HC Deb 14 March 1977 vol 928 cc39-117

3.35 p.m.

Mr. James Boyden (Bishop Auckland)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of the Fifth Report from the Expenditure Committee Session 1974 –75 (House of Commons Paper No. 348) on Redevelopment of the London Docklands, and of the relevant Government observations (Command Paper No. 6193). This inquiry was undertaken by the Environment Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones). The Committee interrupted a long inquiry into the new towns and set up a short inquiry into the development of the docklands.

The Committee confined itself to three main issues: the public expenditure implications of redevelopment, the most suitable organisational structure for the purpose, and the implications for regional policy.

The Sub-Committee took evidence between January and March 1975 from all the people with special knowledge and interest in the London Docklands, including the Greater London Council, and the five boroughs particularly concerned. It took evidence from the Dock-lands Joint Committee which co-ordinates the activities of the six local authorities involved. It heard evidence from the Minister for Planning and Local Government, now the Minister of Agriculture, and also from officials of the Department for the Environment.

The Sub-Committee also heard evidence from two former Secretaries of State, the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), and the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). A number of hon. Members representing docklands constituencies also give evidence, including the present Secretary of State for the Environment, and the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. Therefore, one hopes that, since they take an interest in this matter and since the report contains a number of constructive suggestions, we shall have a short reply from the Minister today to the effect that sums of money will be made available following the Committee's re- commendations and that its suggestions will be acceded to.

Almost all the Members of Parliament representing the area concerned gave evidence, including my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett), who now occupies the Government Front Bench. Evidence was also taken from R. Travers Morgan and Partners, the PLA, the Docklands Joint Action Group and the South-East Economic Planning Council.

Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)

My evidence was the best.

Mr. Boyden

Since we heard so much excellent evidence, my right hon. Friend's claim is a slight exaggeration. All the evidence was of an extremely high order.

Mr. Mellish

I thought my hon. Friend had forgotten to mention me.

Mr. Boyden

I mention with great pleasure the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). I hope that he will intervene in this debate.

Mr. Mellish

Yes, I shall—very much so.

Mr. Boyden

The report was published in May 1975 and made these main recommendations: that the Secretary of State should give a firm indication of the amount of financial support he is prepared to give to docklands redevelopment; that planning authorities should be given guidance on priorities for major regional expenditure—that is to say, on the alloction of resources between new towns and the inner cities. We understand that a decision on this matter, and indeed a definitive statement, is fairly near.

I should perhaps declare a vested interest—in fact, two of them in conflict. I have a great sentimental attachment to the docklands because when I was a young man—which was a long time ago—I took a university tutorial class at Toynbee Hall. I grew fond of my students. They were good students, and they believed in putting into practice the matters that they were discussing. Several of them went off to fight in the International Brigade, for the Government side against Franco. Some of them were killed. But their prescience was well demonstrated because, not long after that, others of my students were killed and their homes destroyed in the Fascist bombing that took place in the docklands.

I was sad that, when I went back to Toynbee Hall after the war, practically all the students had gone, for one reason or another, and the whole atmosphere of docklands had suffered a severe blow. I do not mean that the great community spirit, of which I was privileged to be a part, had gone, but there was such physical destruction that it was almost as though the community had to start again.

I did not have much to do with the docklands for many years after that. I used to fly over the area in a helicopter, and it looks better from the air than close up. I also took part, with the Sub-Committee, in a tour connected with this inquiry. I entirely agree with the comment that the Secretary of State has made in another document, in that he was appalled at the waste and dereliction in the heart of our capital city. That is one of the interests that I declare. I am in great sympathy with the people of the area because of the way in which developments have taken so long to get under way.

My other conflicting vested interest is that I have a new town in my constituency and I can make a great argument—as I shall probably have to do—to the Secretary of State that this new town is unique. Most hon. Members believe that their constituency matters are, if not unique, at least rather uncommon, but I hope that any extra money for docklands will not come from this town. I should agree to a small slowing down in development, but I those towns that are to have continued hope that this town is firmly on the list of expansion I am sure that the Minister will agree that this conflict of interest is one that impartial people can solve.

Mr. Mellish

No one is suggesting that money should be taken away from something else. The docklands area is well worth developing and there is no doubt that extra resources will have to be found. There has been a misnomer. Figures have been talked about by the Committee, and £2,000 million has been bandied about, but no one is suggesting that that money will be spent overnight. It will be spent over many years. Let us not get this out of proportion, because such an argument can continue and nothing will ever be done—not that we are doing much now.

Mr. Boyden

I am not trying to push the argument into that course. But I am sympathetic to the argument made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and I hope that he will be sympathetic to mine.

The third recommendation is that the costs and benefits of surface alternatives to the proposed Tube line, the River Line, should be re-examined. The Dock-lands Joint Committee should continue to be responsible for redevelopment plans for the time being but it should be strengthened by the co-option of more members. The land acquisition disposal functions of the parent authorities under the Community Land Act should be delegated to the Joint Committee in respect of the docklands area. The Secretary of State has made a Press announcement, saying that he is in the process of considering setting up a joint land board to deal with this. Perhaps the Minister can give us some firm information about that proposal.

Another Committee recommendation is that retraining facilities for employment should be provided on a large scale. Again, a fair amount is already going on. Better bus and rail services should be provided as an immediate improvement, at a relatively small cost, to improve access to employment.

The Secretary of State replied to the Committee's recommendation and report in a reasonable time. It took him only three months and that compares favourably with the time that is taken by many other Secretaries of State. In August 1975 he accepted the Committee's recommendations generally. The last sentence of the Government White Paper read: Within the limits of the resources at its disposal, the Government will do all it can to help the redevelopment of Docklands to go forward with all speed. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey agrees with that. In April 1976 the Joint Committee published "The Strategic Plan for London Docklands"—to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey referred—which envisaged the spending of £2,000 million over the following 15 years. After a short period of consultation, the plan was approved in July 1976. In August 1976 the Secretary of State announced his support for the Committee's proposals but was unable to promise any additional resources. From time to time, the Expenditure Committee as a whole, and several of its Sub-Committees, have made fairly serious criticisms and strictures about the way in which successive Governments—and this is not a party point—have dealt with the economy and the financial contribution that afflict us most of the time. A committee investigating hospital buildings said that quick cuts damaged value for money. Other committees have said that such cuts are extremely damaging to the construction industry.

Here, I declare another interest, because I have a long-standing connection with the construction industry. There is no question but that of all the industries in this country that are going through great difficulties, the construction industry is having the greatest difficulties. It cannot work with stop-go—and mostly there has been stop. If all the recommendations of the Committee—that have been agreed in principle by the Secretary of State—were carried forward with more drive and supported by money, not only would great social advantages be derived in the docklands areas but there would also be great relief and help for the construction industry.

The main point made by the Expenditure Committee—and I am sure that this will come up again during the expenditure debate on Thursday—was that the cutting of capital expenditure as compared with current expenditure is bad for the docklands and particularly bad for the construction industry. I do not think that those of us who have perhaps rather idealistic ideas about the types of buildings that we want for schools, hospitals, houses or whatever, and who want much more activity in building, will ever achieve those ideas until all Governments—and the civil servants who advise them—come to the settled conclusion that there must be a steady development of building and a slowly rising market. But this development, if it is at all possible—and perhaps we need a building Keynes—should be much more sheltered from the effects of economic strictures and difficulties. The effect of the present expenditure plan is that capital expenditure will be cut by 18 per cent. while current expenditure will rise by about 1 per cent. during the next two years.

So much by way of introduction. I should like to thank Members of the Sub-Committee because this has been an extremely hard working Sub-Committee. We were most grateful to the hon. Member for Daventry, who chaired the Sub-Committee. Its report was completed in good time. Yet did not cut any corners. It has done what I have set out to do as Chairman of the Committee—to improve relations between the Committee and the Departments—with which it is particularly concerned. There is no intention to make the Committee the lackey of the Department, but rather to keep at them and to develop and keep the subjects is which the Committee is interested moving in the right direction.

We say some severe things at times and there is sometimes acrimony between Ministers and the Committee, but generally, the Committee cannot function unless there is confidence between the Secretary of State, Permanent Secretaries and civil servants in the work of the Committee and in building up their evidence. If a Secretary of State digs in his heels and refuses to give evidence, or gives only muted evidence, there may be a row in the House, but nothing will come of it.

Despite what has been written in The Guardian, I have been pleased at the way in which, with rather limited resources, the committees have been able to build up good relations over a wide area. I may have something more to say about that in the next debate.

It is wrong to minimise the effort and results of the Expenditure Committee, which does not imitate the lavishness and careerism rampant in American Congressional committees that produce reports which are no better than those of ours.

3.52 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Jones (Daventry)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) for the kind things that he said about the work of our Committee and I am sure that my colleagues on the Committee will wish to add their thanks. It is reassuring to note that the Sub-Committee has played some part in the overall objectives set by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland for the Expenditure Committee as a whole. We hope to continue to play a part in our future inquiries.

The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland has set the wide scene of the debate, not only in terms of the Sub-Committee's recommendations but on the broader scene of the current economic situation. I shall be touching on some of these issues later. I am glad that the hon. Member mentioned the evidence of the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). It was characteristically lively and he brought to our deliberations a great wealth of experience. The right hon. Gentleman need not be apprehensive about those of his remarks that I am about to quote. It was characteristic when he said: Therefore, I am talking very much from the heart and, I hope, with a bit of brain too. May I add that he spoke with more than a grain of common sense as well.

The right hon. Gentleman also said here is a dramatic chance for a redevelopment of the area, not just for the people I have the privilege to represent but a chance for London, which I think is the greatest city in the world". Many of us would join the right hon. Gentleman in that comment. I hope that the Committee responded to the right hon. Gentleman when he said, a little teasingly: With the knowledge that what I am about to say will probably be read by those interested I had better watch my words. I am glad to say that he did not watch them too carefully and, in giving evidence, he gave us a thoroughly enjoyable hour or two.

The Fifth Report of the Expenditure Committee arises from evidence taken during the early months of 1975 and is contained in House of Commons Paper No. 348 which was published on 28th April. It was followed by the Government's observations in Cmnd. 6193 in August. I agree with the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland that we were grateful to have such a prompt response to our recommendations and the observations contained in our inquiry.

The Committee was fortunate to have as its special adviser Mr. David Starkie, a university lecturer at Reading University. We just got our report out in time before he went on secondment to Perth to advise on highway problems in that part of Australia. He was away for about 18 months and has now returned. I am in touch with him again and I hope that he will be able to help us with subsequent inquiries. The Committee undertook its inquiry in the context of the rising concern, both in London and elsewhere, about the increasing dereliction of the docklands area, which comprises 5,500 acres lying immediately beyond Tower Bridge on both banks of the river, extending as far down stream as Barking Creek.

It is common knowledge that the redevelopment had been considered during the Conservative Administration of 1970–74 and we were able to take the views of both my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) and his successor as Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). The right hon. Member for Worcester in May 1971 commissioned the Docklands Report prepared by Messrs. R. Travers Morgan and Partners which was submitted early in January 1973—a commendable sense of urgency on the part of all concerned. It is well known that all five of the suggested alternative developments were rejected by the GLC and the five London boroughs involved with the docklands area.

The strategic plan published for consultation by the Docklands Joint Committee, which was established in January 1974, was published in March two years later—some five years after the initial initiative of the Conservative Administration of 1971. There is, I understand, little to see as yet by way of development and construction work.

The Docklands Development Team reported this month that the loss of the international trade mark at Southwark posed by the American company Messrs. Trammel Crow, which has deferred its plans for development, has been a considerable setback.

Since the summer of 1975, a total of 72 development applications have been approved, with 29 being deferred or refused. In round terms, approvals have been given for 980,000 sq. ft. of industrial and commercial use, 45,000 sq. ft. for offices and 20 acres for residential development. About 1,100 local authorities dwellings are now under construction or due to start shortly and planning is well advanced for other sites which should yield 1,400 dwellings.

In reply to inquiries, no indication is forthcoming of actual construction work, either in terms of a statement of completions or work under construction.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he is quoting from something? He may be interested to know that more than 100 dwellings are under construction in my constituency, which represents half the docklands area.

Mr. Jones

I do not doubt that they are under construction. My information comes directly from the report of the Docklands Joint Committee and I do not think that I am underestimating what it has done. We have had no statement from the Docklands Joint Committee, in response to inquiries, about completions or work under construction. I am choosing my words carefully.

St. Katherine's Docks and the London Docks were closed in 1968 and the Surrey Commercial was closed in 1960. Messrs. Taylor Woodrow is to be congratulated on its development at the former St. Katherine's Docks. It is an imaginative concept executed to an excellent standard, both in design and workmanship, on a site made available by the GLC.

In commenting upon the present situation after a decade of procrastination, I do so, of course, in terms of my own judgment and I do not speak for my colleagues on the Committee. What I have to say is advisedly in the context of what has been achieved so far—so little in fact—and pays no regard to the optimism which has been a continuing theme down the years from those in charge of this vast undertaking. That is an optimism which in my view is incapable of fulfilment under the existing arrangements and in the present economic climate, unless new principles are accepted.

Commenting on the Sub-Committee's report, the Government say in paragraph 3: The redevelopment of the London Dock-lands is, of its kind, the greatest challenge of our time, Docklands covers 84 square miles, and is the largest area in London available for redevelopment since the Great Fire over 300 years ago. It is the largest urban area for redevelopment in Europe. Paragraph 4 goes on to say: Although the timescale for the operation, and the cost remain to be worked out, there is no doubt, even now, that both will be very substantial. That is what the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland emphasised.

In a report which appeared in The Times of 6th April last year, Mr. Percy Bell, the Chairman of the Docklands Joint Committee, is quoted as saying: We consider that the money can be found to do it, but it is not the committee's money, it is other people's, and they must take the decisions. By that I think he meant the GLC and the five London boroughs, although it may involve other people including the Government.

Sir Reginald Goodwin, the Leader of the GLC it is said, refused, on the previous day, to consider the alternative strategy for the redevelopment of dock-lands and, when referring to transport facilities including those in London Docklands and Thamesmead, is quoted as saying: I am not so pessimistic as to accept that the Government will not accept its transport responsibilities. We are waiting for the final document on transport strategy, which I understand is likely to appear next June, and I am optimistic that it will conclude that the Fleet Line is in the national interest. More recently in the Evening News of 4th March, Mr. Horace Cutler, the Conservative Leader of the GLC, is reported as saying that County Hall should begin work on the £200 million Fleet River Underground line. He will know that when the Department of the Environment representatives, where giving evidence to the Committee, in answer to Question 184 Mr. F. J. Ward, Under-Secretary, London Directorate, told us that the Strand to Fenchurch Street line—of which the new line is an extension—is particularly expensive. It will cost £50 million for 2 ½ miles of Tube.

Mr. Ward told the Sub-Committee: … in terms of total public benefit it comes out with a ratio of benefits to cost of about 0.3 to 1 for that 2 ½ mile section. That means crudely that you spend £50 million on 2 ½ miles of tube and at the end of the day you have a public asset worth £17 ½ million. The following stage from Fenchurch Street as currently being favoured through the Surrey Docks, the Isle of Dogs and Silvertown to Woolwich and Thamesmead is still at the provisional suggestion stage. I do not think that the line has been fully investigated yet. He concluded: Before one commits an act of faith of this sort one needs to see the hard figuring carried a stage further. The vast resources required to meet the plans apparently laid down by the GLC and the five London boroughs must bring in question how provision is to be made. At the opening of our inquiry—in reply to the initial question—Sir Reginald Goodwin said: We, as elected members, were quite convinced that given the will to work together, and given the measure of support that Government would give to a body of its own creation we could achieve as good, if not better, results. That seems to imply that London is prepared to go it alone but that surely cannot be a realistic appraisal.

Considerable central Government funds will be required and, indeed, should be forthcoming in order to fulfil the high expectations of Londoners. All of us who live in the South-East, and, indeed, the nation, want to enjoy a sense of pride in the nation's capital and to raise from the present desolation an achievement for posterity of which we can all be proud.

This vast venture cannot be seen in the context of a parochial outlook which I fear is in evidence in the reply given by Sir Reginald Goodwin to Question 19 in our inquiry. He was asked: Are we driven into a situation in which each area of docklands is to be considered in relation to the borough in which it lies? He replied: Yes, I think so. The excellent record of the administrative instrument—the development corporation—particularly in new town development and in expanded towns is well documented and acknowledged. Their introduction was on an agreed basis between the Government and the respective planning authority with representation by locally-elected members a common feature. Government funds totalling up to £2,250 million have been made available in the post-war years.

The idea of a development corporation was rejected by the Secretary of State for the Environment in his statement and Press release on 5th August last year when he said: We must all acknowledge present financial stringencies, and the fact that any shift of resources must be offset against expenditure in other areas. If that were true seven months ago, how much more immediate and restrictive are Government policies today. Some sacred cows are even being sacrificed.

The emphasis by the Government, reflected in recent speeches by the Secretary of State, is now clearly on the rehabilitation of the disaster areas which post-war development has imposed on some of our inner cities. The social conditions in many places are a thorough disgrace, and in my judgment the major responsibility for those circumstances lies with the local authorities.

They should have recognised from the outset that new town development and the extension of their urban areas into green-field sites would inescapably lead to the rotting of the core of their cities. Clearly they should have ensured that the cost of redevelopment elsewhere should have had regard to the necessity of funding the inner redevelopment. That is the total cost of an exercise in the movement of population, and almost without exception it has gone by default.

In the case of London, population, industry and office development have been encouraged to move to the new towns. The serious position which has resulted is now recognised and belatedly steps are sought to redress the balance. We are faced with a situation in which vast assets have been created elsewhere at the expense of inner London. We should now be looking for a solution which has regard to the benefits, financial and otherwise, which have accrued in the new towns at the expense of job opportunity and environmental considerations in inner London. We should now be looking for "a shift of resources", to use the Secretary of State's phrase.

In terms of the vast assets created in the London ring of new towns—eight in all—according to a recent issue of The Journal, published by the Town and Country Planning Association, over 31 million sq ft of industrial floor space has been completed since their designation, in each case, up to 31st December last. In Corby, Milton Keynes, Northampton and Peterborough a further 10.9 million sq ft has been constructed, to which should be added 7 million sq ft of office accommodation and 7.5 million sq ft of shopping space.

Most of the new towns are thriving with prosperous communities living in a pleasing and socially rewarding environment, in contrast to so much of inner London and other cities. After allowing for infrastructure expenditure the asset value in the great majority of cases is far in excess of the capital sum expended. It would be interesting to see an exercise undertaken with a view to providing an estimate of the current market value of the assets that are so far in excess, in the majority of cases, of historic values and which should be realised over a sensible period of years by sales to occupiers and institutional investors using the New Towns Commission as the vehicle.

The proceeds should be utilised for inner city renewal and redevelopment to make standards there acceptable in terms of job opportunity and living conditions, particularly for existing communities. I suggest that a policy on those lines could provide a means by which funds for redevelopment could be made available to London Docklands within the financial constraints that will be with us for the foreseeable future. I am suggesting a rollover of assets that would enable resources to be reused on schemes for which resources would not otherwise be available.

In two of the Sub-Committee's recommendations it is suggested that the Department of the Environment should, where a significant Government commitment may be involved, give firm guidance at an early stage about the possible range and/or phasing of public expenditure.

Paragraph 31 recommends that the Department of the Environment should give specific guidance on the level of public expenditure commitment for dockland and that the Government should state their intentions on the question of providing financial support. That statement is well overdue. I understand the dilemma which faces the Government, but let us look for alternatives. Surely that is what we are seeking to do.

The Government's response to these recommendations deals with the eligibility for normal forms of Government financial support for transport, housing and other purposes, and it goes on to say that there are no plans for special forms of support over and above these. So when it says that central Government funds will be available, that is not supported in the response to the recommendations of the Sub-Committee's inquiry. Assurance is given, however, that the Department is prepared to discuss with the authorities concerned the pace at which resources are likely to be available. I particularly took note of the point by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland that capital expenditure for the two subsequent years is 18 per cent. down on the figures for the current year. How in that context can we see any prospect of resources coming from central Government funds for the redevelopment of docklands? When the hon. Gentleman referred to the difficulties of the building industry I saw the Minister nod his head in agreement. But it is the Government's policy that is leading to difficulties for the industry. The Government are refusing to cut current expenditure and are crucifying the building industry as well as the whole of investment policy in Britain by not agreeing to substitute a reduction in current expenditure so as to maintain a level of capital expenditure in the two years ahead. When we hear therefore that the Department is prepared to discuss with the authorities concerned the pace at which resources are likely to be available", that is just pie in the sky, and everyone knows that to be the case. It is statements such as that which illustrate the continuing uncertainty of resources available for the docklands area and emphasise the absolute necessity for an overall plan under which the resources would be assured.

How can the fulfilment of this vital and necessarily urgent redevelopment be contemplated against the background of a decade of delay and the inadequacy of resources at the disposal of the GLC and the five London boroughs? I hope that the whole question will be reconsidered on the basis of the realities to which I have tried to give emphasis.

4.13 p.m.

Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)

I am sure that the whole House is indebted to the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) and the members of his Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee who have worked so hard to produce this report. I understand that they held 16 meetings and that they visited the docks area, taking masses of evidence. It is no easy task to compile all those facts into this very readable report. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on their first-class scholarship.

It is said quite rightly that democracy is the finest system of government in the world. I do not quarrel with that, but I am getting fed up with being a democrat. Democracy provides an excuse for some people to do nothing for ages and ages. This debate is not the first on the subject of the docklands. I have forgotten how many times we have discussed it in some form or other.

When I was the Opposition Chief Whip—and a very good democratic Chief Whip I was—I was allowed to break precedent. My right hon. Friend then the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), allowed me to speak from the Opposition Dispatch Box in a debate on London docklands. I said then—I think it was the first time it had been said at that stage—that I firmly believed in the establishment of a body like a development corporation in order to deal with this vast area.

It is as well to put on the record the enormity of this area. We are talking about eight and a half square miles, or 5,000 acres, of mostly derelict land which is now to be redeveloped. I would have thought that there was a very good case for establishing a development corporation. It would have finance from the Government and its membership would consist of representatives from evey local authority.

No one is or has been keener than I on local participation, but the idea that this corporation should be an abstract body consisting of strange people who knew nothing of London was never in our minds. However, the body was not to be established.

I wrote on the subject to the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), calling his attention to this enormous derelict area. I said that something should be done reasonably quickly. He responded in what I regarded as a truly tremendous way. I still have the letter which he wrote back, thanking me, saying he agreed, and that he had instructed the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), who was then a Secretary of State, to do something about the matter.

The right hon. Member for Worcester then established what afterwards became known as the Travers Committee. It took about two years to develop schemes which were all finally thrown away. I make no complaint about that. I do not believe that this argument should be conducted on a party political basis. We could have a lot of fun in that way, but that would be the wrong approach. We should not be trying to score cheap points when we have a chance such as this, a chance which we are missing badly.

Is this debate today to be a charade? Are we to go over the same ground again? Are we all to repeat that this is a wonderful chance, that it is the greatest opportunity ever known in our history, that this is where we could build the London of tomorrow, that this is a great chance and we must grasp it, a chance that no other country has? Are we to say once more that the River Thames is empty of traffic and that we must make the most of that? Are we to go through all that again and then be told that the Government are still considering the matter and that no statement of policy is to be made?

I am a very patient democrat, but if that happens it will show why I am getting fed up with democracy. Sometimes I think that I should have been made a benevolent dictator. You would have made a very good Parliamentary Secretary for me, Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Only on condition that I was the senior partner.

Mr. Mellish

With your tenacity I have no doubt that that would have been arranged as well, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would certainly have made you my number one head man.

When I broke precedent and spoke from the Opposition Front Bench as Chief Whip I saw that a development corporation was the only way to get the scheme off the ground and secure Government involvement. It was not to be. The St. Katherine's Docks fell empty in 1968. My part of the area fell empty in 1970. Here we are seven years later still debating and having our arguments.

When I went before the Sub-Committee we had reached the stage at which we had to start getting some results, and that was why I bowed to the inevitable. There is now the Docklands Joint Committee. Let it now work and let us give it some real teeth, some genuine power. The comimttee has worked hard. It is made up of good men who have tried very hard to produce what is in many ways an admirable strategic plan.

The intriguing factor is that the passage of time makes evidence false. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has not been a Minister for very long. I have had more experience on the Front Bench than he has, and I have lived with civil servants for a long time. I have great respect for them as a body, because they do a first-class job. But it must be understood that often they will give advice—particularly on planning matters—that proves to be a disaster in later years. I have suffered from that.

Let us look at the evidence that the civil servants gave. But to whom was it given? To the very Committee whose report we are now discussing. What did these bright characters say only two years ago? They said that they could not support the suggestion that the principle of industrial development certificates should be revoked, because they claimed that London was still in a very fortunate position with an average unemployment rate of only 3½ per cent.. All this is there in the evidence to the Committee. I had intended to sort out the relevant parts, but the information is there for anyone interested.

Unfortunately, London is no longer in that sort of position. The planners were wrong then and today's events have proved them wrong. That is the trouble. We have listened to too many stupid planners and theorists. All of us, both Labour and Conservative, have run London down as a result of taking their advice.

They said that London was bloated and had too much in the way of industry and resources and that it had to be reduced. As a result we now have a unique situation. The Secretary of State for the Environment, the lord and master of the planners, now has an unemployment rate of 14 per cent. Is there any civil servant now who would have the nerve to go before a Sub-Committee and argue that the unemployment situation in London did not justify special treatment? That is what they said in 1975, but they would not say it today.

I should like to reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden), who spoke about his little old new town and said "Whatever you do in London, do not affect us". My answer is that London is in special need today, and those of us who represent London will keep on saying so loud and clear. We have no vast resources to give to places elsewhere—we have already done that. No one can accuse London of being mean or ungenerous to our friends in the North, in Scotland and elsewhere. The whole story is one of a continual running down of London.

Mr. Boyden

I can bear my right hon. Friend out on that, no doubt to his great surprise. I have been to numerous meetings with London people on this issue. Over the years they have been very generous to the North.

Mr. Mellish

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I was stupid enough to take the advice of the civil servants. Every time I think about it, I wish I could turn the clock back. I went on my bended knees to 700 constituents and begged them to leave my borough. How stupid can a person get? I do not suppose I shall ever be a Minister again, but if I ever am, the last people from whom I shall take advice will be my so-called planners. Instead I shall use what the Almighty gave me—a fair amount of common sense and acumen. If one does things on a theoretical planning basis, one can make many mistakes.

The Minister who is to reply to the debate will recall a speech that he made when he was a humble Back Bencher, as I am now. I hope that he is using his own evidence today. He ought to be careful about the advice he receives from his civil servants. As a Back Bencher my hon. Friend rightly spoke out loud and clear for London. He was worried about his own borough of Greenwich. He was worried sick about the borough and its unemployment prospects. He saw the writing on the wall and said so, making his views abundantly clear. Since then, the problems have got worse, not better. I return to the basic statement of the case. If we are to have just another debate and to hear again everything that has been said before and we are then to be told at the end that this is all very well, but the Government are not promising any action, this debate will be a charade and a waste of time.

I turn now to the subject of the Dockland Joint Committee. I screamed my head off in the past about wanting a development corporation, but I lost out. That is what happens once the old parochial politics gets going. Perhaps I should have carried on fighting, but I got out of the way and stayed out of the argument.

I told the House at that time that of course I knew I was getting parochial. I have moved away from my old ideas. I know that I should be concerned and worried sick about the constituency of my right hon. and hon. Friends the Members who represent the borough of Newham.

I am glad to see that the right hon. Member for Worcester has joined us. I was saying some nice things about him, so he need not worry.

I know that I should care, but in fact I do not care what happens in Newham. I am concerned only with what happens in Bermondsey and Southwark, which contain about 540 acres of dockland, about one-tenth of the whole dockland area. But so far nothing has been built. We have acquired 134 acres, comprising 114 acres for housing and open space and so on, and 20 acres for industry. In that riverside area we own 1,200 existing homes.

Looking at the history of that area, we can see that that was a planners' mistake of yesteryear. This part of the constituency is called Downtown and is separated from the rest of the constituency by swing bridges and appalling traffic problems. Everyone who lives there is referred to as a Downtowner. In the 1920s Dr. Alfred Salter, a very great man who was a Member of Parliament, because local authority powers of acquisition were very limited and this area had been flooded when the River Thames swept over a small wall—later the authorities built a very large wall—promoted a private Bill to acquire the land. He built council flats, which at the time were a joy to behold. People came from all over Europe to see them. These council flats had separate toilets and bathrooms, kitchens and the rest, and they are still very good flats.

But it was a terrible mistake to build them there. They should never have been built in that location. They are right on the river front near to lead mills, oil refineries and companies dealing with the disposal of dust and dirt. Everyone said when the flats were built that this did not matter, but it was a planning disaster and I do not think that I have ever held a surgery without one or two Down-towners complaining about the problems with which they are living.

I have seen the strategic plans for the area. The local strategic plan was to sweep away these homes and start again. I do not want to get rid of the lead mills or the refineries or the companies that dispose of dust and dirt. They are an essential and integral part of industry, and it is right that they should be isolated to do their jobs.

Another thing that the local authority did in the remit of the joint council was to acquire 134 acres for the Trammell Crow International Trade Mart. I never went there and never took any interest in the matter. Some people went off to Texas and were convinced that it was a good thing. I was not concerned about who actually went, but whether they would make any noise and whether they would be successful, and whether they would attract the sort of industries that ought to be there.

I understand that there was a possibility of the firm of Trammell Crow moving there, but this has been held up because the Americans who own the Company are not satisfied with the economic climate in Great Britain at the moment. I also understand that we are negotiating with the Port of London Authority for a further 90 acres.

There can be no doubt that the Dock-lands Joint Committee has been working to acquire land. Much land is now within its grasp. Do no let it be said that the committee does not have the land. In 1970 I said that the problem was to acquire land at a price that people could afford to pay, but my local authority now has the land.

We went in for a massive extension of public consultation—as I said earlier, I am getting fed up with democracy. I went to a few meetings. The first meeting that I attended was told that we would have a great marina. I told the packed audience that I was not opposed to a marina, but I had been running surgeries in a constituency for 25 years and every point of view had been raised, but there had never been a complaint that people could not moor their boats. So we dropped the idea of the marina.

After that, I was more confirmed than ever in the view that we should have a development corporation. However, the idea of the marina arose so many years ago that I had almost forgotten about it and remembered it as I was speaking.

We had a public consultation exercise. We now have the strategic plan. As I understand it, much of the land is now owned by the local authority. I have seen details of the type of housing that the local authority would put on the 134 acres. I am impressed to this extent: the housing would certainly conform to what I have always dreamed of for this area. I do not want people, long after I am dead and forgotten, coming down the river in boats, looking at the area and saying "Local authority housing". Let us cut out that possibility.

Let us have houses with small gardens, houses painted in different colours. We do not want houses in the old council house brick style, so that a person who has opened one council house door has opened every council house door, so to speak. Let us have houses with roofs of different colours. Let us have gaiety and colour. After all, gaiety and colour do not cost much, pore money than drab housing. Let us not have council housing per se. Let us have imagination and houses built of such style and quality that people will really want to live in them. The strategic plan has convinced me that the local authority really has something of this kind in mind.

I am excited by another detail of this scheme. It may be only a pipe-dream, but I like people who have dreams. There was a suggestion that a shopping precinct would be built in my area and that it would be accessible by boat. That is not so daft. Why should not people in the locality use boats if they want to use them? It sounds fun. Of course, the precinct could also be reached by roads designed and built. Why should not this be so?

Would it not be tremendously exciting if Londoners were able to use the river? Most of us in Bermondsey never saw anything of the river unless we worked in the docks. After all, the industry and the area were built for the Industrial Revolution. However, there is hope in these proposals.

I come now to the crunch. I have read very carefully the evidence given by the right hon. Member for Worcester two years ago and I fully agree with it. He said that there should be a development corporation. The right hon. Gentleman said—I fully endorse his evidence—that without a development corporation it would not be possible to have the type of schemes that my local authority wants, that the GLC wants and that, for example, Mr. Cutler wants. Incidentally, it is too early for Mr. Cutler to start playing party politics yet. There is another month before the GLC elections. We shall deal with that bright character when we get round to him. The right hon. Gentleman said that there should be a development corporation and that the solution was an injection of capital from the Government and guarantees of future capital from the Government.

No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) will get involved in an argument about the transport plan. Mr. Freddie Ward gave a ratio of 0.3 to 1. How I love figures such as that. If I had been there when he said that, I would have given him "0/", because it is rubbish.

London's Underground system virtually stopped dead at the end of the Victorian era. There has been little building since. It is a disgrace that there are vast areas of Lewisham, Beckenham and Catford with not one Tube station in sight. What experience of Tube stations have the constituents of my hon. Friend the Minister unless they come up this end? If they stay down where they are, they will never see one. The present situation is a scandal.

We want a River Line. To get it we need a firm guarantee from the Government that the money will be found in the future. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland is worried sick, but nobody is suggesting that the £2,000 million, or whatever amount is likely to be spent—these are only rounded figures—is to be spent immediately; it is to be spent over a period of 20 years.

It is absolutely essential that the Labour Government—or, if the Tories get in, a Tory Government—say to the Docklands Joint Committee "We will underwrite the transport system and find money for this year alone so that a number of essential works can be started." I am advised that if that were done a great movement would take place and that much more would be done.

If my hon. Friend the Minister denies that, he will have to spell it out and tell me what the local authorities can and should do which they are not now doing. I do not come to the House and attack the Government without being aware that at the local level I could make attacks if I wanted to.

Let us have a clear statement from the Government. If we can have an assurance that the Government of the day, conscious, as they must be, of the great chance that lies before us—there is no need to get too emotional about it again—will underwrite the transport proposals—the River Line—and be behind the Docklands Joint Committee, just as if it had been a development board, that will give these people the chance to do the job.

I come to a point on which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South and I speak with a difference of emphasis. A short time ago we attended a meeting of the South-East Economic Planning Council. I was very impressed. The Committee is composed of very able members under the chairmanship of Lord Porchester. The Committee questioned my hon. Friends the Members for Newham, South and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis). They were in agreement with our sentiments when they said to us "We are the South-East Region. If there is to be a major contribution from our region to the docklands"—in other words, with a smaller amount of resources going to other parts of the region so that more resources could be found for the docklands—" we want an assurance that the body which will be running the docklands will be efficient and will be able to attract industry in its own right"—which development corporations always could and did.

I hope that the Minister will deal with this aspect of the subject. The Dock-lands Joint Committee must be a body with sufficient authority and prestige to be able to attract industry. With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland, it must be able to tell industry that it can have premises in the dock-lands at cheap rents. Why should not that happen? Why should people be able to go to Bishop Auckland at cheap rents? Why should not we have a preference now? Some of us now have 14 per cent. unemployment in our areas.

What is needed above all else is an injection not only of capital from the Government but of confidence from the Government that this scheme will now be started, that it will gather speed quickly, and that eventually we shall have the type of development of which we can all justly be proud.

4.40 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Baker (St. Marylebone)

It has become fashionable for ex-Ministers of all Governments to admit that their records while they were Ministers were less than perfect. The cries of "mea culpa" rend the air. But no one lays the lash upon his own back with so much relish as does the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish).

If I may say so, the lash is well deserved. I think that he was Minister of Public Buildings and Works in those heady days in 1964 to 1965, when the Government actually introduced office development permits to drive office jobs out of London, because that was then the fashion. We were all persuaded to believe that there was an enormous concentration of work in central London and that we would have to push out work. Following the census in the mid-1960s and again in 1971 it became evident that London was declining and that job opportunities were declining at an increasingly rapid rate. In London industrial jobs are now declining at seven times the national average and office jobs at nine times the national average.

I was not a member of the Select Committee and I do not represent a dockland constituency, but no one who represents a constituency in inner London can fail to be concerned about the fate of this enormous area in inner London—eightand-a-half square miles, or 5,000 acres—which has been described as the largest development site within a city in the whole world.

As I read through the Select Committee's report over the weekend I sensed that its flavour was almost historic. It was an out-of-date document. The right hon. Member for Bermondsey has reminded us that it referred to unemployment rates of 3½ per cent. and 4 per cent. There was an air of optimism running through it that something was going to happen, that we were on the threshold of some great change.

The Government went even further than the Select Committee, because in their conclusion on the Committee's report they said: The redevelopment of dockland will take at least 15 years to complete. That was probably the high point of complacency of this Government. In August 1975 they said that the whole redevelopment of these 5,000 acres would take a mere 15 years to complete, yet now, two years later, work has not even started, as the right hon. Member for Bermondsey reminds us.

If we look at some of the other things the Government have said we begin to see why. In paragraph 8 they say: The Government is already taking steps to bring local authorities more into its forward planning of public expenditure. That was the prelude virtually to telling the local authorities, in the words of Tony Crosland, "The party is over", and that is really what the debate is all about.

I agree with what the right hon. Member for Bermondsey said about the Dock-lands Joint Committee. There were high hopes of it, but these hopes were all misfounded. I am afraid that dockland has become something of a political football. My right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) tried to do something about it, and he set the whole thing in motion. He tried to do what any senior Minister would do to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible, and he got the report quickly—indeed, I think that it was while he was still holding the post of Secretary of State for the Environment. As former Ministers will know, it is rare for that sort of thing to happen so quickly.

After the change in power at the GLC, the report was quietly put on one side. The five alternatives put forward were rejected by the London boroughs and the GLC. There was a great deal of political motivation and bias in that.

Mr. Mellish

The hon. Gentleman must speak for himself, but I do not think that the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) was very impressed with the report either.

Mr. Baker

I suspect that if my right hon. Friend had still been responsible in 1974 and 1975, something would have happened in the development of dockland because he was determined to get a proposal off the ground. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman's strictures about the delays of democracy and the attitudes of planners have a lot to answer for in the decline of the inner city and central London.

But I believe that a sturdy realism should now dominate this debate. The figures for the redevelopment of dockland are somewhere between £1,000 million and £2,000 million over the long period. I do not believe that any Government of any complexion will find that sort of money for the development of dockland over the next decade. I say that because other hon. Members representing other parts of the country will demand their share of what is going around, and they will say "Why should London get more? It is still a very prosperous city."

They will overlook the fact that unemployment in Tower Hamlets is 14 per cent. and that London is not one huge champagne belt where the lucky and idle rich live. They will overlook the deprivation and the fact that jobs are being lost in London at a great rate. But they will also point out that in spite of this London none the less still accounts for half of the nation's transport subsidies and one-third of the nation's housing subsidies. By those standards those of us who represent London must accept that we shall not receive a disproportionate share of the nation's resources even if it is to develop something which obviously needs development, such as dockland.

Mr. Spearing

Would the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a possible way of doing this without affecting the development areas, namely, by transferring the expenditure plans for the South-East of England, which are in the Government's plans, to the inner areas of London, particularly dockland? That would not require any further expenditure and would not prejudice the health of any development areas.

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman is looking for too simple a solution. It is simply not possible, with all the complexities and conflicting interests of local authorities in the South-East of England, to say that we shall not be developing any other parts of the South-East, that it will all take place in Tower Hamlets, Greenwich, or Bermondsey. The Secretary of State for the Environment does not have adequate powers to enforce that. However, I shall deal with that point more fully when I make some suggestions later.

I was saying that I did not believe it was realistic to think that these sums of money will be made available in the course of the next 10 years or so despite the crying need of these areas. But what should be done? First, one of the principles to which we should try to stick in the redevelopment of dockland is that it should be a mixed development for social and cash reasons. I shall deal first with the social reasons.

The first constituency I fought in 1964 was Poplar. I became very familiar with that part of dockland, including the Isle of Dogs, Bow and Poplar. It was quite clear to me then that that was a one-stratum society, and now all the demographers and the Socialists prove this to be so. They can show that only one in 20 of the people in that area live in owner-occupied houses and only 4 per cent. of those working in that area have A-levels. That is totally uncharacteristic of the rest of London. The sort of groups that are necessary in any society—the teachers, the senior local government officials—have almost abandoned living in this area. To be brutally frank, they commute, and this was the trend in 1964.

I believe that the area of one-stratum society in the East End is about as representative of British society as is Belgravia. In the dockland, and in the East End, both north and south of the river, it is important to try to recreate a mixed community. This means a much greater encouragement of privately developed housing.

In 1964 some of us tried to set up a housing association in Poplar which would take land from the then Poplar Borough Council and develop it on a joint basis. The council's attitude was "No. This is public land, we shall develop it ourselves." But the council was not going to do that for five or ten years. That sort of attitude has damned East London and is still damning it over the development of dockland. This includes the reluctance to bring in private sector developments with all their benefits. I think that there should be mixed development, public and private, for social reasons.

There should be mixed development for cash reasons also because, as I have said, these vast sums of money will not be found by the Treasury. The Minister will not today pledge considerable sums of money over a long period, because he cannot do it—it simply is not there in the present economic situation. But I believe that a lot of money would be forthcoming in a mixed development.

I believe that the State's money should go to the infrastructure of dockland—for example, filling in the empty docks, supplying the drainage and the piling, and building a proper network of roads. The right hon. Member for Bermondsey mentioned Downtown. It is the same with the islanders of the Isle of Dogs. To get to many of these parts of dockland is almost impossible by public transport and difficult by road.

I believe that the Labour Party is thinking of moving its headquarters from Smith Square to Walworth, which is not all that difficult to get to. Yet one of the arguments against the move there is that it is too difficult to get to Walworth, although it is just across the river, turning left and going a bit south. But it is exceedingly difficult to have easy access to the dockland area, and we shall not get the economic regeneration of that area without easy road access.

There is the question of priorities in deciding where State money should be spent—for example, on the Fleet Line or the River Line. It is an imaginative concept, but I believe that if the River Line is built, it will be used essentially by passenger and not freight traffic. What that part of London needs, if small businesses are to be started and economic activity regenerated, is good road communications that will take freight, not passenger traffic.

Therefore, if there is there a question of priorities—and we shall have to make a selection—my first priority would be a better road network in North-East and South-East London along the river banks before a rail system. In any partnership between public and private money, the public money should be spent on improving infrastructure so that development could take place.

Mr. Mellish

I do not want to overstate what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but surely he is arguing in effect that the State should build the roads, the drainage, the sewerage and the rest while private developers, when it is all done, come in, do what they want to do and make their profits. Is he really arguing that that is how such a development should be carried out'? That would be like the situation after the Great Fire of London, when private enterprise took all the pickings.

Mr. Baker

As the passage of time brings the right hon. Gentleman closer to my point of view on this matter, I look forward to hearing him say precisely what I am now saying in five years' time. Who else can build drainage, sewerage and so on but the Government? They only can provide the infrastructure that is needed. The right hon. Gentleman says that private enterprise will cream it all off. I draw his attention, however, to the scheme "Riverside", launched by the Tower Hamlets Council. It is a tripartite scheme. The council has land from the Port of London Authority and its own holdings. It has done a deal with the PLA and a development company. They are partners.

The area covers about 500 acres just east of St. Katharine's Dock. The partners will work with the local council which has, at long last acted as a catalyst in putting together a consortium. The council will provide the drainage, sewerage and the rest, while the development company will do the developing, and they will split the profits. What is wrong with that? It is infinitely better than sitting on one's hands and saying "We will not do anything unless we can do it ourselves."

The right hon. Member for Bermondsey says that his area of Bermondsey and Southwark has about 540 acres of dockland. My advice to him and the local council would be to get on with those 540 acres through the sort of deal put together by Tower Hamlets Council. They should not wait for a new town development corporation, because that could not exist for two or three years. They should not hope for greater powers from the Docklands Joint Committee, because it will never agree. The best thing that the Bermondsey-Southwark area can do is to form a joint scheme of partnership between private and public money and get on with the job. That is my answer to the right hon. Gentleman, because that is what should be done.

The scale of the opportunity should not bemuse us into believing that there has to be a massive organisation and a massive scheme to develop it. I do not believe that we are living in an age when such vast resources can be made available. I should like to see the individual boroughs getting on as quickly as possible with schemes like "Riverside".

I believe that the Government's attitude is changing only sluggishly towards the London problem. The Government must accept that there is a massive work haemorrhage and that something must be done quickly. The first priority must be to remove the inhibitions on the growth and development of jobs. I should like to hear the Government announce the abolition of industrial development certificates and office development permits in this debate. The Minister may reply that they are hardly ever operated now, but the fact remains that there is still a certain atmosphere and climate inhibiting development.

In looking forward to this area being redeveloped over the next 20, or 30, or more years I do not want to see it become a vast dormitory town where people just live and commute on the Fleet Line to work in other parts of London. We have to find a way of regenerating economic activity in inner London, and I am convinced that the most effective way of doing so is to stimulate the growth and development of small businesses. We shall not see large factories being set up in Tower Hamlets, Bermondsey and Southwark, not even with a better road structure, and not even if we improve the infrastructure on the lines I have suggested. That is not going to happen.

We shall be deluding ourselves if we think that vast industrial conglomerate activities in the East End will be built, because it will not happen. One has to create conditions of spontaneous growth—the conditions under which dockland first developed between 100 and 150 years ago—so that small businesses, such as warehousing, engineering operations, printing and service works of all kinds are attracted there. They are not attracted there today, because of the gloomy atmosphere of decay and depression.

I am advocating a greater sense of realism in the development of this vast area in East London. Great urgency is needed. First, there must be a commitment by the Government of certain funds for basic infrastructure which can be specifically directed to specific boroughs, and, secondly, the boroughs should be told to get on with their joint schemes as quickly as possible so that we do not find ourselves having to have another debate like this in 10 years' time.

4.59 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

I intervene briefly because I was a member of the Sub-Committee which prepared this report. We are grateful to the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) for the hard work he did as Chairman. I intervene also because I believe that, although the report now has some historic value, it is still of importance in relation not only to dockland but to other derelict areas in other towns and cities throughout the country.

I do not wholly agree with what the hon. Member for Daventry said about the treatment of capital development in new towns as against development in inner cities, but we should try to clarify our minds about the undoubted size of the commitment required not only by the dockland scheme but by comparable schemes which would be required in Liverpool or other big cities. We must consider what is practicable and what is not.

I agree with much of what the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) said about encouraging joint partnership schemes between local authorities and private development, under suitable control. Many practical schemes have been worked out and I hope that they can go ahead.

I was therefore concerned at the proposal by the hon. Member for Daventry—although he was the Chairman of the Committee, he made it clear when he was speaking for himself—that the provision of capital should come from the resources of the new towns. That could be a dangerous proposal. New towns should not be regarded purely as competitors with the kind of redevelopment needed in the inner cities. I regard them as partners in a common enterprise. The new towns were devised originally to secure more humane living conditions in our big cities. They were meant not only to set new standards in greenfield sites but to encourage movement from the centres of population and industry in the older city areas so as to achieve better living standards and to attract some people back.

I agree that it is unrealistic to imagine, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) apparently does, that we could attract back to these areas the old heavy industries which were established there for all kinds of historic reasons. It is not practical, and perhaps not even desirable, to seek to attract back the modern versions of those industries.

The change has come about not through the planners attracting everyone into the new towns and denuding the older areas. The attraction of the new towns has made a relatively small contribution. The bulk of the movement was due simply to the death of many of the old industries and partly to the difficulties of operating modern industry in those areas. Transport and accessibility were important questions. The original attraction for industry no longer exists in the same way.

However, there is a real possibility of a much larger development of small-scale industry than some people think. Some recent experiences in Greenwich, for instance, show that. Perhaps much more could be done to encourage that development. I doubt whether the abolition of industrial development certificates would make any difference to that situation.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich, East)

My hon. Friend provokes me by referring to the experience of Greenwich, which, I would claim, has an impressive record in introducing new small firms. If he spoke to those in Greenwich who are responsible for that operation, he would be told that the whole IDC system creates the sort of climate which makes it difficult to move in even small firms, which are not affected by IDC controls.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Our evidence did not bear that out. There have, of course, been changes in the IDC procedure, weakening it from the point of view of some of us in the North but to the benefit of areas like the London Docklands. It cannot be said that even such difficulties as might have existed two years ago exist today.

I hope that the Government will not conclude that it has to be one or the other—that the whole concept of the new towns should be choked to benefit the older areas. There must be a proper balance, but it is unfortunate that one arm of the operation, which involves the development of new towns and of improving standards in the older areas, has not been properly followed through.

As the London Docklands strategy plan shows, one of the first priorities in redevelopment is the improvement of living standards so that people again may choose to live there with a reasonable balance of choice. The great exodus has been due not necessarily to the machinations of the planners but to the conscious choice of people who got fed up with the available standards—not only in London but in other cities—and who exercised their choice with their feet.

Our report refers to mobility. Environmental standards must be vastly improved. Not only must we attract people back, but we must give them greater mobility. The people in the area must make most of the decisions, but I question the concentration of all the effort in regard to mobility on the Underground going from east to west—the very heavy capital expenditure inevitably involved in the Fleet Line extension. This matter will have to be considered carefully, on reasonably accurate estimates of cost.

However, I should have thought that a great deal could be done to improve mobility from north to south so as to avoid the assumption that London is a single-centre city. After all, is not London a series of centres, and do we not want it to be a series of centres? May it not be important to link with the better standards of living the mobility that can be given by immediately improving north-south communications as well as examining east-west mobility?

I end with the obvious and important point of employment, emphasising that a great deal can still be done with small industrial developments. The rest of Britain has a great deal to learn from whatever development takes place in this part of London, because so many other areas face comparable problems, though not necessarily of the same size. We are eager to develop new opportunities for employment but do not imagine that we can necessarily attract back some of the large-scale industry that may have been there in the past.

5.11 p.m.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

I agree with a number of points that the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) made, and I shall return to one or two later.

It may seem a bit odd that I should be taking part in the debate. I was not a member of the Expenditure Committee, and I am not a London Member, but it is reasonable that outsiders should take part, for we are talking about our national capital, the inner city problem, which covers a number of areas other than London, and the allocation of national resources. As a taxpayer, I suppose that I have a kind of vested interest.

When I was shadowing the Department of the Environment, I became very interested in the subject of London dock-lands and spent some time trying to go round this, to me, surprisingly vast area. I made an effort to get to grips with what is a very complicated problem, and I emerged with the strong feeling that we could not simply allow the area to rot. When one visits the area one sees that it consists of different sorts of place and is not all one great big disused dockland. It has other land as well. One has the feeling that when industry has so nearly died there is a big risk that we shall create Pompeiis of the future, which would be intolerable.

I also had, and still have, the strong feeling that we shall not solve the problem by rhetoric. It is a good thing that we should declare our concern and commitment. We have all done that now, and need to move on to a more realistic view of what can be done and what may not be done. So far the debate has been good in that respect. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) made a number of very pertinent and realistic points, as did other hon. Members.

We can see that the economic aspect is the heart of the whole problem. In the arguments about inner cities there has rightly been a shift of emphasis over the past decade. Ten years ago people talked very much in terms of bad housing, bad education and so on, which they seemed to see as the essence of the problem. I do not deny that such conditions exist and are serious problems, but we now have a clearer idea that we shall not cure all the social problems unless we can improve the economic heart of the places we are discussing. Therefore, one is bound to ask whether it is conceivable that we shall get a proper economic vitality back into the area, or whether the most that we can hope for is to provide a kind of subsidised propping-up so that conditions do not become too miserable and depressed.

We must recognise that it is a very difficult problem. When it thinks about setting up new factories, particularly the larger ones, industry has a preference for greenfield sites. It likes to go to places such as Milton Keynes, because it can have the size of factory it wishes with rather less bother than is involved in trying to carve out a factory in an existing city area. Transport is also a major problem. The truth is that the Milton Keyneses of this world are very well situated in terms of transport. Milton Keynes itself sits beside the M1 in the middle of England and has a major railway line running through it. Those are great advantages.

In trying to be realistic in thinking about what we can bring into the inner cities, we must approach the matter without a great harooch of dogma. We may want all forms of public transport. We must look carefully at the kind of transport that industry will want in such areas. If we start from the premise that economic revival is the essence of the problem, we must make life tolerable for industry or encourage it rather than try to damp it down. I am therefore very suspicious of the GLC, which has a mania about transport and is wrong about transport in almost all respects, as far as I can see. I hope that ways can be devised to stop it imposing its dogmas on dockland.

The lorry is the crucial mode of transport. It is the lorry on which industry today depends. One can make stirring speeches about how all industrial traffic should be pushed back on to the railways, but everybody knows that that will not happen. We shall waste a great deal of time if we try to pursue an unattainable chimera.

We must also recognise that the people whom we want to attract into dockland and the people already living there, to whom we want to give an improved life, want to have motor cars. We should not allow puritanical dogma to stop people having something they want. The skilled working class—if I may categorise and generalise—want motor cars and roads on which they can drive them. It is a great mistake to try to shape policies which do not recognise those cardinal facts.

Therefore, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone said, we must put the transport emphasis on the road system. One of the wiser recommendations of the Expenditure Committee was to call for a review of the public transport provision that was envisaged. The Committee said: We recommend that studies should be made of alternative proposals for a long-term dockland public transport system based upon existing surface lines and rights of way. I do not claim to know the best possible public transport provision for the area. It may well be that the Fleet Line extension, the River Line, is the right answer. I am not trying to dismiss it, but the hon. Member for South Shields was wise when he gave a warning. There is a serious risk of going for something that sounds splendid and nice but turns out to be so expensive that nothing happens. That would be a tragedy.

We must learn from the bitter experience of a number of public transport systems across the world. We have seen in Newcastle the creation of a system that will be very unprofitable. A few years ago there were high hopes for the Great Bay transport system in San Francisco and the surrounding area, but it is now seen to be a costly luxury. We must be very careful about embarking on massive fixed-line public transport systems when the attraction and flexibility of the lorry, motor car and bus are so strong. Let us think very hard about transport and not mouth platitudes.

I think that we are all agreed that our objective is to find a new life for the old docks and perhaps to go on to find a more positive and useful purpose for the further end of dockland, which I suspect belongs to Newham, the area towards Beckton, where there are green fields, though they are about the dirtiest one could ever expect to see. However, they constitute a sort of greenfield site rather than the large series of holes of which the true dockland communities very much consist.

We need, first, a commitment to reviving the true dockland areas, and then we need to think very hard but perhaps not very hurriedly about what to do with the dirty green fields towards Beckton. The best use for them may be for recreation, for golf courses, small holdings and allotments where we can grow our own potatoes—which is quite a profitable and wise thing to do in these times. It may be that that is all we can hope for.

Equally, it may well be that there are more positive uses to which those green fields can be put. They could provide low-density housing, which would relieve the pressures which still exist in the inner areas. We are always hearing from inner London Members about how they wish to seize tracts of land in the outer London boroughs in order to house their own population. But the outer London boroughs are justified in asking about the large tracts of land that exist in areas such as Beckton. Of course services will be needed and drainage will have to be undertaken.

Mr. Spearing

Perhaps I can save the hon. Gentleman some time. There is a £4 million drainage plan in operation and the draft Beckton plan, which has been published for consultation, contains some of the facilities that the hon. Gentleman has suggested, together with eight plans for 8,000 new houses. The actuality has outrun the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Mr. Raison

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. But I have the feeling that plans and actualities are not always necessarily the same thing. But what I have suggested is a reasonable proposition, provided that people want to go and live there and provided that there is the money to build the houses.

Some hon. Members will probably have read the evidence of the Town and Country Planning Association, which rather wisely and in conformity with its ideals and traditions said that there was an opportunity for providing the low density garden-city type of housing that it has advocated over the years. That may well be the right answer. It may even be that these largish tracts of space which exist in the area provide some scope for the creation of new factories. If that is the case, well and good.

If our primary objective is the revitalising of the old dockland area, with the secondary objective of bringing these other areas into play, we have to ask ourselves what kinds of policies are likely to bring this about. The economic side is all-important. Probably the best thing that can be done to revitalise the economies of those areas is to have a national policy rather than a local or inelegant area-specified policy.

When I talk to smallish business men about what might encourage them to expand, they do not say that they want more subsidies and subventions or boards and committees and national enterprise boards and so on. What they want is to stop being pushed around at the present extent. They do not want to have unjust planning regulations which seem designed to stop them pursuing their trade; nor do they want more and more taxes which depress and demoralise them, or more and more seemingly well-intentioned legislation. They do not want to fill in more and more forms, questionnaires and census returns and all the other things which have smothered them in recent years. They simply want to be able to get on with the job of producing and making some kind of reasonable profit.

We should help business in those areas and in the rest of the country if we tried to produce rather more sensible policies in this respect than we have at the moment. We must encourage entrepreneurs. This is the kind of area in which in a sensible society the entrepreneur would have full run. It is exactly the sort of situation where the entrepreneur has a major contribution to make to the modern economy. If we simply go on making life difficult for them, we cannot hope to expect them to do what I believe they want to do.

One must also have a sensible land policy. I do not want to spend a lot of time talking about the Community Land Act.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

My hon. Friend does not need to.

Mr. Raison

My hon. Friend says we do not need to. Some people would ask "What is the Community Land Act?" Nevertheless, it exists. During the passage of that Act, Opposition Members said time and time again that it would do absolutely nothing to benefit the inner cities. The Government pooh-poohed or ignored that view, but we were absolutely right.

Opposition Members perhaps underestimated the positive damage that the Community Land Act would do to the development of our inner cities. What the Act has done is to make the nationalised industries feel that there is no point in their selling the land on which they sit. Everyone knows that when we talk of dockland land we are not basically talking about land in private ownership. We are talking about land in the ownership of the Port of London Authority and the Gas Corporation. I should add land in the ownership of the local authorities. All those bodies have a long tradition of hoarding land, or believing that one day something will turn up which will make it valuable.

Such bodies are remarkably bad at selling land anyway. The Community Land Act has made that situation worse, because it leads the Gas Board and the PLA to believe that there is no profit in their selling land and, therefore, they do not bother. That is a hard fact that was repeatedly prophesied during the passage of the Act, and it is now seen to be perfectly true.

Another important point about land is that the system of valuation is cockeyed. We have reached a stage where it is cheaper to buy land in the greenfield sites around the new towns than it is in the areas to which no one wants to go in the big cities. The reason is a little hard to fathom. It is partly a matter of expectations and the belief that one day land in the cities will suddenly be worth a lot. After all, it appears that the district valuers, who have to approve the sale of land by public authorities, take a too optimisitic view.

I sometimes think that we could do more for dockland, and the very large tracts of unused land in Liverpool, if we had a big auction and "flogged" the land. We might then achieve something, because people would buy it because they wanted to use it for some purpose rather than letting the land remain unused, as is the case at present.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)

The hon. Gentleman's contention that the Community Land Act has the effect of inducing authorities like the PLA to hold on to land is not borne out by the fact that, during the operation of the Community Land Act, the PLA sold a considerable parcel of land through one of its subsidiary organisations to the Tower Hamlets Borough Council, with beneficial results to both sides.

Mr. Raison

If the hon. Gentleman says that, I shall not quarrel with him. But is the hon. Gentleman sure that this was since the Community Land Act came into being?

Mr. Mikardo


Mr. Raison

That may be an instance, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the employees of public corporations say that the Community Land Act is a deterrent to selling. It is a bit of a red herring, because many nationalised industries, which have had plans to sell off land in order to meet their debts and deficits, have been driven to a state of considerable despondency by the passage of the Community Land Act. We should let the market operate more than it does. It need not be totally laissez-faire, but we need an injection in the market.

No one thinks that the whole problem of dockland can be left to the market system and to private enterprise. There has to be some kind of guiding central management organisation. I do not believe that the present joint committee has got it right. I accept that the number of local authorities is enormous and almost all of them have powerful and direct interests in the land in question. One has to have a system that will allow them to have a considerable say in all this.

Nevertheless, I believe—and it is the experience of those people professionally engaged in developing dockland—that the present structure is inadequate. There has been a discussion about whether one should establish a sort of a new town development corporation. Even if that had been the right answer originally, it is now a little too late to try to jump into that. Even so, it should be possible to develop some form of two-tier board. The top tier would be the board on which the local authority and the Department of the Environment were represented. They are providing the money and it is their land, so they should have an important say in setting up the strategic decisions that should govern the development.

Underneath that tier one needs an executive board that will have considerably greater powers than exist now because, after all, under the present set up it is fair to say that if any local authority wishes to put a veto on something, it is able to do so, and it is also fair to say that there is a good deal of referring back by the people who run the operation to the local authorities.

I do not claim to have a precise blueprint of how this will be done. I do not claim to be an expert in all these details, but I believe—and I am sure that this is borne out by many who have looked closely at the problem—that one must have a stronger executive organisation than now exists. We must be prepared to say "This is the framework within which you will work, but you must have a chance to get on with the job of delivering the goods".

Although the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) is waving that orange document with great vigour and energy, and although there is a lot to be said for the London Docklands Strategic Plan—I am not quarrelling with the shape of the plan—I do not believe that the executive powers are strong enough as things are constituted now, and I have a horrible feeling that history will prove me to be right.

I move on to the next difficult question of who will pay for all this. There are those who believe that London could pay for the whole thing, particularly if the Fleet Line extension were dropped out of the scheme. That is probably too optimistic. As a taxpayer elsewhere I should be happy if London could pay for the whole thing, but the degree of reallocation of resources within the London totality that would be required to bring this about is probably too great, and this is a matter partly of the hard, practical political side of all this. There is a big job and a lot of expenditure to be undertaken to bring all this about. Therefore, it seems that Government investment will be essential if the scheme is to work.

I am attracted by and sympathetic to the ideas advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) about whether it would be possible to make better use than we do now of the money that is at present locked up in the new towns. The new towns hold tremendous commercial assets. They have certain principles, such as that they will not sell freeholds, and so on. I do not think that those principles are necessary. I see no reason why commercial freeholds should not be sold in the new towns if that is the right commercial thing to do.

I do not want to tell the new towns how to manage their assets. I do not claim to know, but the possibility of selling freeholds and of making more out of these great public assets should be explored very hard, and if we could make more out of them, I should be happy to see a good slice of that directed towards this revitalising of London's dockland that we all believe to be deeply necessary and to be an opportunity that it would be tragic to miss.

5.34 p.m.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich, East)

I ought to declare an interest as I am a member of the original Docklands Joint Committee. On looking back, I am not sure that if I had that time over again I would go for the form of organisation that we then supported. Perhaps because I was then involved in local government I took a different view from that taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) who, as he indicated today, is passionately in favour of a development corporation approach.

On looking back, I am not sure that we should not have done better had we had a development corporation. I think that my right hon. Friend is right in arguing that we should have had more resources had we had a development corporation, rather than going through the somewhat involved and tortuous democratic process of having five local authorities and the GLC involved in this joint committee. I think it is fair to say that we would not have had quite same degree of internecine warfare between the various members of the joint committee that we have had over the history of this development.

When my right hon. Friend was speaking, I was reminded of the original consultants' proposals. I remember the original 26 options that were put up, to our somewhat surprised eyes, way back in the early 1970s. The proposals contained some marvellous ideas. Industrial land was to be turned into open space, and open space was to be turned into industrial land, which no doubt would have meant work for working planners, but it did not seem a practical approach. There was the concept of an East London Safari Park. No doubt that would have brought joy to my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), but it did not seem a practical solution to the problems of East London.

I look at this matter very much with the eyes of my own local authority, which has a substantial area within the docklands development area—a piece of land on which, sadly, nothing very much is happening, and on which nothing is likely to happen as part of the docklands development. In addition, it is a borough that is very much affected by what happens in the rest of docklands and therefore I support the case made by the Government in para. 4 of their observations where they say: Docklands is not self-contained, nor should it be: its development is part of the development of the five boroughs in which it lies". That is an important point to bear in mind.

I look at this from the point of view of my experience at Thamesmead, because all the presentational razmataz that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey was recalling about the original dockland concept was present when Thamesmead was launched. It was to be a great city of the twenty-first century for 60,000 people, rising Phoenix-like from the mud. Sadly, it has got stuck in the mud in recent times. The time scale has drifted in that case. It started in the middle 1960s, and it is stretching into the late 1980s and early 1990s. There is some problem of the relationship between the GLC and the two local boroughs, the two local education authorities, and so on, with all the difficulties that that involves.

The hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) made a point about the need for adequate private housing to get a housing balance in dockland. That is something that we had very much in mind when Thamesmead was launched. The original Thamesmead concept was 65 per cent. public housing and 35 per cent. private housing, but it is a sad fact of life that the 35 per cent. private housing has been difficult to get moving at all. Despite houses being offered for sale at favourable prices, and despite land being made available for private development at favourable prices, we have not seen a tremendous burst of enthusiasm for buying homes at Thamesmead, and my guess is that the same experience might be found in dockland.

I was a little unhappy at seeing the Government's reaction on the basis of making available adequate resources. In para. 9 of their observations they make it clear that there is to be no special form of support, but within the normal form of support the Government believe that important progress can be made piece by piece and phase by phase within the framework of the overall strategy. Our experience of Thamesmead is that that is an excuse for the time scale lengthening out and for the whole drive, energy and purpose of the original concept being lost. In the case of Thames-mead, it has meant the whole original dream becoming something of a nightmare. Instead of being a new town, it has developed into nothing more than a sprawl of council estates.

New industry is crucial to the development of dockland and renewing the whole of life in the dockland area. The Greenwich example is fairly well known. In a ten-year period, it lost 20,000 jobs in manufacturing industry. On the other hand, it has fought hard to try to bring jobs back to the area. A point has been made about the need to bring in more new small firms. The record of Greenwich over the past three years is one of attracting 120 new firms into the area. About £40 million of private capital has been invested.

That is an indication of what can be done by a local authority determined to hang on to its manufacturing base and to provide balanced employment for those it represents. It is a sad fact that the whole area of Greenwich within the dockland area is earmarked for industry, yet the greater part is totally sterilised because the gas board is grimly hanging on to 210 acres of it. The gas board is nothing to do with the Community Land Act. At some stage North Sea gas will run out. Therefore, the board may need a gas-making potential in the London area and it must hang on to its land just in case in 30 or 40 years it is needed for gas production.

But that is a tremendous blow to us because the Blackwall peninsula is an ideal industrial site, with tremendous development potential for industrial undertakings. It has good access to transport. The Blackwall Tunnel southern approach to the motorway runs through it. It has easy access to the river and is well away from housing. It is a natural industrial site on which could be replaced many thousands of the jobs which have been lost to the area. I therefore hope that the gas board's case for sterilising the land for generations will be severely tested.

I agree with hon. Members who have indicated that the success of industrial development in the docklands area depends to a large extent on a genuine relaxation of industrial development certificate control. I accept that the Government have moved some way in that direction, but if we are to change the climate of opinion, if we are to persuade industrialists that there is a home for industry, even if it is for small industries, in London, we must make a dramatic relaxation in IDC control as a means of making it clear that the climate has changed.

We must make it possible for those involved to be able to advertise the industrial potential of the docklands area. It is absolutely crackers that London buses carry advertisements for Peterborough, for example, and we advertise throughout London the charms of Cumberland, Scotland, and virtually every other industrial location, but are denied the right to advertise the industrial development potential of the docklands. Provision in this respect is made in the general powers Bill of the GLC, and I hope that it will receive support from hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I welcome what the Expenditure Committee and the Government have said about the need for industrial training and retraining in the docklands area. It is clear that skills are in short supply, and this is a limiting factor in industrial development, but sometimes we ignore the results of the closure of firms. Some of the firms which have left were among the best trainers of young labour in the area. In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) Harveys, which had a tremendous apprenticeship and training record, is very much depleted and facing virtually complete closure. In my constituency, at Woolwich Arsenal, there is one of the best appointed industrial apprenticeship schools that one can find for many miles. It is threatened by the closure of the workshops at Woolwich Arsenal.

Closures of that sort remove opportunities for industrial training of young people. I accept that the Government's skillcentres are being developed. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich will recall that he and I have been fighting for the Deptford skillcentre since 1968 when we were first promised it. It is now more firmly on the horizon, but it is still some way off. Skillcentre provision is to be made at Kidbrooke later this year and at Charlton next year. I welcome that. But all we are doing is seeking to replace the potential for training of many firms which have left the area.

I turn briefly to the question of transport. I support hon. Members who have said that the River Line is the key to docklands development. It is important as a demonstration of public confidence in docklands development as well as a necessary basis for that development. I hope that the alignment to be seriously examined will be the southern alignment, because it provides an important link between Woolwich Arsenal and Thames-mead and a link between Thamesmead new town and its basic town centre at Woolwich.

Hon. Members opposite have spoken about the possibility of alternative bus services. My constituents in Thamesmead have minimal bus services. On Sundays they have no bus service at all.

The River Line could provide a major link between Thamesmead and Woolwich and between Woolwich, at a strategic centre for shops and offices, and the rest of Docklands. It could also ease congestion on the North Kent railway line, on which the trains are chronically overcrowded. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said, it might give people in South-East London a Tube service of the type which is taken for granted by people situated on the more favoured side of the river.

I wish to speak briefly about road schemes. I am less enthusiastic about one of the major road schemes proposed in the Dockland study, namely, the East London river crossing. This is a proposal to build another tunnel at Thamesmead and to provide a motorway link with the A2. I wish to declare a parochial interest: the motorway proposal would eliminate about 200 homes, virtually all of them in my constituency. It would plough through attractive public space at Rockliffe Gardens and Oxleas Woods. Sadly, it would drive a wedge through the middle of the last working farm in my constituency. I should be sorry to see that cut in two.

All the benefits from the East London river crossing would go to people on the north side of the river. All the disadvantages, as the Docklands Joint Committee accepted, would be borne by my constituents through whose homes the road would run. It is fair to say that it would involve a substantial attraction of extra traffic through the East London river crossing, particularly if tolls for the Dartford Tunnel go on increasing at their recent rate.

What worries me most of all about this and other road schemes in the study is the degree of blight which affects an area when schemes are earmarked for post-1986, as is the case with the East London river crossing. We are told that the completion period from start to finish is 11 years. If we are talking about blighting an area for that sort of period, and if schemes are stopped dead simply because 10 years from now somebody may build a road, which may take another 11 years to complete, at a cost, on 1975 figures, of £87 million, while I am in favour of strategic planning, there must be a genuine and realistic forward parameter for the length of time that such plans can remain in being.

The people we represent who live in and around dockland are not all that impressed by strategic plans, by strategy documents, by glossy brochures and by paper produced in large quantities since this operation started. They take the view that that is no substitute for genuine, effective development on the ground. I support those who have said that we shall not get that development without a much greater sense of urgency and much more evidence of commitment by the Government.

5.49 p.m.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

I agree with virtually everything that the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) has said. Much of it reflected the motive which lay behind my thinking when I served on the Select Committee, which I still do. There are two reasons for my intervention: first, because I serve on the Select Committee; and, secondly, because for six years I was, with my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), a member of the GLC Housing Committee and, for three years, an elected member of the Westminster City Council. I was vaguely involved in London local government for six years.

When I was involved in London local government and during the time that I served on the Select Committee I was impressed by the feeling that a sea change was taking place in the thinking about London's planning. When I became a member of the GLC in 1967, there was, and perhaps still is, an expanded towns committee, whose job was to export people from London.

The whole thinking of the officials was still very much along the lines of that in the Abercrombie Report. This document of 1944 said that things would be much better after the war and that people should be moved out of the terrible areas of inner London into the green fields of England. That was a very noble aim, but, like so many planners' aims, the reality proved very different from what was intended at the time.

It was not just London—the same problem occurred in many of the other great cities. Liverpool was another example of the inner city dying and the suburbs deteriorating and being vandalised. That does not make any sense. It is essential to turn back the tide of Abercrombie thinking when dealing with the docklands. We are simply spilling people all over the country and killing London, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and other big cities. We must do something about that now. But the problem is that we are still thinking in the old-fashioned terms of Abercrombie while the world is passing us by.

During my service on the Committee, when we were conducting this inquiry I was depressed by the atmosphere of the political negotiations in London on this matter. This is not a party point. I felt, as did my colleagues on the committee, as we listened to witnesses, that they were all finessing for position. Each was concerned with his own interests and with making sure that whatever came out of the document would defend those interests. There was no wide overall view.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) made it clear that in retrospect they felt that it would have been better to have had a development corporation. But, as the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said, that is now water under the bridge. There is not going to be a development corporation and we must try to work within the existing system.

I asked several witnesses whether it was too late to set up a development corporation and to turn back the tide. But the more I listened to the witnesses describing all the difficulties that would follow, including getting a Hybrid Bill through the House, a Bill which would be bitterly contested, and the fact that the GLC would petition, the more convinced I became that turning back the tide would mean fighting a losing battle. It was clear that we would have to work within the existing situation.

Let us look at the report of the evidence of the South-East Economic Planning Committee, the representatives of which said, in undoubtedly the most brutal statement that I have read: Firstly, there is not in existence at the moment any body which can take and carry decisions which may be unpopular in one or more of the boroughs or with the GLC. I then asked how it would be possible to commend such a recommendation to Parliament—to set up a development corporation to take unpopular and difficult decisions. The Chairman, Lord Porchester, replied: The fact is that the new towns, including the first generation around Greater London, faced this very problem. I pointed out that 15,000 people were already living in dockland. He replied: There are 30,000 in Hemel Hempstead. A new town corporation was imposed upon that community. The argument that a development corporation would have been impossible to achieve in dockland was wrong. Nevertheless, the decision has been taken and we must live with it.

I wish to say a word about private financing. During the discussions Trammell Crow was still interested in the scheme, and that was about the only bit of private finance that was interested. Therefore, I was particularly concerned about the evidence from the Port of London Authority—one of the main landowners in the area. I asked a number of questions of PLA witnesses about the involvement of private finance. The fact is that it is possible to do a deal between the developer, the landowner and the local authority by which the infrastructure is provided by the developer in his costs. I said: In effect they are waving a stick over your head and saying, If you do not give us some proportion of the development profit by way of infrastructure contributions we will not grant planning permission'? The witness replied: That is how one gets planning gains in that context. I then asked if it were possible to do it if the will were there, and whether there was a lot of interest being shown by developers, such as Trammell Crow, in this project. Mr. Hughes replied: Not since the publication of the White Paper on land, but people are still coming to us with ideas which they would like to see carried out in the docklands area. I asked him: In view of the fact that there is total bureaucratic control over the exercise, because the Docklands Joint Committee are working on it with the DOE, do you feel this means that developers who may come along with perfectly workable schemes will be prevented from getting on with them because they will not get planning permission since their schemes are in advance of the long-term plan which will not appear until next year? He replied: That is probably the case. We have not had people coming forward with plans in the last few months, whereas in the past we have had developers coming along full of ideas, but it is difficult to give all the reasons; we do not know them. The thing that comes out of the testimony of the PLA—the largest landowner in dockland—is that there was a possibility of private investment, but that private investment will only go there if there is the political will. In listening to the replies of the witnesses I did not get the impression that the political will existed. The elected leaders of London now have our report. I hope that they will get on and do something about it.

5.57 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Of the designated dockland area, no less than half is entirely within my constituency. In fact, two-thirds of my constituency is within the dockland area. Therefore my constituents are particularly affected by this report and these developments, more so than those of any other hon. Members.

The hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) mentioned the plans of the GLC and the Abercrombie Report. I think that the Barlow Report before the war set the ball rolling. I was a co-opted member of the GLC planning committee and my main objection was to trend planning. Planners plan for all sorts of objectives. In the late 1960s the planners were planning for existing trends, greasing the skids for what was happening economically at that time. That is not always the best thing to do. Sometimes it is better to plan to change the economic gravity of the time.

The hon. Member for Melton also mentioned Hemel Hempstead. It may be true that Hemel Hempstead had 30,000 people in a single centre. The docklands have 5,000 people who are, related to many different places separated by the river and by industrial areas. Therefore, it is not right to compare a semi-green-fields situation in Hemel Hempstead with areas around dockland. Physically and historically the situations are very different.

We must look at this matter in three distinct sections. First, there are the physical and economic factors affecting the environment, and we must examine the essential nature of the present situation, secondly, there was the institutional and statutory framework; and, thirdly, there is the economic and social future. All these factors are bound up with money. Later in my remarks I shall mention some matters that seem to have escaped the attention of the Department of the Environment.

I am a little concerned that nobody so far has mentioned the Port of London as such. It has been mentioned almost in passing in connection with a surplus of land, as though its docks were no longer in operation. But the essence of the problem is that the land is related to the era of nineteenth-century port development and the development of port-related industries. I refer to areas such as those mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), who used the phrase "down-the-end areas".

Mr. Mellish

The phrase I used was "downtown".

Mr. Spearing

I was referring to areas along the river bank related to urban centres such as Poplar, West Ham, Greenwich and so on.

The Port of London can be compared with the chest in the sense that it is an area of interchange between land and water rather than dealing, as does the chest, with air and blood. So far, this debate has concentrated on the blood and not very much on the air. I wish to emphasise that the Port of London has a lot of life left in it yet.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) is concerned with the area around the West India Docks, which are maintained in operation and which work up river. I wish to see similar activity in the Royal Docks in my constituency. The essence of the matter is that the Port of London may have changed its nature, but it is still there. The business of East London, apart from basic manufacture and production, engineering and so on, is transport—namely, railways, roads and the port. Transport is our business, and I hope that it will remain our business, because London is still the largest port in the United Kingdom.

With the onset of new techniques, such as BACAT, Sea Bee and barges which can travel from Tower Hamlets right up the River Rhine, I hope that we shall reach a stage at which the port can remain stable and will decline no further—for there has certainly been decline. In the past 10 years a total of 15,000 jobs have been lost in my constituency. We are suffering redundancies in ship repairing, and we in the borough of Newham also have a housing problem.

I submit that the Government's response in paragraph 5 of Cmnd. 6193 is wrong. It there says: The Government … agrees with their conclusion that Docklands employment problems are symptomatic of a wider structural change taking place in London as a whole". Although many things happening in London as a whole are exaggerated in dockland, I believe that it is the changes in the port and in port-related industries that have caused problems in East London. For this reason I hope that the Minister will agree that we need additional resources in the area. Therefore, I take issue with the Government and with their White Paper response.

Some hon. Members have cast doubts on the ability of the Docklands Joint Committee to fulfil the objectives that are common to all sides. Some have looked with nostalgia at the opportunities for a development-style corporation. I believe that this structure is the only one that will work. Urban centres related to dockland areas are way off the river and off the flood plain, and there are difficulties in east-west communications between the population. Therefore, we have a succession of garden back areas joined together by the river in the middle.

Co-operation among the boroughs has been remarkable because, for example, they have pooled their planning powers. Planning applications inside the dockland area are not now dealt with by the boroughs. They are remitted by the boroughs to the Docklands Joint Committee. A total of 114 applications have been dealt with and 1 million square feet of industrial space has been approved.

Furthermore, where a scheme receives a great deal of rate revenues the increase in the rate revenue is to be distributed by an internal scheme among the boroughs. This tends to avoid some of the internal rivalries that may be thought to be inherent among local authorities in adjacent areas. That is to the credit of the local authorities.

The authorities have already adopted Government recommendations and the Government have appointed many representatives from outside. For example, representatives from the City, and a chairman of a new town development corporation take part in the deliberations of the Docklands Joint Committee. Furthermore, the TUC is also represented. The committee acts more effectively than any other rival organisation.

Doubt has been cast on the action already taken by the Docklands Joint Committee. I believe that the committee has acted as speedily as it could in the circumstances. The hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) said that work on land drainage, industrial use and back-fill had not started. My information is that the work has begun. An imaginative riverside scheme at Tower Hamlets has been agreed and it is fully in accord with the strategic plan produced by the Docklands Joint Committee. It is not thought to be disadvantageous to the London boroughs, but is an acquisition in the area, as a recent television programme suggested.

A sum of £4.6 million from the Thames Water Authority was allocated for Beckton Marshes in regard to sewers and all the rest of it. Furthermore, by the end of the year 367 houses will be erected in Beckton's "dirty green fields", as they were called by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison). I would not refer to the area in that way. It is an imaginative scheme and when completed there will be 8,000 dwellings on that land, 2,220 of which will be either co-operatively or privately owned. In other words, there will be a mix of development.

Mr. Michael Latham

The hon. Gentleman surely agrees that these matters move extremely slowly. I remember the time when my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) and I served on the Greater London Council Housing Committee and discussed these plans. That was in 1968—nine years ago.

Mr. Spearing

As the hon. Gentleman said, there has been a delay, but it has not been the fault of the Docklands Joint Committee. The problem related to who should pay for draining the land. There has been a typically British compromise. Far from delaying the matters, the GLC stepped in and said that it would guarantee the orders for machinery, and in that way the scheme went ahead more speedily than otherwise would have happened. That is one problem that has now been solved. It was to some extent a disagreement between the borough and the GLC and, happily, it has now been resolved.

I turn to the problem of transport. I have a reputation in this House of not being a friend of new roads. I am not necessarily a friend of new large motorways to serve the dockland, but I am in favour of well sited relatively narrow roads without inter-sections to provide new routes to the docklands. That does not necessarily require large motorway standards. We must aim for routes that are not deleterious to the environment, but at the same time we must try to provide good through roads.

I suggest that that particularly applies to the link between the East Cross Route and Leystonstone, where I understand many houses are standing idle, vacant and ready to be demolished, and where there may be a possibility of a road scheme. I am referring not to vast motorways but to through roads to improve the environment. The same applies to the expansion of the Roding Valley route southwards to the Woolwich Ferry.

Mention has been made of the Fleet Line. There are other lines in dockland that are equally important. In my constituency the North Woolwich to Tottenham line has recently had its timetable revised by British Rail, and we are all thankful for that. That line could provide even better communciations than it does.

The most important point concerning industry—which I shall not mention because the subject has already been well covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright)—is that the dockland area is really part of the industrial and, travel-to-work area that stretches from Tilbury to Aldgate East and does not go much further west. The area is parallel to the Thames from London to Tilbury to Southend north of the River and along the North Kent line on the south side. Access to rail routes making a good journey-to-work area east to west is of paramount importance. This is where the Government's forthcoming White Paper on transport will be important.

So far the Government have not shown much realisation of the importance of transport for inner urban areas. But it is vital if they are not to remain as they are but to be rehabilitated. There must be proper transport services. The White Paper must take account of this and of not only the physical presence of the services, but the fares charged relative to the cost of a private car. That will be of great significance, particularly north of the Thames wehere over half of my constituents still do not own cars, do not wish to do so or, in many cases, cannot afford to do so. Therefore, public transport on the east-west line from Barking to Tilbury will be of great significance to the success of the docklands.

I now come to my last point. It will be longer than the others, but it is worth-while because it is concerned with money and resources, and they are the nub of this debate. The Government's response on finance to the Select Committee was disappointing. The Committee had said that the Department of the Environment should give specific details of the level of public expenditure commitment to dockland and that the Government should state their intention about providing financial support. That was contained in Recommendations 1 and 2 by the Select Committee. The Government's response was contained in paragraph 9 of their general observations. They said: Developments in Docklands will be eligible for the normal forms of Government financial support to transport, housing and other purposes. The Government has no plans for special forms of support over and beyond these. On the face of it, that is a disappointing response. It means that there is no special form of grant and no additional funds—no dockland development fund as such.

But what the Government said—as the Minister said when we discussed the strategy for the South-East in Standing Committee—is that there will be support for extra housing, transport and other purposes in so far as they are to be located in dockland. Therefore, the door was not entirely shut. The response was that there would be only the normal means of support available, but possibly to an abnormal extent.

The Government have opened a chink in the door. They have said that they will be using existing channels and not new ones. We say that if the Government are to use existing channels, they must put more finance down them. I hope that the Minister will go further down that road tonight than in the past.

The Minister knows that there is a possibility here, because I have raised with him in Committee a point related to the interim report on the development of the Strategic Plan for the South-East which was published in February 1976. We can read in it something that might almost have come from the time when the hon. Member for Melton was on the GLC. It recognises the development of: a limited number of major growth areas at varying distances from London, offering a wide choice of growth locations and using existing or planned urban settlements as bases for growth. Those closest to London would contribute to the planned development of the London metropolitan region and provide for workers and jobs unlikely to move over long distances. Those furthest from London would develop into relatively self-contained 'city regions'. That was a year ago, although I know that the Government have not necessarily accepted the report.

One cannot quote maps but it contains a map which indicates that there would be a medium growth in the South-East, the Medway, and North in Kent, and major growth in South Essex.

If the Government are willing to underwrite the development, the resources must be available. My right hon. Friend the then Minister for Planning and Local Government agreed with me when answering a Question recently that surely he would have to balance the money going into expanding and new towns and the amount reserved for the urban areas. He said: I agree that what we need is a proper assessment of whether we are using resources wisely in the inner cities as against the new towns, which I take to be my hon. Friend's point."—[Official Report, 5th November 1975; Vol. 899, c. 382.] I understand there will be £200 million to £300 million available for the next three years. That was why I intervened earlier during the speech of the hon. Member for St. Marylebone. If money is available and if funds are to be put into the new expanded areas in the South-East, the funds can be put into the docklands instead.

Moreover, some of the hon. Members who represent those expanded areas want that to happen. During the Committee in which the Minister made his first appearance as a Minister the hon. Members for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) and Ashford (Mr. Speed) agreed that they did not want development of new towns between their constituencies. During the Committee on Dock Work Regulation Bill the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) backed me, saying that such development was wanted in London and that it was not wanted in Eastleigh because there were already many people in that area. So there is a bipartisan view on this matter.

I hope that there will be a change in the Government's thinking. I know that a review is now going on and perhaps it will include the curious proposals that were an overflow of trend planning and rethinking in the late 1960s referred to by the hon. Member for Melton. The resuscitation of old town centres and areas of nineteenth century industry and growth is a world-wide problem. It is a problem recognised around the world—the Minister and some other hon. Members went to a conference in Canada on this matter.

We have here an opportunity in London and the South-East to put money into docklands, money that I have shown to be available. It would not be to the detriment of the development areas and the constituency represented by the chairman of the Expenditure Committee or even to the detriment of areas of Wales that now require work to replace the steel works closures. We can do this within the allocation for South-East England.

I do not think that the people of Milton Keynes would necessarily begrudge losing expansion there to achieve prosperity in docklands. Milton Keynes is a pleasant place to live in already, although there is not much public transport because it is difficult to organise. I hope that the Government will now say "Yes, these resources are available. As a result of our reviews, we shall channel them into the dockland areas at the rate of £100 million to £200 million a year."

6.19 p.m.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) declared his interest by saying, quite rightly, that a little more than half of the area of land covered by the dockland development scheme is in the borough of Newham, a part of which he represents with so much dedication and distinction that we all admire him constantly. I declare my interest by saying that more than nearly half the people who live in the area covered by the dockland scheme—some 26,000 out of 58,000 people in the five boroughs—live in Tower Hamlets, a part of which I have the honour to represent, though with less distinction than my hon. Friend does his parish.

It has always seemed to me that a basic weakness of all the talk that has gone on about docklands from the very first days is that there has been considerable discussion about the land involved but very little about the people who live in the area.

These 26,000 people are a closely-knit community with a tradition of the sort of neighbourliness which people of my age experienced in their youth, wherever they lived, but which has tended to disappear in the suburbs and remains only in villages and East London. They are people with minds of their own. I am told that one Opposition Member spoke with a certain degree of contempt about the people living in the area, but I do not pay much attention to public school Tories expressing contempt for large numbers of their fellow citizens.

Mr. Arthur Jones

The hon. Gentleman is making a quite serious allegation. As only a few hon. Members on this side have spoken, the implication must be that he is referring to one of us. Perhaps he would be kind enough to name the individual.

Mr. Mikardo

We can look at the Official Report tomorrow. Then we shall all know.

It is because there is this densely-congested community, with a lot of people in a very small area and with most of the families having been there for generations, that we cannot simply foist things on them without taking their views into account. No, R. Travers Morgan and Partners, distinguished consultants though they are, and not even a Select Committee of this House, distinguished in its membership and assiduous in the fulfilment of its task as it was, can decide just like that on something which will affect the welfare of these 26,000 people without stopping to think what their views might be.

Reference has been made to the Travers Morgan study, with its beautiful options and its lovely coloured maps. The initial 26 schemes were whittled down to 18 and then to five. Everyone looked at those five and agreed that none was any good. We chucked them out. Hundreds of thousands of pounds and, more important, a couple of years' work were lost in the process. This firm of consultants is a skilled organisation of great distinction, but it made one big mistake. It talked to everyone in sight, but it did not talk to the people who live in the area. The consultants did not try to learn their views.

We had the pretty idea of producing schemes and then allowing for a process of consultation with the chaps. The chaps were to be presented not with a fait accompli but rather with a choice of several faits accompli—though their views would be taken into account. That is not the way to do it.

Planners do not always know best. Sometimes the chaps on the ground know better than the planners. I venture to repeat a part of the evidence that I gave to the Select Committee. It goes back 10 years or more to the trend planning of the GLC and even before that to the planning of the LCC.

Some people living on the Isle of Dogs objected to the fact that, because there was no secondary school on the island, their children had to go to the mainland, on an inadequate bus service or by bicycle, through narrow, winding and dangerous roads, in the morning rush hour and had to repeat the process in the reverse direction in the afternoon rush hour. The people said that they ought to have a secondary school on the island. The Isle of Dogs is a bit cut off and has by far the worst transport problems in London. It probably has some of the worst transport difficulties in Britain outside the Highlands of Scotland and Mid-Wales.

Along came the planners from the education authority. They took into account all new building projected by the GLC and all new development projected by the borough council, together with land which was to be released in stages by the PLA, what was to be built there, how many people would come in and the sort of people they would be. Doubtless they put it all on a computer and they proved conclusively that there would not be enough children of secondary school age to justify even a three-form entry secondary school on the island. It was a masterly piece of work and the planners proved their case immaculately.

However, a few of the local people got together and did a magnificent job, knocking on every door on the island and taking a census of all the children. They added to that figure the numbers that were known to be coming in and proved that there would be sufficient children. They were right. Now, in the most beautiful site in London, at the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs, there stands a new, medium-size secondary school looking across the river to the lovely Wren buildings in Greenwich. It is going great guns and is about to be officially opened, as usual, a year or two after it started going great guns. The local chaps knew best.

Mr. Arthur Jones

I remember the school to which the hon. Gentleman refers from our visit to docklands. I am interested in what he says about its origins. I hope he recognises that the Sub-Committee consulted the local community. We saw Mrs. Brawne of the Joint Docklands Action Group, Mr. Connolly of the East End Dockland Action Group, Mrs. O'Keefe of the Greenwich Docklands Action Group—I remember her very well—Mr. Harker of the Lewisham Docks Action Group and Mr. Harris of the Surrey Docks Action Group. We were aware of the need to take into consideration the points the hon. Gentleman is making, and we were anxious to do so.

Mr. Mikardo

I hope that it was not thought for one moment that my remarks about the unwillingness of some people to consult local folk reflected upon the Select Committee. The hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) is right. The Committee took opinions from everyone, including the people on the ground, very fairly. Other people in high places have not been as assiduous as was the Committee in taking into account the views of local people. Those who believe that we should do that through a new town-type development corporation are wrong. There is no comparison between dock-lands and Milton Keynes, for instance, which will finish up with 250,000 people on the basis of an original community of no more than 10,000.

Mr. Raison

Originally the Milton Keynes community was probably about the same size—or possibly larger—as the present dockland community.

Mr. Mikardo

If the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) had been patient he would have heard my case. I was about to say that when Milton Keynes is finished only about 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. of the people will be those who were on the ground when the project began and that over 90 per cent. of the people will be new to the area. That will not be the case in dockland, and certainly it will not be the case in the congested area of Tower Hamlets. The population now is about 28,000 and it will be the same when the development is complete. The overwhelming majority of the people who will be there at the end of the scheme will be those who are there now. That is why there is no comparison. That is why democratic institutions must be used.

I understand the criticisms made of the Docklands Joint Committee because it is a natural target. The way in which it is constituted lays it wide open to charges of rivalry and so on. In practice, after a pretty sticky beginning, it has done reasonably well. I do not know of any scheme that was desired by any of the five boroughs that has been vetoed as a result of opposition from the other boroughs. I do not know of any scheme that was suggested to the joint committee by one of the boroughs that was not approved. It cannot inhibit action or be as much of a cockpit of rival interests as hon. Members have tried to make out.

The situation is also different in this area from that in the new towns which were built on virtually green fields. This area has suffered four successive forms of blight. I again apologise to members of the Select Committee for repeating some of the evidence that I gave to the Committee. I said that it was an area which for a long time—for more than a century—had what might be called socioeconomic blight. Between 1939 and 1945 it got a dickens of a lot of bomb blight—much more than its fair share. Then, some years after, it suffered from rehousing blight. Roads were stopped for a period, there was an awful mess as demolition took place and between demolition and reconstruction. Roads were changed, and people had to move kids into new schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) correctly said that we are now facing a threat from planners' blight—a blight that derives from an attempt to reach perfection. To be perfect is the enemy of the good in this case.

That philosophy means that one does nothing until one is absolutely sure that it is right. Since it takes many years to ensure that one is doing the right thing, one does not do anything at all for many years, and even then one does not do the absolutely right thing. The way in which to get on with the job is to bear the broad strategic aims at the back of one's mind. That does not mean waiting until one has the last blueprint worked out to the last detail or waiting until the last costing is worked out to the last decimal of a penny.

The development that is being undertaken by the borough of Tower Hamlets with a developer, Riverside (London) Ltd., is a cold, hard example of getting on with one part of a scheme. That has been done with the blessing of the Docklands Joint Committee and without damaging in any way the broad strategy plan.

There are two principal needs of the people in the area—not of the area but of the people who live there. Those needs are decent houses and work. As hon. Members have said, this is an area of chronically high unemployment and of job losses running into tens of thousands with little or no replacement. The industrial development certificate scheme has been a slight hindrance to development and to new industry being attracted to the area. I do not say that it has been a major hindrance. I broadly agree with the conclusions of the Select Committee that the way in which the scheme was administered took the sharp edge off the harm that it might have done. Nevertheless, there is a psychological deterrent in having to apply for an IDC in one place even if one knows that the application will be treated sympathetically. Industries have a choice of two or three different places and, because they have to apply for IDCs in some areas but not in others, that weighs in their choice of areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East was right to say how nonsensical it is that advertisements asking people to come to an area can be used everywhere but Greater London.

There is great scope for small industry in the area. My hon. Friend referred to the splendid job that Greenwich has done in attracting industries to that area. Those industries mainly involve metal work to replace the large engineering aggregations that have moved out of the area. On our side of the river there is a tradition of small industries involving the production of consumer goods such as clothing and furniture, and people are willing to pay a little more for individuality and quality. In my area firms tend to concentrate on batch production instead of mass production. An example is the growth of firms involved in the reproduction of antique furniture. There are many opportunities for getting together such small-scale enterprises, in some cases, I should have thought, possibly as producer co-operatives.

In the end, however, it is all a matter of resources, and it does not matter through which channels they may come as long as they come. It matters not whether one calls the body a corporation of a joint committee, and it does not matter whether it is called, as a rather silly man suggested on television last night, Dockland Limited as though that makes a ha'p'orth of difference or produces a penny or an idea which would not otherwise have existed. Whatever one calls it, in the end it comes down to a matter of resources. They must come in greater quantity than hitherto.

A number of hon. Members have been concerned during the debate with transport facilities in the area. They were right to have been so concerned because a great deal of the prosperity of the area and its attractiveness to people to live there and bring work to it depends on its transport facilities. I do not want to enter into the road versus rail argument, or the Northern Fleet route versus the Southern Fleet route argument.

London has one very wide road which carries very little traffic. It is the River Thames. It is much wider than any other road in London, but it carries much less traffic than any other road in London. It is much cheaper to maintain than any other road in London because it does not have to be dug up and resurfaced every now and again. Providence has given it a beautifully smooth surface along which traffic can pass with the minimum expenditure of energy because it has a very low friction coefficent. So what happens? We do not use it. We take it less and less into account when we are planning for the requirements of the community.

At the very time that the M4 and the M40 were being built with the idea of creating easy transport between South-East England and the West Country, South Wales and the Midlands, Brentford Dock was shut. It was a very good efficient little dock. If, instead of shutting it, it had been kept open and a spur road to the M4 had been constructed—there already was a branch railway line connecting to the main line—with the new barge-aboard ship developments there would have been on earthly reason why the dock could not have been used. Barges could have been discharged from ships in the Thames and sent up to Brentford, where their cargo would have been put straight on to road or rail transport to the West Country, Wales and the Midlands.

Shortly afterwards, Covent Garden market was moved to a site on the river at Nine Elms. At that time much of the imported produce for the market was unloaded in the Canary Wharf in the West India and Millwall group of docks. The produce was off-loaded landside on to lorries. If those who had planned the Nine Elms Market had thought of using the river and had cut an access from it to the new market, all those tomatoes, onions and other produce coming into the Canary Wharf could have been offloaded waterside into barges instead. Just think of the lorries that have to chug along from Millwall to Nine Elms. There is no way of making that journey without passing through some of the most difficult and congested roads in London.

One tug pulling or one pusher pushing four barges is equivalent to 120 10-ton lorries. So at the very time that the great improvement was being made to move Covent Garden Market away from the Strand to a site at the side of the best, easiest and cheapest road in London, no move was being made to provide access to it from that road. Can anyone imagine a company building a hypermarket such as that at Brent Cross with an entrance 100 yards north of the Great West Road but with no access to it from that road? That is exactly what has happened with Nine Elms Market.

We seem perversely determined to choke the river with idleness. It is not too late to do a great deal to reverse that idiotic process. I wonder whether the Select Committee, which did such a good job of studying this matter, might have looked at what could be done to make better use of London's river. Not only dockland but the whole of London could benefit enormously from such better use.

6.47 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) for setting out the basic facts of this debate so clearly. I am sure that the House is grateful, too, for the friendly, kindly and skilful way in which he chairs the Committee. As a member of one of the other Sub-Committees who has to sit under his chairmanship, I am perhaps doubly qualified to say that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones), who was Chairman of the Sub-Committee, called for a much greater sense of urgency and asked the Government to act on this matter rather than merely consider what they were going to do. Many right hon. and hon. Members have quoted the conclusion of the Government's observations. I think that it would perhaps sum up everything in that document to say that too much thought paralyses action.

The right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) made one of his characteristic speeches. They are always full of sound common sense drawn from his deep knowledge of the area. He said something that very few of those who have studied the matter sufficiently would disagree with. It was that this plan could have been carried out by a development corporation which could have done all the necessary consultation, and that there would have been progress which we have not yet seen.

The time for that move is now probably past. But perhaps what we say may be learned by those who are having to think about the replanning of the docklands in Liverpool. Perhaps what I may call a self-destructing corporation might be set up which after, say, 10 years of operation could hand over control to local government. The sad thing that the right hon. Gentleman said was that he could not influence his own Government to act along the lines he had suggested. It is a sad thing and shows how little power any Chief Whip has when faced with the advice that civil servants give to a departmental Minister. This is no attack on the right hon. Member for Bermondsey but is probably something with which most Ministers would agree in their hearts.

The right hon. Member for Bermondsey said that he would listen with great interest to hear what the Minister would say to one or two pieces of evidence that he himself gave to the Sub-Committee. The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett), who is Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, told the Committee: But there is in the area a general feeling of impatience about the committees that are set up and produce reports and nothing happens, and so the years roll by. I hope that the hon. Member for Greenwich, now that he has more influence, will make sure that the years do not roll by without action. All Governments are getting the blame for doing nothing, which is a sad thing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) asked us to examine all aspects of dockland redevelopment and stated that we need to relate our hopes to the needs of industry, because industry will be able to generate what we need there. The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) confirmed a view that many of us had that there has been an internecine battle which has marred progress over the years in dockland. I use the hon. Gentleman's words, not just my own.

My hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) pointed out the need for partnership between local government and how to obtain the finance for schemes in this way. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who always puts his points clearly and always puts his constituency interests forward, made some valuable points about transportation. These were developed, with a rather watery flavour, by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo). but when he talked about the smooth surface of the Thames those who try to operate pleasure steamers do not think it is smooth when great lumps of wood go into their propellers.

I was sorry that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow started by attacking something which he thought had been said by one of my hon. Friends. He thought that an unfortunate remark had been made denigrating those who live in the docklands, but I have been here throughout the debate and I know that no such remark was made. I suggest that he should attack instead his hon. Friend who told him, when he was not present, something which was not true. We thank the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow for his expert advice, as an entrepreneur, on the disadvantages of the IDC system and for stating that even though companies might obtain IDCs they do not want to waste time and money going through the present bureaucratic process, even with the relaxations that have been made in London.

My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry made a point, which was picked up later in the debate, about the disposal of new town assets. On this point the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) disagreed with him. When there is a shortage of capital, we believe that to recycle the existing capital could be one way to get new schemes off the ground. What the hon. Member for South Shields said was hopelessly out of touch with London's problems, as he might have gathered if he had looked at the faces of hon. Members representing London constituencies. He did not say much that was of help to the major problems of London, whereas my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) brought us face to face with the up-to-date facts.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I am wondering what the hon. Gentleman is referring to. I talked particularly about the unreality of trying to bring back major industry to these areas, a view which was shared by other hon. Members. I said that this was a good rôle for small industry. I thought that this had been widely accepted.

Mr. Finsberg

I was talking about the hon. Gentleman's comments on IDCs and ODPs. If he rereads his words, he might feel that he did not say quite what he intended to say.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Will the hon. Gentleman read the report, which made quite valid and sensible comments about IDCs and ODPs?

Mr. Finsberg

Time has moved on, but the hon. Member for South Shields has not.

I move on to say something in general about docklands because there are major problems which have not yet been properly tackled. Dockland has planning blight, frighteningly high unemployment, plummeting rate revenue and appalling communications. There was talk of local authorities spending money on building up an infrastructure but getting nothing out of it. But they will get an expanded rate base. The shrinking rate base is one of the major problems of London, as the Secretary of State has said over and over again so rightly. This is a way of getting increased rates and doing something about the appalling conditions and the dilapidated housing which epitomise what the Secretary of State has called urban decay.

Despite academic protestations about such areas, however, the Government and the GLC have steadfastly seemed to ignore the vast development potential of docklands. The GLC has the land available for industry, housing, and recreational facilities and it offers the opportunity to regenerate the whole of East London's economy. But the time-wasting and local government squablings—which the hon. Member for Woolwich, East mentioned—have been so immense that, apart from some superficial efforts at house building and the processing of planning applications, the plight of docklands remains roughly the same as it did when the Port of London moved to Tilbury in 1967.

The derelict grandeur of London's docklands is a melancholy tribute to the commercial glories of a vanished age. In their present state, the docklands are also a considerable tribute to the efficiency of economic planning controls. It was only by the rigid imposition of such controls that new development could have been stifled.

Docklands also offer an enormous opportunity to improve the housing and environmental conditions of East London. If the redevelopment opportunities are taken in an intelligent and imaginative spirit, and if new housing is constructed at sufficiently low densities and gives opportunities for a variety of tenure and ownership—as the right hon. Member for Bermondsey said, there should be opportunities for different colours and so on—the result could be not only to create new communities in the docklands area but to spearhead an attack on inner city deprivation.

Those responsible have neglected to do the most important work, which is the creation of a stable and attractive infrastructure and substructure. No one will come to docklands unless there are good rail and road communications or unless there are efficient public utilities. No new industries or jobs will be attracted to the area unless some organisation makes the effort to get them there. The docklands area cannot be looked at as a number of separate entities. If it is to succeed, it must be conceived as a whole, interdependent area which needs a policy which will deal with it as such, not as different areas. This does not mean overlooking the problems of areas such as the Isle of Dogs.

The problems of docklands are merely the problems of all London in a more acute and obvious form. London today is experiencing structural unemployment for the first time since the war. We have lost half a million manufacturing jobs since 1961, today many labour exchanges in the capital city have unemployment rates of 10 per cent. and over, and 86,000 jobs were lost between June 1973 and June 1975.

As Simon Jenkins, in an earlier incarnation, said in The Times on 27th September 1976, How many people could be working in dockland if local councils stopped squabbling and started looking for new investment? Indeed, by allowing sites to be cleared of existing employers, and then stopping new employers taking their place, the GLC secures the worst of both worlds. This raises the question of whether we need new resources anyway. Broadly speaking, there are two alternative strategies for the redevelopment of dockland. The first is to create a bureaucratic monolith, with vast injections of public money, which would seek to plan on an unprecedented scale and to oversee the development of every detail of the new docklands. The second is to relax the existing planning controls and to allow the natural economic rhythms of a great city to work their beneficient effect. I have no doubt which of these strategies we should adopt. The planners did not kill docklands—the old docklands were killed by economic evolution. But the planners did ensure, by channelling all new development through the rigid system in docklands, that docklands should stay dead.

There is every evidence that planning can stifle, thwart and distort economic development, but there is no evidence that planning can stimulate such development. What the planners ought to do and can do for docklands is to provide the necessary infrastructure—new roads, new tube lines—and then get out of the way.

The GLC, in its budget for next year, will raise £50 million through rates, which will be used to defray capital expenditure. This is money which is available, and will continue to be available on an annual basis, without affecting any other policies on housing, transport and so on over and above that which the GLC spends on cripplingly high subsidies. This money has been available for use. But I fear—here I regret that I must be political—that it has been the will and the initiative of the Labour Party at County Hall that have been absent. Even Paul Beasley, the leader of Tower Hamlets Council, according to a report in The Times in January, said that the money for docklands could be made available from normal local authority financing'. No special Government assistance would be needed. I am certainly not calling for any special Government help for London. All I am saying is that we should remove the disabilities that now affect London where we are unfairly disadvantaged.

I fear that the Labour Party, which when in Government has professed concern about stopping inner city decay and which in the GLC is said to be committed to arresting and reversing the death of the inner capital, has done nothing. London cannot afford to wait for a flicker of activity. The dereliction in dock-lands must be stopped now.

The way to effective action is neither complicated nor impossible financially. It is, however, necessary to free the development of docklands from the bureaucratic inertia and general deterrent that the GLC has become to any kind of employment or residential regeneration in London.

It requires, first, the establishment of the infrastructure by improving road and rail communications, thereby increasing the catchment area of people and freight. All impediments to growth must be removed—IDCs, ODPs—and the Location of Offices Bureau, which now sends firms out of London, must be accepted to have outlived its usefulness or be turned, if it is to remain, to concentrate on helping inner London instead of hindering it. There must also be sensitive and varied population mixes in employment opportunities, housing and leisure, coupled with the need for the contribution of private financial investment and property development companies in partnership with the local authorities.

In short, because of the GLC's non-commitment to installing the infrastructure of redevelopment, commerce and industry, which had and still have vast amounts of money to invest if there is an end product for them, have come up against bureaucracy. They have vast amounts to invest, but they will not commit their resources until the infrastructure is there. There must, therefore, be a definite, positive policy to attract the money that is available, which will encourage growth and potential.

We have heard a lot this afternoon in this useful debate. There is little that divides the two sides of the House, except, perhaps, the political strategy which at present is being followed by the Government and by the GLC. The attack on the present political strategy has not been confined to this side. Fairly harsh words have been used by Labour Members. What is quite clear and is apparent from every quarter is that London cannot afford to wait any longer. It has already waited for far too long.

Mr. Spearing

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of infrastructure and he called for action. Does he back the Leader of the GLC Opposition who says that he will go ahead with the Fleet Line, if he is given the power, without waiting for Government assistance? Would such action simply be borings in the ground?

Mr. Finsberg

I had concluded. I do not wish to bore the House any longer.

7.5 p.m.

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

I want rather belatedly to thank the Expenditure Committee for its report. As the House knows, the Government made their response to the report about 18 months ago, and both the report and the response have been to some degree overtaken by events—by the publication of the Dock-lands Strategic Plan and by the Government's response thereto.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who recently came into the Chamber, wished that he had been able to be present for the whole of the debate and to respond to it. I know that every time the subject of docklands is mentioned my right hon. Friend reacts positively.

The criticism has been made by several hon. Members who have taken part in this debate that progress has been slow, that things are getting bogged down in committees or that progress is likely to be frustrated by committees failing to agree or to reach speedy decisions. I contest that. I simply do not think that it is true. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said that democracy is an excuse for some people doing nothing. As I hope to show later, that is certainly not true in the case of dockland. If it later becomes true, perhaps we shall have to think again, but the Government believe that the present structure is satisfactory. Progress to date, as I shall seek to demonstrate later, has been much better than some have been prepared to admit.

I repeat that I shall want to argue that later, but first I want to say something about organisational structure, a question which arose at several points during the debate. The suggestion has often been made that we need a corporation akin to a new town development corporation, a body that would be able to act speedily and decisively. I reject that proposition now, as I did in my evidence to the Sub-Committee. I see the attraction.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey has a dream of certain things he wants to see happening in dockland. In his speech today and speeches he has made on other occasions he has described possible imaginative schemes, such as being able to shop by river. I do not believe that the speed with which the job could be done and the sensitivity with which it could be done would ever be achieved if we set up a body such as a new town development corporation.

There has been repeated mention of one matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) put it very well when he talked about the degree to which communities living in dockland need, through their democratic representatives, to be involved in the development of any plans if we are to move along the right lines. I made that very point in my evidence to the Sub-Committee.

Dockland is not a well-defined or an easily defined area. It is an artificial area in the sense that a large part of it is related to its hinterland. Each of the five boroughs is associated intimately with that part of each other borough which is called dockland. I go further and say that the dockland round the River Thames is the heartland of much of the economic and social life of East and South-East London, whose constituencies many of us represent.

I return to the argument about delay. The Travers Morgan consultants foresaw 1978 as the starting year. The DJC did rather better; its strategy was complete in July of last year. Only a month later the Government were able to approve it and give it their support. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey was critical of what he thought to be the delay, but he at least admitted that the Docklands Joint Committee's planned strategy was admirable. I do not believe that one can honestly say that the committee has moved slowly. In some respects it has done remarkably well.

New town development corporations have been held up in this debate as absolute paragons of speed and decisiveness, but it cannot be said that even they, when laying down their plans at the beginning of their designation, have moved very much faster than has the Docklands Joint Committee in this case. What is more, there is a great difference between the complexity of the situation which the Docklands Joint Committee faced and that which the development corporations faced even where the corporations were in partnerships in, for example, Peterborough or Northampton. The complexity of the situation inevitably means that it will be more difficult for the committee; it is likely to take longer, and it may even be difficult in some cases to get everyone to agree.

I believe that it is absolutely right to follow the strategy which we have followed. Where 55,000 people, represented by many hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, are directly affected, and where there are clearly defined and active communities, it is vitally important that we recognise that fact and also that those communities are part of a far wider industrial structure than just the dockland area.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright), who was a member of the Docklands Joint Committee, referred to the arguments that went on part of the time between the local authorities, and the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), referred to local authorities squabbling. The fact is that the GLC and the five boroughs have sorted out their difficulties and their disagreements and have come to a unanimous conclusion. The House ought to pay some tribute to that. It is a pretty remarkable achievement for boroughs as diverse as that, north and south of the river, to be able to achieve a common strategy. For that reason, I believe that there has been a considerable achievement.

Many hon. Members who have taken part in the debate would agree that the key to dockland redevelopment lies in restoring economic life and purpose to dockland. Concern has been expressed about the loss of jobs and closures of firms that have supplied the life blood of the area. I cannot think differently because I represent a constituency currently faced with no fewer than 1,000 redundancies. I can tell the House that the Government are fully seized of the problem, and the statement which my right hon. Friend made last August demonstrated a significant shift in Government policy.

Many hon. Members have said that much of dockland redevelopment will be dependent upon the activities of the small firms. The rise in the IDC limit means that more than 40 per cent. of firms coming to dockland do not need to apply for IDCs. From the arguments we have had so far, that seems to be the very kind of industrial activity we want to attract. In that direction, I am convinced that an enormously important contribution has already been made.

Certain criticism has been made of the fact that so far it has been attractive to firms to move to new towns and that the Government have seemed ready to assist or to encourage them to do so. But it is important to recognise the significant change which my right hon. Friend made by his statement last August, in that now the dockland area has the same level of priority as the new town corporations for attracting industry. It is second only in priority to assisted areas.

Lastly, I think we should recognise the important change that has now been made in the issue of speculative IDCs to enable the replacement of obsolete facilities. As a consequence of the speculative IDCs being granted, a major new industrial estate has been started at Beckton and some 2,000 jobs are expected to be provided in the longer term. It is likely to be the forerunner of many more. Therefore, I think that the Government have already made a major contribution towards the industrial development of the area.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East also mentioned the importance of training, and I would agree with that. He mentioned some of the needs of industrial training which, I think, will be fulfilled in the near future. Perhaps I can correct him on one constituency point concerning Harvey's which is an important centre of training. There is certainly no danger to the training centre in our borough. He and I are agreed that a considerable tribute should be paid to our own borough for the example it has given to other boroughs by its helpful industrial policies which have gone a considerable way to attracting no fewer than 4,000 new jobs, which would not have otherwise been there. I know for a fact that other boroughs in the dockland area are already showing signs of following the example set by Greenwich in employing an employment development officer and in the helpful assistance that a local authority can give—but which has not always been given in the past—to the development of industry within its own area and to providing bady needed employment.

The key to development in terms of jobs and housing lies in the issue of land. That is why I am glad that the constituent authorities of the DJC have agreed to the formation of the Docklands Land Board which will operate under the DJC's direction. It will be the first such board to operate under the Community Land Act. It will have powers to acquire and hold land, to enter into leasehold partnerships with private developers, and, acting jointly with local authorities, to operate as an industrial development agency. We hope that the board will be in operation by Easter.

I believe that that development is valuable to industry and to housing whether public or private, but even in advance of the formation of the board, the DJC is already carrying out preliminary work, and the Government have agreed to its acquisition of about 220 acres for redevelopment in line with the docklands strategy—that is, four sites for a mixture of public and private development.

I stress that docklands, along with other inner city areas currently under review, will be accorded priority. Therefore, I do not think that there will be an adverse effect on land acquisition in docklands under the Community Land Act as a result of the present continuing economic constraints.

I want to say a word about the way in which the Government's docklands policy fits into the inner city policy as a whole. My right hon. Friend's committee, which is studying the future of inner city areas, regards dockland as a major and vital part of those studies. They have been carried forward very urgently. We hope that the Government will be in a position to make a statement in a few weeks. As the House knows, the Government's consideration represents a major departure from the post-war consensus, criticised in this debate, on the dispersal of the population from our cities. The policy of dispersal is far less relevant now than it was 10 or 20 years ago. The criticism heralds a new approach which has received wide support from our cities. London Dockland was extensively developed in the Victorian period, and its concentration of economic and social problems now need to be tackled.

On the economic front, it is partly a matter of investment and of providing modern industrial premises to replace those which are now obsolete. It is partly a matter of providing encouragement to small firms, and partly a question of providing conditions which make these areas attractive and potentially profitable in terms of sites, road access and labour force. At the same time, it will be necessary to relieve immediate social stresses, continuing the attack on longstanding housing problems and concerning ourselves more than in the past with the contribution which the health services, the education service and the social services make to the wider environment of an area.

My right hon. Friend's committee is considering whether the main programmes of the central Government and local government should to a degree concentrate on selected inner urban areas, and whether some new form of partnership may be required, involving the central Government and local authorities, to get the right mix of measures in an individual area and to co-ordinate the necessary action. The experience of the Docklands Joint Committee itself may have something to teach other parts of the country as an example of local authority co-operation with a certain degree of Government involvement.

In the present economic climate, no extra money is available waiting to be earmarked for inner areas of cities. Any extra expenditure will have to come from within the totals of public expenditure that have already been set, but there is room for reallocation both within local authority budgets and in Government programmes. I believe that this approach is entirely compatible with the approach adopted by the GLC and the five London boroughs responsible for the dockland area, which have evolved both an appropriate sense of priorities and an appropriate working mechanism in the joint committee.

I take a more optimistic view than certain hon. Members about the future. I end by saying that I genuinely mean my thanks to the Sub-Committee for its report. There is no doubt that, in the long-term thinking about dockland, the report and the way the Sub-Committee considered evidence has been of great value, and this debate in itself, with the comments that have been made, will be taken seriously by the Government in their own consideration of inner city policies so far as they affect dockland.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of the Fifth Report from the Expenditure Committee Session 1974–75 (House of Commons Paper No. 348) on Redevelopment of the London Docklands, and of the relevant Government observations (Command Paper No. 6193).