greenwich took the view in the early 1970s that the Lord helps him who helps himself, and it decided to launch a campaign to bring more manufacturing jobs into the borough. In 1973 we started to employ an employment development officer, whose job it was to bring work into the area.

In little over three years he brought 120 new firms into the borough, most of them small. Therefore our eggs, instead of being in one or two large baskets, were spread over a lot of small firms and, because of that, were more secure. A total of 1 million sq. ft. of industrial floor space was refurbished or built and let, and the total amount of private investment exceeded £40 million. Of this, £20 million came from expansion by existing firms and £20 million was in new factory floor space by firms which came fresh into the area. New firms brought 4,000 new jobs, and expansion by existing firms brought 2,000 new jobs. New sites are still being developed.

The Woolwich employment exchange was, in 1973, among the top three for unemployment figures among the London boroughs. Now it is twenty-ninth in the league table. In 1973 our unemployment was above the national average. Now it is well below. This is an indication of what can be done when a local authority is determined to work with industry and the trade unions in order to bring new jobs into an area where opportunities exist. That sort of approach for London as a whole could produce the new results we all want.

I turn now to two particular environmental problems. One problem is the loss of skilled workers who move away because the environment is not acceptable for them or their families. This includes in particular the problem of vandalism, which affects a great many areas, not only in the heart of the city but throughout Greater London. Vandalism is a problem with which we shall have to grapple. We talk a great deal about it, but we need a national campaign involving the courts, the police, central Government and local authorities in order to bring home to people what vandalism is doing to the quality of life in many cities. We should be talking to people on local authority housing estates and setting up tenants' co-operatives to try to give tenants a greater say and sense of involvement in their own environment.

Nothing is more depressing than to go around council estates in my constituency—they are not high-density estates; some are very pleasant—and see the scrawling and scribbling all over the walls and the extent to which vandalism is ruining the facilities of the tenants. It is also very depressing to talk to the tenants and find that theirs is an attitude of total acceptance and resignation. If one allows that attitude to develop—people accepting vandalism and hooliganism as the usual thing—one has lost the battle for a decent life in our cities.

The second problem is that of travellers or gipsies. A few years ago this cropped up very briefly and occasionally, but now we have reached a situation where parts of London are subject to regular and continuous invasions from travellers and their caravans throughout the greater part of the year. This is particularly annoying in an authority like mine which has met its obligations in full under the Caravan Sites Act. It has provided a site for 54 caravans at a capital cost of more than £300,000. No one could accuse my authority of not meeting its obligaions under the law. Despite that, my area has been subjecthed to invasion after invasion by caravan dwellers and the squalor and filth which they create is unbelievable.

In Thamesmead, for example, which is supposed to be a bright modern city of the twenty-first century, people have to fight their way through gipsy encampments to get to the shops. It is not just the gipsies themselves, breaking up metal and leaving a mess; it is the horses, the dogs, the chickens and the children running around. It is the most unbelievable picture of squalor and filth in an urban area that I can imagine. The law is almost totally useless. The London borough of Greenwich, if it used its powers under the Caravan Sites Act, would have to get the names of the caravan dwellers, and that is virtually impossible.

In most cases the Greater London Council is the owner of the land. The GLC has to apply to the court for approval of action to remove the caravans. It is an extremely lengthy process taking three or four months. At the end of the exercise when a warrant is carried out and the caravans are moved, the travellers only have to go a few hundred yards down the road and the whole sorry circus and legal farce starts all over again.

The Minister will understand that the tempers of my constituents are running high. If there is not swift action to deal with the problem, and if no urgent action results from the Cripps Report, I fear that real violence will occur between the travellers and the council tenants, who have to pay between £15 and £20 a week to live amidst the squalor that the travellers create.

Employment is the number one priority in tackling Greater London's problems, but there must be a concerted campaign to improve the whole environment.

2.31 p.m.

Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) not only on his choice of motion but on the highly competent and skilful way in which he conducted us through a comprehensive review of the multiple problems that face our cities. He was right to point out that over many years and several Governments these problems have tended to worsen. He, like practically every hon. Member who has spoken today, put particular emphasis on the importance of economic regeneration, economic activity and the vitality of our cities. The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) put the greatest emphasis on employment. But almost every hon. Member has pointed out that although we are looking at social problems there is, underlying them, a lack of economic vitality.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead also referred to the allocation of the needs element of the rate support grant. He spoke of housing and the housing mix as being at the core of the problem. As always, it is easier to identify problems, their nature and their scale—even using the out-of-date statistics that are usually available—than it is to identify the solutions or combination of measures that arc needed to reverse the decline. Both sides of the House recognise that, particularly at a time of economic constraint, the resources available to deal with city problems are crucial. We should all agree that the nature and scale of the problems are such that available resources will never be entirely sufficient. Therefore, it is more than usually important for us to deploy our resources as effectively as possible and to bring all possible resources into use—not just Government resources but local government ones and particularly those in the private sector. It is not just money that is needed. There is also the basic resource of land, there is our housing stock, and also our resources of people. Those who live in cities are suffering from a deterioration of their environment, of job opportunities, of housing stock and of the infrastructure.

The largest source of money for city areas is the rates and the rate support grant, particularly the needs element of the rate support grant, which is 67½ per cent. of the total needs and resources element. Many other financial sources are available to authorities concerned with city problems but they are relatively small compared with the needs element. The allocation of the needs element to deal with the problems that we have heard about today is not particularly comprehensible. I am sure that no ordinary ratepayer could begin to understand how the needs element is calculated, and I have heard it suggested that even in the House only my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) is fully conversant with the niceties of its allocation.

The difficulty of understanding how the needs element is arrived at and whether it is correctly allocated is made worse by the constant changes that the Government have seen fit to make in the inputs to multiple regression analysis. Those are being made against a background of insufficient and out-of-date data. That reinforces the need to examine comprehensively how the allocation of the rate support grant is determined. There should possibly be an examination of the whole rating system.

In taking account of the importance of the needs element to the social services —which are vital to deal with city problems—one becomes additionally concerned about whether we are spending the right amount of money in the right direction.

Many of the hon. Members who have spoken today represent London constituencies, but one or two of them represent other areas, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre), who spoke on behalf of the Midlands. Cities are not confined to London, the North and the Midlands. There are many cities and large towns on the South Coast. Many of them fall within the areas of non-metropolitan counties. It is interesting to note that East Sussex spends more per head on social services than any other county. That is right when one considers the proportion of elderly people living in the area. A large proportion of elderly people is a characteristic of cities as well as of retirement areas. When there is a combination of both—as in the Brighton and Hove area—more concentrated field and domiciliary services and more sheltered housing are required. This takes a lot of long-term planning. Local authorities are not getting a fair opportunity to carry out such planning because of almost annual changes in the way that the rate support grant is allocated and changes in the amounts of money available to them.

I confess that on this occasion I find myself in agreement with Cripps and Godley in their recent publication "Local Government Finance and its Reform". That is an interesting title. They find that the rate support grant is allocated as a result of an obscure internal political bargain. Such a political bargain could be justified only if it achieved worthwhile objectives and if it directed help to the people and places most in need. Today's debate makes it clear that such an objective has not yet begun to be achieved.

I go further and suggest that it is not only the people who are failing to be helped. I am doubtful whether we are correctly identifying the right places. The Department of the Environment's Working Note No.6 on Census Indicators of Urban Deprivation, published in 1975—admittedly using somewhat out-of-date census information, but it is the most up-to-date data available—shows Brighton and Hove to be among the top 15 per cent. of most deprived urban areas. The Brighton Evening Argus was echoing public opinion when it said: Despite its obvious shortcomings, this report is sufficient to make everyone want to know more". It would not be generally assumed that an area such as Brighton and Hove would be found in the top 15 per cent. of areas of urban deprivation. The fact that this conclusion can be drawn from an examination of the census indicators of urban deprivation again puts a question mark in my mind about the way in which we determine the principal element of Government support for cities.

I concur with Cripps and Godley when they say: We think that the present way of calculating the needs element is something of a scandal since the regression results have an objectivity which is spurious. As I said, it it not only the needs element in the rate support grant which provides funds for our cities—it may be the largest source—because there are many others.

I conclude from what has been said on both sides of the House that we need a change of priorities. We need a redirection of resources, skill, effort and cash.

I should like to mention a topic to which reference has not so far been made —the new and expanding towns. It is probably agreed that they will inevitably play less of a rôle in future—a future in which we are not looking for great population growth in the country as a whole—than in the past. That, to my mind, indicates that we could release from the new and expanding towns not only the substantial skill of those who plan, most ably in the vast majority of cases, the development of towns which have attracted successful prosperous industry, but financial resources.

This may be a slightly contentious point to make in an otherwise relatively harmonious debate, but I remind the Under-Secretary of State that the new town corporations possess vast property assets. I know of no good reason why factories, shops and houses in the new towns should not be sold to willing purchasers who are waiting there to buy. The finance thereby released could be redeployed to the advantage of our cities where the need is more than apparent.

Inner cities show grave social symptoms. I think we are all agreed that they are often symptoms of an economic disease. Several hon. Members have referred to the inner area studies which were published earlier this week. I take this opportunity of paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), because it was under his leadership at the Department of the Environment that these studies were first commissioned. It is only now, after four years, that we have the result of that work. I think that anybody reading this publication must conclude that job creation has a vital rôle to play in reversing the decline of our city areas. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) devoted the greater part of his valuable contribution to that aspect.

On page 5, referring to Liverpool, we find: The impact has been felt mainly in the inner area where jobs have disappeared even more rapidly than people. The report, again on Liverpool, referred to the responsibility that must be borne by the Government in failing to perceive the local impact of Liverpool's economic decline and in divorcing economic from housing policy. When it came to the Small Heath area of Birmingham, the report identified A declining economic and industrial base as a particularly vital factor in the distressing situation that it found in that part of Birmingham.

Similar remarks were made about the Lambeth area in London. I quote: This mis-match has several causes. First, manufacturing and other industry has declined rapidly in Inner London over the last decade or so, much more than in the rest of the country. In each area studied the situation was the same. It seems more than a coincidence. I hope that there will be agreement on both sides of the House—I cannot say on all sides, because participation in this debate has been confined to Members of the two major parties and attendance has also been confined exclusively to the two major parties.

Mr. Ogden

That was a point I was hoping to make. There is a complete absence of Liberal, Ulster Unionist and nationalist Members. The one Member representing the SDLP has urban problems in Ireland. I understand that he is about the place and is hoping to make a contribution to the debate. It may be that the Liberals do not have problems in urban areas.

Mr. Sainsbury

They are curiously unique if they are in that position. I regret that we have not yet heard a contribution by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) if that was the point he wished to develop.

I hope that those of us who are here agree that we must now provide a climate in which business in city areas can flourish. I particularly emphasise the need to provide a climate in which new small businesses can be created and can flourish. Inevitably, some small businesses are becoming bigger and are moving away from the city areas where they started and others have gone out of business for a variety of reasons. If we provide the right climate, there will always be small businesses to provide the variety of job opportunities and the economic vitality which are so essential to the prosperity of city areas.

My attention has recently been drawn to the Estates Times of 7th January in which there is a report by Nicholas Falk, Managing Director of the Urban and Economic Development Group, on the plight of small businesses. The article starts by saying: Our national well-being is still very much bound up with the fortunes of small firms. I think we can all agree on that. It goes on to draw attention to the traditional rôle of cities as seed-beds and incubators for new enterprise". We should not overlook that.

If, through our planning activity and over-massive central area redevelopment, we destroy the opportunity for new businesses to start and to flourish in city areas, we shall inevitably destroy the opportunity for economic vitality in those areas.

Mr. Heifer

The hon. Gentleman said that the economic climate should be improved in order that small businesses may develop. But more than that is involved. Redevelopment has taken place in areas controlled by local authorities. Unless there is a conscious policy of building small units for small businesses at reasonable rents, frankly that will not happen. Such premises have consciously been destroyed. They must now consciously be rebuilt or we shall not get the small businesses back.

Mr. Sainsbury

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, he has almost anticipated my next words which follow from my notes: "Premises suitable and suitably priced." These are an essential ingredient for the prosperity of small businesses. Comprehensive redevelopment must not be allowed to be carried out without regard to the need to provide and retain premises for small businesses. We must replace what has been destroyed. That means replacing the right kind of premises at the right kind of price.

I hope that the Minister can assure the House that the Secretary of State will not approve comprehensive redevelopment and compulsory purchase proposals which unnecessarily destroy small businesses along with areas of housing. That is something within his control. I hope that the Department will look rigorously at any proposals that remove business premises from city areas.

The Government are substantial holders of derelict land in the inner city areas. I recall participating in one of the numerous seminars on the problems of property and development and remarking that, if one saw a piece of land empty for eight or 10 years, if it was not owned by the Property Services Agency it was probably owned by the local authority. I was corrected by someone sitting behind me who said that it could belong to British Rail. It is sadly true that much of the disused land in inner areas is owned by the local authority or the central Government.

The study to which 1 referred earlier said that 11 per cent. of land in the area of Liverpool which was studied was derelict and that about three-quarters of it was owned by the local authority or the central Government. That is a serious indictment of the ability of local authorities and the central Government to take action and bring into use, even temporarily, unused land. I am also horrified by the implications of the Community Land Act in that context as it implies that more and more of our urban land will fall out of use.

We should not only be concerned about new premises but we must ensure that we do not destroy older premises. We must cherish existing industries. That expression was used in the article to which I referred earlier. If we are to do that, we must look not only at premises, taxation and the economic climate but also at the effect on small businesses of legislation—I mean not only the Employment Protection Act, which has been particularly damaging and difficult for small businesses. I refer to the steady growth of sometimes desirable and protective regulations and the way in which they have affected the continued use of older industrial premises.

The Bolton Report, which is many years old and which was published before many of the regulations were brought in, said in paragraph 7.19 that an increasing number of regulatory controls made it difficult for small businesses to continue in premises located in inner city areas. That is another aspect of the need to encourage small businesses.

The third aspect of this complex and vital problem is housing. We can conclude from what has been said on both sides of the House today that we must be concerned not only with the quantity of housing but with the quality and variety of housing. I was particularly struck by the phrase used by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) who said that he wanted to see houses with gardens in Dockland. How right he is. It is not enough to say that we do not want any more high-rise flats. We have to put back into our cities, particularly into our inner cities, housing which will attract to those locations the skilled worker, the manager and the professional person so that they have an additional reason for wishing to have their business in an inner city area.

We shall not do that if we create inner cities with only one class of house. We must have variety and quality. As a contribution to that variety, the housing associations have a valuable rôle. It is not sufficient to concern ourselves solely with housing associations, council-owned property and the privately-owned sector. We must also look again at the rented sector, the revitalisation of the rented sector and the valuable role it can play in our city areas.

I am sure that the Under-Secretary is as familiar as I am with the report of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. The report, in paragraph 11.1.3, states: This decline has in some measure been inevitable, but its extent is much to be regretted, for there are still many people for whom privately rented accommodation is a convenient choice. In particular, this category includes people (e.g., students, transient workers) who need accommodation for relatively short periods of time, but it also includes a large number of people who, as things stand, have no immediate hope of buying a house or being allocated a council house. It continues: The need is especially acute in London and other large cities. I hope hon. Members agree that that must be true, because the type of people to whom that refers are those most likely to be found in the inner city areas.

I suggest to the Under-Secretary that we can take a major step towards revitalising the private rented sector without affecting the security of tenure by finding a way of making it easier, quicker and cheaper for landlords—whether resident or non-resident—to obtain repossession of property from bad tenants. No landlord wants a bad tenant, but bad tenants exist. There are those who do not pay the rent, inconvenience other tenants or cause damage. Anyone who considers letting off part of his house is likely to receive the advice not to do so, because if he gets a bad tenant he will not get the rent, he will have to go to court and he will be involved in considerable expense. That must be a deterrent towards increasing the supply and improving privately rented accommodation.

In addition, we need a change of emphasis in our housing policy towards rehabilitation and away from redevelopment. We can use the resources of the private sector and the ever-growing expertise of our ever-growing army of do-it-yourself experts who are skilled in putting in bathrooms and undertaking other improvements. That is a valuable resource to tap.

I conclude by saying that to me this debate shows not only the extent of our concern about city problems but a general recognition of the scale of those problems. I hope that the Under-Secretary will take note of the many substantial points that have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and all others who have contributed to the debate. I hope that the Under-Secretary will consult his colleagues in the other Departments affected and that, as a result, action will flow.

I hope that the Government will see fit to accept the motion and that this will be a first step in reversing a decline in our cities' economic vitality and social prosperity which has lasted for far too long.

2.59 p.m.

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

I start by joining practically every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate in congratulating the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) on his good fortune in securing first place in the Ballot for today. I also congratulate him on the subject that he chose, which is timely, for reasons that have already been mentioned—the publication of the inner area studies and the fact that the Government are themselves undertaking a major and very urgent study of the whole range of problems that have been discussed today.

I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman and all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate on the quality that the debate has maintained. In two respects, I want to allude to that. First, there was the standard set by the hon. Member for Hampstead in not making this a party debate but trying to get down to the real issues of the situation. That has been reflected throughout the debate. Secondly, an enormous amount of valu- able material and ideas have come out in the debate from hon. Members who represent constituencies in London and Birmingham and who can speak with direct authority about the areas that they represent.

In the very difficult job that I have before me, I want to deal briefly with one or two points that have been made before going on to cover some general matters.

The hon. Member for Hampstead raised a great variety of matters. He and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) raised the issue of Docklands, and very rightly so. As part of my constituency lies in Dock-lands, obviously I share the very concern that they have expressed. As I think they know, the Government, in a statement in the House on 5th August made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, endorsed their commitment to the redevelopment of the area and commended the strategic plan as providing a new sense of direction and purpose and a new starting point, and the Dockland Joint Committee is now considering ways of implementing that strategic plan.

Concerning the Government's present position, the best thing that I can say is that the Government are undertaking a major study into our urban strategy. I shall say more about that later.

Mr. Heifer (Liverpool, Walton)

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is aware that the leader of the Merseyside County Council, supported by the leader of the Liverpool City Council, has sent a letter to the Department, signed by the leaders of the various parties making up both bodies, point out that they would like to see a special agency established to deal with the problem of the Liverpool docks and the redevelopment there of both housing and industry. Will my hon. Friend indicate whether the Government are prepared to give this matter the utmost consideration and sympathy, to see what can be done in relation to the Liverpool docks as well as the London docks?

Mr. Barnett

I should like to make two points in reply to my hon. Friend. When I was interrupted I was about to say, or almost had said, that the dockland problem must be seen as one of a number of problems that affect cities such as Liverpool, Newcastle and so on. It is in that spirit that the Government are studying the whole range of urban problems and are concentrating in that study on the priorities of some of the major conurbations of the country at large. My hon. Friend has referred to the approach made by the leader of the Merseyside County Council on the question of the possibility of an agency being used as a means of redevelopment in the Merseyside area.

I cannot give an absolute assurance that that is the precise solution that the Government will choose. However, I can say that the idea of an agency will be sympathetically and actively considered. Indeed, it is being considered by a committee of Ministers, of which my hon. Friend is probably aware. The committee is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. It is considering these very problems and trying to ascertain the most appropriate solutions in particular situations. I cannot give an assurance that anything precisely on the lines of that which has been proposed will necessarily be adopted, although it is very much one of the ideas that is being activey considered.

I know that it is generally accepted that in the debate a number of issues will be raised that I cannot answer directly. It would be absurd for me to try to do so. However, I give an assurance that all the issues that have been raised concerning taxes, which are not my responsibility, and transport, for example, will be referred to the Ministers concerned. Obviously I cannot deal with everything that has been raised in what cannot be too long a speech. I shall ask my ministerial colleagues to write to those who have raised various issue in the form of questions. I hope that that will be taken as a general reply to the various detailed issues that have been raised.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey, who unfortunately is not now in the Chamber, made a powerful speech. He raised one matter of detail, namely, the young people who arrive in London apparently homeless. He referred to the special problems that affect his constituency in respect of the disadvantaged, lonely people who often arrive there because certain facilities are provided. I do not think it would be right for me to try to deal with those issues again although I have a certain amount of information. I shall write to my right hon. Friend on both issues. I shall deal with them as far as I can and then, if necessary, refer them to another Minister in another Department. They are important issues and I believe that they are likely to be considered by the committee to which I have referred.

The hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) brought before the House an issue which he and his two Harrow colleagues brought to my attention earlier last year. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised the matter again today and I am grateful to him for saying that he would do so. It would not be right to detain the House long by discussing the details. I invite the hon. Gentleman to talk to me again about the issue. I am concerned about one or two things that he said. I should like to review the case to see what can be done in the light of what he said today.

Mr. Anthony Grant

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I shall take up that handsome offer. As the Department of Industry seems to be so much involved, would it be helpful to involve that Department as well as the hon. Gentleman's Department?

Mr. Barnett

I think not. Office development certificates are very much matters for my Department. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with the meeting with me. I shall make contact with the Department of Industry so that it may consider the aspects that concern it. Primarily the issue of ODCs belongs to my Department.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) made an interesting speech. I am afraid that I had to miss part of it, as it was delivered at a time when I had to leave the Chamber. My hon. Friend's speech was based on a good deal of first-hand experience of local government in London. I was grateful for everything that she had to say. I was interested that she doubted whether it was true that some people are trapped in central London in the way that the Lambeth Inner Area Study maintains.

In fact, I believe that some people—some in my own constituency—would like to get out of central London, particularly when their children have settled in other parts of the country, so that they can be near them instead of being isolated and lonely. They often place on the social services a burden which might not be quite so great if they could occasionally invite the assistance of relations.

Nevertheless, I take the general point that an unhappy consequence of the dispersal policy since 1945 is the break-up of families and therefore of the kind of self-help which was possible even during the dark days of the 'thirties in the East End of London and which enabled families and communities to survive circumstances much more serious than those which many of us have to survive today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) raised special issues concerning his constituency and rightly said that these problems are not limited to inner areas but arise also in some parts of outer London. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) also said that when an inner city problem is allowed to deteriorate, one thing that is now beginning to concern people is that, like a cancerous growth, it can begin to move out to the outer areas. That makes the solution of these problems all the more urgent.

I am glad that the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) laid emphasis on the importance of employment. I was also impressed by the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright). Both he and are aware of the progress in Greenwich on the employment front. That practical example could be an answer to some of these problems.

I was glad that the hon. Member for Hall Green was called, because the debate has been predominantly a London debate, which is inevitable on a Friday—

Mr. Heller


Mr. Ogden

It would not be, if speeches were shorter.

Mr. Barnett

I recognise that other hon. Members have an interest in this matter.

I was pleased that the hon. Member for Hall Green was called, not just because he spoke about Birmingham but because he spoke with authority, having had some contact with the inner area study in his constituency.

The hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) said that there are cities all along the South Coast. He referred to the resources of skill and expertise on the staffs of new town corporations. When my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) mentioned the proposal by the leader of Merseyside Council, I think that he was referring to the idea that such an agency, if employed on Merseyside, might contain the sort of skills which have grown up in the new towns. There is no question that in the development of industrial estates—the sort of thing that is now going on in my own borough—local authorities would find valuable the expertise of people who have had to build up an industrial complex from scratch on the edge of a new town.

The problems of urban areas are by no means a new discovery. Different forms of urban deprivation have been troubling successive Governments since the days of the Victorian Blue Books. I ought to comment at the outset on the terms of the motion moved by the hon. Member for Hampstead. May I say, to allay anyone's fears, that I propose to accept the motion in general terms. I cannot accept the terms of the motion in so far as it refers to the need for studies. The hon. Member for Hampstead must be aware that on Wednesday three studies of inner city areas were published. I could name a dozen others that are relevant to the problems we have been discussing. Therefore, I was surprised when the hon. Gentleman called for more studies. I am sure he recognises that we now have a lot of material and practical experience on which to base policy and actions.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Perhaps the Minister will accept that my motion was tabled before the publication of those studies on Wednesday.

Mr. Barnett

I accept that, but the hon. Gentleman was fully aware that the studies were continuing because they were set up by his right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). I emphasise that it was on the initiative of the right hon. Gentleman that the studies were set up. I am glad that the studies have been published.

Mr. Heifer

Is my hon. Friend aware that I am sick of studies? On Merseyside we have had about a dozen studies that I know of. Now we have the inner London studies, and we hear that the Government are setting up a further study. That is fine, but it is about time that we stopped studying matters. We ought by now to know what the problem is and do something about it.

Mr. Barnett

I take my hon. Friend's point, but I think he is wrong to describe the committee of Ministers established by my right hon. Friend as yet another study. It is not a study. The committee is using the material available to the Government to design policy. It is a matter of urgency that the committee should report and come out with a policy. It is, therefore, not in any sense another study that will be abortive—at least, I hope not.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry

There is no doubt that the committee of Ministers will have before it a letter from Wandsworth Borough Council relating to a new estate of tower blocks built 10 years ago called the Doddington Grove Estate. Over the past 10 years, serious and radical mistakes in the architecture and planning of the buildings has meant that the cost of maintenance has got out of hand. No doubt the Department is aware of this. I should be pleased if I could take back to my local authority an assurance that the committee of Ministers will also consider this point.

Mr. Barnett

No doubt it will. Ministers will consider the experience of the past and what we have learned from it.

There is another sense in which I cannot go along entirely with the motion and some of the remarks that have been made in this debate. The motion refers to the condition of life in urban areas as "steadily deteriorating since 1945". I challenge that point of view, first because I think it ignores the genuine concern that has been shown by borough councils since the war and the substantial improvements that have been made in city life. I agree that there has been deterioration as well in some areas, but substantial improvements have been made, especially in housing and the control of pollution.

Secondly, the motion could be thought to imply that the sort of problems which we face now are an intensification of the same problems as we faced in 1945. That is clearly not so, as has been shown by much of the evidence put forward in the debate.

We should not assume that everything that has been done since 1945 has been totally mistaken. Determined and successful slum clearance programmes have to a large extent eliminated the appalling housing problems facing the London conurbation and other major cities after the war. Of course, some appalling mistakes were made in the planning and design of some buildings. Nevertheless, it is true to say that most people in cities—I emphasise "most"—live in decent accommodation. The housing problem is no longer that of the mass of the people. It is now a problem of a minority—a substantial minority, but nevertheless a minority.

The severe overcrowding and congestion which afflicted cities only 25 years ago have also been relieved. I was interested to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey say that he wanted to see people have houses, not fiats, and to have gardens. For that to be possible one must move people out, and that is precisely what has happened. Some of them go to new and expanding towns. In that way, the major problems of congestion which existed in 1945 have been mitigated. There has also been a spontaneous migration of hundreds of thousands of people to towns and villages outside the big cities.

Dramatic improvements have been made in the urban environment. Since the 1956 Clean Air Act was passed over 5,000 smoke control orders have been made, affecting about 7.3 million premises and covering most major urban areas. December sunshine in London is, on average, 70 per cent. greater than it was 20 years ago. We are following up the reduction of smoke by controlling other airborne pollutants. For example, the lead level in petrol was reduced last November. This will lower pollution from vehicle exhaust fumes in cities.

Progressive implementation of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 will also improve the urban environment. In particular the provisions of Part III of the Act, which came into force on 1st January 1976 in England and Wales will strengthen the fight against excessive noise—something that is particularly irksome to people in crowded urban areas.

Therefore, on the whole, life in the big cities has improved since the war. Indeed, some of the problems that we now face stem from the very success of Government measures.

This brings me to my second comment on the terms of the motion. The problems in 1977 are not those of 1945. In particular, we no longer have to cope with overwhelming challenges of slum clearance and pollution control. Urban problems today include the decline of many small towns whose economic base —founded on great industries such as coal mining and textiles—has been shrinking and whose housing stock—all built in a short period in the last century—requires improvement at about the same time. More serious still, we are faced with the complicated and difficult problem of the inner areas of our biggest cities.

In the inner cities, the success of rehousing and dispersal policies have brought new problems in their wake. Jobs and people have been encouraged to move, but both are now being lost at a faster rate than is healthy. The big cities have been affected by national trends of decentralisation. Much of this has brought great benefits to industry and to the people who have found new homes. But migration has been selective, and public resources have had to be poured into the new residential and industrial areas outside the cities. As a result, the inner parts of the biggest cities still have much inadequate housing, high unemployment and lack of opportunities, a shabby environment, poor schools, poor public facilities, and high rates of crime and vandalism. These problems exist in many towns and cities, but they are to be found on a much larger scale, in more serious combination, and are getting worse faster, in the cores of the biggest conurbations.

I have already mentioned the committee that my right hon. Friend is chair- ing, which is looking at these problems and considering the rôle of all major policies which might have a bearing on inner cities, as well as the effectiveness of those measures used in the past and suggested for the future. The Government intend that an announcement about future policy should be made in the spring. That is what I mean by action rather than further study.

In this context, it has been most valuable to take the view of the House on the wide number of topics that have been raised. I assure the House that the Government will consider the points made in the debate before making the announcement. I emphasise that the Government are reviewing policies as a matter of urgency, and those policies will be translated into action. Indeed, a number of practical steps have already been taken—steps which are relevant to some of the points made in the debate.

Priority is already being given to urban areas. Here, I think it right to refer to the needs element of the rate support grant, where there is a steady switch to favour the large urban areas. A considerable start has been made there and in housing, where resources have been concentrated on stress areas, most of which are in the big cities. I should like to say something about those matters in a moment.

Mr. Steen

The Minister said that he would carefully consider all the matters that have been raised in the debate today. Does he realise that most of the contributors to this debate have been from London constituencies? Will he undertake to see that another debate is instigated, so that Liverpool Members may have a chance to speak about their constituency problems?

Mr. Barnett

The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a matter for me. I shall put the matter to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is responsible for those arrangements. At the beginning of my speech I regretted the fact that more hon. Members representing other urban areas were not able to take part in this debate, and indeed some are not even able to be present. I recognise the problem, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not go away with the impression that because the problems of Liverpool have not been mentioned as much as they might have been Liverpool will not receive the consideration given to other areas. That certainly is not the case.

We now have a great deal of useful experience and knowledge, acquired in the course of various specific projects promoted by the Government to help urban areas and to study conditions in them. I refer to the inner area studies, the urban programme, educational priority areas, and area management and comprehensive community programmes.

All this has been useful, but it is clear that we must move on. We must now examine the contribution to be made by the programmes of the Government and consider how they fit together into an attack on urban problems. I cannot anticipate the findings of my right hon. Friend's committee, but it is clear that we need to find new ways forward. The Government see the need for an overall perspective—a concerted view of the relationship between our major policies and their effect on urban problems. Measures such as the urban programme have done valuable service on a local scale. But it is only through the major programmes of government that we can effect significant changes to conditions in urban areas.

I must stress the need to link together the large Government programmes as they affect urban areas. Indeed, another thing that might be said about the motion is that it suggests that we can continue to compartmentalise the areas that affect urban policy. I do not blame the hon. Gentleman for making that suggestion. After all, the speech that I am now making is compartmentalised in some respects. There is a tendency for us to think in terms of housing, employment, transport, or whatever the subject may be. It is vital to look at these matters in a comprehensive fashion.

I wish now to refer to the subject of the rate support grant, to which reference was made in the debate. The proposals for the distribution of rate support grant in 1977–78 provide an illustration of our efforts to secure help to the urban areas. We have tried hard to concentrate grant on those areas with the most pressing economic and social problems. Those areas, of course, lie mainly in our major conurbations, and in particular contain the inner city areas of those conurbations.

The details of the rate support grant settlement for 1977–78 are contained in the 1976 Rate Support Grant Order, which was debated and approved by the House just before Christmas. The order contains a number of indicators of spending need which are of direct help to inner urban areas in particular. I agree that these are not as up to date as we would like and are perhaps not quite accurate. But they are the best indicators that we have, and are objective, in the sense that they are from the Census.

There has been some criticism of the so-called London clawback, but even with this clawback London's share of the England and Wales needs element will increase from 19.1 per cent. to 19.6 per cent., representing a gain of about £20 million, which is a significant improvement in the position of London between 1975–76 and 1976–77. Obviously, one would like to do more, but it is relevant to mention that when the rate support grant was debated we heard a number of criticisms, particularly from the Opposition, about the diversion of extra resources to urban and inner city areas.

Inevitably, the rate support grant itself was a harsh settlement, and, as far as the Government were able to do so, we tried to use it as a means to favour the inner areas of our large cities. The indicators have obviously been a strong influence in doing that. Clearly, it is not entirely satisfactory, but in the circumstances it was the best that could reasonably be done.

Mr. Sainsbury

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but in view of the arguments, disagreement and perhaps misunderstanding in London and elsewhere still arising out of the order as a result of the allocation of the rate support grant—particularly the factors of the analysis used to allocate the needs element—will he consider publishing, well in advance of the calculations for next year's grant, an appropriately-coloured paper so that the interested parties can give full consideration to the factors that have been used and the alternatives that may be available for making sure that the substantial sum of money involved is allocated to the best effect?

Mr. Barnett

I cannot give such an undertaking off the cuff, but I shall look into the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. This is a matter for discussion between the local authority associations and the Department.

It may also be relevant to mention that there has been a certain amount of criticism—including in the Layfield Report—about the degree to which the local authorities are at a disadvantage because they do not know until relatively late how much they are to get, and we may have to look at that factor among a number of issues related to the grant. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's suggestion will be part of that review. I cannot give him a better answer than that at present.

I turn now to the issue of housing. I have already referred to the considerable improvements that have been made in the housing conditions of working people. In most towns, the majority of people are now living in decent, acceptable houses or flats. But too many are not, and there are others who have special needs, such as the disabled, one-parent families, the elderly, and so on, who are not being properly catered for. Many black people live in inner city areas in poor housing conditions. It would be relevant to mention one example of what has been done to change priorities.

New guidelines now exist for all London new towns asking them to pay special attention in their housing allocation policies to the needs of disadvantaged people, amongst them those who live in the inner city. That is a significant change in policy. I know that some of the London new towns, certainly those with houses to allocate, are taking that request seriously. It is also vitally important to see the problem of meeting housing demand not as a simple problem of numbers but as a complex set of interrelated problems varying in nature from area to area.

We have done a great deal to meet the challenge of urban housing since we took office. The Housing Act 1974 was a great step forward. I think that the biggest single step forward in housing policy has been the decision to discourage the senseless and indiscriminate demolition of housing in the pursuit of grandiose town planning schemes, to begin to switch the emphasis of housing policy towards upgrading our presently-sound housing stock, and to make housing policy more aware of social stress and community needs.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree with the apt words that it was high time to pension off the bulldozer. While huge areas of slums had to be cleared in many cities, too often the redevelopment machine rolled on inexorably, taking some sound housing with unfit housing, destroying both industries and communities in its path. Too often, as well, the demolition machine rolled faster than the rebuilding machine, with the result that many areas, especially in the bigger cities, were blighted by vacant sites and run-down services.

Obviously, this change in emphasis means that existing housing must be brought up to a good standard and kept there. Improvement grants for home owners have been very important in raising the quality of millions of houses. Within expenditure contraints, the Government will continue to encourage owner-occupiers to improve their houses.

It is important that available resources are not spread too widely. It is our policy to tackle the worst housing first, and we have taken several steps to do this. In the Housing Act 1974 we introduced the concept of gradual renewal and empowered local housing authorities to declare housing action areas, in which conditions of social stress in addition to housing need require urgent attention. To date, 155 HAAs have been declared, covering 60,000 dwellings. The essence of an HAA declaration is the will and ability of a local authority to implement a sustained effort to improve housing conditions. Providing local authorities do not over-extend themselves, and organise themselves efficiently, the HAA programme will play a large part in improving housing stock in the worst areas.

Mr. Steen

Is the Minister aware that it is not just houses that are needed? We also want to create homes. One of the best ways of creating homes is to create a community and neighbourhood. Does the Minister agree that the termination of the urban aid programme will reduce the likelihood of communities being able to get the finance to help themselves rather than having to depend on State aid?

Mr. Ogden

I do not want to embarrass my hon. Friend, but he referred to the fact that this has been mainly a London debate. I make no complaint about that to the Chair. However, I understand that the Minister has another eight pages of his brief to deliver. If that is so, it means that the mover of the motion and the two Front Benches will together have taken up two and a half hours of this debate. I urge my hon. Friend, if he can, to allow some time for other Back Benchers to make quick five-minute speeches. Some of those hon. Members have been here rather longer than my hon. Friend. There might even be time for the motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Shaw) to be put formally.

Mr. Barnett

It would be easier if we had fewer interruptions. I do not mean to be offensive to my hon. Friend. I want to get on with a speech that I have to make because I have to reply to a debate in which a great many points have been made on which the Government have a view. I shall obviously do my best, but I hope the House will understand the difficulties in which I find myself.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) made a point about the urban aid programme. I do not think that that programme has been cancelled. It continues, and one of the matters that is being discussed by my right hon. Friend's committee is the future of that sort of initiative. I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that programmes of that kind have played an important part in the past. No doubt a community development programme of one kind or another will play an important part in the redevelopment of inner city areas in future, as well as other parts of the country.

We recognise, of course, that a great deal of new building by local authorities is still needed and will be needed in the foreseeable future. Here, too, our policies are focussing priority on the needs of the cities.

A number of local authorities have been designated as housing stress areas and will be able to keep up programmes of new building in the worst housing areas. Many of them are in the inner cities. Others are in the smaller Indus- trial towns which I mentioned at the beginning of my speech.

I turn now to the question of employment, which has been raised on a number of occasions. For many years we have been pursuing policies aimed at putting right the employment problems of the assisted areas—the regions with the most persistent unemployment, dependence upon declining industries, low economic activity rates, high outward migration, industrial dereliction and so on. We have achieved some success through these policies, yet the regional problem remains a tough one and we must continue to accord these regions priority in our industrial policies.

It is also clear, however, that quite apart from these differences between regions there is an unhappy pattern of contrasts between the inner and outer areas of our big conurbations. The inner areas have higher rates of unemployment than outer areas and the rest of the region of which they form part. The inner city employment problems are naturally worst in conurbations with the highest levels of unemployment—that is, those in the assisted areas. But they are also highly significant in the inner areas of the other conurbations.

To understand why inner area employment conditions are poor, we need to go back to the long-term trends I mentioned earlier, to the changes both in the jobs in these areas and in the local populations. The job losses have been in manufacturing and in the traditional service industries such as docks, the railways and the gas industry—sectors that have provided the main opportunities for the manual workers of the inner cities, particularly the unskilled and semi-skilled workers. The new service industries, which until recently at any rate have been a growth sector, have not compensated fully for the lost jobs in the inner cities. They have been too few or they have not brought the fresh opportunities sought by the manual worker. There has been a shift in occupations, away from manual work to jobs requiring skills or educational attainments.

I should like to say a word about planning, which is a special responsibility of mine. I would have liked to say something about the problems of health, but I want to deal particularly with planning policies because these are crucially important in some of the matters with which we are dealing. We are now looking at planning policies closely to see what adjustments they need, to face up to the problem of big cities, and especially inner areas. This is happening at two levels—the strategic and the local.

At strategic level, my Department is carrying out a reappraisal of the planning policies which, since the war, have favoured the dispersal of population from the conurbations. This review will take into account factors such as the rate of growth of individual new towns and the special problems of the major cities in whose region they have developed. I shall not anticipate the results of the review. I would be the first to recognise the achievements of new towns, but I also recognise the need to find a new balance between them and inner cities. There has been an attempt to polarise the issue into one of competition or antagonism between the new towns and the inner city areas. The Government still see their rôles as being complementary one to the other.

This has been an interesting debate. I very much accept the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), who wishes to take part in this debate, but it would be wrong for me to conclude without a reference to the inner area studies which were published this week. The Government believe that social and economic planning is the only way to tackle effectively the urgent problems of urban areas. We have anticipated the request for studies by publishing the inner area studies, and I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Worcester who set them up. There is no doubt that these studies will make an enormously important contribution in terms of input into policy-making studies which the Government have undertaken.

It is right that I should try to bring my remarks to a close now to enable my hon. Friends to make brief speeches. I have tried to cover a broad area, perhaps not very adequately, because it has not been possible to deal with the very wide range of issues raised. I hope, however, that I have shown that the Government appreciate the importance of urban affairs and the special problems of inner cities. Many achievements have been recorded, and it would be wrong to assume that everything that has gone before is irrelevant. Mistakes have been made. We should try not to conceal them but to learn from them.

The motion calls for an urgent study, but the Government have not been inactive and have studied the problems for a long time. The moment has now come for action. I cannot suggest that we are starting again from scratch, but we are rethinking a whole range of policies. We have found that there is a need to build an urban dimension—especially an inner city one—into our policies for a long time into the future. That will involve Government Departments working closely together to focus upon urban problems. It may require new forms of co-operation between local authorities, statutory agencies and the private sector. It will mean involving local people and bearing their needs and wishes in mind.

Most of all, inner cities require confidence in their future. They need the confidence of investors, of public bodies and of ordinary people. The Government intend to create and to sustain such confidence. The means of doing this was an essential part of the task undertaken by the study set up by the Secretary of State. I know that he looks forward to being able to report the outcome of its deliberations to the House as soon as possible.

3.48 p.m.

Mr. John Cockcroft (Nantwich)

I have been waiting all day to speak about a part of the country that is a long way from London. I am told that I have five or six minutes in which to speak, and I shall keep my speech within that limit, in contrast to other hon. Members who have spoken.

I wish to refer to the new towns, one of which is in my constituency in Cheshire. Looking in retrospect at the new towns that were built between the two wars and since the Second World War—and which are now virtually cities—it appears that it would have been better to improve and extend the existing towns than to build new ones.

Some of the old towns are after all very beautiful. There are two examples of contrasting towns in Cheshire. One is the historic old Roman town of Nantwich, which was the market town for Chester. It has been sensibly adapted to modern conditions without its attractions being spoilt. New housing estates have been built on the outskirts. The people living on those estates have easy access to the facilities in the town, such as the civic hall, the library and the medical centre. Indeed, it has a great number of facilities for a town only four miles from Crewe.

In contrast to Nantwich, only some miles to the north is the new town of Winsford, which in modern jargon is Manchester and Liverpool overspill. There is a great contrast between the two towns. In Winsford new buildings have been grafted on to the old village—a village of long standing—but it has been almost obliterated by the developments which have been carried out. In effect, the cuckoo has displaced the nest. A few old, often blackened, houses now attest to what was once the old village of Winsford.

This new town, which was planned to have been more than twice as large as it now is, may soon have 30,000 inhabitants. For some time, however, the population has virtually stabilised. Unemployment is relatively high. There have been, and are in prospect, grievous redundancies. Companies were attracted to Winsford by Government financial inducements, some of which were subsequently withdrawn. New housing estates, such as the most inaptly named Mount Pleasant Estate, were built at breakneck speed in the 1960s and early 1970s to accommodate an expected influx of workers at the new factories. That influx did not happen in a big way.

The tenants on the estates now reap the whirlwind of the mistakes of the past —overcrowded, narrow alleyways, hopelessly inadequte playing fields for children, roofs which blow off in gales, and so on. The town has many inadequacies—police, schools, cinemas, public houses, welfare services, activities for teenage children at weekends and evenings, among others. There are not enough facilities of that kind in that new town in the North of England.

Even the former town hospital, the Albert Infirmary, has been closed. Many seriously or suddenly ill people have to be rushed to Leighton Hospital, nearly 10 miles away, along narrow, twisting, crowded roads.

Small business men were persuaded, if not forced, into shops in a new shopping precinct, which many of them could not afford, away from their traditional primordial places in the High Street.

Those concerned with these matters in Cheshire are doing all they can to put them right. Many people in Winsford live happy, fulfilled lives. Many make a living there which is good; and, of course, they have access to the nearby beautiful countryside. But in a sense it is too late. It was probably a mistake to develop the town in the first place. It was certainly a mistake to develop it in such a soulless way, and without ensuring that there were enough jobs and facilities for the people who were persuaded to go there.

I am delighted to sense that the setting up of new towns is now out of fashion, but everything possible must be done to make the existing new towns and cities better places in which to live and work.

There is, in a sense, a paradox about one important aspect of this debate, of which new towns and cities are part. The artificial new towns, some of which are often much more dreary places in which to live than many of the ancient, beautiful cities of Western Europe and of this country, could be expanded to use existing facilities.

The concept of new towns in the beginning was not necessarily wrong in itself. However, vast numbers of people in the centres of existing cities were persuaded to go out to the new towns. Many now regret the day they left the places where they were born and brought up.

3.55 p.m

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) indicated that he will require three minutes to conclude the debate. I hope to use up only one and a half minutes of the available time. If hon. Members had taken less time over their speeches, perhaps I and others, would have had more time to speak.

I want to make three points for myself on behalf of my Liverpool colleagues, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) and even the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen). Everything that the hon. Member for Hampstead said when he referred to London and his own constituency could apply to the Liverpool constituencies of West Derby, Walton and Wavertree and, indeed to Birmingham, Manchester and all the main conurbations. I do not agree with the hon. Member's motion in suggesting that life in the cities has steadily deteriorated since 1945. The problems have changed. When one considers clean air and other matters, I must conclude that life for the majority of people in our cities is better now than it was in 1945. Problems simply change and bring new difficulties.

I do not want another report on the inner areas. I was weaned on the Crowther Report. When I came to the House in 1964, we had the Bor Report on Liverpool. We have had the Hunt Report, the study plan of the North-West and the report on the problems of Merseyside published in 1965 at 8s 6d. We have had the whole range of reports through to the Merseyside Structure Plan. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walton said, "enough of plans". We could rebuild Hadrian's Wall, so let us get on with the job. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) suggested that a nation, like a family, can live only on what it earns. Industry must be persuaded to produce more and export more. That is what we said in the Labour Party manifesto in October 1974.

One of the proposals of the Labour Government is for planning agreements between industry and the Government. Some of our difficulties in the inner city areas are caused by uncertainty because of changes in the control of local authorities and in Government policies. We need planning agreements between local governments and the national Government. Planning agreements with a guarantee of Government aid over a period of local authority development might be an answer. Planning agreements should be between not only industry and the Government but between local authorities and the Government.

Therefore, what we need is not more studies and more reports but more action on the information we have. This would reduce uncertainty and enable better use to be made of limited resources.

3.58 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

The debate has been fascinating, useful and genuine. There has been no question of hon. Members speaking on matters about which they have no interest. I tried to frame the motion and to speak not specifically on London issues in order to give hon. Members from other parts of the country a chance to participate.

The feeling on both sides of the House is that there is a need for a rethink about whether we still need IDCs, ODPs and the Location of Offices Bureau. A major issue has been whether local authorities are managing their transfers properly. I hope that the Minister will consider talking to his colleague who is responsible for housing to see whether the old Central Housing Advisory Committee might look at the question of transfers. Many people could give valuable evidence.

I do not want more work to be done. When I put down the motion, we did not know when the study document would come out. For that reason, I hope that the Minister will acquit me of asking for more studies. I hope that the House will agree that the motion has not been a waste of time and will pass it.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, recognising that life in the major cities of Great Britain has been steadily deteriorating since 1945, urges the Government to set in hand urgent studies covering the problems of unemployment, housing, health, planning and transport in order to improve the quality of life for all their inhabitants.

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