HC Deb 19 July 1977 vol 935 cc1406-516

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mrs. Ann Taylor.]

4.40 p.m.

Mr. Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)

Against the background of our present national economic difficulties, it is especially appropriate that the House should have this opportunity to discuss the problems of large towns and cities. More than 35 million of our people live in relatively densely populated urban areas having important connections with industry and commerce. Unhappily, it has to be acknowledged that a large proportion of these people feel in recent years that there has been a deterioration in the quality of life.

So the problems of urban life generally are of great practical importance, and I think that we would particularly wish to have in mind the towns and cities within the great metropolitan areas in the Midlands, the North-West, Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, as well as London and Glasgow. Also, a considerable number of large towns and cities outside the metropolitan counties—too many to name but I will mention Bristol, Cardiff, Leicester, Nottingham, Reading, Preston and Portsmouth as examples—experience similar problems.

The shared features of too many of our older towns include worn-out hospitals, schools and similar public buildings in need of modernisation or replacement, and large numbers of dilapidated houses and run-down districts. The fact that these blemishes still exist is a reflection on the poor performance of our national economy. It is now becoming common ground that only success in the creation of additional wealth will provide the resources necessary to deal long-term with widespread urban decay.

We also have to keep in mind that, particularly in the older industrial areas, unemployment has more than doubled since what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has described as the catastrophic year of 1975, and the lack of jobs for young people has emerged as a severe problem which will cause us anxiety for years ahead. There is an additional feature which is deeply disturbing—the exceptional rise in crime, especially violent crime, and vandalism, which has taken place in so many of these large towns and cities, reflecting the wider spread of instability and social problems and causing considerable apprehension to the aged and to those who feel themselves vulnerable.

Within these wider areas of urban problems, there are inner areas of many of our older towns and major cities where the features of decay—bad housing, high and rising unemployment, crime and elements of social disorder can be seen in particularly intense form. The Government's White Paper on the inner cities, as expected, concentrates mainly upon these areas and aspects. On the analysis of the causes and intensification of these inner area problems there is much agreement, and I will not take up time by repeating them all, but I want to emphasise that while slum clearance was essential, the almost indiscriminate use of the bulldozer to break up existing communities living in sound older houses capable of modernisation was grievously wrong.

This was particularly so when people were transferred in huge numbers to vast, ill-designed housing estates, including far too many tower blocks of flats which are not suitable as homes for families with young children. We must see to it that these mistakes are never repeated. Again, as the steep fall in job opportunities is a major factor in most of the other symptoms of decline in the industrial towns and cities, the bulldozing out of existence of so many small non-conforming businesses in the inner areas was extraordinarily insensitive and short-sighted, especially when so few efforts were made to resite these businesses and to safeguard the jobs that they provided.

Looking at the White Paper as a whole, and having noted carefully the change in emphasises and policies which the Government have adopted in recent months—in education, transport, housing and the problems we are discussing—I congratulate the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for the Environment and their colleagues on their diligent study and partial adoption of the "The Right Approach", the Conservative policy document published last October. But I want to say to them that we on these Benches and in the council chambers throughout the country who, as Conservatives, believe in these principles will apply them more energetically and effectively than any Labour Administration could. Indeed, with many Socialists it is very much a case of asking the leopard to change his spots.

The Government's prescription in the White Paper for strengthening the economies of the inner areas puts great emphasis on preserving the firms and businesses which at present exist and on giving them an opportunity to expand. It also calls for new businesses to be started by firms and individuals and for private capital investment to be stimulated so that extra jobs can be created. These are the very policies we have advocated for the strengthening of the national economy, and we welcome and support them.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

The hon. Gentleman referred to "The Right Approach", from which, he said, the Government have borrowed. I do not want to be immodest, but point out to him that I have been advocating these steps for the last two years in the House. Perhaps the Conservatives have borrowed the ideas from me.

Mr. Eyre

I would like to give the hon. Gentleman credit for the way in which he has advocated liberal and sensible policies with regard to small businesses and the contribution that they can make. But "The Right Approach" goes wider, and some of its terms have been incorporated in the other policies of the Government.

We want these policies to be applied to manufacturing and service businesses as well as to small craft industries, all of which have the potential for the employment of young people and those displaced by present difficulties. In the Conservative pamphlet "Hope for our towns and cities" and in the pamphlet published recently by London Conservative Members, the Secretary of State will find a number of practical suggestions along these lines to which I hope the Government will give serious consideration.

Of course, there will have to be changed attitudes on the part of the local authorities to attract and assist entrepreneurs and business-starters by making available suitable cheap premises or sites for small businesses and the self-employed. There will have to be changes in the attitude on the part of local authorities in speeding up the planning processes to allow mixed development of housing and business activity in inner areas, subject to reasonable environmental safeguards.

But the Government must also change their attitude to removing the barriers which have prevented small and medium-sized firms from making profits, expanding, and creating jobs. The Government must understand that excessive taxation lessens the will of people to work and damages the spirit of those likely to establish the successful businesses that we need. The Government must appreciate, too, the importance of incentives to those exercising skill or undertaking responsibility.

I find it difficult to explain convincingly to a school leaver in Birmingham that he should undertake an apprenticeship and acquire extra skill if he is not to be rewarded in an egalitarian society. Everything possible must be done to help people in these areas to improve their skills. Government training centres and retraining schemes should be more flexible and—this is very important—their activities related more realistically to local job prospects, to the chances that actually exist. That is particularly so in the small business sector.

We must remember that education in schools provides the basis of later training for life, and that is one of the reasons why the maintenance of good standards in all our schools is of crucial importance to the future of the children in these areas. In the same way, too, the vital part that industry plays in our national life should be emphasised so that its status and attractions are better understood by young people. I ask the Government to look again at their regional policy for areas of high unemployment in Birmingham, the West Midlands and London.

The White Paper makes clear that IDC applications coming forward from such regions will still be kept behind those from the assisted areas, though they will now be placed in front of those from new towns. At a time when few developments of this kind are likely to be forthcoming, this hardly seems to be a fair priority in view of the new high rate of persistent unemployment in these areas. The Government should consider creating within those towns and cities limited areas with status equal to that of assisted areas for IDC purposes. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) will mention office development problems.

Although we accept that the basic purpose of the White Paper is to tackle urban decay, I should like to indicate to the Secretary of State the Opposition's certain differences of principle and emphasis about his White Paper. It is not enough to look only at the dramatic problems of the inner areas, serious as they are. The fact is that large-scale clearance of the inner areas has brought about a substantial transference of people to the outer parts of the large towns and cities, mainly in the form of vast council housing estates, which often lack adequate recreational and community facilities. In this way some problems have been transferred wholesale to the outer and middle areas. This has happened on a substantial scale in Liverpool, Leeds, London, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Birmingham, to mention only a few of the cities affected.

Additionally, urban decay spreads not only from the inner areas but from existing areas of older neglected housing in middle and outer city areas, and they can adversely affect standards in the surrounding districts. Unless this process is arrested by remedial action, future widespread deterioration will be expensive, or even impossible, to correct.

So in these and other important respects we think that efforts to prevent a wider spread of decay and falling standards are necessary. We emphasise that the problems of towns and cities must be seen as a whole, because the capacity of councillors and local government officers and those engaged in social and educational services is stretched across the city as a whole. So paragraph 81 of the White Paper, which suggests switching resources from other parts of the cities to the inner areas, can be seen as an attack on those living in the middle and outer parts, nearly all of which have their problems, too. I believe that the Government have failed adequately to take account of these factors.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

The argument on this subject is about the allocation of resources. There are no infinite resources but only finite resources. In those circumstances one has to make choices. The choice is between the urban areas and the rural areas and, within the urban areas, between those that are worse off and those that are better off. The hon. Gentleman has just given a recipe for spreading the jam all over the place so that it is so thin that it does not do any good at all.

Mr. Eyre

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I think that he will find that I shall try to answer that. As all these ratepayers and taxpayers living in the middle and outer wards of cities share the cost of dealing with serious problems in the inner areas, it is vital that these citizens feel that fair account is taken of their problems.

Another issue that I wish to raise on the White Paper relates to the criteria adopted for the choice of areas to be offered partnership arrangements. Here I want to make it clear that we understand and accept that there must be a strict limit on Government expenditure and that priorities are required. In any event, because of our economic plight, the additional amounts that the Government are able to make available for inner areas are not significant against the background of immense needs in all the industrial towns and cities. The Chancellor's recent adjustments of construction expenditure only restore a fraction of the sums previously cut by the Government.

We understand these limitations, but any sensible reading of the criteria makes it plain that great areas of the Black Country—Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall in particular—are ignored. Anyone who knows these districts knows that they have their problems of an inner area nature as defined by the Government.

The same situation applies in many Lancashire and Yorkshire industrial districts and cities as well as Leicester. The White Paper contains a number of rather vague future sweeteners which I have no doubt the Minister will recite. But in my judgment they obscure the fact that the right realistic priorities have not been established as required by the realities of the economic situation and the needs of older towns.

I suggest that firmer priorities should be established mainly by way of housing policies. Otherwise, the hope of improving their situation will be diminished in the greater number of older towns and cities outside the scope of the Government's inner area policy.

So, first, we should recognise that the cost of building new council estates on the periphery of towns is becoming unbearable because of the cost of subsidies provided by the ratepayers and taxpayers and the existing council tenants who have to contribute through rent in the pooling systems. Secondly, the Government should acknowledge that they have partly done this, that the 1974 Rent Act has lessened the supply of privately rented accommodation available in those towns and cities. But the Government should go further than their present proposals and should also adopt the Conservative policy on short-holding tenure for limited-term letting, which undoubtedly would add to the stock of tenancies available in the areas of greatest need.

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give a straight answer to a straight question? If the Conservatives were to become the Government, would they restore the council house building programme? Unless the hon. Gentleman is prepared to give a firm "Yes", he is condemning millions of families both in the inner areas, one of which I represent, and the outer areas to homelessness because they cannot afford to buy their own homes.

Mr. Eyre

I understand why the hon. Gentleman always speaks passionately on housing matters, but I assure him that he is out of touch with the changing situation. I am seeking to detail the priorities that I believe should be allocated in the present situation. New council house building at the peripheries of the cities should be reduced.

Mr. Frank Allaun

What about the overall programme?

Mr. Eyre

The answer is "No". Almost every month Ministers make announcements about cutting the Government's programme. The hon. Gentleman is badly out of touch.

Thirdly, the Government should welcome the unlocking of extra resources by the sale of council houses, since that would help to provide funds for building to meet special needs, such as those of the disabled and the elderly, thus releasing for the accommodation of families more housing at present under-occupied.

Fourthly, on the question of resources, the Government should move urgently to sell to the present occupiers or, subject to the tenancies of those occupiers, to pension funds or similar investors commercial and industrial assets consisting of premises in the new towns. These funds would usefully assist in dealing with the inner area problems. We were pleased some weeks ago to hear the Secretary of State agree to look into this aspect, and we hope that he will report progress this afternoon.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that before selling off the stock of council houses local authorities, particularly the Conservative ones, should look at the possibilities of selling on long leaseholds flats in tower blocks, the less desirable properties? That would make a very good priority.

Mr. Eyre

The hon. Gentleman has made a practical suggestion in that the sale of flats on a leasehold basis could well be of value. That is included within our policy proposals.

Mr. Frank Allaun

May I take up this important question? Who does the hon. Member think will buy an 18th-storey flat? Is it not obvious that the Conservative policy of selling off council houses means that the nice properties will go but that the duds will be left and that therefore families living on the 18th floor will never be able to transfer to houses with a little bit of garden in which their children can have some privacy and can play?

Mr. Eyre

Although flats are unsuitable accommodation for families with children, some people like them, and 18th floor flats, for example, change hands in London and other cities quite rapidly.—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but there are too many private conversations in progress. If interventions are to be made, they should be made in the normal manner.

Mr. Eyre

Fifthly, the Government should divert housing resources thus released, as well as funds which have been earmarked for extending municipalisation of tenanted properties, to the improvement and modernisation of older houses to the extent that the age and condition of the houses warrant. In this way people over a wider area of housing decay would feel that some more effective priority was being established to halt the process of deterioration.

I cannot do less than commend the Government's recent partial conversion in their Green Paper on housing in urging the Minister to help first-time purchasers to buy their homes rather than to encourage them to become heavily subsidised tenants in the public sector. This is an important priority to restore the balance to housing in the large towns and cities, though, of course, we should have preferred full-hearted conversion to the scheme we have advocated to assist wherever possible young people and other first-time purchasers. We urge local authorities to make land available to builders at reasonable cost so that low-priced, small, new-starter homes can be made available through competitive tender to young couples and others wishing to take on home ownership.

Here I express concern that the Government have not yet brought forward details of how they are to solve the problem of releasing great areas of land in our towns and cities which is owned by local authorities and State bodies. The Green Paper on housing does not mention this subject, yet it is of great practical concern that local authorities should use their land in the inner areas for housing purposes of the kind I have just described. In so many cases, however, local authorities are in great difficulties because the land is over-valued on their books and they cannot sell it at a realistic price. This same problem faces local authorities when they try to make cheaper sites available to small businesses and other enterprises for the job-creating process that we all want to encourage.

I therefore urge upon the Secretary of State that this problem of writing down land values to enable local authorities and State undertakings to sell off land at reasonable prices needs urgent consideration. I hope that we shall hear from the Secretary of State on this subject today.

In the light of the Chancellor's confirmation that strict cash limits will apply to local authority expenditure, it is clear that councils will be under great strain to maintain their existing services. As a Birmingham Member, I have to put it to the Government that it is quite wrong that immigration into this country at around 60,000 people a year should continue to bring extra population into the run-down inner areas of the relatively small number of towns and cities that form the main immigrant reception areas.

It cannot be in the long-term interest of those communities nor of the community as a whole to continue to add more and more people through immigration to these areas at a time when housing, education and welfare services are strained to their limits, when unemployment is at a record post-war level and is particularly bad among the minority communities and when social problems in these areas have worsened. By continuing with present immigration policies the Government are in danger of creating larger and larger problem areas which will make it immeasurably more difficult to remedy the problems. Many of the people in these ethnic communities recognise that fact. It is essential that the Government introduce immediately a strict quota system for entry, which would mean a much lower number of people entering the country each year than is now the case.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Will the hon. Member tell me of any ethnic community he has come across that refuses to allow a man to live with his wife, bearing in mind that wives and dependants make up the bulk of present immigration? The hon. Member always talks as though a vast number of workers is coming into the country, when those coming in are wives and dependants.

Mr. Eyre

The hon. Gentleman will understand that I am emphasising—and he mentioned that resources were finite—that under cash limits local authorities will have the greatest difficulty maintaining decent standards in the large towns and cities, particularly in the crowded reception areas. Given that limitation, to continue to bring in numbers of people who are disadvantaged in some way—perhaps the wives do not speak English and the children will need schooling—in the absence of the necessary resources to do the job properly, is assuming a false sense of obligation. To do that is to seek to multiply the problems in the inner areas.

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

Would the hon. Member apply to the same restrictions and objections to white people coming into this country from, say Western Europe? If he is suggesting that the restrictions should apply only to coloured people from the Third world, he is advocating a system of greater racial discrimination.

Mr. Eyre

I make it clear that the Birmingham people, for whom I speak, do not want an increase in the population where that would be to the detriment of conditions there. That is a perfectly reasonable view, and that view applies to any people from wherever they may come. If they came in large numbers and settled in the run-down inner areas, increasing the problems there, there would be a resistance against such an increase.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

The hon. Gentleman goes from the absurd to the more absurd. Does he not realise that in every single area of immigration settlement the population is less now than before coloured immigration began? Leicester is a first-class example.

Mr. Eyre

I ask the hon. Gentleman to go into those areas and to see the problems that exist and the responsibilities that are put upon local authorities. He is over-simplifying the situation. A lot of people who are very responsible are greatly concerned about the problems that I have described.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the Indian sub-continent only 29 out of every 100 people seeking entry into Britain are dependants of families settled here, but that 71 are people in other categories? That pattern is reproduced all over the sub-continent. The vast majority of people seeking admission to Britain are not wives and dependants.

Mr. Eyre

I have noted the point that my hon. Friend has made. If I may continue, for the sake of long-term peace and good will it is equally essential that we care about the problems of the settled immigrants so that they give of their best and are able to make a contribution to society. The crucial need will be to avoid alienation on a large scale, for otherwise there is a danger of young immigrants with special needs, if ignored, turning against society.

I have already referred to the large municipal housing estates built up in the urban areas. Despite all the efforts of councillors and officials, they probably represent the least acceptable bureaucratic system in this country. Anyone who holds an advice bureau on those estates knows of the queues of tenants who attend to complain about lack or inadequacy of repairs, unsuitability of accommodation, difficulties of transfer and more increasingly in recent years, of the damaging effect upon working households of disruptive behaviour on the part of serious problem families. Control of these estates is too much by officialdom and not enough by individuals.

By way of a council tenants' charter we shall give tenants a better and more direct say in the administration of their estates and the management of their homes, including internal and external decoration and an end to such irksome and unnecessary restrictions as taking in lodgers and keeping pets, subject to reasonable safeguards. The aim will be to increase the diginity and status of tenants by giving them more say in matters affecting their daily lives. In return for acceptance of increased responsibility for maintenance and decorations there should be longer letting periods so that council tenants are given a greater feeling of belonging and security.

The Council Tenants' Charter Bill, which was introduced from these Benches to effect these purposes, was narrowly defeated by the Government earlier this year, although the Under-Secretary of State responsible for housing kindly indicated that a Bill along these lines would be introduced by the Government. I want to make it clear that we shall hold the Government to that assurance and we should like the Secretary of State to confirm that the Bill that he will introduce will include a right of enfranchisement for the tenants so that they have the right to purchase the house or flat that they occupy on attractive terms. That would indeed be a great measure of land-holding reform for this country.

In any event, the Conservative Party is determined to see this happen and in this way we shall bring home ownership within the reach of many thousands of families each year. We consider that there is great social significance in this reform, because home ownership plays a vital part in the build-up of family assets that we want to bring about. Home ownership creates greater mobility during times of job shortage and increases the personal freedom of people to choose where and what kind of home they live in during their working careers and upon retirement.

I have referred to the great anxiety caused by high crime rates, hooliganism and vandalism. People in the crowded urban areas want the police force increased in numbers to combat these damaging activities. We shall be prepared to raise police pay so that men and women of suitable calibre are recruited and retained in the service. Similarly, the huge increase in juvenile crime causes great anxiety and there is a strong call for power to be returned to magistrates to deal with hardened young offenders. A review of the 1969 Children and Young Persons Act is an urgent priority.

In the pamphlet "Hope for our Towns and Cities" there is reference to the difficulty that many families and individuals have in finding a comfortable sense of identity in large towns and cities which have grown so big that they tend to submerge the importance of the individual. People find it difficult to relate their own problems to the national and local services which we often administered through remote office blocks. I believe that it is necessary to consider ways of bringing back a proper sense of neighbourhood or village feeling by dividing up vast housing estates along natural boundaries. I think that a similar division would help in the inner cities in coping with many of the problems there.

By this neighbourhood system we should seek to relate housing and social services more closely to the needs of families and individuals. In housing allocations much more account should be taken of families who wish to come closer together—the mother to support her daughter with small children and, later, that daughter to help with her mother when she becomes infirm or aged. It is amazing how in many cases the system is not flexible enough to take proper account of these things now.

Given the restraints on public expenditure, I do not believe that professional welfare services can cope with all the demands in the towns and cities. Indeed, many local authorities no longer have resources to carry out in full the requirements of Acts provided for those in need. I believe that through the neighbourhood principle we can more effectively encourage voluntary effort in caring for that group in society that needs help.

One of the basic faults in the developing tendency of the post-war years is that there has been too much dependence upon the State to provide. But the fact is that the State cannot now satisfy those demands and cannot answer all those needs. It is essential that we change our attitudes, because we need a healthier emphasis on self-help and self-reliance if we are to maintain the standards of care that are needed. Our aim should be to see that the community is caring more for itself, particularly in the many task involving basic human skills.

In an established neighbourhood people can be encouraged to take more effective interest in improving their environmental surroundings, and anti-social behaviour would be discouraged. This would help to counter vandalism because of the support in the neighbourhood. People would be more willing to report incidents to the police. One finds instances where, through intimidation, people on the vast housing estates are reluctant to report.

Administrative relations with local officials could also be improved through the neighbourhood system. To reduce the feelings of helplessness that develop when so much of life is dominated by large-scale bureaucratic systems we need seriously to consider some counterbalance by creating smaller units within our large towns and cities. There is no better way of providing a sense of community than through providing a purpose in our society that might well attract active support from young people, who too often nowadays cannot identify those areas where they can give practical help. We must look at all proposals aimed at increasing stability within our society. Family interests play a great part in this.

It has been said that civilisation has a thin crust. Recent events in New York show that perhaps that crust is thinnest in densely populated cities. We are certainly now at that point where a great deal of good sense is required in dealing with our problems and in shaping our policies so that the people living in those large towns and cities feel that in a practical way we are moving to cope with those problems. They must have a genuine feeling that we are beginning to improve our society and to deal with our problems by producing a more confident and better balance and a healthier sense of community in those areas.

5.20 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Shore)

I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) with great interest and, thanks to the publication a week or so ago of his pamphlet "Hope for our towns and cities". I have been able to consider his views in greater depth than is perhaps normally available to a Government speaker in a Supply Day debate. However, I want to make one or two comments about the content of the hon. Gentleman's speech because I do not think that he has fully taken account of all that we have been doing and are proposing to do.

I begin straight away with what he said about London and Birmingham and his question whether there were not additional ways of assisting industry in these two great cities. I shall say something more about that later. However, in making his claim, the hon. Gentleman overlooked the fact that we are proposing to strengthen the powers of local authorities in the inner city areas of both London and Birmingham to do more to help industry in those areas than they have been able to do for a long time, and he has overlooked our proposal to take the gag out of London's mouth and to allow London to speak for itself in terms of the advantages which are there in this capital city—a right which London has been denied for nearly 50 years.

The second matter which I do not think the hon. Gentleman understood properly arose when he said that there were many areas outside the defined partnership areas where much could be done if we gave them more assistance in housing. What does the hon. Gentleman think we were about when we declared housing stress areas last year and safeguarded the new house-building programmes in all those areas, including all the major urban areas, and maintained it despite all the difficulties in public expenditure?

Thirdly, I will not follow the hon. Gentleman very far on immigration, but either he was announcing some new Opposition policy relating to the control of immigrants' dependants or he was not saying anything worth listening to. If he applies his doctrine equally to people coming from Common Market countries, which he appeared to think equally might upset the balance in Birmingham, he will be in grave trouble with the Commission and the Treaty of Rome. I warn him that there is a free market in labour and that he had better watch out for that.

During the course of making his final argument, the hon. Gentleman fudged and ducked a major challenge put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon). It is a difficulty. We have to choose. We have to discriminate. There is not enough to spread round to all our towns and cities at present. Even if there were very much more, I believe that we would be driven to try to establish priorities. We would have to try to establish the areas of greatest need. We have to do it with as much information as is available to us but with an element of judgment in it as well. We try our best to get it right, and I believe that at least the areas which we have selected need the additional assistance that we have given.

Having said that, I was encouraged to discover from his contribution and his pamphlet how far the hon. Member for Hall Green and his colleagues have moved on the problems of the inner cities since this Government announced a new and positive initiative last September. It is quite a contrast between what happened during the last period of Conservative rule and the position today. Between 1970 and 1974, the problems of our inner cities were intensified. No initiative was taken other than the setting up of three major studies which took four years to complete. There was no new inner area programme. There was no new approach. There was no new analysis. We had just a continued and unchecked policy of exodus from our major cities. I am not impressed by the Conservative Party's past. Therefore, I welcome this new approach, and I hope that it is sustained and genuine.

If I have any complaint about the pamphlet produced by the hon. Member for Hall Green, it is that although he may have got the analysis of the problem broadly right, it is absurd to suggest in it that somehow the problem is due to what he calls years of Labour domination in these areas He suggests that it is that which has contributed to the continuing deterioration of these areas. But that will not do.

In so far as, in part, the problems faced by inner areas have arisen because of decisions by government, whether at national level or at local council level, they have arisen not out of any party prescription but from much more powerful and pervasive forces. The first has been a positive and genuine concern to deal swiftly with the vast number of slums—the legacy of nineteenth century private enterprise, of neglect in the 1930s and of bombs in the 1940s—which were in an irretrievable condition and which could only be bulldozed. Although I am on the record many times as saying that I want to pension off the bulldozer, let us not go back over the past and rebuke ourselves unnecessarily for taking actions that we had to take because of the conditions which existed in our inner cities in the earlier post-war years.

Mr. Kenneth Baker (St. Marylebone)

The Secretary of State must not attempt to wriggle out of the accusation made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) that large parts of our inner cities still remain derelict and undeveloped as a result of the inactivity of Socialist councils. The right hon. Gentleman's own constituency is the classive example, taking in, as it does, Tower Hamlets, Stepney, Poplar and Bethnal Green. It is a disgrace that hundreds of acres are still empty, having been empty for the better part of 10 years. Who has been in power during that time? It has been the Socialists. The Socialist local authority has done nothing, and it has quarrelled with the Socialist GLC. The blame lies there and not with the previous Conservative Government.

Mr. Shore

I am not prepared to engage with the hon. Gentleman in argument about that. That is absurd. I know the problems in my area, and I have seen the progress which has been made. The existing problems are very serious. But, going back to 1964, Tower Hamlets had the worst housing problem in London, if not in the whole country. We had tenements of the most appalling kind. They were old and rotting. We had the biggest waiting list in Central London. We have made substantial progress. But that does not mean that I am content with what has been done. I want to make many more proposals.

Mr. Steen

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Shore

No. I shall not give way any more. I feel that I shall not get through my speech if I do. In the light of the intervention by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker), which was trivial and political, I prefer not to give way for some time now.

My point is that some of these problems could be dealt with only by demolition. They were an inheritance from the past. All parties recognise that, although in the 1950s and 1960s we argued about the pace of change. Of course we now all regret some of the consequences, not so much of the decisions to demolish, most of which would have to be made today if we were starting afresh, as of the decisions on what to put in their place. There were too many tower blocks and barrack block estates, often without communal facilities.

Although there may have been mistakes, we have to recognise that these decisions were often made by political leaders of both parties who were not aware of the social consequences of the building designs partly because they had not been tried before and partly because they were often under great pressure, not least from Central Government, to build quickly and at a minimum cost.

The second powerful and pervasive force was the conventional wisdom which had gone unchallenged in three postwar decades that the cities had to be given more room to breathe by positive policies of dispersal of population and industry. As with many fashionable policies which take hold and develop their own momentum, it had its point. Our cities needed more room to breathe. They were overcrowded, and no one in the House would suggest that it would be other than insane to attempt, for example to pack back into my own borough of Tower Hamlets the 500,000 or so people living there in the early 1930s. But what my constituents regret—and, I would guess, those of any hon. Member for any inner area of any major city in the land—is that dispersal has gone too far and too fast, and that insufficient attention was paid to the communities and to the industry and employment that was to remain in the inner areas.

Since I became Secretary of State for the Environment, therefore, my major concern has been to produce a sea-change in both attitudes and policy towards the inner city. In terms of changing attitudes I believe that we are now succeeding. It is remarkable but also gratifying to see how far things have moved since last year. This change of attitude has been essential, for no paper policy will work unless it is backed by political will and conviction on the part of those who have to carry it out and on the part of the intended beneficiaries of the policy, too.

I would now like to inform the House of the progress which has been made since my statement on 6th April when I announced that partnerships would be offered to the local authorities of certain major cities so that central and local government can jointly tackle the problems of their inner areas. These cities were Liverpool, Manchester and Salford, Birmingham, and, within London, Lambeth and Docklands. I said then that I was ready to consider whether other authorities should be offered similar arrangements.

I repeat what I have previously said—there can be very few other authorities. Some 20 authorities have approached me, and my colleagues in the Department and I are actively considering these requests. We have already spoken with a number of the authorities about their own problems, and have arranged to see several more. I hope to announce my decision on further partnerships within the next few weeks.

The purpose of selecting a few areas for special attention was to recognise the scale and intensity of their problems and to make sure that limited resources were not spread too thin. This is the only way we can achieve a concentration of effort which will make a serious impression on the problems. The concept of partnership is in no sense an adverse reflection on the ability of the local authorities concerned, but a recognition—which all these authorities share—that central Government, too, has a direct contribution to make if these inner areas are to be rejuvenated as quickly as we all would wish.

Mr. Heffer

Will my right hon. Friend indicate whether he feels that the concept of partnership is sufficient to allow quick decisions to be taken? Has he ruled out completely the concept of some sort of agency—I do not mean on the same basis as the new towns—which could make quicker decisions and on which the Government and local authorities would be represented? The essence of the problem is that we need quick decisions and quick action.

Mr. Shore

I certainly do not myself intend to propose agencies. That would be the wrong approach. If any partnership authority was to say—perhaps for certain limited purposes—that it wanted and would welcome an agency working with it to carry out some part of its redevelopment, I should not wish to stand in the way. I hope that that is the assurance that my hon. Friend seeks.

Formally, the partnership is between the local authorities and central Government. But I hope that the concept of partnership will be a pervasive one and will underline the way in which these authorities carry out their programme, and that it will enlist the involvement and enthusiasms of those vitally concerned with the creation and sustenance of employment—that is to say, the industrialists, trade unionists, voluntary bodies, and the community generally.

So far as the partnerships which I have already announced are concerned, I have had meetings with the leaders of the local authorities in Liverpool, Manchester and Salford, and London Docklands and will be meeting the leaders of Birmingham and Lambeth within the next few days. These meetings are focused on both the machinery for the partnerships and the nature of the programmes which they will launch. As an indication of the importance which we place on these partnerships, I have arranged that a Minister should chair each of the partnership committees. It is to this committee that the inner area teams will work.

It is my intention formally to launch the partnerships in the early autumn, and at that time I hope to indicate the order of magnitude of the urban programme that will be available for those areas for the three years from 1979–80 onwards. I announced in my statement on 6th April that the overall sum for 1979–80 would be £125 million. Of course, the programme which the partnerships will prepare will be concerned with all aspects of expenditure in the inner areas and not simply with the extra urban programme money being made available to them. I am glad to tell the House that all the discussions I have held with the authorities indicate that the White Paper and our proposals are getting a genuine and helpful response on an all-party basis.

Mr. Steen

Can the Secretary of State explain the partnership arrangements in more detail? Are the local authorities to give some money as well? The term "partnership" presupposes that there is giving on both sides, but at the moment one gathers that only the Government are giving.

Mr. Shore

It is important that some of the major local authorities should reallocate resources as far as they can—I know that that is not easy for them to do—so that they have greater input into the areas that need it most within their city boundaries. That is their contribution. The same will apply to the county councils, which will also be involved. For our part, the Government will match this by using the main programmes. In addition, there will be an increased urban grant, as I have described.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

One point on which I believe people are genuinely not clear on the partnership arrangement is whether the partnerships will have any executive role or whether they will be purely consultative. After deciding something with the Minister as chairman, will the partnerships tell or merely ask the local authority to do such and such a thing? Similarly, will they tell or ask the public or Government agency in that area to do such and such a thing? What is envisaged as the executive function?

Mr. Shore

The executive function of the partnerships will be carried out either by central Government agencies or local government agencies. The important thing is to bring them together in a clearly identified programme to which they are all agreed, to establish priorities and then to get on with it. That is the way in which we believe that they should proceed.

The financial year 1979–80 has been set as the launch year for the main partnership programmes. This will give the partnerships the necessary time to draw up sensible programmes for their areas. I have been conscious throughout the development of our inner city policy that simply spending more money in an indiscriminate way would not be a guarantee for the necessary change. It is how we spend the money, as much as how much money is available, that will determine the success of these programmes.

We are not overlooking immediate needs. In his Budget statement in March my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that £100 million would be available for inner city construction projects for this year and 1978–79, of which £83 million was for England.

I have allocated £57 million of this amount to the partnership authorities—£11 million each to Liverpool, Manchester-Salford, and Birmingham; £17 million to Docklands, £5 million to Lambeth, and £2 million to the ILEA for Docklands and Lambeth together.

In the programmes which we shall be approving in detail a strong emphasis is being placed on industrial regeneration and environment improvement. I have approved the first batch of proposals from Docklands. Approvals will be going to the Liverpool and Manchester authorities in the next few days.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

The Secretary of State spoke about the £17 million allocation to Docklands in the construction package. Am I right in thinking that this refers not to a grant but merely to the authority to borrow the capital finance which must still be raised and the loan charges met by the local authorities?

Mr. Shore

It refers to the total amount of additional expenditure. We grant-aid expenditure. If it is housing it is 66 per cent. and if it is under the urban aid programme it is 75 per cent. The Government will make our contribution and the local authorities will be making the smaller part of the contribution themselves. Let there be no misunderstanding on that point.

I want here to say a separate word about London. Because of the scale of the problems and the timetable London is somewhat different from areas elsewhere in the country.

First, Docklands. The important thing is to get the show on the road and to make progress as rapidly as possible. It was for that reason that I approved the Docklands Strategy last July, within three weeks of it being placed before me, and gave Docklands a high priority in the allocation of construction moneys for this year and next.

I should like to place on record my appreciation of the work done under the leadership of Mr. Percy Bell to draw up and agree the Docklands Strategy, and at the same time to welcome its new chairman, Sir Hugh Wilson, to this most important and challenging task. Docklands involves five boroughs and the GLC, as well as a number of statutory and other undertakings.

The only alternative to these bodies working together as a partnership is for there to be some agency imposed on top of them. That is unacceptable, because it would not be able to take account of the needs of residents in the way in which the local authorities can. But partnership there has to be in Docklands, and that means willingness by all concerned, whatever their political persuasion, to abandon sloganising and to get on with the job.

So far as transport is concerned, which is a key and difficult element in the Dock-lands Strategy, I have today written to the Leader of the GLC and to the chairman of the Docklands Joint Committee to invite them to meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and me to discuss the whole transport strategy for Docklands.

Secondly, London housing. The Greater London Council is a strategic housing authority, with all the duties which that implies. The decision of the GLC to stop all new building in outer boroughs has given me concern, because it does not seem to me to have been based upon any serious analysis of housing requirements and needs in this great metropolis but more upon a simple and doctrinaire desire to cut back on council building. London still has a major need for rented housing, and a cessation of building in outer London will cause distress to thousands in housing need in this city and will make mobility of families more difficult than ever. This problem will only be made worse by an indiscriminate policy of selling council houses.

What will ensure mobility is the acceptance by the GLC of its strategic housing role and its willingness, and that of the London boroughs, to agree a common allocation system so that tenants are not trapped in one borough or another. The need for a common allocation system becomes even more pressing if large parts of the GLC stock are transferred to the boroughs. I ask the Opposition to say what their view is. Do they believe that mobility among council tenants should be enhanced? Do they agree that a common allocation system, or an inter-borough nomination scheme, has to be the way forward?

So far, I have spoken mainly of the partnership authorities, because it is they which have the most obvious and large-scale difficulties in their inner areas.

Mr. Ronald Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

I am following what my right hon. Friend is saying with great interest. Does he agree that any strategy for moving people from the inner to the outer areas depends on the cooperation of Tory-controlled boroughs which, over the years, have wilfully refused to allow any interchange between inner and outer London areas? We need an answer to that problem from the Opposition.

Mr. Shore

The London housing problem can be solved only if all the boroughs, particularly the outer boroughs which have substantially more space for building houses, help the inner boroughs. It does not mean that there is no space for development in inner London. But the idea that, for example, Lambeth's problems can be dealt with within that borough's frontiers is quite wrong, as the recent study demonstrated. Therefore, we must find a way for outer London boroughs to play their part in helping to solve London's housing problem.

But the inner urban problem goes wider than the partnership areas, as I have seen in the many visits which I have made in the past year. To meet this wider need, a crucial element in our new approach is a shift in the direction of our main programmes—housing, education, social services, health and so on towards these urban areas. In housing, all the major cities of the country have been made stress areas and have had their new building programmes protected. The priority that we accord to these areas is also reflected in the allocations under Section 105 for rehabilitation and those for acquisition and municipalisation.

As part of the £100 million package of measures to assist the construction industry announced on Friday, and in view of increases in costs since the grant limits were set, I have decided to make substantial increases in the maximum expense limits for house renovation grants. For discretionary improvement grants the new limit will be £5,000—an increase of 56 per cent. on the existing figure of £3,200. For intermediate, repair and special grants the new limits will be £2,700, £1,500 and £1,200 respectively, representing increases of between 70 per cent. and 87 per cent. on present limts.

I have also decided that, in the light of emerging results from the 1976 House Condition Survey and representations made by local authorities, there should also be an increase in the rateable value limits for discretionary improvement grants. The limit in London will therefore be increased from £300 to £400, and outside London from £175 to £225. The necessary order will be laid before the House shortly.

To meet the increased expenditure, I am making an allocation of £30 million from the £100 million construction package to local authorities for the current financial year for grants and loans for renovation work. I am also making available immediately a further £10 million for local authorities' own improvement expenditure. Taken together with the additional provision announced by my right hon. Friend on 2nd May, this brings the total provision for this programme for the current financial year—that is, in Section 105—to more than £400 million at outturn prices. This amount is greater in real terms than the estimated expenditure by local authorities last year on Section 105 work. There is also a further allocation to come for renovation of housing out of the inner cities construction package which I have already described.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

The Secretary of State referred to the necessary order being laid before the House soon. From what date does he expect the new limits to operate? Perhaps his right hon. Friend could give the answer to that question in winding-up the debate.

Mr. Shore

Yes. I suspect that the answer will be "just as soon as practicable".

In the December public expenditure cuts it was necessary for us to reduce Housing Corporation expenditure by £57 million in 1977–78 and to make a consequential reduction in 1978–79. The figure of £57 million has been much bandied about. I should like the House to pay particular attention to the next passage.

I authorised the Corporation straight away to negotiate private loans to mitigate the effect of these reductions in public expenditure, and £35 million has already been secured in this way. As a result, the Housing Corporation's programme of new approvals for 1977–78 is running at a level only 15 per cent. below the originally planned level, and most of the main priorities, such as rehabilitation work in the inner cities, have been preserved. In addition, an extra £5 million of expenditure for the current year was made available to the Housing Corporation in May to fund house improvement work. That was part of a package designed to help the construction industry at that time. I now propose to make a further £8 million available to the Corporation from the £100 million package announced by the Chancellor on Friday.

With the rate support grant, which is again extremely important in the whole context of the finance of our urban areas, we have continued the policy established by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), when he was Secretary of State, of helping inner areas and others with pressing needs through the needs element of the grant. It is in their attitude to the distribution of the rate support grant that we shall be able to test the real support that the Opposition are giving to our new policy for inner city areas.

Mr. Steen

It has been said that my right hon. and learned Friend's policy did not do anything.

Mr. Shore

The right hon. and learned Gentleman announced the policy in January 1974, so it did not have very long to achieve anything! No doubt he would have been virtuous in implementing it if he had had the chance, but time was against him.

Last December we were faced with the spectacle of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) agreeing that inner areas needed more resources but objecting to both the distribution of rate support grant and the total size—on the ground that it was too high—of the support that we were giving to local authorities. I merely ask the Opposition to reflect on the views of the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) who, in commenting on my inner cities statement on 6th April 1977, expressed disappointment among those who started the shift in the rate support grant that much of the shift has not gone to the benefit of inner city areas but has been spread among cities as a whole".—[Official Report, 6th April 1977; Vol. 929, c. 1232.] If we were to concentrate the needs element on the inner areas as the right hon. Gentleman wishes and away from cities as a whole it would be the outer areas of London, Birmingham, Greater Manchester—where the Opposition are more heavily represented than my party—which would lose out. I wait with interest the advice which hon. Members opposite may give me.

Furthermore, in recognition of the needs of the non-partnership areas I have arranged for £16 million of the £83 million "construction money" to be made available to 38 metropolitan and non-metropolitan districts. In addition, I intend a range of authorities with severe inner area problems—whether they are partnership areas or not—to benefit appreciably from the enlarged urban programme when it comes into effect in 1979.

In all the speeches that I have made on the inner area problem, and in the White Paper, I have emphasised above all the crucial importance of maintaining and improving the employment base of these areas. It is the decline of employment opportunities that has been even more rapid, and even more worrying, than the decline in population itself. We expect that a good deal of the special money that we are allocating to inner areas will be spent on improving the industrial and employment infrastructure and building advance factories.

But there are two other initiatives which we have taken which should greatly assist industry in these areas. The first is to secure a change in planning policy towards new and existing industry. In the circular 71/77 which I sent out last week I asked local authorities to take stock of their dealings with industry, to give first priority to all applications for industrial development, and to consider a more flexible line in development control and planning.

The concept of the "non-conforming user" was designed to prevent the intrusion of industrial premises into residential areas. However, this policy, too, may have gone too far and then become, in some areas, an end in itself. Of course, pollution and noise from industrial premises can be intolerable for nearby residents—and where it is, it obviously has to be controlled in one way or another. There is no argument about that. I believe firmly that inner city dwellers would much rather have a workshop at the end of their street—even at the cost of a little intrusion—than a site which is empty and derelict and pervades the whole area with gloom.

The second initiative we propose is to enhance local authority. powers to assist industry. As we said in the White Paper, local authorities with serious urban problems will, if legislation is agreed, be given powers to provide 90 per cent. loans for the erection and improvement of buildings; powers to provide 90 per cent. loans for land pur- chase; powers to declare industrial improvement areas, and powers to give grants to assist with rents, and loans for site preparation. We envisage that the first three powers I mentioned will be available to all local authorities with serious urban problems.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Would it be permissible for local authorities to enter into arrangements with community industries? As my right hon. Friend will know, there is an establishment in Merseyside, the Liverpool Enterprise Development Unit, that has made approaches to various Departments, and it would be a part of meaningful co-operation on the part of the local authority and the Government to give an opportunity to this unit to present its arguments and the case for the development of community industry.

Mr. Shore

As I said earlier, I want to see the local authorities have the power to help industry, and that will include all kinds of industries which, in the judgment of the local authority, are capable of sustaining viable enterprises in their areas.

The effect of these proposals will be that the areas with the worst problems will be able to offer somewhat greater inducements to industry than are available to their regions as a whole. We have no interest in disturbing the basic structure of intra-regional industrial policy. We are not trying to do that. This approach, and the Government's approach to the new towns, illustrates the way in which we are shifting inter-regional policy in favour of the hard-pressed inner areas.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell and Wishaw)

On the matter of grants, I entirely accept what the Secretary of State has said about not interfering with the main structure of regional policy. However, will grants be paid from the budgets of the Government or local government?

Mr. Shore

The local authorities will be authorised to pay these grants and the grants will be paid from the resources of local government to local industry.

London and Birmingham are different from the other major inner city areas in that they are outside the assisted regions for industrial development. Without disturbing the overall balance of regional policy, I have been anxious to secure a greater emphasis for the inner areas of these two great cities and for that reason there has been a relaxation of industrial development certificate policy in respect of them. Inner London and inner Birmingham will now get a higher priority in terms of the issue of IOCs than the new towns within their regions. As the House will know, we have made changes in office development policy recently which will be of help to inner London.

Mr. Eyre

The point that the right hon. Gentleman has just made was partly taken into account in my speech. If we consider the matter in practical terms we can see that this does not amount to any practical priorities for such areas as Birmingham and London, which have extremely high unemployment rates now, because even if the proposed development does come out of the regions, there will still be a priority for the development to be carried on in other assisted regions. In practice, that will mean that we shall not be giving help to these cities in respect of the industrial development certificates. We should carefully consider the matter of special development certificate status.

Mr. Shore

If the Birmingham and West Midlands region is anything like London and the South-East, the great amount of industry that has been lost from the cities has gone into their region. That is the point. Some of the industry has gone to the assisted areas, but only a small part of it. Apart from mobile industry which should still go out to the regions—given the nature of the problems in Merseyside and the North—the next priority should be the inner city areas. That is an important point because that is quite different from what has happened in the past.

In presenting this progress report to the House I am very much aware that this is only a beginning. To halt the trend of decline in our major urban areas will require a sustained effort for a decade and more. I claim that we have made a new start. With the right policies, the necessary measure of all-party support at both national and local levels, and a will to succeed, I believe that we can make our cities healthy economically and places where people will increasingly wish to work and live.

5.58 p.m.

Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff, North)

The Secretary of State has called for all-party support for his policies. He will find it to some degree, because the problems of our major cities involve us all and are something that most of us understand. After all, they are problems that affect the majority of citizens in our country. Most of our people live in the large towns.

Although we are aware of the problems and often of the probable sources of them, many of the answers that we put forward rely on a certain amount of money being available. The availability of that money will depend on the recovery of our economy and that must happen before our answers can be put into operation.

One thing of which we can be sure is that in general, at any rate, we do not need any fresh legislation. For that we should be thankful. Positive discrimination in favour of the inner parts of cities has been carried on to a greater or lesser degree for some time, for instance in the supplements paid to teachers working in the stress areas of our major cities.

While the inner areas certainly have grievous problems connected with their being old areas—with industry leaving and unemployment rising—it is a mistake to think that these problems belong only to such areas. For instance, in my own city of Cardiff, unemployment in the post-war estates in the constituencies of Mr. Speaker and the Prime Minister is higher than, or at the same level as, that in the old docks area of the city, approximating to about 12 per cent. to 13 per cent. of the male population. The fringe estates, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) referred in his speech, are the large new estates, sited on the outskirts of the city or, in the case of Glasgow, outside the city.

The example of Glasgow illustrates how naïve was the belief that poor housing lay at the root of the malaise in urban life. We are now aware that the community as a living factor is more important than, or just as important as, the standard of housing. Everyone is now sold on the idea, at last, of improving and repairing the existing housing stock. I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement today about the increase in the rateable limits and so on for housing improvement aid. That was long overdue and is, I suspect, more or less in line with indexation.

In many cities such as Cardiff we have a problem because so much of the housing went up at one time. Within the last quarter of the last century nearly all the housing in the city centre was built to take advantage of the growth in the coal trade. We therefore have a simultaneously ageing housing stock. This puts a particular strain on the system, on private owners and councils.

The assistance for improvement and repair will be expensive. Nevertheless, it is expense which will be far greater in the future if it is not committed now. The houses will fall into decay and become slums if we do not spend money on them now. At the same time the assistance which is being given in the central areas, and what might be called the middle areas of our major cities, should go in part to the small traders. I am thinking of people such as shoe repairers and watch repairers, the ordinary little shops which used to abound and which are now extremely difficult to find in the centre of a city. Rates and taxes have put them out of business.

On the new estates, special efforts should be made to see that a range of services is conveniently available. There are two large estates in my constituency which suffer from a lack of convenient services. There are few chemists and, since these estates are often made up of decanted elderly people and families with young children, there is an above-average call for prescriptions in the evenings and at weekends. Unless such services are available people become involved in the high cost of using public transport to reach a city centre which may be seven or eight miles away. Without such services it is difficult, on new estates, to stimulate a sense of community.

These huge new estates are, almost by defininition super-anonymous areas. I know from the estates in my constituency that people come not only from all over the city of Cardiff but from other areas of the country. They may be civil servants drafted to Cardiff in the dispersal programmes. They may be workers at Guest Keen and Nettlefolds. These people are on the estates and they have no community feeling. The presence of shops and similar facilities is important in helping to establish that sense of community. I would like to see it made a rule that, when planning permission is granted for these estates, a community centre and possibly a youth centre should also be built, timed to come into operation as the estate progresses.

It is well known that these facilities often come as much as eight years after the bulk of the estate has been completed. By that time it is frequently too late to inculcate the sense of community which the people so desperately need. What many of these areas lack is somewhere for people to congregate. This is something which the older inner areas do not lack. The small rural towns and villages have their own pubs which have rooms that can be hired out. There are parish halls and drill halls where the Townswomen's Guild, the Brownies and the Scouts can meet.

On most new estates the pubs are not built in the early years because they rely on having a large public to which to sell. Many other amenities are also lacking. There is a breakdown in community life on these new estates. In many ways they are suffering from the problems of the older inner areas. My constituency in Cardiff takes in some of the older parts, all the way through the wealthier middle areas, out to the huge estates.

In the heart of the city one of the most depressing problems is the lack of somewhere for youngsters—very young children—to play. The streets today are very different from what they were in the time of the children's parents or grandparents. I look with great sadness on one area of my constituency where I fought hard for the building of a play area. Two houses were found to be knocked down. Another two neighbouring houses in the area were derelict. The owners were prepared to sell to the council which was prepared to take over the four sites and build a play area. Unfortunately, the local people petitioned against the play area because they feared the presence of vandals and youths on motor cycles in the evenings. Because of that problem the small children in that part of my constituency lost a play space. That in itself speaks volumes for what is going on in some of the more derelict parts of Britain.

There is some difference in party thinking although most of the factors can be agreed upon and talked about between ourselves. However, there is one particular difference between the two major parties. It is almost invariable and inevitable that Socialists tend to look to the State to increase its contribution to solve our problems. They often do so with justice. I think of the social services and the probation departments. Conservatives see a very much larger role for voluntary aid. In many instances this presupposes a willingness on the part of local authorities, especially the social service departments, to encourage voluntary workers and voluntary bodies and to work with them.

I believe that we are fortunate in my county and city. One organisation that is well known to Mr. Speaker is the Cardiff Council for the Elderly. It is a voluntary body that is given encouragement, support and help by the social ser- vices. Among a number of other services for the old people of Cardiff is the pro- vision of street wardens. The wardens give up their time to look after the old people in the streets in which they live. Their terraced houses bear a large notice on the window declaring that they house the street warden for the elderly. I should like to see more local authorities giving encouragement and support to such organisations, giving them premises and trying to create links with day centres and similar organisations.

That is a means by which old people may be visited on a daily basis. They may be looked after and visited regularly so that we do not hear of the sad cases of old people dying and not being found for a week or two.

Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)

I find myself in agreement with most of what the hon. Gentleman has said, but surely he is not serious when he says that Socialists and those on the Government benches are not as interested in voluntary organisations as Conservatives. I point out respectfully that most of us made our reputation in voluntary service before entering public life.

Mr. Grist

The hon. Gentleman's role in that area is well known. I accept that many Socialists in their own activities and their own life work hard and support voluntary movements. However, it is undoubted that there is a feeling among Socialists and those who support Socialist policies that much of the work of voluntary organisations should be the responsibility of the State, and that therefore we should wait upon the State's aid and assistance. That goes without saying.

Groups of the sort that I have mentioned can go a long way to overcome the loneliness and anonymity of our large towns but of course we shall always need the official services. For example, we need many more policemen, preferably locally based. I refer to the policemen on the beat, policemen who are known to the local communities as part of those communities. They offer reassurance to the community and protection against the vandal and the thug. However, they require the support of the public if they are to do their job.

A little over a year ago I attended a young person's jazz festival in my constituency. It was an open-air festival that ran all day. I and a local councillor turned up, to be told that from the large estate on which the competition was taking place a group of youths had emerged and attacked one of the competing bands. It was a band that came from a village outside Cardiff. Some of the youngsters had to go to hospital for first-aid treatment.

A local person said to me about the thugs involved "They should not be allowed to get away with it. If they do, they will think that they will always be able to do so." I followed up the matter. The police pursued the case and they identified to their satisfaction those who had been involved. However, the parents of the children who had been attacked would not prefer charges. The thugs were allowed to get away with it. I do not know why the parents would not prefer charges. It could not be intimidation as they did not live anywhere near the estate in question. I can only think that they did not want to get involved. That is a well-known phrase.

People must be encouraged to become involved in their community. It is in their interests that they should do so as it is in ours. Youngsters should be taught at home and in school to cherish their country, their town and their street, to recognise that litter is anti-social and that turning a blind eye to vandalism Of crime is anti-social and against their own long-term interests.

We want to encourage people to take responsibility for their own houses, be they owner occupiers or council tenants. We want them to look after sports amenities—for example, pitches and goal posts—and the youth clubs in their locality. If people believe that there is always an authority that is ready to take responsibility, they will not in many cases—indeed, in too many cases—be bothered to take an interest, but ask them to look after their own amenities and we shall get a different response. If we are to achieve anything, we must restore what used to be called civic pride. I am afraid that that is something that has fallen rather behindhand and sometimes seems almost to be equated with football hooliganism. Certainly there will have to be long-term education. It will not be easy to bring back a sense of pride in localities and local amenities.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one way to get it back is to encourage in the smaller towns and inner urban areas some responsible community establishment such as successor town councils so that a sense of pride is returned to the towns which the council serves?

Mr. Grist

Frankly, no. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman, who represents one island that has a clear identity, talks of this, but I think that the nearest large town to him is either Southampton or Portsmouth. I am sure that those who live in those cities feel just as great a sense of pride in them as they ever did.

Mr. Stephen Ross

There are Newport and Ryde.

Mr. Grist

Certainly people can feel pride in their village as well as in a large town. The large housing estates in my constituency were outside the limits of the old Cardiff City. The reorganisation brought them within the district that is now called the City of Cardiff. That was one of the results and one of the purposes of the reorganisation, for which I personally make no apology. Indeed, I have always supported it. Unless we restore a form of pride and unless we give people a sense of responsibility, we shall not restore morale in our cities. Unless we can restore a sense of pride and involvement in the cities we shall have lost not merely the support and morale of most of the citizens in this country but I believe quite seriously that our whole society must of necessity be doomed.

6.20 p.m.

Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) on his careful analysis of some of the difficulties facing our towns and cities. He would carry most of the House with him in his remarks about the troubles and tribulations affecting so many people in so many parts of our island. I hope that his own Front Bench and ours, will take careful note of his speech and do all they can to ease these very grave burdens which affect so many people.

The hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) was rather pessimistic. He could not have taken much notice of the Secretary of State when he said that we should stop sloganising. I am 100 per cent. with my right hon. Friend, because since the war there has been far too much party politics in many of the situations that we have been trying to cure. When the hon. Member for St. Marylebone says that Socialism has not been a success in curing these problems he is guilty of party politics.

I have been in the House a long time and in local government a very long time. Just after the war, in which my constituency was bombed as badly as or worse than any other part of the country, I was given the invidious task of trying to bring some order back to that town. The medical officer for health at that time sent for me and told me the size of my task. He told me that I had to deal with the highest infant mortality rates, the highest maternal mortality rates, the highest birth rate, the highest early death rate and the highest incidence of tuberculosis. The Labour Party in my area, alongside the Conservative Party from time to time, made a great contribution to bringing down these deadly figures to below the national average.

I think that the young hon. Member who occupies that important seat so close to this House should not be so pessimistic about the activities of public men in the Labour Party or any other party. We berate ourselves too much. This has become a habit nationally, and the standing of politicians is not what it should be at present. The hon. Member does us no justice.

Mr. Baker

I am flattered that the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon) has referred to my comments, but I have not yet made a speech, and I hope that he will stay in the House long enough to hear what I intend to say in developing my arguments. I shall take full cognisance of all the hon. Member's comments.

Mr. Mahon

I was here to hear the hon. Member's intervention, and I took note of it.

I want to take to task the hon. Members for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) and Cardiff, North. When was it that the Labour Party did not believe in the paramount importance of the individual? When was it that we in the Labour Party said that the State should come before the family? It was these very things—the lack of dignity for the individual and particularly the lack of dignity for the working-class family—that brought us all into the political movement in the first place. Of course we believe that the Labour Party is the right party, but I personally believe, above anything else, that the individual comes first because the State cannot re-create itself and the individual can. Therefore he or she is more important than anything else. The family is an indicator of how well a nation is doing, not the economic statistics. Today we are discussing how to bring greater dignity to our cities—not just as bricks and concrete, but as individuals and families, particularly in deprived areas.

The Secretary of State, with his great knowledge of Merseyside, spoke of Liverpool, and I am sure that he means to include in that the most important area represented by the hon. Member for Bootle. I should like an assurance that the benefits, which are so welcome, will be equally shared by the most important part of the port of Merseyside which happens to be in my constituency.

Today we get a lot of people, particularly in the Press, who constantly say that the demands of ordinary people are excessive. The outstanding case at the moment is that of the miners. It is said that they expect too much. That is a matter of adjudication and judgment, but in my quite long and considerable career I have always thought that the demands of ordinary people were extremely modest. Alongside these modest claims, we must consider the sacrifices that ordinary people make: they are tremendous, both in peace and war.

What do the people really want? The Government should listen more to the people, and the people will tell them what they want. Even though Parliament must lead, if it listened more to the ordinary people it would lead in the right direction.

My constituents do not come to me to make outrageous demands. I have a surgery in my own home every Friday and I live in my constituency, and I have never known people to come with outrageous claims. They come because they are concerned about their jobs and their homes and about trying to keep the dignity of a modest family in good order. They are concerned about security in work, and about getting an adequate pension. These are the things on which both the Labour and Conservative Parties should be concentrating. Far too often Parliament and the Government tend to tell people what is good for them, when people know what they need.

It has been said before, but I shall say again, that the first thing we want in large cities is good government—good local government. I happen to love local government for its achievements. It has done a great deal of good. In health services, social services, education, housing and many other spheres so much has been accomplished. Of course, it has not always succeeded, but I believe that the biggest mistake that this House has made—certainly in my constituency—was in reorganising local government in the way it did three or four years ago.

The Secretary of State talked of the need for one part of London to accept people from another party in order to ease housing problems. My local authority is not Labour controlled; it is represented overwhelmingly by the Conservatives. The present situation is that not one of my constituents in Bootle or Liverpool has been allowed to occupy houses in Birkdale or Southport. This has been going on for four years. Does any hon. Member lend himself to that? Are my constituents inferior people? Hitler did not think so: we were the most bombed town in the country.

We were told that the creation of bigger units would lead to improvements, but that has not been the case. The sooner that these things are altered, by my right hon. Friend or someone else, the better and more just our society will be. I am grieved that my area is part of this new authority, paying the same rates, yet not receiving all the benefits. I therefore support the Prime Minister's appeal for a change in local government organisation.

My right hon. Friend's statements will bring increasing benefits to industry. Unemployment is a social scourge. It is no good offering people houses or anything else unless they have work. That is the only way for families to advance to dignity. If sickness prevents people from working they should be maintained as if they were working, not at a lower level. I am not talking about those who overload the social services but about the genuine sick and those who were wounded in their country's cause—95 per cent. of those concerned.

As a young man I gave 90 acres of precious land in an overcrowded town which was crying out for houses, the old county borough of Bootle, to English Electric, one of the finest firms in the country, which is now GEC. The idea was to bring in heavy industry, which we needed to train our boys. The only alternative was making it into an extension to the nearby golf course. Just imagine, in Sunbury or somewhere like that, giving up 90 acres of what could be a first-class golf course. The project was a success, the factory was built, 150 key workers were given houses. We did everything that the Secretary of State has talked about today.

If he is to succeed, more control will be needed. In our case, Sir Arnold Weinstock, who is now on the other side in the Drax B controversy, for good or ill, closed down that factory and left us with 90 derelict acres. That land is now in the hands of the Walton Property Company, whose biggest exercise was selling Aintree racecourse. Hardly a soul is now working on that precious land. We need to be awfully careful what we do with public money and land, and most of all with people's lives.

A ray of light might have been seen today in the suggestion that local authorities should initiate the attraction of industry. The number of men working on the Liverpool dockside today is only a tiny fraction of what it was 25 or 30 years ago. The South Docks have silted up and there is a major social and planning problem. At the north end of the docks we have built the Seaforth container berth for £45 million, catering for the finest ships from all over the world. That looks likely to be a success. Alongside is the Gladstone Graving Dock almost the biggest graving dock in this country. A large dry dock like that today would cost millions of pounds, yet that dock is a container wet dock. It is never dry, and no repairs are done there. If any one of the magnificent ships which use the container berth needs repairing, it has to go outside Liverpool.

I have done every job in the ship repairing industry, from scaler boy to managing director of my own company, which I gave up when I entered the House. Dozens of internationally famous companies—Harland and Wolff, for instance—were situated at Liverpool. We made at least as many engineers as the Clyde. On my side of the river today there is one company. Men are being laid off, or paid for doing nothing, and no attempt is being made to resuscitate the port. As a maritime nation, we cannot afford to let that graving dock lie idle. Its purpose has already been overtaken by new developments, but I ask the Government to see whether it could still be viable.

Our port is not only dying but being allowed to die. Liverpool, when this country was in dire straits, was the only port open to the gateway of the Western Approaches. As Service men, we were given many promises which have not been kept. We should consider the promises of the past as much as the problems and desires of the present. We never know when we might need a major port again. When we need Liverpool, Liverpool may not be fit to do the job.

Among the hardest things that I am asked to do in my surgery is getting a sick old lady into a dignified hospital as a geriatric case or arranging a holiday for the parents of a sick or spastic child. Those are the things that we should be dealing with.

I must end by criticising contemporary society. I have spent much time in industry settling strikes. I do not like them. I have sometimes been blamed for strikes—the national seamen's strike in 1960 for instance. I say to the trade union movement, of which I have been a member for 15 years, to the country and the House, that strikes are the last thing that the country can afford. They are a luxury that we can do without. Some strikes are unavoidable and some are deliberate. There is no doubt about that. It needs to be said clearly that a strike is like an act of war. That should be made known in every trade union branch, every industrial office and in the CBI and TUC headquarters. Like every other act of war against society it might be just, but an act of war should be the last resort. It should never be the first, as it is so often. My hon. Friends could say how often they have said "Don't", but people have still gone on strike, doing irreparable harm to themselves and to society.

In Liverpool we have learnt the hard way. We are trying, and the situation is improving. I recommend to other parts of the country the hard road that we have had to follow. I began by speaking of dignity. Dignity comes only through work. Strikes are the last thing that should be allowed to affect the dignity of mankind.

6.43 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

Everyone will agree with the final remarks of the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon). I also agree with him about local government reorganisation. It has taken from the towns, although perhaps not from the cities, their sense of identity and civic pride. Herefordshire lost its pride and suffered from amalgamation with Worcestershire.

During the Jubilee celebrations people remarked on how notable it was that the villages played a leading part because of their identity with parish councils. In the bigger towns there were street parties, but other than that there was little activity to mark the Jubilee. We must do something to re-establish town councils so that they have some power.

It is sad that since the war we have made a hash of the redevelopment of inner urban areas. But we have not done everything wrong. There are many success stories to be told. I recall the right hon. Member for Leeds, North—East (Sir K. Joseph), in another incarnation, going to Cambridge in the 1960s when he was a Minister. He talked about urban renewal. In those days we were talking about renewing shopping centres and building office blocks. We did not get to grips with housing schemes or industry.

So many opportunities have been missed, particularly for public transport. Portsmouth is a typical example. Immediately after the war some good schemes were devised to provide a fast link between the centre of Portsmouth and the outlying areas. However, those schemes were allowed to go. Today it is almost impossible to think that they could be revived.

We need a joint partnership scheme between local authorities and experienced development companies that have the financial backing of the institutions. I agree with the Secretary of State's idea of partnership between national and local government, but that is only the beginning. Someone has to provide the finance and the development has to take place. We must get the institutions involved in housing. We can do that if we make progress in bringing down interest rates. The money is available if we can only encourage people to invest it in such development.

I hope to visit dockland with some other hon. Members on Thursday. I hope that when redeveloping such areas we shall take extra care over the architectural designs. I hope that we shall go for something simple which has been proved to work and for buildings which will not fall down. We do not want any more flat roofs or massive blocks which have proved so disastrous. One can recall the pride that the people of Belfast had in the Divis flats. They thought that they had achieved something, but the development proved to be disastrous.

Local authorities must take on the role of land assemblers and planning controllers. I say to the Conservative Party that I believe that the Community Land Act has a role to play. We should not be too concerned about local authorities owning land in city centres. That is common in Western Germany and Canada. In Edmonton, for instance, the local authority owns almost all the inner urban land.

I agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) that the sooner local authorities release land that they are hanging on to and do not need, the better. Perhaps some way could be found to wipe off the cost of releasing such land. That would be a step forward. Some of the prices paid and the interest rates involved are horrifying. They mean that land cannot be put to proper use.

Particularly in provincial towns local authorities tend to stand aside and allow buildings of character and historic interest to deteriorate to such an extent that they cannot be restored, except at great expense. I should like to see more activity and more grants perhaps to charitable housing associations—so that something could be done about restoring such buildings, even at a loss. We have lost too many such buildings, particularly in county towns. I should like to see an outright ban on further demolition without the Secretary of State's consent.

In some London boroughs we have seen appalling examples of properties being knocked down, even though they have 10 to 20 years' life left in them. They are often demolished because eight or 15 years ago a local authority decided that certain buildings should be scheduled for demolition. Those local authorities are not prepared to change their ideas. A typical example occurred in Lambeth recently.

I was delighted with the greater availability of improvement grants announced today. I hope that they will not be delayed any longer. We want to get improvements going again. They will help particularly areas with a high immigration settlement.

Coupled with new developments and renovation must go the provision of adequate recreational and cultural facilities. I should like to say how much I agree with the paragraph 23 of the document relating to policy for the inner cities about the use of school buildings, which recommends the fuller involvement of schools and colleges in the life of the community and the fuller use of their buildings and facilities out of hours by local people. I only wish that the Government could persuade local authorities to implement that.

Perhaps I am in an area in which it does not seem to work out. Often people complain to me that the cost of hiring the buildings is excessive, or that the caretaker will not work at the weekends or wants double pay, or something extra.

It reaches the point at which it is almost not worth while for local associations—dancing clubs, for instance—to try to arrange to make use of school buildings. That is a palpable nonsense. A tremendous amount of money goes into school halls and they ought to be part of the facilities available to the area in which they are situated. I hope that that will be made abundantly clear when we redevelop large areas such as the docklands.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it may well be time for the Secretary of State to make clear whether education authorities should try to make money out of providing facilities for the local community or whether they should be of service to the local community? I am sorry to say that I have neither a large town nor a large city in my constituency, although I have a very small city. At present an enormously high fee is charged by the local education authority for the use of premises for recreational purposes, such as £2.30 an hour for cricket, and if only the Government could make it clear——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) has only just come into the Chamber, as we all know. He has not heard the debate. An intervention ought not to be used as a substitute for a speech. I hope that he will now finish his intervention.

Mr. Freud

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have finished it. I should not have been able to speak if I had not just come into the Chamber.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Yes, I know, I am glad to compliment the hon. Member on his honesty, but the duty of the Chair is to try to ensure that those who have sat here patiently throughout the debate are given an opportunity to speak and do not have to resort to an artful dodge.

Mr. Ross

I happen to agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that some local authorities make charges that palpably dissuade people from making use of their buildings when those people should be encouraged to do so. That has happened with play groups recently and in other spheres.

I conclude by congratulating the London housing associations on the exhibition that they put on last week. I went to see it. I was delighted to learn that they are deeply involved in the renovation—perhaps "rehabilitation" is a better word—of the old Covent Garden area. That seems to be a move that is very much in the right direction. There are buildings there that would have been pulled down at one time and communities that would have been destroyed. They are now trying to bring them back.

I came away from that exhibition thinking that we are making progress in the area of management and in people doing much more for themselves in the way of renovation. Some of the houses that have been renovated by these associations were a joy to look at. Therefore, I think that we have made more progress in recent years than I had previously thought possible. I am delighted to know that extra money will be going to housing associations. The future appears not so bleak as at one time I thought.

6.55 p.m.

Mr. Frank Hatton (Manchester, Moss Side)

I very much welcome the partnerships that the Minister has offered to the inner city areas. I particularly welcome the fact that these are to be based on local authorities.

In spite of the criticism of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that has come from some Opposition Members, I welcome the positive attitude that he has shown to the problems of the inner city areas. He displayed this to the full in his important speech at Manchester Town Hall some months ago, and I was very pleased that that speech was made in my city. It was a recognition that quite serious mistakes have been made in redevelopment. I think that all of us must admit that, in spite of much rejuvenation in our large cities, serious mistakes have been made in redevelopment. We do ourselves no good at all by not admitting that.

I welcome very much the statement in paragraph 34 of the White Paper to the effect that local people will be involved in the regeneration of the inner city areas. That will be an end in its own right.

I think that many of our present problems have come from an acceptance that the professional planners know best. From my own experience in local government I know how difficult it is for the lay member of a planning committee to persuade the professional advisers that what they are putting before the committee is wrong. Many of us have had to live with this, and we now see the enormous financial consequences of some of our inner city developments such as high-rise buildings and, as the Minister has said, barrack-like blocks.

Mr. Steen

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his Government should ban the building of vast council estates, because all the evidence seems to be that people are miserable in them?

Mr. Hatton

I do not accept for a moment that all inhabitants of large council estates are miserable. Indeed, I could take the hon. Member to many council estates in my city and in other parts of the country where people are living very happy lives indeed.

This is not a problem only where Socialist local authorities—so-called—have developed high-rise buildings. In my city both major parties must accept their full share of the blame for this problem. Manchester was one of the last cities in this country to accept the idea of high-rise development. It was forced upon the city very largely by propaganda in the news papers and from Ministers and other people who ought to have known better. Evidence exists now in no uncertain terms that those who have been rehoused in large-scale buildings, especially in the upper storeys, want only one thing for themselves and their children—a house with a garden in which their children can play and be happy.

I was talking about the problems that exist because we have accepted that the professional planners know best. One of the things that we were persuaded to do in the rejuvenation and rebuilding of our cities was to sweep away many of the small business premises. We now know the terrible cost of this in terms of lack of employment opportunities. We have seen large industrial estates become estates of decline. I instance one in the Greater Manchester area—the Trafford Park industrial estate.

A statement was made yesterday about the restructuring of the electricity industry, particularly in regard to turbine generation. The effect on my constituents and on citizens of the Manchester area can easily be understood. The workers in the General Electric Company are in a state of despondency and dismay as a result of the statement. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon) has referred to similar problems in Liverpool. Now, by virtue of the loss of another industrial base, these problems have come to Manchester.

I welcome in the White Paper the powers that local authorities are to be given in order to establish new business interests and new industrial interests in the big cities. Over the years of their development many of our large cities have lost their skilled population. Manchester is a very good example to quote in this respect, because about 100,000 people have left the city. Indeed, largely because of persuasion by professional planners, many people were positively encouraged to go. Now we see the consequences of this policy for the inner city areas where large numbers of the remaining work force are either unskilled or semi-skilled. In Manchester 35 per cent. of the remaining work force are unskilled and semi-skilled.

The loss of the skilled population during the period of migration has far outstripped the loss of unskilled workers. As the Secretary of State has rightly said, we can now recognise that in our redevelopment we proceeded too far and too fast. I very much welcome the opportunities that the White Paper will give us to think again about many of the inner city problems. I congratulate the Secretary of State on his enthusiasm and wish his proposals well.

7.3 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)

In listening to the hon. Member for Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. Hatton), it sounded to me as if some of the problems experienced in that great city are not wholly dissimilar to those which we know only too well in London, high-rise build- ings, industry, and so on. I may touch on some of those matters in my remarks.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) on introducing a most important and serious problem in what, I thought, were extremely serious, responsible and thoughtful terms. He has done an enormous amount of work on the subject and is deeply concerned about it.

I rather regret that the Secretary of State chose to respond to my hon. Friend in what I thought, to begin with at any rate, were flippant and rather offensive terms. I thought that in that sense he fell below the level of the debate. As to the substance of his speech, he gabbled through his brief so quickly that I had some difficulty in following all the points. If I have to raise certain questions as a result of this I hope that the Minister for Housing and Construction, in winding up, will deal with them.

I understand the reason for the partnership schemes, which make broad sense. I gather that in these schemes there is to be a major contribution from Government and that the local authorities are to play their part by contributing something to the partnership. That makes sense, but it did not seem to me to be very clear how it is to be done. As I understand it, the local authorities are to do it by reallocating their own resources in some way. I am a little perplexed about this. I am not certain how local authorities, heavily over-pressed, and with their ratepayers struggling very considerably, are to reallocate their resources. I suppose that the main source for reallocation would be education. Is something to be taken off that? One could not, I imagine, get much contribution to partnership by cutting down on sewerage or parks. I hope that the Minister for Housing and Construction will spell out more clearly how these local authorities, which have had quite a big burden put on them, will be able to play their part in the partnership.

I thought that the speech of the Secretary of State dealt with the problem in a somewhat superficial way. I regard it as a much more fundamental problem. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green referred to last week's events in New York. I think it must have come as a very great shock to many people that in this technological age, in the richest country in the world, and in the largest city, there could be such an apparent total breakdown of social life and so much disorder over a single technological failure. We delude ourselves if we imagine that it could not possibly happen in London. The circumstances here are quite different, but it is absolutely right, as my hon. Friend said, to remember that the crust of civilisation is really very thin indeed.

For that reason, although it is not directly connected with the debate, I regret the way in which Government and local government have neglected the need for special emergency services, Civil Defence and things of that nature. But that is simply an aside.

What was clear from the events last week in New York is that in a great city the first people to suffer, and to get involved in some disorder and the breakdown of civilisation, are those who are the least fortunate—in many cases the coloured people and the poor. It is not, therefore, a problem which can be solved merely by jiggling about with money, rates and so on. We have to get to the root cause of the problem in our great cities.

Perhaps it will be for historians to analyse the decline in morale in our great cities, but, as far as I can see, there are three fundamental points which go to the root of the problem, and which are directly in the political arena. They are, of course, housing, education and, above all, employment. In one way or another reference has been made to all of them. The solutions, if I may say so, do not only involve money. They are much more fundamental than that.

There can be no doubt that bad housing and homelessness are a major source of social disorder. I believe that the Government—indeed, Governments over a very long period—have tended to tackle the whole problem of housing in cities in entirely the wrong way. I believe that the great trembling structure of Rent Act legislation, which has been with us now since 1919, but which culminated in 1974 in one of the worst Rent Acts, has effectively totally destroyed what used to be a part of housing in this country. I refer, of course, to privately rented accommodation, which is desired by people who wish to rent accommodation, and is also helpful to and desired by landlords who wish to lease. It is not just a matter of the big landlords. I believe that this rent legislation has caused a very great deal of our housing problems over the period.

It is also an illusion to imagine that Rent Acts put a stop to unscrupulous practices. It is a delusion to suppose that it is not possible for people to find their way round the Rent Acts. I commend to the Minister an article in The Economist this week. It demonstrated how it is possible, perfectly lawfully, to evade the rigours of the Rent Act. The method is available to people of skill and ingenuity, but not to the very large number of humble landlords and humble tenants who wish to let and to rent.

There is a great demand for this type of accommodation, particularly among young married couples and among single persons in our cities. I think it was the Secretary of State who talked a great deal about mobility of labour. This is important, but the lack of rented accommodation and the whole concept of these great council estates has put labour into a state of total rigor mortis. People who would like to move to a better job in another city cannot get accommodation. If they want council accommodation they must go to the end of a long queue. The result is that if they are already in council housing they will not leave it for all the tea in China. That means that they do not move after all. I think that the anti-landlord hostility of the Labour Party has contributed as much as anything else to the troubles of our inner cities. I hope that that fact will be taken on board in the Green Paper.

I agree that these ghastly high-rise monstrosities have probably caused more social unhappiness and perhaps depression than almost anything else, but the concept was well meaning. I remember that, when we were worried about the housing situation, we were told that we must preserve the green belt and, therefore, expand upwards. It made sense to me at the time and to other simpleminded people on local authorities, and to Governments of both parties. We were all hopelessly wrong.

The other lesson that we should learn is that people, particularly the elderly, do not want to be uprooted and put into gleaming palaces or high-rise flats. More than anything else, they want to stay in their familiar environment where they and their families grew up. Therefore, our first priority should be to give them help to repair, renovate and rehabilitate the familiar houses in which they raised their families.

I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he would allocate greater resources to repairs and improvements. That is helpful as far at is goes and is a move in the right direction. We look forward to the relevant order emerging quickly, but the trend must go much further. We could do a great deal more if we stopped the lunatic policy of building great estates on the periphery. It is unnecessary and undesirable.

If only we could sell council houses to the tenants. I know that it is not the policy of my party, but I am attracted by the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) and am almost tempted to give these houses away. However, I do not carry all my colleagues with me on that. At the moment, therefore, we have to concentrate resources on rehabilitation and renovation. That could be done with a great increase in happiness to a very large number of people.

There is only cursory reference in the White Paper to education. The problem is not just one of money. We are engaged in a great education debate. The problems of education are, perhaps, most severe, in one sense, in our inner cities. Educationists, educational theorists and teachers to some extent have a considerable amount to answer for in the problems of modern youth in our great cities. I know that parents are primarily responsible for their children and that the breakdown of family life has contributed to the problems, but educationists cannot look on the results of the past decade with any pride. During that period, education experts have taught children that they should question authority and our existing institutions and challenge everything they hear.

The net result has been that the poor children find themselves in a state of appalling confusion. They do not know what to put in the place of the structures they have been taught to tear down. They have not been taught the most vital quality of all—the ability to make decisions and stick by them. The result has been cynicism, aimlessness, apathy and a general decline among the less fortunate and less talented children, particularly in some of our inner city areas. All this goes far beyond the question of money. It is a question of an attitude of mind.

One of the most fundamental problems is that of employment. Unemployment is a degradation of the human spirit, and for young people a valid excuse for them to turn their backs on a society which apparently offers them no hope. The situation in our cities as a whole is scandalous. Only last week I was told by the Government that in June 1973 there were 112 unemployed school leavers in the Greater London area and that in June 1977 the figure was 6,162. Unemployment as a whole has trebled in the Greater London area since 1973. It is an appalling and disgraceful situation of which the Government should be totally ashamed. I know that the situation is even worse in other parts of the country—indeed, in parts of the London area itself. The White Paper does not show any sign that the Government are coming to grips with this fundamental problem. There is merely a general tinkering and patchwork approach, through job creation schemes, the lending of money by local authorities to firms, the building of advanced factories—a little here, a little there, putting another plug in the leaky ship.

What is wanted is a radically different approach to the economic affairs of the country. That is the only way in which the appalling curse of unemployment, which is so damaging in its effects, particularly on young people, can he overcome. The Government must create in our inner cities the right climate for industry and commerce to develop. If the Government can provide such a climate, in which firms can operate profitably and with hope for the future, the jobs will flow.

If industry flourishes, the jobs follow. The Government should not merely tinker with the problem. They need to remove much of the legislative burden that they have imposed on industry, and certainly much of the tax burden. They must also remove, particularly from the smaller firms, the burden of administrative bumph, such as the multi-rate value added tax. Indeed, nearly all of the programme in which the Government have indulged over the last four years needs to be discarded if we are to create a better climate for industry and commerce.

The White Paper makes a cursory reference to small firms. It merely says, in paragraph 27, that local authorities are being asked to help through sympathetic planning policies and by making available suitable cheap premises or sites. That is not good enough. I estimate that between 5 million and 6 million people—more than in the public sector are employed by small firms. If each of these small firms were able to take on one extra person because of hope for the future, much of the unemployment would disappear.

Small firms have been treated disastrously, with ever-increasing burdens thrust upon them. In the first quarter of this year 1,372 bankruptcies were declared, most of them of small firms. Yet our inner cities need small firms for employment. One is not likely to get a great strip mill or a car assembly plant in the centre of London, for example. In the inner cities most employment has to be provided by diverse small and profitable industries. They do not want or need subsidies. They merely want to be allowed to get on with the job and retain their earnings.

This White Paper does not go far enough on the question of industrial development certificates. I welcome the fact that the Minister has relaxed to some extent, but if firms really take on board the fact that there is some easing of IDC control they will look at the White Paper and think that it might be worth while making an application. They will then go to see the Department of Industry. In the old days they might have seen a chap called Grant, but if they press hard enough they will see the Minister. Every effort will then be made to see that they go to the assisted areas to Merseyside or Glasgow or Newcastle. If it is a very large firm that is involved, it should do so, but if it is only a small or medium sized firm, it will not do this, but will turn away and give up the project. It is no good saying that it will have more priority than if it went to Milton Keynes, but that it really ought to go to Newcastle or Stafford, or somewhere else instead. This will put it off. Therefore, the Minister has got to go much further than he has.

Turning to the subject of ODPs, what do we need office development permits for? If we did not have them, that would save a great deal of administrative burden. Civil servants would have nothing to do. But I do not think I mind that. But cities do need offices. Commerce is a natural source of employment. The service industries will be much more readily available and anxious to go to the cities than are factories and industries of some sort. Therefore, the ODP policy, although I know that the Minister has eased it a little, has been dealt with much too half-heartedly. I would advise him to scrap it utterly. That would give an enormous boost to service industries.

In so far as the White Paper is a somewhat belated response to a great deal of nagging of the Minister by both sides of the House for a long time—he has, quite rightly, been nagged—and in so far as it copies that which was in "The Right Approach", and in the admirable, thoughtful pamphlet introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green it is a step in the right direction, but it is inadequate to deal with what is a masisve growing cancer in our midst. It is too narrow; it is too insular; it fails to get to grips with the outer urban areas; and it fails to get to grips with the fundamental problems.

What we need is an entirely new approach. In the words of my hon. Friend in his pamphlet, we need a new hope for people in our towns and cities, and, above all, a new Government.

7.24 p.m.

Mr. John Forrester (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

The hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) has reminded us that there are nationwide problems common to all areas—areas that may of us thought had no problems. He speaks from great experience as a Minister. I am sorry that when he was a Minister he did not direct all that industry to Staffordshire, as he might have suggested in one of his asides a moment or two ago. [An hon. Member: "They all went to Newcastle."] They all went to Newcastle. I shall not complain.

I am interested in the Opposition argument that we are short of rented accommodation but we must still sell off the largest stock of rented accommodation that we have. I should be more convinced if the Opposition said "We shall advocate the sale of all rented accommodation, private and municipally owned, at discount rates." I might support that view.

When the Government issued the White Paper on inner urban areas they gave the impression that only the metropolitan districts of London needed extra financial assistance. This is far from the truth, as we have heard many times this afternoon. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did not intend to give that impression. Financial resources are limited, but the White Paper caused tremendous concern in the urban areas which were not mentioned and in the shire counties. I am not certain, despite the concessions from my right hon. Friend, whether their fears have been allayed or magnified.

The aim of part of this debate is to bring to the Secretary of State the feelings of the rest of the country and the problems there and for some of us to make constituency points along the way. A number of large cities within shire county boundaries, such as Stoke, Nottingham and Leicester, are struggling with the decay and dereliction of bygone years.

There is a natural concentration of that dereliction and decay in the urban areas, but in Stoke, which has six town centres, the problems are spread around in a bigger way than in some of the other large conurbations. We are grateful for Government assistance in the reclamation of derelict land. This is one of the areas in which we are encouraging grass to grow under our feet. But with 1,400 acres of it already reclaimed—this is about half of our total legacy—we are conscious all the time that new dereliction is being created. This is a problem not only in Stoke but in other large towns and cities and urban areas.

The Government promoted a few years ago an excellent special environmental assistance scheme. We spent a lot of money on that. But I wonder whether the Department is yet in a position to advise on and to sponsor and encourage a scheme for industrial improvement areas, which would clearly, if successful, go a long way to improving the environment of our old industrial cities.

We have heard the jargon from planners. It is now called environmental, social and physical deprivation, and the poverty trap. If that means bad housing, depressing neighbourhoods, old schools, outside lavatories, no bathrooms, gardens and no community facilities, if it means a high concentration of immigrants in certain parts of a city, or if it means population loss because of conditions of inner areas or because industries are moving out of the cities, Stoke-on-Trent has such areas, too. One-third of our housing stock, which is 30,000 houses, was built before 1914. We hope to clear 2,000 slums between 1976 and 1980. Four thousand people are on the waiting list. The figure would be considerably larger if we included people seeking substandard accommodation who thought that there was a chance of getting council housing.

If special assistance is available for inner urban areas on all the criteria, Stoke would qualify. We in Stoke-on-Trent have informed the Government that we would co-operate in any partnership arrangements for regeneration.

If "partnership" means that the councils will find their own money, there does not seem to be much point in partnerships. So one must assume that in the partnerships to come there will be some money from central Government: otherwise it would be a waste of everybody's time.

One can understand the thinking that suggests that we ought to concentrate our available resources in just a few areas. But that is no consolation to people living in other areas with the same problems. If resources are allocated for inner area purposes, the Department has a responsibility to see that they are spent in that way. There is evidence that the money via the rate support grant which has gone to London and the metropolitan districts—we acknowledge that they have serious urban problems—has been spent on the area as a whole and not on specific areas.

I prefer direct funds to go to specific projects or specific areas of stress throughout the country. In that way we would at least be able to see and measure the effect of the spending of the money. It should not just be thrown into the area with the instruction "Spend it", with the area being left to get on with it as in the past. Areas cannot be singled out for treatment at the expense of other areas, and it is wrong to penalise those areas that have made the effort in the past by helping areas that have been less diligent.

The White Paper says that the rate support grant is a major source of Government finance to local authorities. In assessing the rate support grant account must be taken of the problems of the areas in the shire counties. The rate support grant was biased in favour of London and the metropolitan districts. This created great fears in the shire counties that if the programme was to be pushed forward, there would be even less money for them under the rate support grant in future. That is a daunting prospect for their treasurers.

There are problems in the new shire counties since they have taken into large urban conurbations. Those problems may be concealed. For example, if the Department asks Staffordshire how many pre-1914 houses there are in the area the answer may conceal the fact that a very high percentage of those houses are in Stoke-on-Trent. If it asks what is the pupil-teacher ratio in the county as a whole it may not be apparent from the answer that the south of the county is better off than the north. This matter, therefore, is more complicated than it used to be.

We can no longer think in terms of the shire counties being rich and the other areas being poor. The new shire counties are no longer the lush green pastures of yesteryear. Rate support grant has to be sophisticated enough to compensate for the changes made during local government re-organisation. Each area has its own problem. In Stoke-on-Trent it concerns house purchase. The local authority was granted £177,000 for that purpose and to that sum it has added £60,000. The whole of that sum has been committed for house purchase already in this financial year. In three months the building societies have committed them- selves to spend only £15,000, although they are entitled to spend £391,000 under the scheme.

We have no quarrel with the building societies. They have their rule books and they stick to them. But they are reluctant to lend money on houses that may be subject to mining subsidence. It is difficult to find a house in Stoke that is not subject to it, or at least in some danger from it. The building societies do not like lending money on terraced houses without forecourts, or on houses where road improvement schemes might come along, even though that prospect is now receding well into the future.

They are also reluctant to lend money on houses in areas of or adjacent to commercial properties. In an old inner urban area that is a difficult criteria for us to overcome. I wish to take this up in detail with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but for the moment I simply urge him to ensure that the Government's policy is flexible enough to take account of local variations.

If we are to succeed in our task of regenerating the inner urban areas and of stopping the population drift, I accept that public money alone will not be sufficient in the foreseeable future. We must attract private capital to help us. If we are to attract industry or commerce, we must be able to provide the right conditions. The land must be available at acceptable prices. The White Paper recognises that we need to attract industry. We cannot say, however, that we want the factories and the machinery to create jobs but that we do not want the lorries and motor cars. I wonder whether some of the people who write the circulars in Whitehall encouraging restrictions on vehicles realise that few cities have any underground system and that people depend upon four-wheeled vehicles to get about.

Some of the Whitehall circulars are read in the nooks and crannies of town halls where they are regarded almost as the second Book of Genesis. It is only later that they are found to be full of original sin. The local planners by then have added their little variations to the original sin and have compounded sin upon sin. The mind boggles at the outcome. We are left with one of the problems mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. Hatton) whereby doctors bury their mistakes, but planners seem to move on and leave someone else to clear up their mess.

If we are serious about a returning to thriving inner city areas we must not be hidebound by attractive-sounding theories which may be reversed in a few years' time anyway. We need fewer theories and more common sense.

The subject of IDCs is important for the inner urban areas. The Government's policy on this matter must be under constant review if industry is to be attracted. Now that we are in the Common Market, multinational companies are no longer susceptible to the kind of pressures exerted hitherto to send them in this or that direction. They do not need to fall for that line of persuasion any more. On a number of occasions we have called the bluff of firms that have gone off to the green pastures of the Continent to set up in the Common Market there factories that might have been set up here.

If local authorities are to be encouraged to attract industry and if they are succesful in attracting firms from this country or from abroad to take a look at their areas, it is up to the Government to take care not to drive those firms away. In saying that I have in mind, of course, the pressures that the Government might be under from areas of high unemployment.

Irrespective of the facts of the case as set out in The Guardian last week in the articles about local government reorganisation, I wholeheartedly support the return to the major cities of those powers necessary to the social life of the community. I oppose regional councils as another tier of local government, but I support the concept of smaller all-purpose authorities with a very limited range of powers at regional level.

The present system has not worked badly in Staffordshire, but there will be growing pressure for a return to the major urban areas of those services. Equally, there will be a counter-pressure to keep the present system of local government longer so that it may have a chance to work—at least, that will be the story. I believe that the sooner we make the changes the better.

7.39 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Baker (St. Marylebone)

Having heard the hon. Member for Stoke- on Trent, North (Mr. Forrester) I feel sure that the problems that he was outlining and that affect Stoke have a commonality with the problems that other hon. Members have outlined and that afflict other cities such as Cardiff, Birmingham and London.

In the stage of economic development through which the Western world is passing there is no doubt that the cities and larger towns generally are in decline. That is not the case with all countries. Some cities in the developing world are expanding at a fantastically faster rate than ours and are facing problems that make the problems of our inner cities look minuscule.

The decline of the larger city happened first in America. I used to believe that there was a time lag of four or five years between economic developments in America and similar economic developments in the United Kingdom and Europe. The symptoms of the decline and decay of cities could be measured and observed in America five or six years ago. The symptoms we have been describing tonight may now be seen over here and are common to many cities in America. The declining population, the movement away from the centre, the growth of ghettos—usually associated with one ethnic group of one colour or several colours—increasing hooliganism, increasing violence, the desire of young couples with children to move out to find a place with a garden where their children can play, are all typical of most of the cities whose representatives have spoken in the debate this evening.

The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon) was kind enough to refer to me although he did not hear my speech. He spoke in a rather sad way about soldiers returning after the war and having a vision of what life would be like and the great disappointment of what it is like today. I could not help recalling the famous verse from the scriptures that "without vision people perish". Paradoxically, the reverse is true! Without people, the vision perishes.

In many parts of our inner cities there is a sort of desert, whether in the dockside of Liverpool or in the East End of London. Vigorous and thriving areas of even 20 years ago are now literally empty in the East End of London. I would introduce a polemical note for a moment, because the Secretary of State introduced a polemical note when he said that when we were in office we hardly did anything. The right hon. Gentleman contradicted himself when he said that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) did do something—a sort of dying throe.

The Secretary of State has represented an inner-city seat since 1964. I fought as a candidate in Tower Hamlets before he did. I fought the neighbouring seat of Poplar. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that he was adopted during the campaign when the sitting candidate, Stoker Edwards, died. The right hon. Gentleman was very lucky to get that seat. I think that he would have settled anywhere—in Stechford, in Walsall or anywhere else—but he happened to latch on to Stepney because the candidate died.

The right hon. Gentleman knows what is wrong with the inner cities. Since becoming a Member of Parliament for Tower Hamlets he has seen hundreds of acres become empty and derelict. But what action has the right hon. Gentleman taken over the last 13 years during which he has represented Stepney and Poplar?

In fact, in the middle of the 1960s some of us tried to revive parts of the East End with housing associations. I tried to establish one in Popular. All the best sites were owned by the then Poplar Borough Council. When we approached the council and asked for two or three acres to build a community development, it said "No. This is industrial land and we shall develop it." In many cases that did not happen, because the philosophy—this is where Socialist thinking is to blame—is that there can be only one developer—the local authority. Yet, because funds were tight in one way or another, there was no developer as a result.

That is the sort of attitude that we have to change. In some areas one is beginning to see some change. Another area where some change is needed is in our attitude to comprehensive development. Fifteen months ago the Secretary of State said that he was pensioning off the bulldozer. That is a graphic phrase. But does he know that the bull- dozers that he pensioned off 15 months ago were only last week tearing down 600 houses across the river in Lambeth? Those 600 Victorian houses in Thorne Road, Lambeth, could have been rehabilitated. But they were pulled down and a half a dozen small businesses have disappeared. The Secretary of State should not make statements about pensioning off the bulldozer and then do nothing about it. He should have used his powers with regard to that development.

I make only one point tonight about the decline in our towns and cities. If we do not arrest the economic decline of our cities and towns, there is no hope of our dealing with their social, family and housing problems. It is essential to grasp that fact, because until we revive the economic activity of our towns and cities, we shall not be able to deal with their social problems.

Speaking as a Londoner, I would establish as my first priority the arrest of the decline in the economic activity of London, particularly inner London. How does one set about that? As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) said, we should destroy or throw away all the paraphernalia of ODPs and IDCs. There is no point in having IDCs in an area such as London. They are a sort of façade so that the Secretary of State can say to his friends in the regions "We still have a regional policy of a short, because we have IDCs". But the Secretary of State tells London Members "Actually, do not worry. We shall give you an IDC order when any firm applies." That is a very deceitful stance.

On the one hand, the Secretary of State says to his friends outside London that the Government still want to help the assisted areas; at the same time he says that local authorities in certain parts of London are allowed to attract firms. I am not against that. But it requires a greater degree of frankness by the Secretary of State, when introducing that sort of policy, to admit that it is a major reform of his regional policy. One cannot ride both horses and be honest about it. I suggest that all this paraphernalia of control should be done away with.

Secondly, I welcome what the Secretary of State has done to change the attitudes in the town hall with regard to non-conforming users. When a small garage or small workshop is moved away from a residential or semi-residential area, it is not relocated. I believe that there should be a much greater freedom in the attitude of non-conforming users, particularly many small businesses which have started as a home workshop in a garage. I hope that this attitude changes.

The next thing is to provide premises at a rent that businesses can afford. I am not suggesting any special subsidies or asking Westminster City Council, the GLC, or any borough council in London to subsidise rents for firms. But what has happened in certain parts of London is that provision for low-rented accommodation has been established. The finest example is the Clerkenwell workshop scheme where two people, with no State money, took over an old Victorian warehouse two years ago and split it up in a rough and ready way—no fancy entrance hall and no heating—into units of a few hundred square feet which they rented for £2.50 a square foot.

More than 40 firms have taken those premises. They are mostly small businesses which all the macro-economists in the world would never have thought would go on. But they have survived and are now employing about 200 or 300 people. Many of these small companies are not arty, crafty companies that were somehow set up in an arty, crafty way. They are providing goods and services for which there is a need in the market.

What we must do in our regions, docklands and constituencies generally is to bring life back into all these derelict buildings. They are there. They can be converted. The right hon. Gentleman must know many of them. Why is not it happening? Why is it not happening in his constituency, in Greenwich and in Deptford? He is the Minister. He can do something about it.

I hope, therefore, that what the Clerkenwell workshop scheme is doing will be repeated in many places throughout London. Our cities and towns grew not by massive companies moving into them and establishing huge factories but by a lot of small business men establishing businesses in them and slowly expanding. The inner city has to grow again.

So my main argument is that if we are to deal with the social problems of our cities and towns we have to start by revitalising their economic life. If we do not start there and if we do not start encouraging the small business, which is what it comes to, we have no chance.

I raise one small point about housing in London. It has not been mentioned so far, but it should be mentioned. One of the most depressing correlations of statistics is to see the graph of the ageing populations of our cities compared with the extent of council ownership. They are directly correlated. If one looks at the tables of statistics, one can see that where there is a higher proportion of council ownership, one can bet that the area will have a much higher age average than another area. This is certainly true of London.

Despite all the problems, London is still one of the most pleasant and civilised cities in which to live. It has some of the finest theatres and open spaces. Its buildings are cleaner than they ever were. The Thames is cleaner than it has been for decades. None the less, it has an inner core of plain seediness which is not a very pleasant environment in which to bring up a young family.

One of the great attractions of London is that its acts as a magnet to young people. Many young people come here to live and work for two or three years, and some stay longer. In the past they have been able to do that because of the existence in London of a pool of accommodation. That pool has largely dried up. I will not cast blame on the Government. It is too easy to do that as a result of the 1974 Act. But we have to devise housing schemes and housing association schemes to encourage young people to come back and to share flats collectively. I should like to see council tenants being allowed to take in young people as lodgers.

Unless we make it more attractive for young people to come to London, to stay for a few years and then to move on, one of the special exciting ingredients that still make London a marvellous place to live in will be missing.

7.53 p.m.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

The problems of our inner cities are many and complex. The analysis of their problems has reached volumes which are beyond anyone's endurance to read. But the solutions have evaded most of the learned writers on the subject, and it behoves us in this debate to approach the problems with a good deal of caution. There has been a lot of simplistic talk about what would reverse the trends in the inner cities. There is no guarantee that, if we put together a package of all the suggestions made in this debate, there would be a marked change in the deterioration of our cities. I apply that caution to any suggestions which I make.

There are two factors about which I could take issue with some of the critics. I do not believe that the problems are not capable of some resolution given an adequate amount of resources put into the inner cities. Anyone who has seen an area of deprivation which has been taken over by middle-class incomers and "gentrified" knows that a certain amount of resources will create a considerable change to the good in the environment. The real issue is whether there is any agency—Government, local authority or private—capable of putting into the inner cities that degree of resources which goes into some areas of our cities which have been "gentrified". The application of resources is at least part of the answer to the problems of the inner cities.

The other matter on which I join issue with the critics is the suggestion that it is not possible to improve smallish areas unless improvements are made in the economic structure of the region or of the country. To quote the thinking of the CDPs, it is impossible to work in small area terms, we cannot rely entirely on a small area policy, and there is no way of avoiding the difficulties of macroeconomics and the implications which they have for every part of the country, especially those which are the most deprived.

I accept that thesis. However, I believe that within the macro-economic structure of the country it is possible to divert resources to give a greater degree of help to those areas which are in the greatest need at any given moment, and that it cannot be wrong to do that merely because we think that we should also have a complete analysis of the problems of the country as a whole. It is not enough to say that we cannot help a small area until we have done something quite revolutionary for the whole country. For that reason, the policy behind the inner city White Paper is right. We ought to be seeking ways of reallocating resources.

Although the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) was congratulated by his hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant), I did not find a great deal of help from his speech. He answered my intervention by saying that he would come to the central issue of the reallocation of resources, but he never got there. Unless he does get there, he has no policy.

It is no good saying that we should do something about our inner cities by improving small businesses and helping with schools and housing, then that we should do something about the outer areas where a wilderness has been created in modern council flats, and finally that we should do something about the middle areas because they happen to be Conservative-held seats and we must not leave them out, must we?

We must. If we talk about the reallocation of resources, we are talking about taking from one deserving case and giving to another. The right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) at least had the honesty to concede that that was essential to any policy for the inner cities when he said that he was prepared to give up resources from Worcester in order that they might go into Birmingham. The hon. Member for Hall Green has to give up something from Hall Green in order that it may go into Handsworth. There are areas of such deprivation that the only way that we shall get resources within a restricted budget is by taking from some and giving to others.

Contrary to the philosophies which have been animating the discussion from the Opposition Benches for most of this debate, that is what I call Socialism. It is what Nye Bevan called Socialism. I always understood that Socialism was the language of priorities and that the real argument for an inner city policy was the absolute ethos of Socialist doctrine.

When I went into the Home Office, therefore, I was delighted to think that we in the Home Office were charged with the duty of providing for the first time in our history an inner city policy or urban deprivation policy. I looked forward to it with eager anticipation. It never came. It is too painful to explain why that was so, and it might cause me more trouble than the trouble that got me the sack. [HON. MEMBERS: "Tell us."] All I shall say is that three years were lost, not because there were not people in Government who desperately wanted to do something about it, but because there was departmental resistance to the necessary will to do something about it. There was a centre in the urban deprivation unit which had a fairly expert analysis of the problems involved in reallocating resources and what should be done about it. I fear that in the transition to the Department of the Environment—which I wholly welcome—something of considerable importance was lost.

What must be decided is how to allocate resources from one area to another and who will receive them. The White Paper has made a rather broad attempt to deal with this central problem by saying that we cannot give help all over the place because the jam will be spread too thin, so we shall select the cities that will get the extra jam, and we shall do so on the basis that larger numbers of people in those cities live in deprived conditions. We are taking five major urban areas as the first major partners in the partnership agreements.

Two arguments arise as a result. The first is that those areas are not necessarily the most deprived in the country. If hon. Members look at the list of most deprived areas drawn up by Sally Holterman in her paper for the Department of the Environment, they will find that Bradford is listed as the third most deprived city by reference to the indicators of deprivation used in that paper. Yet Bradford is not included in the five partnership committees. Manchester is included, although Manchester was a good deal further down the list of most deprived areas. It has been included because it is bigger, and it is possible to say that the money will perhaps go to more people. However, in terms of need, Bradford should have been preferred to Manchester. Why was it not preferred? It was because this analysis of which cities should feature in the partnership agreements was not done by any scientific test of what were the most deprived areas.

The second part of the problem—and this is the point I was making to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green—is that if Birmingham is to be included, which it clearly must be as one of the areas with considerable sectors of deprivation, does that mean that the whole of Birmingham is to be included? If a grant under the urban aid programme is to be given to Birmingham City Council, will it be used to help a playgroup in Edgbaston or will it go to Handsworth or some of the other major areas of deprivation in the centre of the city? How will that choice be made? Who will make it?

I note that the partnership committees will be chaired by the Minister. Will he be able to say to the Conservative City Council You must not give money to constituents of the hon. Member for Hall Green because they are Tory voters anyway. You must give it to the Labour voters in Handsworth."?

That consideration should not be in anyone's mind. But the practical politics of the situation is that that consideration will be in their minds. If a Labour Minister says that the council should not give money to Handsworth, All Saints or Ladywood just before a by-election, he will not get much help from the other members of the partnership committee. It cannot be done on that basis and must not be started on that basis. It must be done on the scientific basis of where there is greatest need in Birmingham, because the money is too thin to be spread throughout Birmingham. It must go to the areas of greatest need, and that need must be assessed by some kind of objective standards. It cannot be done merely on the basis of political partisanship.

There was a device which was being manufactured in the urban deprivation unit in the Home Office which sought to overcome this. It was not the CDP, which Opposition Members love to attack on the basis that it is the CCP. The CCP is different from the CDP. These initials are confusing. They were always confusing to me. The CDP is a lot of young men put into areas to urge the inhabitants to attack their councils to get something done. They have drawn down on themselves the wrath of God and of many Conservative councillors because they did too good a job in stirring up inhabitants to claim their rights. They have my backing, even though most of them are Trotskyists, Marxists and Maoists. What they did was tremendous in raising people's expectations in those areas. Thank goodness that they did.

They are completely different from the CCP, which is a planning technique that says that the local authority will look at an area and decide where the greatest need is in that area. These needs should be assessed according to standardised tests, and they should indicate a sort of national balance of the worst areas and a local balance within the area of the local authorities concerned in those areas.

The local authority should have a plan for dealing with the particular needs of that area, a running plan that is adjusted as the years go by, according to the shifting needs and the satisfaction of those needs. This ongoing plan should be one in which the local authority states to the Government "There are our needs, we have these resources available from our budget to tackle these needs, but the resources are inadequate for the total task and we shall need more resources to help us".

The Government should have the task of allocating from their own resources the extra resources that should be ploughed into particular local authority areas. Clearly we have the constraints of public expenditure restrictions and constraints on our total growth. We shall never have enough resources to give everything to every local authority. Sane kind of choice has to be made by a Government Department. The objective was a partnership at local level, but also in central Government between Government Departments about how the central programmes were to be reallocated so that more money went into areas of greatest need, and, at the local level, within the local authority budget, more money should go into areas of greatest need.

I think that the CCP idea has a great deal to recommend it. I do not mind whether we call it something else or a partnership agreement, but the agreement must have a degree of scientific objective assessment of the priorities that have to be followed. We come near to it in paragraph 81, which is the most important part of the whole document. Unless we build upon that, we shall never be able to say whether, for example, the Manningham ward in Bradford is to be preferred to the Handsworth ward in Birmingham, or whether the Handsworth ward is to be preferred to a ward in Lambeth. Unless we have that kind of assessment, the money will be spread far too thinly.

We have some experience from the urban programme under Section 11 of the 1966 Act of how money allocated for a particular purpose in a particular area is used by local authorities at times of pressure for other main-line programmes which are more politically popular but for which they do not have the resources at that time. That undercuts the whole purpose of the urban programme and of Section 11

The second point that I wish to raise is that I regret that, in assembling this inner city policy on the basis of the White Paper proposals, too little attention has been paid to the particular problems of the black minority. Suggestions have been made about the black minority today. We had a dissertation on immigration control, but I do not want to go into that.

Both major parties—no major party has yet adjured it—have long accepted that two major commitments must be honoured. They have not yet been honoured, but they can be honoured quickly if my policy is followed. It will still have to be followed, whichever party is in power. The Opposition say that it would be followed slowly. That means that immigration on this scale will go on much longer. That is the only difference between the two views. No party has yet said that it will give up the commitment to the East African Asians or to the wives and families still in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Until the Opposition say that, they cannot say that they will reduce the total number of immigrants coming into this country.

Accepting that, there will still be substantial groups of people in this country with difficulties greater than the indigenous whites who are also deprived. It is not because they are black, but because they come from different cultures. If they live in bad housing, they are no different in that respect from whites living in bad housing. If black children go to schools with bad school buildings and inadequate resources, they are no different in that respect from the white children who go to those schools. If they have bad transportation difficulties, they share them with the whites.

All those problems can be dealt with by an inner city policy similar to that in the White Paper. But blacks have additional difficulties not because they are black but because they are new to this country. Those difficulties come from the conflicts of culture that they experience when they come here. I am in no sense casting any reflections upon the cultural heritage that they bring with them from Asia or the West Indies. I am suggesting that anyone who comes from a different culture into a new culture faces problems. The most obvious problem is languauge. Such people have to learn a different language. That is an initial problem for them.

In addition, there are problems for most of the immigrants who have come to this country from the new Commonwealth during the last 20 years, because most of them had a different standard of living from that experienced by even the poorest in this country. The adjustment that has to be made in that respect also causes difficulties.

For West Indians there is a particular difficulty. Their culture, dominated by the experience of slavery that their forefathers endured, means that for most of them the normal nucleal family unit is not the pattern as it is in English society and the extended family unit is not the pattern as it is in the Asian community. West Indian children do not have the back-up that comes from close family links to sustain them during periods of difficulty and adjustment in our society during their adolescence. West Indian teenage criminality occurs in only about 4 per cent. of the West Indian teenage population. Nevertheless, it is a serious problem in some inner city areas. That problem arises largely from the lack of family back-up in the West Indian family structure.

The Asians have a tight, strong, family, religious and cultural back-up that helps to give confidence to their children. But the fact that it is so strong and tightly knit causes strain when Asian children come into conflict with different standards and attitudes in our society. Adolescent children—particularly girls—suffer strains that are difficult for them to manage and cause acute difficulty on an increasing scale in the Asian family structure.

Many of these problems—I could go on for quite a long time—are not problems that the white deprived child or adult in our society needs to experience. There are white single-parent families who need child minders in deprived areas in inner cities, but nothing on the scale or quality of need required by West Indian families. That problem adds to the burden of local authorities in terms of social services, education and housing facilities. It is different from the kind of problem that they face in relation to deprived white people in their areas. Therefore, we need something in addition to the comprehensive inner city policy outlined in the White Paper.

I want a black dimension in that inner city policy. Unless we have it, we shall not cure the problems of the blacks in inner city areas in this generation. If we do not cure the problem now, we shall find that, as happened in Liverpool, blacks who are deprived in this generation will pass on that deprivation to their successors. After two or three generations it will be not newness from which they suffer, because they will not be new here, but poverty, and that poverty will become identified with colour in the way that it has in the United States. It is crucial that, having a different black problem from that in the United States, we should solve it in this generation.

We should be tackling the problem now. If we cannot tackle the problem by building a black dimension into the comprehensive community programme technique, we must have a black programme as such. I am told by those who are wise in the world of politics that that is anathema to the white electorate, which would not accept a black programme. I am told that one would lose votes if one were to say that to the white electorate.

If a white mother who sends her child to a school in which there are 75 per cent. West Indians or Asians feels strongly that, because there have not been adequate resources put into the school in terms of teachers and teachers' helps, her child is not getting a proper education, she will welcome more resources being put into that school to balance the needs in order that her child has an adequate chance.

It is the same wherever we look. If black people have difficulties of adjustment when they come to this country because of their different cultural backgrounds and levels of achievement in economic terms, those problems have to be overcome if we are not to have the kind of difficulty that many Opposition Members tend to prophesy. Those problems can be overcome by the allocation of adequate resources.

If we cannot tackle those problems in the comprehensive programme outlined in the White Paper, we must have a black programme. In fact, we have a black programme in Section 11 of the 1966 Act, which is all that is left to the Home Office of its urban deprivation polcies. If Section 11 were adapted to cover not just the 2 per cent. school count and those who have been here for less than 10 years but all blacks having the problems of newness, we could build out of Section 11 a comprehensive black programme that would deal with all these problems. Unless that is done we shall not solve the problem of the inner cities in anything like the way that has been suggested, because the major component of our inner cities now is the black population.

On average blacks represent 30 per cent. of the population in the most deprived areas, according to the census indicators, and that is over the top 15 per cent. of the most deprived areas. If one examines the areas that are most in need one finds that outside Glasgow—and Glasgow is always picked on by the Department to make the case that why we cannot have a black programme—they are those in which the percentage of blacks is considerably greater than 30 per cent., and in the worst areas it is more than 50 per cent.

If the trends in these areas are to be reversed, that must be done not only by the kind of policies that are in the White Paper but by additional help for the new needs of the new immigrants. The problems must be solved in this generation or else they will become endemic in our society.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Front Bench speeches are due to begin at 9 p.m. and there are six hon. Members who have been sitting patiently in the Chamber waiting to speak. All of them can be accommodated, and it would help to solve the problem—leaving aside the problems of the large cities—if hon. Members would take roughly six minutes apiece. A lot can be said in six minutes.

8.21 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)

Most hon. Members this afternoon have devoted a great deal of time to a diagnosis and analysis of conditions in our cities and their problems. That is the pattern of most debates on urban problems, although since the present Government have been in office our debates have tended to concentrate more on the inner city areas while the country and outer city areas have been correspondingly neglected.

In such a debate we tend to hear a recital of the problems rather than real attempts to tackle them, although the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) gave us an insight into different ways of looking at the solutions. However, when solutions are put forward, there is an underlying assumption that nothing major can happen unless the cities are given a facelift. Since that would require vast sums of money, it must be ruled out.

The Minister's proposals this afternoon following the same path and gave us little cause for hope. Most speakers, understandably, confined themselves to speaking about what is possible, namely, minor reorganisation and change here and there. One senses that some despair has crept into them and into most local authorities—that there is nothing that anyone can do to help and that there is not much that anyone can do even without the help of the local authorities. I am convinced that that is an unnecessarily defeatist approach.

We should not be focusing on the skyline and seeing only buildings. We should be far more concerned with the people living in them. A significant feature of the debate this afternoon was that the Minister said precious little about people. The right hon. Gentleman confined himself to technicalities and high finance. He talked with great vagueness about partnership with local authorities, but it was difficult to decipher what he meant and what it would mean for people living in the cities.

Since the war successive Governments have tended to focus on buildings as a solution to city problems, in terms of pulling down old and putting up new buildings. They were oblivious of the damage that they were doing and the dereliction that would result from the local shop and row of houses being pulled down, because with that went all the relationships that people had built up over generations. Until the late sixties the cry was "Pull down the slums". Planners said that cities could not fire on all cylinders until everybody was housed in decent accommodation.

Yet in all but a few odd places the bulldozers have now been gone for 10 years and the cities are not happier. It is not the inner city slums and economic problems that make people in most industrial areas go around with long faces. It was not until the late sixties that the light dawned on the politicians and they realised that it was not just the back-to-backs that they had pulled down but they had severed whole communities and family links. Only then did they begin to question the mass transfer of people from inner to outer areas, to large council estates, and to think about the disastrous policy of breaking up families and friends and scattering them over a wide area.

It was this awakening that prompted the Government in the late 1960s to introduce a series of special measures, each aimed at trying to identify the nature of the problem and the way to help rebuild communities. The most imaginative programme was the urban aid programme, which sought to get resources to the grass roots. Unfortunately, local authorities in the latter period of that programme used much of the money as a form of rate support grant through the back door.

Not enough money has gone down to the grass roots, to the community. I hope that the Minister will see that the next phase of the urban aid programme has a specific loading to favour voluntary and community work, with a minimum percentage to be given by the local authority to the community direct.

As part of the urban aid programme there was a community development project in which 12 teams of professional workers went to major areas of urban deprivation on so-called "action research". There are mixed views as to the value of this scheme, but one of the things which the Minister should do is to publish the results of the research. The projects have been going for their full length and perhaps the Minister can say why this scheme, which has cost over £5 million and which sought to tell us the answers to community deprivation, has still not published any findings and why some of the projects have had to publish the reports themselves because the Government were not prepared to expose the findings. Perhaps we may have an explanation why the Government wish to keep the results of these projects a secret.

Besides such projects there was also a whole range of other projects—the comprehensive community programme, the total approach, the older town studies, the inner area studies, housing action areas, educational priority areas, urban deprivation units. These schemes were accompanied by a mass of social jargon—inner city deprivation, urban deprivation, the cycle of deprivation, the quality of life. These sought to focus on the problems of cities and to show what was needed. The curious thing is that nothing clear has emerged from all of these studies. except more studies.

"Policy for the Inner Cities" is yet another document suggesting another course of action. Already it would seem that the Government are unlikely to be able to fulfil the obligations they have set out in their programme. It seems that all the Government can do is to set up successive studies rather than get down to the root of the problems in the cities.

The White Paper goes down the same well-trodden path. It concerns itself with the visual and the materialistic, with the fabric of the city, with the look of the place. The £100 million which the Government are now able to give will go on construction work. What will happen to the city? All that will happen is that there will be a slight change in one street, a new building here and there. There seems to be little point in building a new shopping mall if the people using it cover it with litter and deface the brickwork with graffiti.

There will be little change coming out of the White Paper. No one will see very much difference when going into our great cities and towns. What is strangling the community is the attitude not of the local authorities or of the Government so much as of the people living there. Unless they can be given new hope, a new involvement, a commitment to a future, our towns will inevtiably go the same way as those in the United States: they will become more violent, more decadent, more dirty and more bankrupt.

My impression is that, following these Government experiments, it was just beginning to dawn on the civil servants that there needed to be a shift away from the emphasis on reorganisation of administration and management, from buildings and equipment, into the direction of recognising the importance of the individual and the need for helping a community. Any prospects of new attitudes were dashed by the onward march of unemployment, now seen as the new town wrecker.

The officials now proclaim that without jobs the cities can never get it right. Just as in 1968 the Government responded with a range of high-sounding community schemes, so the Government have again launched off on a number of schemes that have not much relevance to unemployment in the long term and merely divert the problem by reducing the unemployment statistics.

The job creation programme, the temporary employment subsidy, the job release scheme, the work experience scheme, community industry—one after another they roll off the conveyor belt. They obscure the problems underlying the difficulties in our cities. Let hon. Members not mistake me. I am not saying that jobs and new houses are not important. What make a city flourish is the people living there. If they have bad relations with one another, if they have no community, if they are split apart, if their friends and families are dotted all over the town, the problems of the cities will continue.

These are some of the problems that need to be tackled first and foremost. If vandalism is rife and mugging is widespread, these are manifestations of a deep-seated problem, the sickness signs of our society. They are the signs that urban areas are throwing out their distress signals and that they are not being heeded by Government.

The pattern in most of our large towns and cities is of a declining inner city area, a more prosperous middle city with houses in private ownership, with council houses and large council estates based on the periphery. It is on the periphery that the majority live. It costs more to get to their jobs and means that they spend a longer time getting from home to work. It means that they are away from their families for a longer time. Transport is expensive and often unreliable. It is difficult for them to visit friends and to meet their families. It is not surprising that those living in such vast council estates feel rootless. They often feel that they have no identity, whereas in the inner city they felt that their houses were their homes. They feel that they have no security in their new houses.

The impact and significance of the vast soulless council estates is not being fully realised. It has not been realised what they have done to the individual who lives in them. He finds himself no longer part of a living neighbourhood. No longer does he have a meaning or purpose in relation to his neighbourhood.

As The Sunday Times highlighted last weekend, the most serious problem of all is loneliness. Most of our major physical diseases stem from the feeling of not having any contribution to make and a feeling that no one cares. Human beings need to feel wanted and cared for. My experience in Task Force among the elderly well illustrates that that is a major problem in our towns and cities. However, having recognised many years ago from endless research documents that that is one of the major problems, it is amazing that the Government should introduce a job release scheme that means that people are invited to retire earlier and, therefore, to become lonelier sooner, rather than feeling that they have a contribution to make to the community in which they are living. It is not only the city planners who fail to realise the importance of the individual when they pull down the slums. The Government, with their short-term unemployment programmes, are undermining the fabric of our society.

My belief, therefore, is that the decline of our cities starts at the point that the family unit disintegrates. The policies of Governments and city councils, rather than making the family unit stronger, tend to prise open what was a closely knit unit where people were interdependent and where the grandparents, uncles and aunts played a part in family development.

The break-up of whole communities and neighbourhoods in the great slum clearance programmes is having a cumulative effect on successive generations. It is the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children. Instead of the community looking after itself, instead of the family and the extended family looking after each other, instead of mothers being able to look after their own children, an increasing number of mothers are compelled to seek work and to rely on impersonal child minder schemes of one sort or another. In spite of the Government putting their emphasis on financing play schemes and adventure playgrounds, they are now increasingly concerned with bringing in a new core of professionals to look after children rather than encouraging mothers to look after their own. It is not surprising that more children find it difficult to have meaningful and permanent relationships when they are brought up in an ever-changing and ever-shifting society.

Good transport provisions, good shops and good houses are all important, but if the family unit is weak no amount of good planning will compensate for it. We need to re-establish the neighbourhood and to reduce the size of the units at local level. We must give incentives for the family to help and care for one another. We must help those who have space to look after aged relatives and not allow them to drift into institutional care. We must consider employing the young mother to clean for an elderly next-door neighbour and pay her rather than insisting that she goes to work at a factory miles away. We must ensure that housing allocations are based on new criteria so that members of the same family live near each other.

My approach to the towns and cities is concerned with changes of attitude, with the need to reinforce community responsibility and to give the community and the neighbourhood real power. It is only in this way that the individual will start to re-emerge and people will think in terms of community care rather than depending on an ever-beneficent Welfare State.

The solution to the problem of towns and cities is within the cities themselves. We must give people living there the hope and opportunity. The battle is for the individual as opposed to the big bureaucracies in which significance is lost and a person assumes merely a numerical identity.

The only way to halt the decline in the social malaise is to provide people with a sense of purpose and to devolve on to the neighbourhood real responsibility. The example of New York showed us that when the lights go out people do not care any more. If this is the underlying feeling in Britain, there is no hope for our cities. We must learn the lessons that the Americans have learned already, before it is too late.

8.36 p.m.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

I do not wish to follow the line taken by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen). I wish to speak from experience of the inner cities—something that is apparently lacking among hon. Members opposite. I was born in an inner city and have lived the best part of my life in one, and from what has been said today I find that Conservatives know very little of the problems of inner cities.

The problems of these areas have been with us for a very long time. It has been a question of getting Governments of both complexions to recognise that these problems exist. Anyone who suggests that 1977 is the year in which inner city problems have emerged should have lived in the shadow of Tate and Lyle, or in the Scotland Road or Vauxhall Road areas of Liverpool. I fail to understand the points of view put forward by Conservatives.

In the 1920s and 1930s the city of Liverpool was a thriving port and commercial centre, but it still had the highest incidence of slums in Western Europe and one of the highest unemployment rates in the United Kingdom. In that sense there is nothing new in talking about inner city problems. Certain changes have taken place which have accelerated the problems in many ways or changed them into something different.

It is no use hon. Members opposite arguing about the mistakes of the planners in the post-war period. Local authorities had to face the problem of re-housing thousands of families from the slums in the city centres. These pressures compelled them to take action which they and the people they moved regretted later. But the pressures to resolve the massive problems of housing and slums led these authorities to believe that the answer lay in moving people out of city centres. We may well argue that this was not the right thing to do and that they should have taken a different line in order to bring about the necessary changes, but there were great pressures on them because of the prevailing terrible housing conditions.

Those factors and others have brought our present problems. In addition, Liverpool has, and always has had, more than twice the national average level of unemployment. There has been a decline in the native industries and these were based primarily, if not exclusively, on the docks and the ancillary industries That decline has been going on for decades and no attempt has been made to compensate for the loss of industry and commerce derived from the handling of cargoes in Liverpool.

Many of us believe that if the inner city problems are to be dealt with positively it will require State intervention in a positive and direct manner. That is why I welcome the inner city report. Although it will not solve the enormous problems, it is at least a recognition by the Government that special attention and positive discrimination are needed. Everyone appreciates the contribution of voluntary organisations, but there is no alternative to the deployment of massive resources.

We need more than cosmetics, more than brighter streets. We must improve the total life of the people. High unemployment, bad schools and bad housing go hand in hand with slum conditions. We should not be content with varnishing the exteriors. The problem is endemic. We can see how little Tory Members understand in their remarks about wicked Labour councils like Tower Hamlets and the responsibility of the wicked Secretary of State.

That is nonsense. The problem has existed in Liverpool since long before the Secretary of State took up his office and Labour controlled the council. After 50 years of uninterrupted Tory rule, in the 1930s and 1940s Liverpool had the worst slums and the highest unemployment in the United Kingdom.

This problem cannot be tackled only by local authorities and voluntary organisations. In line with Liverpool Council's paper on the inner city problems, we want the Government to realise the extent of the difficulties. A work force of 40,000 to 50,000 on the Mersey docks has declined to 7,000. Warehousing, commerce and transport have all declined. A stretch of three-and-a-half miles of Southend Dock has been closed, with a disastrous effect on the economy of that part of the city. The economic life of the city has declined steadily and it will not be cured by Boy Scouts.

We have argued for greater interventionist policies, through the NEB for instance, in the hope that the Government would attract industries to areas such as Merseyside to compensate for those which have declined and to provide new jobs. Then the situation might have improved.

As industries have declined, people have sought work elsewhere. The postwar planners were largely responsible for this movement and I agree that without people a city is dead. An inner city programme should immediately consider repopulating the city—not in tower blocks but in new town houses. There is no reason why this could not happen. In Aigburth, Woolten and Allerton and other places in the constituency of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) there is good housing and a pleasant environment. Nothing makes it impossible for the Scotland Road, Netherfield Road and the dock land areas to be habitable and pleasant, but they have been disregarded. Working-class people and immigrants have settled in these areas. I talk of Irish immigrants rather than coloured immigrants. These areas have been left in poverty and penury. No attempt has been made to make them better. Local authorities have spent little on such areas. I should like to see available resources used for positive discrimination in favour of areas that have been deprived for so long.

This is the beginning of what I hope will be a continuing process, not only to identify the problems in areas such as mine, but to see that our cities are populated once more. The population of Liverpool has declined by about 250,000 in the last 15 to 20 years. Such decline destroys the life of a city. Unless the problem is tackled, we shall finish up with a city of people who are over 65 years of age or who are unskilled workers.

The inner city policy will not be the answer to all the problems, but it will be a beginning. I hope that the Government will take a long and searching look at their responsibility for ensuring that our major cities do not die.

This is not a problem peculiar to this country. New York experiences similar problems and they exist in all major cities in the world. Unless a major rescue operation is carried out, the problem of our major cities will become worse and we shall have urban deserts.

8.48 p.m.

Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)

I am sorry that not more hon. Members have been able to speak. I shall be brief. The main criticism levelled at local authorities and planners is justified. But we do ourselves no credit if we say that it is all in the past and forget about it. The planning problem is moving into other areas.

The same problems are arising in the social services. In Manchester we still have letting problems. People are not allowed to take up a letting in an area, even when they were born there, because of the slum transfer policy. The policy takes no account of the fact that people live in the area and have community ties with it.

The major feature that arises out of the debate is that one can divide it into a number of separate subjects such as housing and education. But by doing that one fails to see the totality of the problem. Inner city problems are so interrelated that one is faced with a gigantic whole. If one tackles housing, one creates education problems. If one tackles education, housing problems are caused. It is difficult to find a solution by dealing with the problems through separate policies.

The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) may say that I am simplifying the matter. Perhaps he will forgive me because of the time that is available. It is important not to isolate the problems but to find some overall solution and to apply it across the whole range of policies, whichever we happen to be discussing at a particular time.

I do not know what that solution is, but I should like to suggest that the essence of this problem lies in the principle of self-generation. Although people are very depressed about international comparisons, there are differences between cities around the world, and some cities do better than others. One of the reasons for this—it is true also of regional policy—is that, in the end, what matters for the wealth and attractiveness of a place is the ability of those who live in it themselves to generate the will to make it better.

To some extent this is a matter of resources, but it is also a matter of other things. I should like to mention one or two of those matters, because they relate to political decision.

First, there is the whole question of the momentum, euthusiasm and sense of self-interest necessary for generating the kind of employment that we require in inner cities. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) cited the situation in Camberwell when a warehouse was taken over and subsequently relet to 40 businesses. Such enterprises are many, and the nature of a city is that it develops in that kind of way.

To make a simple statement in half a minute is difficult. However, it seems to me that one of the most difficult things arising out of the White Paper—the partnerships, ministerial committees and local government—is that one is still talking about planned activities, and one of the most important features of cities is that they rise in an incoherent and frequently unpredictable way.

The element that local authorities have most difficulty in facing is that of risk. It is not the risk of the person who is doing the undertaking but the risk of reaction that this or that will fail or that a particular enterprise will cause a nuisance. The whole problem of risk, of allowing individuals and individual companies to do something that they had not conceived and that is not in the plan, is a most important element in the regeneration of cities.

My second point is that the whole matter of the lack of attractiveness of areas is self-perpetuating. I warmly congratulate the Minister on the new improvement grant regulations. I think that they will be a considerable help. One of the features of the whole improvement grant business illustrates the problems of inner city regeneration. The hon. Member for York was talking about the problem of "gentrification". What he omitted to say was that it was not merely that the money was spent on the houses, but that as the people in them changed, many social problems moved out of those houses as well, so the comparison is not exact.

As I have said, the problems are intertwined. One can spend money on houses, but if one is in an area in which vandalism is rife and in which the police foot patrols have gone, one finds that these matters are interrelated and that it is difficult to separate them. The conclusion that one has to arrive at is that with each of these changes one must try to devise a system that will bring the situation closer to the point at which individuals can see that there is opportunity for themselves to develop their own interests.

It is very difficult to summarise, but there seem to me to be three main priorities. First, it is very important that the place should become more physically attractive. I have made that point and I have referred to housing improvement. Secondly, it is most important for there to be a sense of order and safety. That cannot be over-emphasised. It is not simply a question of having more foot patrol policemen and less vandalism and people being able to go safely at night. It is also a question, for example, of considering the educational policy of inner cities and the fact that it is very important that people who are being trained in schools that are dealing with seriously deprived children should be able to do the basics very well.

A great deal of experimental work, which it has been very difficult to do, has been concentrated in these areas and has produced some very bad effects. The net effect is that people who started in a bad condition have had their condition worsened, because education has been too difficult to apply. We have to try to apply higher standards and to provide more order and greater safety in these areas.

There is obviously a great need for resources and for State aid. I wish the partnerships well, although I think they will have considerable trouble. We tend to create structures and we have the most enormous difficulty in getting the money to go down the channel. I beg the Minister not to create another situation in which we have more bodies overseeing more bodies. The end point of the exercise is that whatever pound notes we have available should go to somebody who is actually doing something on the ground rather than to somebody who is supervising somebody else who is doing something on the ground.

8.56 p.m.

Mr. Hal Miller (Bromsgrove and Redditch)

I hope that the Minister was listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) and will accept from him and from the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon), that the problem of the inner cities is not solely within the compass of his Department and that what he has taken over from the Home Office is something very much more complex than the Secretary of State led us to imagine this afternoon in his response to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre).

There was very little recognition in the Secretary of State's speech that the problem of the cities had anything to do with people. All he treated us to was a long catalogue of extra expenditure on bricks and various forms of the construction programme. The Secretary of State must recognise that a change of attitude is required and that we are concerned here with all aspects of life in cities.

The only aspect with which I have time to deal is that of employment. My hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green has pointed out in his excellent pamphlet that urban decay is a complex social and economic blight which hits parts of towns and cities for many reasons, but at the heart of the problem is a decline in job opportunities, and particularly jobs in manufacturing industry. We should recall at this stage that jobs in manufacturing industry have fallen by about 600,000 in the past three years. We can perhaps consider the job market under the heading of opportunity, training and incentive. It is not just a question of bringing in new opportunities by grants, by advance factories, by rent subsidies and all the other things, because they are in fact draining industry from other areas such as the West Midlands, leading to a decline in industry and an ageing industry structure. What happens is that the new industries go to another part of the country and the West Midlands is left with declining industry just as the North-East has been left with shipbuilding and the North-West with the textile industry. We need, therefore, to re-examine very carefully the basis of regional industrial policy.

The industries in the inner city areas have been very largely bulldozed away. Where they have not been bulldozed physically, they have been bulldozed by taxation and by other forms of Government legislation. But, despite that, there are opportunities available.

In the June survey of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry, of those members responding—20 per cent.—who had increased their labour force recently 97 per cent. found it very difficult to get any skilled labour at all and 41 per cent. found it very difficult to get unskilled labour. The relative figures for the whole of the West Midlands conurbation were 77 per cent. and 32 per cent. This is in an area where adult male unemployment is running at 9 per cent., so it is not just a question of there being no opportunities, for there are. It is attitudes that we have to tackle.

Last week I gave a lift to a young gentleman from Liverpool who told me that he had had to go south to seek work. He said that his friends stayed behind living on the "box" and were satisfied to live on the "box". He could not understand their mentality. Nothing would shift them. This is a major problem. We have to change this attitude and get back to the idea and custom of working, as the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon) said in a thoughtful speech earlier in the debate. There is an opportunity for work, but it is much better if one is trained.

The Government's training programmes have fallen to complete disarray, with a division of responsibilities between the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Employment that has effectively sabotaged the prospects of getting skilled training to our school leavers. Something must be done about it. Whether the Department of the Environment is in a better position than the Home Office to secure improvement is something that we shall examine carefully. It is an important matter.

Finally, there is the question of incentive. People are confused by the divisions of Government policy, by the extent of burreaucracy and by the vast amount of taxation on earnings so that there is little incentive to take work in many occupations. They cannot see the drift of Government policy. What hope is there of changing their attitude under such a regime? The Employment Protection Act is another example—supposedly to protect jobs, it has actually led to a loss of them. In my constituency, a small workshop employing six people has been forced to close because of the provisions of the Act, thus adding to the unemployment.

The Government must clarify their purposes and aims, provide incentives and training, and change people's attitudes so that they can take advantage of the opportunities still available.

9.2 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) set the tone of the debate when he spoke of the need to create wealth and said that it was the key to any solution. He is right. Without resources, it is impossible to try to alleviate many of the problems of our big cities.

Both my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State referred to office development permits. Many of us on both sides of the House believe that the time has passed when such permits can do positive good. Indeed, they may be doing positive harm. I am not sure that the changes in the functions of the Location of Offices Bureau go far enough, because the Bureau is still permitted to encourage jobs to move out of central London, and I do not believe that that can be right.

I want to deal in some detail with what the Secretary of State said. He claimed that he had been responsible for a set change in our inner city policies. I do not wish to deny him appropriate credit for spearheading some fresh ideas. They were very welcome, and anyone trying to bring common sense out of the inner city mess that both sides agree exists deserves credit. I gladly pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman.

I welcome the new improvement grant limits and the increase in the rateable value limits. We were pressing for this as long ago as 1974, when the Housing Act was going through the House. But even at that time everyone admitted that the figures were not right. I agree that what we have seen of the new proposals amounts to indexation. I hope that the Minister in reply will tell us the date when it is expected that the increases will come into effect.

I welcome the meetings on transport for dockland announced by the right hon. Gentleman so that the problems can be looked at as one whole, in the light both of the London rail study and of the many other studies being done in that area. The right hon. Gentleman made much of the construction package, but it is right to put on record now that the Government have already disallowed 40 per cent. of the package submitted by the Docklands Joint Committee. The local authorities were not particularly happy about that. The Government's decision does not indicate very much confidence in what the local authorities and the joint committee put up—after all, the local authorities were all at the time Labour-controlled.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) floated one of the hoary old canards that he brings up from time to time—that the outer London boroughs had not played their part. That is a false statement. It is well documented that in many cases nominations offered by outer London boroughs to inner London boroughs and the GLC were not fully taken up. Those facts are on record and cannot be gainsaid.

The Secretary of State then tried to deny that many of the problems that my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green spoke about in the inner cities were the legacy of long years of Labour rule. These are facts, and one cannot get away from them. But he was unhappy when he was challenged on it. He must not expect to have his assertions accepted without analysis. One could go on to say that in nine out of the last 13 years there has been a Labour Government. But before he came in, I paid tribute to the sea change. So I would acquit him of dilatoriness because he has not been long in his job.

He then threw two questions to the Opposition. He asked whether we sup- ported the idea of the Greater London Council to concentrate its new building only on inner London. My answer is very simple. It is "Yes". That policy is based upon an election programme, an election manifesto backed by the voters of London. I could imagine the cries from Labour Members if we broke those promises at this stage. The policy was very nearly endorsed by the voters of the Secretary of State's constituency.

The Secretary of State then asked about the mobility of council tenants. I believe that the mobility of council tenants can be enhanced only in two ways. The first is by a relaxation in rent control along the lines of my hon. Friend's suggestion of shortholds. The second is by allowing council tenants of flats or houses to own their properties so that they will have an asset if they want to move to another part of the country. This seems to be right, and should not be discouraged.

The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) expressed amazement that people might want to obtain the lease on an 18th-floor flat. Many people would like the opportunity of buying a long lease on a flat in a high block. But the hon. Member for Salford, East said that people would never be able to live in houses with gardens and enjoy the quiet with their children. They would certainly not be able to do so under the policies that the hon. Member supports. Why should council tenants be the only people not permitted to buy their own homes and pass them on to their children? One can never get this point home to the Labour Party. Yet the Labour Party knows full well that right across the country they lost votes on this issue at municipal elections this year and last year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) raised the important point of small shops being driven out and of the need for more chemists' shops. I hope that the negotiations on the costs of pharmacists will soon be successfully concluded. If not we shall all be landed with even more problems in our constituencies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North said that all who have spent time in local government recognise that when one is planning a large council estate there is massive pressure from the officers for the completion of the housing units first. Yet in many cases problems have arisen because the housing estate when occupied is not balanced. It may not have a community centre. More balance is needed. I hope that the Secretary of State will try to persuade local authorities to look further at this.

My hon. Friend made a vital point about citizenship carrying duties and responsibilities and not just rights. I wish that more people would remember that. That was the keynote of the speech of the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon), who put his finger on the major point. We in this House all too often denigrate ourselves, as if the media did not already do a major hatchet job. We do not very often hear of the misdemeanours of journalists and reporters, nor of newspaper editors. It would be nice to see some of those people exposed in the national Press, but that does not happen.

The hon. Member for Bootle then asked when the Labour Party had put the interest of the State before that of the individual. He never would, but the new breed of Socialist intellectual does. That is why Britain is turning away from the Labour Party. The new breed no longer reflects the fine old-fashioned virtues displayed by the hon. Member for Bootle. I am sorry that more of the hon. Gentleman's Left-wing colleagues were not present to hear his common sense remarks on the nonsense and stupidity of strikes.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) spoke of the need to get institutions to take an active part in housing. I agree. However, they will come in only if there is long-term security for their investment. I noted the hon. Member's continued support for the Community Land Act which was a major piece of Socialism, and that shows why he endorses the Lib-Lab pact.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) did the House a great service in stressing that the problems of the cities could not be solved by money alone but that attitudes had a major part to play. He said that office development permits should be scrapped.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester) questioned the partnership arrangements. He said that the limitations were no consolation to other areas which had similar problems. Knowing a little about Stoke, I can understand his feelings. There are parts of Stoke that have major problems. I hope that some of them will be sympathetically examined by the Secretary of State.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) spoke of the thriving and vigorous areas of London and the other cities which were faced with decline. He spoke of the hundreds of acres that are dead in Stepney and of similar areas that are dead in Lambeth. Until those areas are built upon, it is a bit much to say that the outer London boroughs should contribute even more when their own nomination offers have not yet been fully taken up. Without a revival of the economic life of the cities there is no hope of solving many of our social problems.

I do not know about Clerkenwell workshop scheme, but it sounds a first-class idea. I should like to see it and I hope that it will be emulated not only in other parts of London but in the rest of the country. The solutions to problems in inner Birmingham, where there used to be hundreds of small workshops in the jewellery quarter which were replaced by the flatted factories, have not given the satisfaction that the planners had expected.

The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) said that Socialism was the language of priorities and that the middle and outer areas should give up resources to the inner areas. He seems to have forgotten that one cannot make the poor rich by making the rich poor. In his dogmatic assertions on immigration he forgot to remind the House that the last Labour Party Conference wanted to repeal all immigration laws. That would mean unrestricted entry. We on the Conservative side are utterly opposed to that, and that needs to be put on the record.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

If it needs to be put on the record, let us put it on the record correctly. The motion did not say what the hon. Member claims. I supported the motion, but I do not support the abolition of all immigration controls. If the hon. Member reads the motion carefully he will see that it accords with my view. If he reads the speeches made in the support of the motion he will see that everyone made the same point.

Mr. Finsberg

The motion called for the abolition of particular Acts. The contents of the speeches are not relevant. Only the motion is relevant. All impartial observers at the time made it clear that the Labour Party had followed the Liberal Party in calling for the abolition of immigration restrictions. I am content to rest on that point.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

The mere fact that nonsense is repeated does not make it anything but nonsense. Nobody who supported that motion ever supported it in terms of abolishing all immigration control. They said that the 1971 Act should be repealed. But no one indicated that it should not be replaced by another Act involving a measure of immigration control. They simply said that the 1971 Act should go.

Mr. Finsberg

I am content to rest on the fact that at its last conference the Labour Party called for the abolition of all immigration controls. The wording of the motion referred to the abolition of the 1971 Act. If one were to read the turgid speeches made on the motion or the 21-minute speech by the hon. Member for York one might find that different things were said. However, the wording of the motion is clear and I am content to base my argument on that wording.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) gave us a realistic approach. He reminded us that cities are people and urged us not to be despondent. That is extremely important. All too often politicians on both sides of the divide forget about individuals. If nothing else, this debate has brought out the fact that people are what make up the cities.

All I can say about the speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) is that he failed to comprehend the feelings that lay behind the debate. I firmly assert that voluntary bodies can do more per pound of expenditure than any local authority. Over and over again I would back them to the hilt.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) highlighted the problem of transfers and the folly of allowing planning policies designed years ago to affect individuals' lives so that people are treated as mere numbers on housing lists. I make that criticism of local authorities of all political colours.

At the moment the Minister is drawing up a document on transfers. I believe that one of the most important things which should be put right is the system of transfers. It causes more headaches among council tenants than virtually anything else. I hope that the Minister's document will throw some light on this subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller) spoke about the need for training and incentives if we are to get over the problem of unemployment.

This has proved a valuable debate. Mostly it has been free of political rancour. It shows the value of using a Supply Day to debate these wider issues rather than set pieces when the Press are saying "The Government may win by just two votes". Such a Supply Day produces a full Chamber and all too often the same old clichés are thrown from side to side. However, while this sort of Supply Day has a much smaller attendance, those hon. Members present have been interested and have made substantial contributions to the debate.

There are perhaps three specific topics to mention—housing, employment and transport. I first quote from the latest report of the Housing Corporation. But before I do, I pay a warm tribute to Lord Goodman, who has now retired as chairman of the Housing Corporation. He is the sort of man who usually exists only in books. He is a man who apparently works 22 hours a day. Whatever he does, he does well. The country owes him a deep debt of gratitude. He is one of the finest types of public servant who come forward and chair the most difficult committees. I would pay my warm tribute to the work that he has done.

The Housing Corporation is now chaired by another old friend of mine across the political divide, Lou Sherman. This year's annual report of the Corporation states: It is heartening to note the energy and dedication with which associations have risen to the challenge of assisting those trapped in the rising tide of urban decay and housing squalor. By now over 33,000 homes are being or have been improved and the Corporation intends to support a further 14,000 to be rehabilitated in this year alone in the major cities and towns of Britain. Associations are now the major agents of urban renewal in many of the worst inner city areas. Their small scale and local base impart an essential degree of flexibility which enables them successfully to cope with the dual tasks of improving physical housing conditions with minimum disruption to the resident whilst at the same time preserving the character and stability of the community. That is the most important sentence— the character and stability of the community". Firms are driven out of major cities and we lose jobs. There are many reasons. One of them is clearly the shrinking rate base, which is a cause of great concern. I give one example of figures for central London, but I am certain that they could be repeated for most major cities. In April 1972 the rates per square foot in central London were £1.91. In April 1977, they were £8.78. The open market rent per square foot was £13 in April 1972. In April 1977, it was£13.50. The percentage of rates to rent in April 1972 was 14.7. In April 1977, it was 65.

It is not surprising that firms, large and small, wonder whether it is worth staying. If they have responded to the blandishments of the LOB and gone out, their move has taken away jobs from our constituencies, and we shall not be thanked for that. Yet this is one of the major reasons—the shrinking rate base and the vast increase that we see in rates. I hope that something can be done about this in the Government's White Paper and and in the response, when it comes, from the local authorities.

I support the increased effort by the Housing Corporation and by housing associations. I support the experiment which the GLC is making in its homesteading scheme to bring into use many of the derelict and semi-derelict houses which local authorities own up and down the country, get them into use, offer them to people, let them put them in order and then let them buy the homes into which they have put their effort. I support the experiment fully, and I suggest that it can be done in many other places.

Unemployment is the third topic about which there is a great deal of worry—about youth unemployment especially. I recall that, when we debated youth unemployment, Liberal Members sat on their posteriors and did not even bother to vote. Tonight, they have flitted in and out of the Chamber, but they have not contributed very much.

Male resident unemployment rates in inner London have been higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom consistently since October 1975. This is a worrying state of affairs and, again, if we do not regenerate the inner cities, we shall find more and more people leaving inner London and central London and it will become more and more of a decaying desert. I cannot believe that that is right.

Over the past two years, we have seen published a valuable series of discussion pamphlets. The latest is the one by my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green, "Hope for our towns and cities". There was the pamphlet by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone, "Maybe it's because we're Londoners". We have had also the excellent Department of the Environment inner area studies, the latest of which has come out today on employment in Liverpool. I commend them. They were commissioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). They have come to fruition, and they are invaluable.

One paragraph in the document dealing with Liverpool summarises the position: The total approach at the local level must in the end be a compromise between the possibly conflicting aims of central control and local autonomy, to be arrived at through a process of negotiation between the interested parties. That is perhaps a summing up of the partnership system about which the Secretary of State spoke. The paragraph goes on: It may well vary in different cities. But in the end, achieving a total approach will depend not on the institutional arrangements nor even on the level of resources allotted to inner areas. The motivating forces will lie in the strength of political commitment to the aims of inner area policy and the degree to which administrative practices are capable of being adapted to the requirements of a total approach. I am bound to say that I am not yet convinced that in all our major cities that will be done. Many of them will be frightened and daunted by the task. I hope that I am wrong, but I should like to have more confidence, especially in some of the elected representatives on both sides who may find the task much greater than they envisaged when they stood for election.

As I said, the debate has been constructive, basically free from political nonsense. We are all trying to avoid our inner cities finally decaying and becoming all too like the hearts of New York and Washington. We had those object lessons long before last week's blackout. Anyone who has wandered round Washington and New York and looked behind their lovely facades knows what exists It is the same as that which exists behind the facades of Rome and Naples, or any other major city. We want to avoid this happening in a permanent way to our major cities.

In the end, it is the citizens of our large towns and cities who will look to us, the politicians, their elected representatives, to show the way. I think that they will follow a constructive and courageous lead. But they want to feel that we understand. I hope that some of them have been listening to the debate or will read it in Hansard, and I hope that they will feel that some effort has been made to understand their problems. But do we know the feelings of the battered publican or the bus driver who is roughed up on a Friday night in the Kilburn High Road, whether on the Brent or the Camden side, or the overworked and overstretched police force, or old people who are terrified to walk out at night or in many cases—as we know from canvassing—are terrified to open their chained front doors in tower blocks or elsewhere?

Do we know the feelings of those who have been on housing waiting lists and see rehabilitation and redevelopment schemes held up by irresponsible squatters who do not realise that by sitting tight they may be delaying the housing opportunities of many thousands of people? Squatters cause major extra costs because of the vandalism that they do and the filth and squalor that so many of them leave behind them. This cuts right across party politics.

Do we know the feelings of people who come to our surgeries and ask us what we are doing to stop the squatters jumping the housing queues when they have been waiting for ten years or more? Do we know the feelings of the unemployed for whom the three-day week is now no longer a political gibe but a target that in many cases seems unattainable? Do we know the feelings of those who are trying to use vandalised telephones in an emergency?

Many hon. Members have spoken about the loss of interest that leads to vandalism and to a worsening situation for the whole community, but I think that it is much more real than that. How often do we walk into a block of flats in our own constituency and literally have to wade through pools of urine in the passenger lifts in council flats? Many people will not co-operate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North said, when a culprit is found people will not go into the juvenile court to say "Yes, he was the one who did it." That is where the obligation of the citizen comes in.

I appeal to people to realise that they themselves should begin to make an effort to put their own conditions right. Do we know the feelings of those on our waiting lists who feel that they are not getting a fair crack of the whip because people are being rehoused ahead of them who have come from outside their towns and cities?

I am conscious that much of the debate has been long on problems and short on answers. It has been a repetition of many debates that we have had. What is clear is that continued failure to solve this problem swiftly will give an added impetus to the National Front and the Communist Party, who are the twin enemies of democracy. They will say to people "The old parties of the establishment have let you down. Try us—we are the bright new hope for the future." People will not realise that behind the glossy facade lie the jackboot of Naziism or the slave labour camps of Communism. There is no difference between them. We run the risk of disillusioned people turning to them.

We have to ensure, finally, that our civil servants and local officials refine the problems into a series of options based on what we have said, and it is then the responsibility of the elected representatives of the town hall, county hall and Parliament. We cannot shrug off that responsibility. We must not fail, because the price of failure is far too terrible to contemplate.

9.30 p.m.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Reginald Freeson)

Before turning to the main theme of my remarks I should like to pick up two or three specific observations that have been made in the debate. I think that only one of them may raise political hackles. I shall then proceed to discuss the general subjects that have been the subject of the debate.

The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) asked my right hon. Friend at the beginning of the debate when we should be introducing the changes in the limits for private sector improvement grants. The answer is that we intend to lay the order making the increases before the House rises for the Summer Recess. The increases will come into effect 21 days after the date on which the order is laid. I have no specific date for its being laid. There are still internal consultations within the Government to sort out. However, that is our intention.

I gather that during my short absence from the Chamber the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) asked why reports on action projects carried out by the community development teams had not been published. I understand that many reports have been published. For the record—the hon. Gentleman is not in his place—I should point out that this is a matter essentially for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary under whose Department the CDPs were sponsored.

I turn now to some of the points that were made about London housing in order, as it were, to discuss and express a view on the situation and then to proceed with the generality of my theme. I do not want to get too involved in this matter. Both my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Hampstead discussed this matter at some length and there were interventions expressing concern about certain aspects of the present and prospective situation. Therefore, I feel that I must deal with it to some extent. I shall home in on one particular aspect—the programme—but not on other matters, such as the transfer of estates.

As I understand it, the immediate effects of the Greater London Council's decision to stop new building in outer London, which was announced recently and which I gather has been endorsed by the hon. Member for Hampstead, will be to reduce its programme this year by nearly half, from 5,500 dwellings to be started to about 3,000. That means that the total local authority programme of about 20,000 dwellings in London will be reduced by between 10 per cent. and 15 per cent. during the year.

In my view, to impose such a sudden reduction seems to disregard the housing needs of Londoners as a whole and, indeed, the state of the construction industry. A sudden, massive cancellation of programmed work such as this is bound to result in waste. I am not trying to make a party point. It is inevitable that, as the Minister responsible, I cannot be indifferent to the waste of precious resources in housing at a time when we are under constraint generally. If the GLC insists on withdrawing from this part of what I should describe as its strategic role, I trust that as a matter of urgency it will ensure that its housing sites in outer boroughs are not left idle but are made available immediately to borough councils and housing associations that are willing and able to build housing quickly. I invite any public sector agency, whether in inner or outer London, wishing to take over such sites from the strategic authority to fill the gap that is being left to approach my Department for the necessary public expenditure provision.

In considering the allocation of resources for future years under the housing investment programme arrangements that we have recently announced, we shall be seeking to ensure that, taking all the London authorities together, there is a proper balance between the inner and outer areas. I believe that to be essential whatever views there may be from time to time about changing emphases in one direction or another.

There is one last point on which 1 should touch now in case I do not have time to deal with it later. A number of hon. Members expressed anxiety about our intentions regarding non-partnership authorities, which will inevitably be on a limited list basis. I am turning now to the main theme of the debate. We have indicated our intentions in fairly broad terms in the White Paper. The programme of partnerships that we shall announce later in the year, after the present round of extensive consultations with a whole range of local authorities has been completed, should, as the Secretary of State said earlier, be seen as a major start in a campaign and policy in this area. We shall develop this and seek to apply the lessons and experience that we shall gain from the partnership areas to other areas with problems that may, as hon. Members have said, be just as intense as those in the selected partnership areas, although not on as large a scale as in the areas that we are seeking to identify as a basis for selection. This should not be seen as a once-and-for-all exercise. It should not be thought that after the list has been published no further efforts will be made for other authorities.

I now turn to the main theme of the debate. Although the debate has been wide-ranging, a central theme has been the Government's intentions as outlined in the White Paper, "Policy for the inner cities", and in other publications. A pamphlet has been produced by the Opposition and other papers have been published in this connection as well as the studies that have been referred to.

This has been a quiet debate and, in many respects, all the better for that. It has had a small attendance. I believe, as the hon. Member for Hampstead has clearly indicated, that, second only to Britain's economic revival, urban renewal in the sense that we have been discussing it today is our biggest and most important challenge. The matter therefore warrants more concern and attention than it has yet received.

Long before I entered the House I pressed this as a central issue of politics. I am glad to see that during my term as an hon. Member and a member of the Government the day has arrived at long last—and it is long overdue—when urban renewal has become widely defined and has come to the centre of politics. It is no longer on the periphery. If nothing else, that is a major step forward. We must keep the matter there and I hope that the media will do so as well.

There is a long, hard haul ahead, but we must think positively. There are many things going for us as well as many problems to be resolved. There is no doubt that the hearts of our cities are threatened with economic and physical decay and loss of community, in a moral as well as a physical sense.

During the past decade there has been a variety of initiatives on housing and special need. There were the housing priority areas during the latter days of the last Labour Government. Now there are housing stress areas. There is the urban aid programme. There are general improvement areas and housing action areas, and there have been the inner area studies and other research on connected projects by central and local Government and other institutions. The time is long overdue for us to draw these efforts together. Central and local Government must organise more effectively to deal with the problems of decay and obsolescence.

Large parts of our cities are in a mess and we must act more directly, consistently and comprehensively to make them worth living in. Otherwise the problems will be as bad in 10 years' time as they are today. New methods are needed to tackle priority areas in a comprehensive and continuing programme of action on housing, education, employment, environment, community services and planning. It will need close co-ordination and integration of national and local government policies and executive action.

It is difficult for people outside local or national Government to realise how hard it is to achieve administrative cohesion between one department and another. That should have been attempted in 1972 and earlier when the inner area studies were started, and that must still be achieved today.

The local government and Government framework for the Liverpool, Lambeth and Small Heath pilot area studies, for which I have been responsible since 1974, should have been interdepartmental from the start and should have provided for study, analysis and implementation of developing comprehensive programmes broadly along the lines of the CCP. This is no criticism of the inner area study reports, but a questioning of the setting within which the consultants had to work. Certainly deeper understanding of the problems of inner urban areas was needed, and the study reports have given us that.

By the late 1960s or the early 1970s it was surely already clear that the chief practical obstacles to advance in these areas was compartmental and fragmented Government and local government policies, programmes and budgets. But we did not need research to tell us that. For example, some of us concluded over a decade ago that the methods of developing new and expanded towns—I do not mean the organisations—needed to be adapted and applied to the problem of urban renewal. That has been the theme of many representations, papers, pamphlets and reports over many years now. This kind of approach might in time need big legislative, organisational and financial changes in Government at all levels, but we should not await these.

That is what the Cabinet Committee on Urban Policies, which the Prime Minister set up last autumn, was all about. It comprised Ministers from every relevant Department under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend. For the very first time Government—and I mean Government at ministerial level—looked at inner urban problems as a whole. The committee's immediate task was not to prepare some long-term grand design but to seek practical ways in which to act now: the more major reforms can come later. This interdepartmental approach was itself a major and, I hope, decisive step forward. At least, as I have said, urban renewal has come from the periphery to the centre of politics.

The studies I have referred to have played their part in this change. As chairman of all the three steering committees for several years, I encouraged them to go far beyond their original departmental brief, to probe links between policy areas which they investigated, to consider the machinery of local and national Government and particularly to probe that area which has been spoken of by practically everyone who has taken part in the debate—the economic background to our inner urban problems.

Society as a whole may only lately have come to perceive the scale of urban prob- lems, but it has been there in one form or another for generations. In the postwar years, for example, city dwellers in the inner areas faced appalling problems of bad housing, ill-health and environmental pollution—an inheritance from decades and generations past. The general situation in these areas has worsened in recent years relative to the suburban areas in many ways that have now come to light. Much has been done in the past 30 years that we should not denigrate to tackle overcrowding, slum clearance and pollution. Much has been done in rehousing and in planned developments.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been able to move into new homes and better environments and the worst problems of congestion have been overcome in most of our larger cities. There have been important achievements and there have also been mistakes. It is important that we learn from them. The policies that have encouraged the dispersal of population have also had their impact on the biggest single problem now faced by inner city areas—the decline in the employment base—which has been referred to so often today.

The industrial structure of the whole economy has been changing and, as traditional industries have declined, structural difficulties have emerged, especially in the assisted areas. Many small towns have been affected by changes in the coal, steel or textile industry. The problems of high unemployment and job loss are greatest in the inner parts of our biggest conurbations where the contraction of old industries has often been exacerbated by a drastic run-down in service industries such as the docks and the railways. The problem has also been exacerbated by the movement of firms to outer areas, causing the death of many small firms. This has been due to the kind of redevelopment and planning policies mentioned in the debate.

In some instances this sort of redevelop. ment—much of it unavoidable in clearing the bad conditions of the past—has inadvertently hastened the decline of industry and commerce in the areas concerned. The way in which re-development has been carried out, involving high densities, inadequate choice of tenure and the disruption of communities, has encouraged some to move outward at a far greater rate and in much larger numbers than was foreseen.

The hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) spoke about high-rise flats, and his comments were endorsed by other hon. Members. I agree entirely with what has been said about high-rise buildings. We can be pleased that in the past three years to four years the percentage of high rise developments coming into local authority programmes has fallen from 22 per cent. to 2 per cent. That is a major achievement.

There is now pressure against even medium-rise flats. I have been involved personally in doing my best to that end. We want houses that can be built at reasonable densities and that will provide much better conditions than in the past. No one has to exhort us any longer not to build high-rise flats. They are no longer being built for families. That building has been stopped.

The bulk of the migration to which these matters relate has been spontaneous. It has not been the result of public policy. It has brought benefits to industries and many young families, who have been able to move out of crowded centres. It is the old, the poor and the less skilled who have been left behind to face the problems of the inner areas. Many others live among them who lead normal productive lives. I am one of them. I have stayed in the London area and it is my concern to ensure that it is an area worth living in for my children when their time comes, as well as for the poor.

In some instances new immigrants have arrived. As immigrants have always done, they have gone to the inner parts of the large cities. Too many of them have been caught in the cycle of few jobs, low pay and poor housing. However, there are positive aspects, as has been made clear in the inner area study at Small Heath. There are positive aspects to immigration, whether it is internal or from abroad, in such areas as Small Heath. Immigration produces positive results as well as problems and exaggerated reactions.

It is not a new phenomenon. There has been immigration in past generations to the East End of London. It has happened over hundreds of years in many parts of the country. Let us not accentuate the negative. There is plenty on the positive side.

Nevertheless, immigrants have become involved in the inner city areas at a time of sharpening decline. As they are immigrants they have produced a greater than normal number of young people of child-bearing age with young families. This has happened at the very time when job opportunities have been declining even more rapidly in the inner city areas than elsewhere. That was not the position in generations past for other forms of immigration. It is in areas of the large cities that we find the most complex and concentrated problems of urban life.

The inner area studies have clearly shown the formidable combination of fewer jobs, decaying houses, a grubby environment and inadequate social services. In some areas there is increasing alienation from government. That is not a surprising result, although I believe that it runs much deeper in society than merely a question of government-social relationships.

Collective deprivation affects not only the substantial minorities of deprived individuals but all the inhabitants of the inner areas of our larger cities. Even those leading productive and even affluent ordinary lives—they are the majority in these areas—are affected by the physical environment, but, more importantly, they are affected by the social environment in which their children are growing up.

Many of us are rightly concerned about the increasing crime and vandalism that has been referred to at length, and rightly so. As has been rightly said, the increasing crime and violence, potential or real, in the inner city areas and elsewhere is a form of deprivation. Many old people are too frightened to go out at night, even if their fears are seen to be exaggerated when we examine the objective facts. However, their fears are real enough.

Many studies have been written and will be written about the causes of vandalism and violence, but those are not matters to be debated today. Perhaps they are suitable issues for another separate debate. At this stage I should like to do something about the social environment, the job prospects and the expectations for young people. If we can find ways of improving these and ending the feelings of alienation, the crime rates will go down and there will be less vandalism and violence, particularly if we can do this by small methods within the big. We must learn to govern society by the means of "small within the big". There is a general theme here which applies to local government, industry and social relationships.

There has been a view expressed that we should not bother with the inner cities and that we should allow a hygienic rundown. It has been suggested that this could be brought about by having a controlled rather than a haphazard rundown. The Government do not accept that. We cannot do so, because we have a social responsibility to millions of people who live in these areas. We cannot ignore their plight, even for selfish reasons. If we do ignore them there will be an increase in social tension, and escalating crime and violence, with the resulting deterioration spreading throughout and beyond the cities.

The priority that we intend to give to the inner cities does not mean that we are abandoning other aspects of our policy. Some cities which need help most urgently are in assisted areas. New employment sent to those areas must have the right conditions for growth. But we must continue to recognise the regions' priorities.

We have accepted the need to relax the constraints on industrial development in London. That does not mean that we are going back on our regional policy. It simply means that London itself is a region and parts of London face difficult problems of unemployment. It demonstrates our intention to be more discriminating in our approach and to fine tune our policies to the needs of people in local areas. In this way we should get a better return from our scarce resources.

Mr. Grist

Would the Minister give us a little guidance? He keeps talking about inner areas but in many cities there are serious problems associated with large estates which have been built near the fringes decanting people from the old centres. These are showing all the hallmarks of the problems of the inner cities—unemployment and vandal- ism. If aid is available, will the Minister ensure that the civil servants do not categorise these areas because they are not in the inner areas?

Mr. Freeson

It is not a civil servant who is standing at this Box; it is I. I accept what the hon. Member says. Earlier I said that I would not have time to deal with general urban policy in detail, but this is not out of our mind. We are concentrating on partnership schemes as our main theme at present. I accept entirely what the hon. Member has said about these estates and there is evidence of a more subtle kind that some of these problems have been emerging in the United States in suburbia as well. That could happen here also among owner-occupiers in the suburbs. We recognise this and we shall not exclude it from our policy considerations.

A number of hon. Members asked whether local government would be able to find the resources itself. The tone in which this was said implied a challenge that this was wrong. It is not wrong It is a question of local government and national Government, because 60 per cent, of local government spending is directed by Exchequer grants anyway. Capital programmes initiated by local authorities are approved by central Government under the various capital loan procedures. So we are speaking of national and local authorities here. A total of £12,000 million to £13,000 million a year is spent in local government today. About £5,500 millions of that is spent in large urban areas and it is within that scope—and it is pretty considerable—that there is a local potential to redirect policies and objectives. This is an essential element, as has been shown in the work which has been done, particularly in Liverpool.

My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) referred to work done in regard to CPPs. In the Liverpool study it was called area resource analysis. I call it simply profile budgeting. The methods are being studied to see where the money is being spent as distinct from where we think it is being spent and on that basis we seek to adjust it to where we want it applied.

The potential is there. Huge resources are already going in. The fine use of resources will be achieved by means of Government provision or local authority provision, but generally through the partnership arrangements.

I do not have time to go into great detail about the form of the partnership arrangements and it might not be appropriate when we are in the middle of consulting the local authorities that we shall invite to participate. The results will be seen later this year, but the broad idea is that there will be a partnership committee consisting of representatives of local authorities, Government Departments and agencies. The precise form is being discussed.

There will be a steering group, the policy body, under which there will be a partnership team comprising officials of the local authorities concerned with an input from appropriate Government Departments. Where that is not always required there will be a relationship with some official interdepartmental arrangement, which we shall seek to devolve. It will be based not with us in the centre but in our regional offices.

There is more detail than that, even at this stage, but I cannot go into it now. In any case, we have yet to finalise the arrangements. They will be practical. We are not trying to create a grand design. Those concerned will learn as they proceed. Their programmes, on the basis of the best possible analysis, will be reshaped and changed as they learn. There will be many pressures from many interests, but the idea is to get the interested parties—those with the executive responsibility, who influence policy and who have the data available—coming together in machinery rather than operating just by means of letters and the telephone. They will work together to formulate joint policies.

Mr. Eyre

Will the Minister assure the House that in those administrative arrangements the urgent question of high land values, which is of tremendous consequence in dealing with these problems, will not be neglected?

Mr. Freeson

There are many contradictory views here, but I would take it further and say that the whole question of land management in urban areas needs to be considered. However, if we are to start anywhere, it is most important to start in the inner areas. I will not name names, but there are some inner areas—which we hope will become part of the partnership group—where the problems are greater than elsewhere.

However, whether this is a question of values as such or of general management of which they are a part, we are certainly taking it on board in the Department—I am personally—but it will also be for the partnership machinery and the steering groups to take it on board in connection with their programmes. Already a good deal of work is beginning to be done by the local authorities likely to become partnership authorities.

I think that results will be produced. Some interesting experiments are taking place in Liverpool in regard to housing, advance factories and small factory schemes like the community workshop scheme in Islington. In a similar scheme in my area, which is not a partnership area, the council bought a factory to make it available to half a dozen small artists and craftsmen who are producing products for sale. There are all sorts of projects and programmes, both in the community field and in the voluntary field and——

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed. without Question put.