HC Deb 19 January 1977 vol 924 cc304-7
5. Mr. Baker

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to check the continuing decline in the population and the consequent loss in job opportunities in inner London.

Mr. Shore

The Government are keenly concerned at the loss of jobs in inner London. I am considering the problem further as part of the Government's review of inner city areas.

Mr. Baker

Is the Secretary of State aware that the population of London is declining by 100,000 a year and that job opportunities in London are being reduced by 60,000 a year? Is he aware that in manufacturing the job loss in London is seven times the national average and in office work nine times the national average? In order to arrest that decline, will he abolish the need for industrial development certificates and office development permits?

Mr. Shore

I am aware of the figures. We are considering them in our general concern about the trends that have established themselves strongly in the last few years in East London. We are considering what policies might be used to arrest this trend and to reverse it in the inner Cities Study. I made a statement on dockland before the Summer Recess and I announced then that in terms of IDCs the dockland area would in future be treated on the level with new and expanding towns in the South-East.

Mr. Cartwright

Will my right hon. Friend seek to persuade his colleagues to re-examine some of the proposals for the dispersal of jobs from London, in particular the relocation of the Government Chemist's office in Cumbria? Does he not agree that that cannot be justified on operational grounds and simply worsens the unemployment problem in London?

Mr. Shore

I shall consider my hon. Friend's suggestions, but it would be wrong to anticipate any general considerations and conclusions that we may reach in the context of the Inner London Study.

Mr. Heseltine

The Secretary of State is now considering Layfield, housing and inner London. Does he have any views about anything?

Mr Shore

I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point, but there it is. Layfield was set up with the general acclaim of the House about two years ago. There are 5 million words of evidence, apart from the report itself, which is enormous. Other major studies have been put in hand. I have been associated with the one on inner city areas. I am sure that that will be brought to a rapid conclusion and that we shall see some action on it. We shall proceed as quickly as we can on the others.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Does the Minister accept that another way of stopping the decline in the population of inner London would be to stop pulling down houses still fit for habitation? Will he intercede with the Lambeth Borough Council, which this morning had started to pull down houses in St. Agnes Place, Lambeth, and has been stopped only by an injunction? That is a respect in which the Secretary of State can take immediate action. Will he do so in this immediate situation?

Mr. Shore

I should certainly need to check whether I have powers in that matter such as the hon. Gentleman suggests. The policy that we are pursuing is definitely in favour of rehabilitation rather than the older style of large-scale urban redevelopment schemes. That is now very firmly established in the minds of authorities generally. However, in any particular situation—I emphasise the particular local situation—obviously we must look at all the factors involved. Therefore, it would be wrong to move, as it were, from a general statement of policy to application in a particular circumstance of a particular authority.

Mr. Christoper Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is not so much views that we want but action? Is he aware that South-East London used to be a major manufacturing centre and that it is now in a worse position than many of the assisted areas in other parts of the country? As merely one suggestion for saving a bit of public money, may I suggest that he abolishes the Location of Offices Bureau?

Mr. Shore

The rôle of the Location of Offices Bureau is certainly something that I shall be—[HON. MEMBERS: "Looking at"?] In any serious policy to help to reverse the trend in London, very many different strands have to come together, and they have to be looked at together, I shall have something to say about that, too, at the appropriate time.