§ 4.18 a.m.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
I consider myself fortunate to be able to initiate a debate on London. One of the great difficulties from which London Members suffer is the refusal of the business managers to provide proper time at a sensible hour to enable the vast and grave problems that confront London to be properly debated and considered by Parliament.
When our previous debates have taken place on the London area we have always 1142 had the pleasure of the presence of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Fins-berg), who is now an Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. I must express my disappointment that he is unable to be with us this morning and that we have an Under-Secretary of State for Employment on the Government Front Bench. The subject ranges much wider than employment.
The parts of the Bill that relate to the London area cover a wide range of environmental problems. It is a shame that the one Minister who has taken a close interest in our debates in the past, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, is unable to be present to answer questions on the environment which I guess many of my hon. Friends will be raising.
There is no contention between London Members on both sides of the House that we need a Minister for London to be provided from funds made available by the Bill. The hon. Member for Ravens-bourne (Mr. Hunt) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) have both put that matter before the House. I believe that the time has come for a positive move in that direction.
London is a major centre not only for the United Kingdom but for the European Community. It is an international financial and commercial centre. It is one of our great regrets, however, that the strength of the industrial base of London and the employment prospects resulting from that strength of industrial base have been somewhat diminished in the last 20 years. As a result of policies followed by successive Governments, and policies followed by the Greater London Council, there has been a drain of jobs away from London.
I do not take the view that regional policies followed by previous Governments were wrong. They were right to try to bring employment and work to other parts of the country. Where they have done damage to London is in encouraging industry to leave London. Rather than successfully creating jobs in areas where they were desperately needed, this has created unemployment and difficulty in the London area.
I can speak with heat and passion on this subject. In the area that I share with 1143 my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright), we have seen over the course of 20 years well over 90,000 jobs lost. This has placed enormous strains upon London, and in particular on that part of London that we represent.
As a major centre, we should receive special treatment, and certainly the sort of treatment that is available to many other parts of the country, for in London we can find every problem that confronts any other part of the United Kingdom. There is nowhere in Britain with a greater housing problem than that in London. There is nowhere in Britain with more slums and worn out houses than we have in London. I am sure that the Under-Secretary, when he replies to the debate, will recognise that there are areas of London with unemployment figures approaching the level of the highest in Great Britain. I exclude Northern Ireland.
Whenever hon. Members legitimately put forward their points of view on problems relating to their constituencies, we can claim that our problems in London match theirs, and in many cases far outweigh them. We need a new and major effort by the Government. They will receive support from each side of the House if they start to take a major initiative to deal with the problems of London.
The Greater London Council has been a failure. I do not say that in a party political sense, because I believe that the GLC has been a failure under each of the major parties in London. It has not come up to the expectations held by Londoners when it was created.
Tourism places considerable burdens on towns and cities which have a large influx of visitors. As Members of Parliament, we know from experience how, in the summer months, it is almost impossible to struggle through to the gates of the Palace of Westminster because of the hordes of visitors who are enjoying themselves. Yet the facilities that are provided for those tourists are primarily provided by the London ratepayers. There ought to be a greater interest by the Government in meeting the costs involved in coping with this vast influx of tourists into this great metropolis each year.
1144 Linked to that is something else that is very close to my heart which I believe to be of vital interest to London. That is the question of again having an exhibition centre capable of providing the sort of facilities that this centre of international trade, commerce and industry deserves. The National Exhibition Centre at Birmingham is a hightly desirable development that fulfils a need for that part of Britain, but it is no substitute at all for the need and desperate requirement for London itself to have a new major exhibition centre.
I have made some inquiries among exhibition organisers, and they forecast that in 1980 there will not be a square foot of empty exhibition space available in Great Britain. Yet they could mount many more major exhibitions to the benefit of British trade, industry and commerce if there were a suitable exhibition centre in London. I hope that the Minister will take that on board, because it has implications for his responsibilities as Under-Secretary of State for Employment. If London had that sort of centre, it would make a significant impact on some of its unemployment problems. If such a centre were provided, we would attract people who would combine a business and pleasure visit—doing business with British manufacturers while attending an exhibition.
I want to refer briefly to transport. I come from the south of London. It is about 15 miles from my home in my constituency to Parliament. In the morning it can take me well over 1½ hours to travel that short distance by car. One of the complicating factors that has led to greater congestion on our roads from the South—no doubt the same applies to roads from the North and West—is the policy pursued by the GLC, albeit by sanction of Private Acts passed by this House, to institute bus lanes. I believe that bus lanes are monstrous.
When I looked through the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, I noticed a reference to transport and ancillary services. I hope that I do not trespass on the Chair's tolerance by referring to this. However, I hope that the GLC will note that, far from contributing to a lessening of traffic problems, the bus lane policy has lead to a complication and increase in traffic congestion. In 1145 many cases that policy has left half a road virtually empty during peak traffic times, with the occasional bus going through, whereas it could be carrying twice the number of commuters who are left sitting and swearing in their cars in dense and packed traffic.
In all our areas we face the problem of heavy lorries from the Continent distributing goods throughout London. Particularly for traffic from the Continent, greater use could be made of movement on the Thames rather than on the roads. Government after Government have failed to exploit the potential of the Thames and, now that we are in the Community, of developing the sort of waterborne transport that comes from the heart of Europe across the Channel and straight into the heart of London. The matter deserves a great deal more thought and research. I hope that the Government will start to institute that sort of research to demonstrate that it is or is not feasible. We need a study so that we can start to use the Thames as a great artery into the centre of London.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East and I have many things in common. One of them is the great development at Thamesmead, where we share the responsibility of looking after the residents who have moved into the area. On the transport side, we are both very interested in the Government's views on the future of the Jubilee line. I consider it to be essential, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will develop that theme, because it will allow at least a link to be made which will greatly ease some of the transport difficulties in the area. I should like to see the line go a little further, right down into Erith. But to get it to Thamesmead would be a good first step. I shall argue about the extension to Erith later, once we have achieved that first breakthrough.
Another problem at Thamesmead and throughout the London area is the growing disquiet felt by residents in council accommodation, particularly high-rise flats. They are coming to my advice bureaux in increasing numbers, expressing their grave fears that they and their children will never get out of those high-rise flats into more suitable accommodation, because of the policy of the sale of council accommodation. I hope that the 1146 Under-Secretary will say something about the Government's thinking and what advice they will give to local authorities to ensure that people who are imprisoned with their young children in those flats can have the hope that they will not be confined there for the rest of their lives. I hope that the Government will have a policy that will allow them preference in getting into more suitable accommodation, rather than there being the willy-nilly selling of houses with gardens to other tenants.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
The Greater London Council has now notified the London borough of Hackney that from October this year there will be no nominations for it. As we have a majority of high-rise flats, my hon. Friend's point is well taken in my area. This act of vandalism by the GLC is creating just the problems that he describes.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
This will become a real problem. At the last meeting of the Bexley council there was a determined demonstration by tenants of high-rise flats, who at that stage confined their activities to the use of strong language. I believe that if people in Hackney and other parts of London, certainly my area, do not have the hope of leaving such flats, they will become very angry and we shall see some difficult scenes arising directly from the policy that is being imposed by the Government.
As I understand it, the GLC is taking this hard line as a reprisal against those London authorities which have not fallen in with it with respect to the transfer of GLC estates. That sort of vindictiveness does nothing to help solve the problms facing those in desperate need of housing accommodation. Many of these wish to escape from the prison of high-rise flats, where their children cause them grave concern as they play on balconies, or, if they go down 13 flights to the ground, where they are too far away from Mum to allow her to protect them from the dangers to which they are exposed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East will agree that many of the problems of Thamesmead, although they continue to exist, have to a large degree been overcome. This is due to the spirit of those who have moved there and to organisations such as the Thamesmead 1147 Community Association, which has drawn together the local community. In this way the people have been able to work together. That is why I am glad that in the Bill there is provision for the Government to make grants to local authorities for the development of community associations and activities. The money is not sufficient, but it is a modest token. I hope that some of that money will come the way of Thamesmead so that this inspiration of the people, helping them to overcome the problems imposed on them by the planners, will be even more successful.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
Is my hon. Friend really suggesting that he believes that the money identified in the Supplementary Estimates will be spent on the purposes he suggests? Is he not aware that the Government Front Bench have made it clear that there is to be a complete cutback and that savings will be made in this very area? I beg my hon. Friend, do not, for Pete's sake, give the Government credit for saying what they mean.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I am an optimistic fellow, and I was working on the basis that even this Government would listen to the voice of reason being put by myself and my hon. Friends. I believe that the stony hearts of Ministers will be touched by our appeal and that they will ensure that money is available in these areas of which we speak.
My last point concerns education, which I know falls outside the Under-Secretary's responsibility. I hope that he will pass on the point I make to his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Education has become a matter of controversy in my constituency as a result of a decision of the Bexley local council to close down a highly successful all-ability school and to reopen a grammar and secondary modern school, using the two buildings occupied by the all-ability school. My appeal is that the Minister should convey to the Secretary of State the pleas from teachers, parents and all with an interest in education in my area that he should not stick to the letter of the law in allowing only the statutory two months for objections to the scheme which are now flooding in. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will convey that to his right hon. and learned Friend, that there will be an extension 1148 leading through the summer holidays into October or November and that there will be no mad rush to proceed with this section 13 proposal without giving adequate time for local people to make their views known.
I have touched on only a few subjects. I have not dealt with them in depth, because at 4.40 in the morning—it is not even night—many hon. Members wish to make their speeches, to hear the Government's reply, to go back to their beds and to refresh themselves for the rest of the parliamentary procedure before the Summer Recess.
§ 4.41 a.m.
§ Mr. Martin Stevens (Fulham)
: I shall confine my remarks to one of the subjects covered by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), namely, employment. It is probably as true for the country as a whole as it is for London that the problem can be solved only by a number of different Departments and agencies working together.
Fulham has the second highest and fastest growing level of unemployment in London. Between 1972 and 1977 Fulham lost 591 per cent. of manufacturing jobs. That was more than three times the average rate of decline in inner London. Yet when I took my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to visit our jobcentre some months ago we found that there were about 4,000 registered male unemployed and about 4,000 job vacancies. Nationally there are approximately 850,000 job vacancies. If those vacancies could be filled not only would much unhappiness be eliminated but the saving in terms of expenditure on unemployment benefit would be substantial and would go a long way to help to solve many of our problems. I have no doubt that the Government are considering ways in which job vacancies and applicants can be more closely and successfully interlocked.
In considering the problem—rising unemployment and at the same time an almost equal number of job vacancies in London—we have to start, first, as the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford hinted, with the educational picture.
Many experiments have been tried since the war. It was thought that the great 1149 panacea would be to introduce engineering workshops into schools and to produce trained engineers. But since then the number of engineering jobs in London has fallen by about 150,000. It is clear to me that the reason why the engineering team is paid less than the marketing or the financial team or any other group of specialists is that in trying to plan efficiently some years ago we produced a flood of engineers, and the absence of market demand has led to gross underpayment of that category of experts.
I find three serious gaps in the philosophy of education in inner London when applied to employment. The Inner London Education Authority is beginning to show some slight relaxation, but in the past it always insisted that its job was to provide a broad general education, not to encourage schoolchildren to set their sights on any special career prospects because they might make the wrong choice and live to regret it. It was thought that they might specialise too soon and that there were philosophical objections to trying to tailor boys and girls to fit the needs of industry. I do not say that there is anything wrong in that philosophy. Indeed, I share the view of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford that the subject of the debate ought not to be a party issue.
There is nothing immoral in seeking to avoid the toothpaste tube production of industrial stereotypes, but there should be some relaxation—as there has been—in the feelings in schools about the real world of work. I particularly hope that school teachers will look more favourably on manufacturing industry as a career for their pupils and less favourably on the sort of clerical jobs that so many teachers regard as having a moral and social superiority. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education will use his influence to develop that trend.
Another weakness in the education system is that children are not taught to speak articulately about the world of jobs. I do not know whether other hon. Members have the same experience in their constituencies, but there are many schools in Fulham and not one has a debating society. I cannot persuade head teachers to introduce that form of training, which I believe to be enormously 1150 valuable. As a result, children are inarticulate when speaking to grown-ups, and that also applies when they are seeking jobs. I hope that the Secretary of State will use his influence to increase training in debating which could give children the self confidence which is, perhaps, the most valuable attribute that education can provide.
Another problem is that many children in London have unrealistic aspirations about their career prospects. We have a number of organisations in Fulham that try to keep school leavers amused and keep their spirit unbroken. Without exception, those running such groups say that the reason why children cannot or will not take jobs is that they have absurd ideas about what they can expect to earn and the satisfaction that they can expect to enjoy in the sort of jobs to which untrained young people can be assigned.
As I said earlier, the problem should be tackled in a non-partisan way, but I must make one modest party point. The previous Government attached great importance to raising the living standards of the low paid. Put like that, it sounds a charming and generous outlook. It sounds good on an election platform, but what in fact it had the effect of doing was to reduce the incentive of children to learn a trade, to take up an apprenticeship. Many of the children to whom I have talked have said that they are not going to learn a trade because their Dad has told them that they will be better off unskilled rather than skilled. Therefore, it is very important for the Government—I know that they are doing this—to increase the immediate advantages to children of learning a trade.
One of the situations that we inherited was that if a boy took an apprenticeship training course under the Manpower Services Commission—my figures may be a little out of date; this was the position three months ago—he would get £22.50 a week, and when he had paid his dinner money and the cost of his travel he would be worse off than he would have been if he had stayed at home and had the unemployment benefit of £19.50 a week.
Encouragement, both philosophically and in terms of hard cash, should be given to children to learn trades and acquire skills. Not only from the point of view of their own future but from the 1151 point of view of the country's hopes for a successful future on a national scale, it is tremendously important that we should get the children trained not necessarily merely for skill that they will follow all their lives but to acquire the habit of training so that they will recognise that the best careers and the best rewards do not come to the ignorant and the unskilled.
All of those factors are related to education. The next stage is that children do not know enough about the real world of work, either when they are at school or immediately after they have left, to form any very strong opinion about the kind of life they want to lead. This does not apply to what one might call the grammar school stream, and even, perhaps, to the top of the next stream, but it applies to the 40 per cent, at the bottom of the heap, who are clearly not getting the concentrated help and attention that they need.
One of the things that I am doing in Fulham with the help of a multi-ethnic group of people is to compile a register based on all the employers and professional and business people in my constituency, indicating what they do, how many people they employ, where they work, and the name and telephone number of, one hopes, the person willing to help, and stating what that person is willing to do. Every school leaver and careers teacher can have access to this register. They will be able to see that company X offers an apprenticeship or an apprenticeship training course, or chartered accountant Y is willing to give one night a month of his time to giving advice to children who are thinking of entering that particular profession.
This is the kind of service which does not now exist. Local authorities do not have the staff or the patience, or in some cases the knowledge and experience, to compile such a register. I hope that that will be a service that is very shortly available in my constituency.
Then there is the failure of many children in inner London schools to recognise and to take up the opportunities that are offered. One has the frustrating experience of persuading a local business organisation to introduce a new apprenticeship scheme, it agrees to take on eight new 1152 apprentices, and in a couple of months' time one goes along to see the new apprentices at work. In reply to the question "How many of these apprentices live in the borough?" one is told "None of them does. They come from Acton, Ealing and Ruislip, and places such as those."
I do not know why it is, and I cannot explain it, but the nearer to the centre of London one gets, the less able and willing are the children to make use of those employment opportunities available under the MSC and other initiatives that exist. What we are doing about that is to make, through the local council—it costs about £200 a time—a series of travelling automated slide shows which will show children in school some of the things that other children have done to obtain local jobs.
Most people desire to work in relatively small organisations and as near to home as they can. There is a low rate of industrial unrest in small businesses in comparison with large ones. One does not need to be an expert financier to recognise that, with the cost and inconvenience of travel, people would rather work near their homes than have to travel 10 miles. That brings in the planning services, and local planning authorities must be more flexible in terms of such things as conformity of use and make it easier for small businesses to obtain and develop street corner sites.
One could discuss these difficulties throughout the night, and some hon. Members hope that I shall do so. I think that I have said enough to indicate that the reason why we have made so little progress is that the problem covers so many areas—education, employment and environmental planning. I hope that as a result of the debate the Government will be able to suggest that a forum or structure within London of an all-party nature should be established. Apart from pooling the experiences that I have described, it could give a lead that would be of practical and immediate help. For example, the trade unions could do a great deal in helping schoolchildren learn the skills of their trade after school hours, and I am sure that most employers would be delighted to let them do that. If we acted together in a non-partisan way, we could promote a great many practical 1153 solutions and take realistic steps to improve a situation of which every hon. Member from London is all to sorrowfully aware.
§ 4.57 a.m.
§ Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich, East)
I should like to begin by taking up the issue of employment. It is the key to solving many of the problems of the rundown inner urban areas of London. The Government favour free market forces, but those will not sort out the problems of employment in inner London. As my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) recalled, our part of London has lost a substantial number of jobs in recent years as a direct result of free market forces. Firms discovered that it was better to rationalise their operations in sites away from London because of operating costs, or they discovered that it was more profitable to sell a London site for use as a riverside hotel, and we lost a substantial amount of manufacturing employment.
We need a good deal of co-operation between all sorts of agencies. An example of that co-operation was included in the GLC's general powers Bill. I am delighted that the Greater London Council is proposing to make provision for small firms setting up in business in the inner London area. My local authority has done a great deal to encourage small firms that have left the area, and that has been a success.
Small firms need a lot of hand holding, a lot of practical assistance. I was pleased to learn of the GLC's ideas on providing guarantees for loans to such firms.
It is disappointing that the Government took a strong and intransigent line against the GLC having those powers. Apparently they have removed them from the Bill without any publicity and without any reaction or comment, as far as I can discover, from the GLC itself. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) and I have decided to block the Third Reading of the Bill so that the House can debate what happened to those powers and why they have been removed and have an opportunity to say that such powers ought to be available to the GLC to tackle London's employment problems.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
Will my hon. Friend also record that the Evening News, which had so much to talk about a year ago, apparently has not heard about the removal of those powers either, so its reporting staff seems to be pretty lacking in this House?
§ Mr. Cartwright
I accept that point. I cannot see any signs of the Evening News watching our debate, although, no doubt, like the other London evening paper, it will complain bitterly that London Members are not as vocal on behalf of London and its problems as Members from other parts of the country are about their areas.
The question of transport is important to the employment problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Cray-ford has once again forestalled me, as he so often does, by referring to the issue of the Jubilee line. It is vital. The GLC has said on many occasions that the building of the Jubilee line is an essential boost for the development of Docklands. It is an act of faith to all the developers in the Docklands area to show that the GLC and the Government and all the other agencies involved really do mean business in developing the Docklands area.
As my hon. Friend has said, the Jubilee line is a vital link for Thames-mead. It is not acceptable to us that we should dump 45,000 people on a fairly barren site on the edge of the Thames and not provide them with adequate means to get back to central London where their jobs lie. When Thamesmead was planned, it was intended that the locality would provide jobs for its residents. Sadly, those jobs have gone and therefore people in Thamesmead have to travel long distances to work. The Jubilee line would provide them with one clear, radical and sensible means of getting from their homes in Thamesmead to their jobs.
When the Labour Government indicated that they were not very keen on the Jubilee line and were not prepared to provide much support for it, Sir Horace Cutler, the leader of the GLC, had some stern things to say. The GLC delivered a sharp rebuke to the Labour Government. That I understand. What I find rather harder to understand is that a different attitude is being displayed by Sir Horace when the present Government are showing no great signs of enthusiasm for the Jubilee line.
1155 A 12-month pause has been established and Sir Horace has apparently accepted it. I find that a rather odd reaction. I should have thought that if he was sincere in his original rejection of the Labour Government's lack of support for the Jubilee line he would have shown just as much fire, determination and willingness to stand up to the Conservative Government and fight for his cherished project.
The other thing that I find rather odd about the Government's attitude to the Jubilee line and Docklands transport in general is that, while the Government have poured cold water on the project and have imposed a 12-month pause, they have given the go-ahead for certain major road schemes, for example, the Docklands southern relief road and the East London river crossing, both of which will be expensive and environmentally damaging to the areas through which they go.
§ Mr. Stevens
Is either of those two projects likely to be more expensive than the extension of the Jubilee line?
§ Mr. Cartwright
At the moment, the total cost of the Jubilee line project is about £325 million. The total road package proposed for the Docklands area is between £450 million and £500 million. Those are figures provided by the GLC. I think that they underline my argument. At a time when we are all desperately worried about the energy crisis and our future oil supplies, it is a strange policy for the Government to be thinking about roads investment on that scale and not at the same time giving encouragement to railway investment, which is very much more efficient in terms of energy use.
I make two brief comments about housing. For all London Members, housing remains a major problem. However, over the years I have found that the scope of the problem in my area is changing. It is no longer a problem so much of quantity. It is now one of quality. My Friday night advice service is attended by fewer people who are looking for housing and who have none. I get far more people who have housing but are dissatisfied with what they have. They want transfers to more attractive and more suitable property, and that is a need which it is becoming more and more difficult to meet.
1156 As my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford said, the great demand from young married couples is to get away from their high-rise flats into houses with gardens. The policy of selling houses in this area has caused tremendous difficulties. It is not just that the GLC is selling homes to tenants already occupying those homes. It is that it is increasingly selling houses that have fallen vacant and would have been available for people wishing to transfer from flats.
On Friday nights it is an increasingly bitter experience for me to meet young married couples with children, from Thamesmead especially, living on the sixth and seventh floors of high-rise flats who ask why they cannot have the empty houses which they can see from their flats. Often they have been empty for several months, and they are boarded up and waiting. I have to tell them that it is impossible because the houses have been earmarked for sale. I had a letter this morning from my GLC district housing manager saying that because of the scarcity of houses and the selling policy the only cases now being transferred into houses in my area are those with top medical priority.
I want to underline strongly what my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford said about the impact of this policy on young married couples. They feel imprisoned in their flats. This problem is causing tremendous marital difficulties and health troubles, and they see no hope, no possibility of ever getting out of their prisons of high-rise flats into houses with gardens for their children.
The other matter concerns the other end of the age scale. It is the problem of elderly owner-occupiers. The London borough of Greenwich has had a longstanding policy of helping elderly owner-occupiers who can no longer struggle with the problems of meeting the outgoings on their houses and keeping them in a good state of repair. The council is willing and happy to buy such a house and to rehouse the pensioner concerned in a small flat which is much more comfortable and convenient. It is a very popular scheme. It has been going for a number of years. Of course, it is a scheme which takes time to sort out, because such a deal cannot be finalised until the council 1157 comes up with a suitable offer acceptable to the pensioner concerned.
But we have had another snag in the past few weeks. Because of the action of the present Government, the local authority now has to make application for individual loan sanction in each case, because it is classed as being municipalisation. At the moment between 80 and 90 cases are help up by red tape in the Department of the Environment while each of them is examined. This means that 80 to 90 pensioners are in a state of uncertainty and worry. Their sons and daughters explain to me how long they have been waiting and ask why the deal cannot be finalised when their pensioner parents are happy to move. The reason is that the deal has been held up deliberately in the Department of the Environment.
§ Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)
Would it not make more sense for the council to build its own purpose-built sheltered accommodation rather than acquire individual houses? Surely that would avoid the delays that the hon. Gentleman has described.
§ Mr. Cartwright
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has missed the point completely. My local authority has the largest stock of purpose-built sheltered accommodation in London. The problem is that in order to move old people out of a three-bedroom house with a garden that they cannot maintain, one has to buy the house from them and allow them to move into sheltered accommodation or a flat. It is a much more difficult operation if they have to sell on the open market to someone else and then seek to be re-housed by the council, because of the constraints and other problems that occur.
The Government appear to regard this programme as wicked Socialist municipalisation. It is nothing of the sort. This scheme for helping elderly owner-occupiers is carried out under circular 55 of 1957, which was issued by a Conservative Government to meet the real and genuine need. I hope that the Minister will make sure that an urgent message is relayed to the Department of the Environment. I cannot believe that even the hardhearted Ministers to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Cray-ford referred want to display an intran- 1158 sigent and insensitive attitude towards pensioners who are in need and worthy of help. If we have achieved nothing else in the debate, I hope very much that this message will go firmly and swiftly to the Ministers at the Department of the Environment asking them to cut through the red tape so that between 80 and 90 pensioners can have the home that they want.
§ 5.12 a.m.
§ Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) on his initiative in entering the ballot for this debate, his good fortune in drawing a high place and for the generally constructive tone of his speech. I agree with a great deal of what he said, particularly the earlier part of his remarks.
I share his regret that our only opportunity to debate the affairs and problems of Greater London seems to be through this facility of the Consolidated Fund Bill, which means that the debate takes place at this extraordinary hour as dawn is breaking over Dockland. Like the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford, I feel that this situation has continued for far too long, under successive Governments.
London's problems are repeatedly squeezed out of the parliamentary timetable. We are given no opportunity to debate the difficulties of our constituencies. There are special and unique problems in London. A number have been mentioned in the spheres of education, transport, tourism and, of course, employment, which is the main subject of the debate. It would be much better if we were allowed a half-day debate on London once a year. If that is not possible, we should be allowed at least a Question Time for London from time to time.
I feel, however, that for the first time in a long period the voice of London and the problems of London are being heeded at ministerial level. There have been a number of examples in recent days. I agree that this voice would be heard even more effectively if there were a Minister who was specifically charged with responsibility for London's affairs, but that is another issue. In spite of the lack of such a Minister, London has been faring well under the present Administration. My hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry announced only a few days 1159 ago the relaxation of the industrial certificates procedure for Greater London, and today we had the welcome news of a halt to the further dispersal of civil servants from Greater London.
All these are encouraging signs to those of us who have been disturbed for a long time about the drift of jobs and people from our capital city. This has been a worrying trend. In 1961 the Greater London population was 8 million. Today it has shrunk to 7 million—a sharp and substantial drop in a relatively short time.
In January of last year unemployment in Greater London touched a peak of 167,000, and I would think that it is roughly the same now. In other words, one in nine of the total unemployment of Great Britain is here in London. I often wonder whether some of our colleagues from the Northern region and Scotland appreciate the extent of the problem in the capital and the grim facts of unemployment here on our very doorstep.
Too many people still seem to think that the streets of London are paved with gold. That is a pretty sick joke for an unemployed teenager in Poplar, for example, where in January 1978 the male unemployment rate was 14.8 per cent.—it is roughly the same now—or in Deptford, where it was 14 per cent., and Stepney, 13.6 per cent. As has been said, that is as bad as anywhere else in the country. These are the problems facing our capital city. They demonstrate the urgency of the need to revive and restore the economy of the capital.
I have said before, and I say tonight—I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) echo it—that the key to this problem lies with 150,000 small firms based in London. One-third of London's work force is already employed by these firms. Each of them would need to take on only one more employee and London's unemployment would be virtually solved overnight.
The hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford was a little critical of the GLC, perhaps understandably, on political grounds, but moves are being made by the GLC to revive and rejuvenate particularly the Inner London and dockland areas. As for encouraging small business, the GLC already owns 300 units of industrial accommodation which are 1160 suitable for small firms and proposes to build more. Additional help is being given through the GLC's London industrial centre. That can be of significant help to small business men wanting to set up their firms in the Greater London area. The other plus factor in the encouragement of small businesses is that all the figures show that the smaller the firm, the less likelihood there is of industrial stoppage and dispute. In a sense we are assisting industrial relations.
Our capital is at crisis point. If the decline in our population and industries continues, it will frustrate the revival of London. As people and jobs go, we are left with a shrinking rate base. A heavier burden of rates is carried upon fewer shoulders. It is staggering to learn that in 1976 the average domestic rate payments in London were 64 per cent. higher than in the rest of the country. The figures are probably the same today. That is an appalling penalty to pay for living and working in London. I hope that it will be taken into account by the Secretary of State for the Environment when he makes his rate support grant calculations. London cannot take any further rate burdens.
The GLC is rightly concentrating its regeneration activities upon Inner London and Docklands. It deserves the fullest backing and support. The debate has focused parliamentary and ministerial attention on London's pressing problems, and I hope that our late night vigil will not have been in vain.
§ 5.22 a.m.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I cannot understand the remarks about Government policy by the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt). The general view is that London faces an economic, social and employment blitz imposed by what has been described as the most reactionary Government since 1945. The original blitz had come to an end before 1945. However, we are experiencing a blitz as a result of the Government's policies.
Whatever is done about regional policy, a general upturn in investment, particularly in the public sector, will do more for employment in London than any adjustments to regional policy. I declare an interest. I live in central London and my family is growing up there. I have 1161 a financial interest in the amount of money provided by the Government to sustain the living standards of people in the area which I represent. I also declare a non-financial interest as a director of the charitable company which runs the Jubilee sports hall at Covent Garden.
For some years we have had the ridiculous resource alocation working party policy of transferring resources out of London. That is the fault of the Labour Government. I make no apologies for them. RAWP appears to be continuing. We must add to that the reduction in expenditure on health services, in breach of the Conservatives' manifesto pledge that they would not reduce resources to the Health Service. A total of £45 million has been taken from the area health authorities and handed over to the VAT man as a result of the VAT increase. That is a transfer of resources out of the Health Service. It cannot be denied. No money is being provided to make up for that loss. That is an absolute and direct breach of promise by the Government that will adversely affect health provision in London and other areas.
We are faced with a policy under which housing is to be sold off. The original idea was that it should be sold to sitting tenants, but newly completed property is being sold off by Tory councils in London, and not to the sort of people for whom that housing was designed. Those people cannot afford the sort of prices that the GLC is charging for its newly completed and rehabilitated properties.
When Environment Ministers were answering questions earlier this week, they were talking about establishing a register of publicly owned land to assist in its disposal to the private sector. Many of my electors would dearly love the Government to establish a register of the property owned in our area by the scabs who run the major property companies in this country who have been exploiting our area over the years—
§ Mr. Anthony Berry (Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Dobson
I thought that Whips were supposed to keep quiet during de- 1162 bates. That rule no longer seems to apply.
The area that I represent has been grossly exploited by major property companies over the years, and if public land is to be sold off to them, as appears to be the intention of the Government, that degree of exploitation will be increased, to the great disadvantage of the people whom I represent. They are sick to death of exploitation by property companies over the years. They note that a large number of those property companies make substantial contributions to Conservative Party funds.
The means of transport of the bulk of the people in London is publicly owned. We must enhance that transport. There is no possibility of private investment in public transport of this kind because only the public will provide the money needed to take the Jubilee line into Dock-lands and down to Thamesmead, or to effect the other major improvements in transport facilities, particularly on the railways, that are necessary if the city is to improve its public transport.
We are also faced with severe reductions in the amount of money that will be available for education to the Inner London Education Authority and London boroughs. That will obviously have a deleterious effect on the standards of education. That flies in the face of the sort of promises that the Tories made during the election campaign about aiming to improve educational standards. It is no good producing Black Papers and all that sort of thing and then reducing the amount of public expenditure on education for ordinary people and providing £50 million to assist independent schools and the children going to them.
We heard from Environment Ministers earlier in the week that they object violently to the idea that the Sheffield city council should discriminate between one relatively prosperous part of the city and the less prosperous parts. The people of London must remember that it was made clear by Environment Ministers that they intend to discriminate against the great conurbation of London and other major conurbations and transfer funds from the areas where they are most needed—the inner cities—to the shire 1163 counties. I hope that Tory hon. Members who represent London constituencies, or who purport to represent them, will make representations to the Government in an effort to ensure that the promised swinging of money out of the inner cities to the shire counties will not be carried through. If it is, it will have a most damaging effect on the standards of people in London and in other major cities.
We have been told that the lifting of the limit on industrial development certificates will assist the growth of employment in the London area. That seems likely to have only a minor effect, if it has any effect at all. I cannot see any reason why the average entrepreneur, galvanised by the Secretary of State for Industry, should wish to galvanise in central London instead of building on green field sites in the rest of the South-East. We should remember that the limit on IDCs in the rest of the South-East was lifted at the same time. It is to areas in the South-East that jobs are likely to go.
The hon. Member for Ravensbourne referred to the proportion of jobs provided by small firms in London. The Government should remember that a high proportion of jobs in London is provided by the public sector. Most of those jobs are vital. If we are to maintain a decent level of employment in London in the areas where it is presently reasonable, and if we are to claw back and improve the level of employment in areas where unemployment is presently too high, we shall need a high level of investment in public sector industries, which provide such a substantial proportion of London's employment.
I have no moderate views about the GLC. Tory or Labour—controlled, it has been a disgrace and a failure. The GLC should be abolished as soon as possible. It does no useful job of work. Yesterday it was entertaining a select number of guests at a cost of £10,000 to the ratepayer to talk about the future of London. I can think of few less worthwhile ways of spending £10,000 of public money than having a big beano at County Hall, especially at this time.
If we consider the present regime at the GLC—not to be confused with the sheep- 1164 meat regime or any of the others—we must recognise that there are those in the Cutler regime who are not determined to defend the interests of the people of London against the policies being pursued by the Government. Under this Government Sir Horace Cutler will be the Quisling of London. Indeed, he is not a Quisling, he has been pressing forward with policies—
§ Mr. John Hunt
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order to refer to the leader of the Greater London Council as a Quisling?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
That is not a parliamentary word that is greatly appreciated here.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman must make his own speech, but, as I have said, it is not a parliamentary word that is greatly appreciated.
§ Mr. Dobson
I am obliged Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was trying to say—perhaps I should try to say it more eloquently and more carefully—that the leader of the GLC is enthusiastic in his desire to fall in with the policies of the Government. I believe that the policies being pursued by the Conservative Party will have a very damaging effect on the general standard of living of the people whom I represent and the people who are represented by my hon. Friends and, indeed, by Conservative Members with London constituencies.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
Will my hon. Friend accept my support for that view? Not only are these actions being taken against the interests of Londoners. What is more important is they are being taken in secret. The Greater London Council no longer sits as a proper body. We are getting edicts, press handouts, and everything except properly conducted committee meetings. There is some doubt about the GLC's legality.
§ Mr. Dobson
I agree with my hon. Friend that the general standard of public administration at the GLC leaves a 1165 great deal to be desired, because we appear to have government by press release. It is only very recently that we have had further press releases concerning proposals by the GLC, which is not an education authority, to establish a charity which would take £5 million of ratepayers' money, as we understand it, and put it into independent schools in an effort to thwart the activities of the elected education authority for Inner London, the Inner London Education Authority. The GLC should keep its nose out of education. The Act of Parliament under which it operates makes clear that no role whatever is envisaged for the GLC in relation to education in Inner London, and that policy should be applied to other spheres.
I referred earlier to the future of Covent Garden. A large number of London Members will have received today, or very recently, a letter from the chairman of Save Britain's Heritage. To the best of my knowledge, he is not a supporter of the party of which I am a member. He draws attention to inaccuracies, to what he describes as an untruth, and to a slur in a document which was circulated under the hand of the director-general of the Greater London Council about the Jubilee hall recreation centre, about which I declared an interest, very properly, at the beginning of my speech.
I believe that it is necessary to put on record that the document circulated by the GLC was grossly misleading. In its misleading nature it is typical of a great deal of the stuff coming out of County Hall at present by way of press releases and that sort of thing. The document, which was circulated to London Members of Parliament, asserted, among other things, that it is known—this is in relation to the Jubilee sports hall, Covent Garden—that the Covent Garden Community Association is proposing a scheme for that site whichsacrifices the housing and car parking elements of the brief".That is quite untrue. The Covent Garden Community Association's proposals would have provided housing for 50 people on the site, and the car parking would have been lost in that scheme.
There was a further statement thatIt is understood that many local children no longer use the centre, having become alienated by its new image and other clientele.1166 That was a false statement. The GLC had no evidence on which to base such a statement.
Finally, the document said that the committee which is responsible for the Jubilee hall, Covent Garden, and for the Covent Garden area generally, is resolved that redevelopment for the uses in the action area plan and in the form set out in the brief is the only course of action appropriate for the site.
Since I was aware that that was not the case, I wrote to the director-general of the GLC and received a reply recently. He stated:I am sorry that you feel the brief was misleading and appreciate that the Committee have not agreed in the precise terms used—in the documents circulated to hon. Members—to the planning principles for the Jubilee Market site being the 'only course of action'.To the best of my knowledge that information has been conveyed only to me, because I wrote to the director-general about it. In the circumstances, it would be appropriate for the GLC to write a letter explaining the situation to all Members of Parliament to whom it circulated the original document.
I say that not in any sense of vengeance but because I am firmly of the belief that the standard of public administration at the GLC, not only under the present regime but under previous ones, has fallen below the standard that one might reasonably expect from a large public authority. One has only to ask GLC tenants what they think of the GLC's administration of its housing property to know what standards they are being expected to put up with.
To the applause, or pleasure, of my hon. Friends, I say finally that I am convinced that the history of major cities throughout the world shows that there is no decent future for ordinary people in those cities if those cities are ruled and governed on the basis of the free interplay of market forces, to which the present Government are dedicated. Decent standards of living will prevail in this major city, and other major cities throughout Britain and the world, only when there is a high standard and commitment towards public expenditure and public facilities. It is clear that there is no margin for profit in the provision of education, housing or 1167 transport for ordinary people in this city. There is no margin for profit if the people of this city are to pay a reasonable price for those facilities.
§ 5.42 a.m.
§ Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington)
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have joined us in what until now has been a most constructive and helpful debate. Although there have been certain points of acrimony, we are obliged to the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) for starting it off so well. Let it not be said that Greater London Members are slow to put forward the cause of their area.
We must see employment in London in the context of the Government's general economic policy. Labour Members are wide of the mark in implying that the Government are acting in such a way as to depress all economic activity. The Government's intention is to achive a shift from current consumption to investment. As the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) said, we accept the need for public investment as well as investment in the private sector.
As to public investment policy in the centre of London, I hope that we can rationalise all the schemes, not too successful, that have been launched in recent years, and that instead of having partnership areas, programme areas, designated districts, special areas and the rest, the Government will simply make inner London a development area. In that way it will qualify for the sort of aid that the Government feel able to give to areas with special needs for important investment programmes and for aid from the European Investment Bank and the regional fund.
We must think of transport within London as well as between London and the rest of the world. We should not be afraid of the proposed major road schemes simply because of the oil crisis. People will need to travel. Even if we have a high oil price, before long other methods of transport will inevitably be evolved, and we shall need a modern road system in London as much as in any other capital city. I endorse the pressure from the Opposition Benches that the Jubilee line should be completed. This is an important aspect of public investment in London's transport which must not be indefinitely delayed.
1168 As regards travel to work, it is not productive to press for shorter and shorter hours of work within the context of the five-day working week. It would be far better to move towards the four-day working week, working the same number of hours but spreading them over four days instead of five. That would immediately relieve pressure on public transport services at peak times.
With regard to transport between London and the rest of the world, I place particular emphasis on the importance of the Channel rail link. It seems that at last our railways and the French railways have worked out between them a practical scheme which is not too expensive and not environmentally damaging. We should not now continue to discuss the matter for years without coming to a decision: we should aim to make an early start. It is extremely important for our exports that we should not have the handicap of the additional handling in order to cross the Channel. In that way we permanently handicap ourselves within the Common Market, because all British exports have that higher cost, which French, German and other manufacturers do not have to suffer when they export their goods across frontiers. The Channel rail link is, therefore, exceptionally important to the future of Britain's trade.
From the point of view of the transport of people, we need to use railway services and not press more and more people to use the airports.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
In view of the hon. Gentleman's great connection with the European side of the matter, may I ask him this? I understand that the Channel rail link is likely to cost about £600 million. Does he not think that it is worth while again considering the feasibility of small, fast, surface ships travelling from the centre of Europe along European rivers across the Channel to the centre of London via the Thames? Is not that possibility worth considering, particularly from the Community's point of view?
§ Sir B. Rhys Williams
It is certainly a subject that should be further considered, but I know of no special obstacle in the way of the development of such traffic at the moment. I often have reason to go to Strasbourg. It is an international 1169 port, and the docks there have oceangoing vessels. This is one of the contributory factors to the city's wealth. I can think of no reason why vessels should not come from Strasbourg into London as matters stand now. But if there is a way in which we can improve and promote that traffic, I am sure that we shall all be very glad to study it.
I believe that there is too much pressure to expand airport facilities at the expense of more conventional methods of transport. I agree, of course, that we need the fourth terminal at Heathrow. Anyone who uses Heathrow must see what disadvantages there are for passengers at peak times. I am sure that we must do whatever is necessary to obtain the full advantage of the investment already made at Gatwick. But I do question whether London needs to be the site for the third national airport. We have two national airports already serving London. The rest of the country must surely have some claim if there is to be the enormous investment which a third national airport would require. If it is, once again, located within easy reach of inner London it might simply add to the general overheating and strain on our resources, without significantly helping to create profitable employment.
Turning to housing, hon. Members know that I have tried for a long time to promote the idea of a new system of short tenancies, and I am delighted that the Government have now taken it up. I hope that it will be favourably received by the Opposition. It is not a matter of controversy that there are large numbers of properties standing empty in London which could be let, and would be let, if there were not a risk to the owners that they might admit a tenant who would then obtain security of tenure.
We want to make better use of our existing housing stock, bearing in mind that, with our shrinking population, if there were greater mobility, population shrinkage would have the effect of natural selection of the unfit properties. People would move out of them and they could be demolished. We do not have sufficient mobility within our present housing stock, for two reasons. One is to do with the fact that there is not the facility for short leases. This, I hope, will shortly be put right.
1170 But we also have the problem that, for the established population, in all too many cases there is security of tenure but no capital. Such people cannot turn their security of tenure into the capital with which to buy other properties in the market. Thus in many cases people who would like to move—families in high-rise blocks, for example—will not move, or cannot move, until they are forced to. In all too many cases they are then destitute, because they have nothing to sell when they eventually move out because they cannot keep pace with rising rents or whatever the reason may be.
I have sought to introduce in this House, under the Ten Minutes Rule, a facility for tenants in the private sector to purchase mansion blocks jointly, through a co-operative tenants' association. Something of that sort has to come. The Government cannot logically stand behind a housing Bill—which we understand is to be introduced in a few months' time—which confers the right for tenants of council flats to acquire their homes without extending a similar right to people living in flats in the private sector.
I recognise that to go as far as mansion blocks is not enough. We have to examine the whole question of security of tenure in the private sector so that we can introduce more mobility and a greater sense of security among those who are ostensibly protected by their security of tenure but who know that, sooner or later, they will be obliged to move. If the Conservative Party believes in a property-owning democracy we must follow that principle through and make it possible for people, when they leave the properties in which they live, to acquire something else and thereby contribute to the better use of the whole housing stock.
London should aim to remain a world capital because it is an attractive place for civilised people to live and work and in which to raise their families. I resist any tendency to allow it to become a tatty, overcrowded stopover, where people can congratulate themselves only on the fact that they have easy facilities to get away.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)
Of all the problems facing London, that of the inner city areas is by far the most serious. I have listened carefully to the 1171 various Front Bench spokesmen since 3 May, but there has been little evidence that they are taking seriously the enormous social and economic problems facing the inner city areas of London.
Battersea, South is perhaps typical of many parts of inner London. However, it is different in one important respect. It is within a local authority—Wandsworth borough council—which is following the kind of policies that the Government would wish other local authorities to follow. Indeed, the Government are endeavouring to force other local authorities to follow those policies by their economic measures. The effect of Wandsworth's policies on a typical inner city area may be seen by the Government as a model for what they wish to see happen elsewhere in London. It is not a parochial point for me to talk about what is happening in Wandsworth. I am talking about an area the lessons from which might have an impact on other parts of the metropolis.
On a number of occasions Ministers have spoken of their mandate and of enormous electoral support for some of their policies. Given that the Conservative Party gained control of Wandsworth borough council in May 1978, it is interesting to reflect that the swing to Labour between that time and the parliamentary election was probably more marked than in any other part of London. That is a sign of lack of confidence by electors in Wandsworth in the policies being followed by that local authority.
Those policies are most manifest in housing. Hon. Members have referred to housing pressures in various parts of London. The policy of the Wandsworth council of selling council houses both to tenants and to non-tenants is having a damaging effect on the opportunities for rehousing in the area. It is having a particularly damaging effect on tenants in high rise blocks who want to move into more suitable accommodation, especially those with children, and it is having a generally distressing effect on those who are or were hoping for some improvement in their housing conditions. I can only conclude that the Government would like other local authorities to pursue the policies which are having a seriously damaging effect on housing prospects for people in Wandsworth who cannot afford or do 1172 not wish to buy council properties. It is said that Wandsworth has managed to achieve all this by keeping the rates steady, but in fact it has been done by increasing rents to a greater extent than at any time in the history of Wandsworth council.
Another aspect concerns the direct work department of Wandsworth council. It has been said on at least one occasion in the House that the council's direct work department lost £2 million in the last year. But that has happened since the department's policies were changed by the Conservative-controlled council. In the last year of Labour control the direct works department broke even. There has been a deliberate attempt to run down that department, and only since then have losses been incurred. The department's financial deficit is no evidence that direct work departments do not work. Indeed, the reverse. It proves that trouble ensues when attempts are made to run them down.
In the past year or so there have been many other cuts in local services in Wandsworth, including reductions in social services and the scrapping of a plan to build a day nursery, and large increases in charges for many of the elderly and disabled using the social services.
The local authority has recently interpreted the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 in a harsh and restrictive way, to the point where homeless families are having to spend nights in the open because the authority has washed its hands of the responsibility for them.
Another matter causing much concern locally is the future of the three successful law centres in the borough. The council's policy is to base the services on only one centre and to take away the community involvement in the running of the centres. That will be a damaging move to the disadvantage of many of the poorer people in the borough who use the law centres to establish their rights.
There has also been an attempt by the council to take over responsibility for the education services in Wandsworth that are run by the Inner London Education Authority. That has barely been discussed, but it was the basis of a local authority resolution and it would do untold harm to the education prospects of young people in the borough because it would 1173 dismember an effective education authority and replace it with one which could not produce the same educational standards.
I wish to refer to two other issues. The first is the shortage of land for development. There are few sites in inner city areas and it is therefore vital that they should be used to the best advantage and the most useful social and economic purposes. The 26-acre gasworks site in Wandsworth belongs to the GLC and presents a good opportunity for housing development and for industrial development to create more jobs.
The GLC says that the land is polluted and it is not possible to develop housing on the site. There is other evidence from officials at County Hall that the pollution problem could be overcome and that housing could be built on the land. Instead of reconsidering whether housing development could take place, the GLC intends to provide a large sports community. That would not be of benefit to the local community. It would create a few jobs, but not of the sort that provide a sound economic basis in an area which is desperately short of jobs. The GLC must be held at fault for not attempting to do its best for an area where the problems are enormous.
I conclude by referring to the problem of jobs, particularly for young people. There is an article in The Guardian and Labour Weekly today concerning a project in the southern part of my constituency and Tooting dealing with the problems facing young people, particularly young black people, who are unemployed and some of whom are turning to crime.
The question of the opportunities that our society is to offer young people, particularly young black people, is critical. The future of many inner city areas and race relations in those areas will largely depend on whether we can offer decent and worthwhile job opportunities to young people when they leave school.
The article makes clear that that is not happening at the moment. It is regrettable that many of the measures introduced by the previous Labour Government to ease the problem are being reversed by the new Government. Even the measures of the previous Government 1174 were not adequate for tackling this problem, which is serious in all inner city areas. We need urgent action by the Government and the mobilisation of all possible resources before the plight of school leavers turns even more of them towards crime and makes the problem even more difficult to solve.
If nothing else comes out of this debate, I hope that the Government will take this particular issue to heart. There is certainly a need for urgent action, otherwise many of our inner city areas will become quite intolerable and a blot on this country.
§ 6.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)
Although the main thrust of the debate that we have had for the past two hours has rightly been on employment, it is not possible to tackle the problem of employment without relating it to a great many other factors. Some of them are mentioned in the heading of our debate—environment, energy, and transport. We have heard valuable contributions from hon. Members who have also introduced the aspects of housing, education, transport, hospitals and planning. All these matters must form part of this debate—taking place at five minutes past 6 o'clock, after a very long day, and now on the last day of this part of the Session. Perhaps we are masochists to go through this exercise, but we do it because of our concern for our constituencies and our constituents.
Employment is undoubtedly crucial to Edmonton. Much of the aid and assistance represented in these Votes is valuable for employment there. That is why, incidentally, I was delighted last week officially to open a £1 million extension to the factory of a large and highly successful Edmonton-based company, Cryoplants. With my knowledge of its enterprise and reputation for quality, delivery and reliability all over the world, I have no doubt that this extension will provide not only much-needed orders from overseas but work for my constituents.
The whole infrastructure of North London is the background against which prospective employers and prospective employees will view coming to the area. When people look at job advertisements, they want to know a good many things.
1175 They want to know not merely details about the job and its specification but also about the public services, and primarily those provided by the local council, such as education, housing, social services and transport, and they want to know about the quality of life.
What effect does housing have on employment? As an owner-occupier, I can advise anyone seeking work in Edmonton or Enfield that there are many fine localities and attractive homes. But many who are looking for employment in my constituency must rely upon public housing.
Enfield council, like a great many other councils, recognises that it has a role to play in attracting workers to its area. I took the trouble yesterday to speak to the deputy housing manager to find out Enfield council's policy on offering housing. I do not believe that the policy in Enfield is greatly different to that of many other London boroughs. Enfield offers housing to a variety of categories, and certainly to key workers in council employment. It also offers housing to teachers and nurses.
I was very interested to get details of what the council does for key workers in industry, I understand that where a worker wishes to come to a locality such as Edmonton and a firm wishes to have him, it is possible, by an approach to the council, to have the council allocate housing to him provided that that employee is seen to be a skilled worker who, by coming to that concern, will be able to keep in work semi-skilled and unskilled labour or to retard redundancies.
That is a first-class way of using public resources. Yet what prospects can Edmonton employers have when the Enfield Tory council, like a great many other Tory councils in London, is getting out of providing rented accommodation? Enfield council, which has the prime responsibility to assist local industry, is being prodded by the Government, the Tory GLC and its own desire to liquidate community assets. How can my constituents who live in high-rise developments look forward to what they come to me and pathetically cry out for—a house at ground floor level with a garden—when all the desirable houses are up for grabs?
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
The younger families of many of my constituents have moved out to Enfield. My constituents are being offered and have been offered housing in past years by the Enfield council when it was controlled by Labour. Is my hon. Friend aware that Enfield council is welshing on those understandings? These poor people come to see me every Friday night demanding that the Government do something about the council welshing on the previous arrangements.
§ Mr. Graham
I am aware of those circumstances. It has caused a great deal of anger to myself and other Labour colleagues to learn of what the Tory-controlled Enfield council is doing.
A few years ago the Labour GLC and Labour council came to an arrangement. They bought the Klinger site in Silver Street, Edmonton. For 10 years, through various vicissitudes, that factory site was cleared and housing is being built on it for rent not only to people in Edmonton but allocation to GLC tenants. Some of those people would have come from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). Without any consultation, the GLC decided last year that when built those houses would not be handed over to the Enfield council but put on the open market. My constituents are deeply distressed because they cannot be housed, and many other people in inner London are also being deprived.
We cannot divorce housing prospects and the social responsibility of councils from the vital problem of employment. We have dealt with housing. Another responsibility of local councils is education. Last week the action of Enfield council in seeking to lop almost £4 million off its current expenditure led to a large demonstration at the civic centre by parents and teachers, who are not notably the most militant of groups, seeking or demanding information on what would happen about education.
I fear the worst when I look at the record of Enfield council over the past 10 years. That period has been spent remorselessly and relentlessly whittling away the substantial framework of services so carefully built up by the Labour council, of which I had the honour to be the leader some years ago. My knowledge of what the Labour council bequeathed 1177 to them which the Tories have since crippled or killed fills me with foreboding.
I have little doubt that Enfield Tories will have welcomed many of the suggestions made by Conservative associations throughout the country for ways to carry out the remit of the Government.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
: Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a rumour that the Government have informed Tory councils to get into a position in London where they have no services to cut when they decide to cut the rate support grant and the special extra help that is being given to London? They will then not have to raise rates and cut services because there will be no services to cut.
§ Mr. Graham
I have not heard that rumour, but the position in Enfield after 10 years of a Conservative council is exactly as my hon. Friend has outlined. The council has cut so hard and been so proud to claim that it levies the lowest rates in London that all the chief officers and responsible councillors in Enfield have publicly said that there is no fat to cut from the estimates. Consequently, when the council goes through the exercise this year of having to find £4 million, it can do it not by cutting any surplus or fat but only by causing redundancies or reducing the services, or a combination of both.
When future prospective employees look at London, they will be looking at the kind of environment which it would provide them. In Enfield, the council will be looking at a whole range of services. I have no doubt, from my experience, that it is already talking about freezing the posts which are not now filled. I have no doubt that it is already talking in terms of deferment and delay of a great many capital projects.
In education, the council has been satisfied to be labelled as the authority with the lowest pupil-teacher ratio in Greater London. It can do very little to worsen its record in education. I have no doubt that it will be looking at such things as the hiring of public halls. It will either increase the charges or close the halls altogether. I have little doubt that it will mount an attack on school transport.
1178 I have received letters from the staff of the Southgate technical college and the Edmonton college of further education, two places vitally concerned in improving the quality of employment and education for employment. Both staffs are horrified at the prospect of what they have been told is to happen to their opportunities to train young people to become skilled craftsmen for the factories in the area.
I have little doubt that the council will look at such things as restricting the opening hours of the libraries and of the public parks. I have little doubt that, after years of skimping on the maintenance of roads, the council will be looking at ways in which it can defer for even longer vital maintenance which is required on the roads in the borough.
There are departments in Enfield, all necessary to the environment which we wish to create in order to attract employees, which are already suffering a 30 per cent. and sometimes 40 per cent. shortage of staff. I know that in such departments—for example, the environmental health department—parts of their work are very far behind, putting the health of the public gravely at risk, not because the officers and staff are not dedicated but because the Tory council over the past 10 years has squeezed and crippled their ability to work.
I have to say, however, that in my constituency the unemployment rate is one of the lowest in London at 2 to 3 per cent. Our concern is in attracting the skilled workers to London in order that they can provide further work. I am sorry to have to say that, with councils like that of Enfield, which is a disgrace to the name of local government, the Minister's job will be made more difficult. It will remain so while a council like Enfield persists in trying to pursue the policy of slashing expenditure which has been foisted on it by the Government.
§ Mr. Thomas Cox (Tooting)
At the beginning of the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) spoke about the lateness of the hour. The scandal of the House is that whenever London Members, irrespective of party, seek to discuss London, the only opportunities we ever get are either on the GLC general powers Bill or on the Consolidated Fund Bill.
1179 I blame the Labour Government much as I am starting to blame this Government because of the failure of the attempts that have been made to try to get some understanding from the Leader of the House that if we cannot have a London Minister we should certainly have a London Question Time.
I and many other hon. Members have been in contact with the London Chamber of Commerce, which recommends strongly that London should have a greater allocation of the time of this House. I am sorry to say that there appears to be no more enlightened thinking on this issue among Ministers in the present Government than there was in the previous Government.
We should remember that we represent London, regardless of the political party to which we belong. It is for us to unite as London Members and to make it clear to the Government that we are not getting a fair share of the time of this House to discuss London matters. Afer all, London is the capital city. It returns the largest number of hon. Members to this House. It is time that a much fairer allocation was given to London so that we might discuss adequately the problems that beset London, not as we have had to tonight, with hon. Members having been here since early yesterday and having to stay in this House to try to bring to the attention of the Minister the problems in their constituencies. Whatever we may disagree about when we discuss how we think London's problems should be tackled, I hope that we agree that we need a proper allocation of time in which to discuss the affairs of London.
Even at this early stage in the life of the present Government, I see very little awareness of the problems of London. The philosophy of "Help yourself and stand on your own two feet" shows very little understanding of our difficulties.
I accept that money is not the sole answer, but our problems will not be resolved without the financial allocation being made to London. We have a Tory Government. We have a Tory GLC. In my own borough and in those of other hon. Members, we have Tory councils. All of them have one view, and that is to cut expenditure. That is all that they are heard discussing. Yet on every issue which has been touched on in this debate— 1180 housing, education, employment, transport, health, and the need for a general improvement in the environment in which our constituents live—without the necessary financial assistance the position will not improve. Tragically, it will worsen.
We have heard already about the proposals to cut expenditure. We can expect cuts, and I have no doubt that there will be a great many more. What both amazes and appals me is that over the past couple of weeks senior Conservative Members have announced cuts in this and that sector and behind them have been rows of Conservative Members shouting their heads off and cheering. But they will be the first to demand that money he made available to their areas, once they begin to see the effects in their areas. When the Labour Party was in Government only a few months ago, day after day Conservative Members demanded greater expenditure for their constituencies. I do not decry them; that is the job of a Member of Parliament. But let us have some honesty. One cannot say that one supports cuts in public expenditure so long as they do not affect one's constituency. It will not be long before Conservative Members are saying that they agree basically with the cuts but that they hope the Minister will realise that their constituencies have special problems that should be given extra consideration and possibly extra help.
The real problem that remains to be faced in Iondon is the substantial cut that will obviously occur in the rate support grant. Rumours are already circulating. When those drastic cutbacks in rate support grant are announced, my reaction will be to say "Heaven help us." We will be up against it. We will be facing all the problems that exist in the large cities of the United Kingdom without the financial help from central Government needed to tackle those problems and to help people living in those areas.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
It will be within my hon. Friend's recollection that when the London Members were fighting hard last year for extra help for London, which we achieved to the extent of £46 million, there were no London Members present on the Conservative Benches.
§ Mr. Cox
Those who take part in London debates will know that that has 1181 occurred on many occasions. No doubt it will happen again.
The problem of housing has been mentioned by several speakers. This remains one of the major issues in many areas of the country, certainly in London. In the borough of Wandsworth the policy of the Government, which is being followed by the local Conservative council, is causing the housing situation to worsen. It sounds wonderful when the Prime Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and insists that the Government are giving opportunities to people to own their own houses and that this can be done only by a Conservative Government. But the right hon. Lady ignores the real problems.
I should like the Minister to explain the policy now being pursued by the Wandsworth borough council. It would appear that the future letting of properties will depend very much on the income received. I have a copy of the council agenda for Tuesday 24 July in which the housing committee report refers to a block of properties that will be handed over by November 1979. We are talking in terms of the next two or three months. The report says:It is proposed that these dwellings be made available only to tenants registered with the Council for transfer … On the commencement of the proposed tenancies, each tenant will be required to have an income level sufficient to sustain the higher rent without resort to a rent rebate or the receipt of supplementary benefit from the Department of Health and Social Security.The rent and rates for a one-bedroomed flat will be £16.37; for a two-bedroomed flat, £18; and for a three-bedroomed house. £21.74.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
Did I hear my hon. Friend aright—£21 a week just for the rent for a three-bedroomed house?
§ Mr. Cox
There have been active campaigns for a long time by the tenants of the many high-rise properties in Wandsworth for transfer to more suitable accommodation. We all know the problems presented by high-rise accommoda- 1182 tion for the old, the disabled and mothers with young children. These tenants have seen properties built which they had the right to expect to move into, but their chances of doing so have been removed because their weekly income does not reach the level on which the council insists.
The scandal is that some properties in the borough have been empty for over a year because the council has been searching for people, in the borough and outside, to buy them. Whether they are on the council's waiting list seems immaterial. The council will not allow people living in unsuitable accommodation to occupy them. It wants to sell its housing stock rather than accommodate people who are in genuine housing need.
What is the Government's attitude? Who will be responsible for meeting the needs of people in high-rise accommodation? What is the Government's attitude to a council which keeps properties empty deliberately and ignores the requests of families in high-rise accommodation which is unsuitable?
I turn to the subject of education. In London many schools were built in the days of the London school board 80 or 90 years ago. School rolls are declining in Wandsworth and other areas. Hon. Members on both sides of the House admire the dedication of parents and teachers who become involved in running schools. Parent-teacher associations in Wandsworth campaign to ensure that teachers will not be taken away from a school when the number of pupils diminishes. They want smaller classes so that more help can be given to pupils who have special learning problems. We now have an opportunity to tackle the problems outlined by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens). The teachers are there, the space is there and the children are there.
Expenditure cuts are causing parents to worry about what will happen. I have listened to responses to these fears by the Secretary of State. Education appears to be going through a bleak period. We must ensure not only that there are enough teachers but that projects and works programmes go ahead.
Some schools in my constituency still have outside toilets. We can understand the disgust felt by parents when 1183 youngsters have to leave the main school building to go to the toilet, particularly in bad weather. Despite the efforts made by the Inner London Education Authority to tackle the problems, there are still real needs in schools in many parts of London.
If there are savage cuts in expenditure on education, the Government will have to face the anger of London parents. When youngsters realise that the calibre of their schools is declining, that there are not as many teachers and that there are not the materials with which to follow their interests, they will decide that the school provides them with no encouragement. That will lead to a worsening of a problem that already exists in London—truancy. Anyone who has had any connection with the juvenile courts knows that most of the youngsters appearing there have a record of truancy. Once youngsters start to feel that they are attending a "sink" school and that the teachers and the local authority do not care much about them, they will start to rebel against the system.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) referred to the report on black youngsters in London. The Tooting project, which caters for black youngsters in the Tooting-Balham-Wandsworth area, is in my constituency. At that project one meets youngsters in despair. For the most part they did not get on well at school and they left. Far too many children start playing truant from school, get involved in petty crime, and move on to larger-scale crime. When they are asked why they become involved in such activities, they invariably reply "No one was interested in me."
Therefore, the Government must urgently think again about the proposed education cuts. No doubt at the party conferences this year there will be a great deal of talk about education and of how the future of the country rests upon it. But if education spending is savagely cut, heaven help us in the years to come.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)
Before my hon. Friend moves on, perhaps to his concluding theme in an interesting speech, will he advert to the problems of the law centres in Wandsworth? I understand that they are under the axe of the local authority. Does he agree that, in spite of the criticisms levelled at them, 1184 law centres provide a vital service to poor people who are unaware of their legal rights? Does he also agree that the need for them becomes even more imperative at a time of economic decline? Will he advert to the problems of Wandsworth, which may exemplify some of the problems in other areas held under the whiplash of Conservative councils in London?
§ Mr. Cox
I certainly take my hon. Friend's point, but in fairness I must say that my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South has touched upon this matter. There is great concern in Wandsworth. The demonstrations have been massive—that is no exaggeration. There have been public meetings, the attendance at which has been enough to make general election candidates green with envy. The people of Wandsworth are determined to fight to the bitter end the proposals to close down three centres and leave just one major centre in the borough. It would be unfair of me to deal with that subject at length because other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, and I have one or two further comments to make.
At the council meeting in Wandsworth on Tuesday this week a motion was put down by the Conservative majority calling for the transfer of local schools presently run by the Inner London Education Authority to the Wandsworth borough council. Heaven help the children of Wandsworth if that should ever happen.
Education is a costly service. It begins with nursery education and continues to further and higher education. We have specialised services. I do not think that it will be disputed that the specialised services that ILEA has built up over many years are held in the highest esteem by educationists in the United Kingdom and throughout the world. It provides the services that only an authority of its size can provide. I have in mind provision for deaf children and for physically and mentally handicapped children. It is always sad when we speak to people who live within other education authorities and they tell us that their authority does not make that sort of provision.
If we are to continue to ensure that these services are available for youngsters, it will cost a great deal of money. There 1185 is great concern in Wandsworth about reports that have appeared in the evening newspapers. It appears that the GLC, under Sir Horace Cutler, is actively involved in the attempted disintegration of the Inner London Education Authority and is actively arranging with Conservative-controlled authorities to seek to take over control of their local education services.
Is the Secretary of State for Education and Science really prepared to allow the transfer of education services in the boroughs to an authority that this week in its social services committtee report stated:The Establishment and General Purposes Committee have … set a target … to save £195,000. We have considered how to achieve this sum and the majority of us (by 10 votes to 6)"—that is, the 10 Conservative members voting in favour and the six Labour members voting against—propose economies in the use of transport; the deletion of proposals to provide more work rooms for the elderly; the cessation of the provision of concessionary groceries; and a reduction in the provision of adaptations, telephones, play-buses and staffing"?It continues:Further savings will be necessary to achieve the target and we also propose to reduce expenditure incurred on adaptations to properties used by physically handicapped persons and in the number of telephones provided. … We also propose not to replace the two play-buses which are due for replacement.I am proud whenever I hear parents say that they are interested in how their son or daughter is doing at school. Great credit must be given to anyone who says that. However, can any parent trust the education of their youngster to a council that is deliberately prepared to cut what I think many would say are essential services for the less fortunate of our citizens? I ask the Minister whether he, with his responsibility, is able to answer, because today we are going into recess for three months.
I believe that the parents of children at present attending schools in the borough of Wandsworth should not be left in a state of utter confusion. They are entitled to ask the Government what is their attitude on the proposed transfer of schooling in the borough of Wandsworth, at present run by the Inner London Education Authority, to the local council. Is it the intention of the Govern- 1186 ment, before anything is proposed, to seek the views of the ILEA, of teachers and of parents? Are they to ask to be supplied by the local authority with the proposed costs, the kind of staffing that the authority would follow were it given control of its education services, and the kinds of services that would obviously be needed in the borough?
Very near to where I live, there is a school for handicapped children. When I go there I am always filled with admiration for the work done by the staff, but it costs a great deal of money. Therefore, I feel that we have a right to ask the Ministry to try to ensure that one of the Ministers at the Department of Education and Science will very quickly give his view of the proposal now made by the Wandsworth borough council.
It is to their credit that hon. Members on both sides of the House have attended this debate. Whatever differences we may have, we have shown our concern for the affairs of London and the people of London. I hope that the press will at least say that London Members stayed up throughout the night seeking to discuss the affairs of London. The people of London are entitled to expect that. Hon. Members know that, despite our efforts, very often we are attacked by the press and by outside organisations, alleging that London Members never try to do anything for London or the people of London. This morning we have shown our determination to ensure that London is discussed.
I hope that following the debate we shall unite as a London group, whatever may be our views, because I cannot honestly believe that, if I have housing problems in my constituency and a Conservative Member has housing problems in his constituency, they can vary very much. It is the duty of hon. Members on each side of the House to do everything they can to ensure that we have the opportunity to discuss, not in the early hours of the morning but at a far more appropriate time of the day, the real issues of London. They will not go away. We have a right to be given an allocation of time so that they can be properly discussed.
§ 6.55 a.m.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
: I am sure that the 1187 House has been moved by the eloquence of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) and myself are lucky: we still have a Labour-controlled authority with which to work and to help provide for the people in our constituencies. I can only say how we commiserate with my hon. Friend in having to suffer such gormless creatures with whom he has to deal, who are doing so much damage to his constituents.
I agree with all those hon. Members who have argued that we should have some form of Question Time and Grand Committee for London in order to discuss these problems in detail. I took a step in this direction by writing to the Prime Minister, pointing out that since she was a London Member she would be aware that her London group and our London group share a common accord in that we believe that Loudon does not get its fair share of time. We comprise 92 Members, the largest group in the House. I put it to the right hon. Lady that, having regard to the changes that are now taking place in the procedures of the House, it ought to be possible to have a Grand Committee and Question Time for London.
She wrote a most helpful letter, pointing out the difficulties and the fact that at present we are setting up some fresh Select Committees. It was her view that we should perhaps wait a while until they got settled in before going any further. However, I thought it was a most helpful letter.
With the hon. Member for Ravens-bourne (Mr. Hunt) representing his group and myself representing my group, I hope that we shall be able to join together to see whether there are any other steps that we can take to ensure that London is given its rightful place in the affairs of this House.
I am a little sad that the Under-Secretary of State for Employment is with us, because he comes from Beeston, but we welcome him and do not want him to feel lonely among all us London men. Although my remarks will hardly touch on employment, I hope that he will be able to answer some of the questions that have been asked and assure us that all the relevant Departments will deal with the points that we have raised.
1188 I start, as did so many of my hon. Friends, with housing. There is no doubt that housing in London is still an appalling problem. In the London borough of Hackney there are still 10,000 families on the waiting list. The council has done a remarkable job in trying to provide homes. In an intervention earlier, I pointed out that I am advised that, as from October, Hackney will receive no further nominations from the GLC. That is an absolute scandal. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central and I will be holding our surgeries, and we shall have many people arguing that they ought to be given accommodation that is within the confines of the GLC. We shall have to tell them—and it is no satisfaction to us to do so—that, because of the behaviour of the Tory GLC, this will not be possible. That is nothing short of a scandal.
Talking of scandals, I should like to discuss the action of the Secretary of State for the Environment. I expected him to be here and did not send him a letter. Since we are discussing housing, one would have expected the right hon. Gentleman to be present to discuss it with us. His Department and he in particular are fully aware of the problems that we are facing in Hackney, and how we are struggling desperately to satisfy the housing needs of our area.
Of the many needs that Hackney must cater for, the right hon. Gentleman knows that the problem of housing the elderly is of prime importance. In fact, I notice that in a speech that he made to a housing association yesterday, he referred to the increasing concern for the special needs of groups such as the elderly and added that theywill become the cornerstone of our housing policy".I want to examine that point in some detail. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman had Hackney in mind when he made that statement. He knows that in Hackney we have a big problem of rehousing elderly people, particularly in sheltered housing. The hon. Member for Ravens-bourne said that we should provide purpose-built sheltered accommodation. Hackney is trying desperately to do just that.
To rehouse elderly people, it is necessary to have the site correctly situated for 1189 the shops, with no hills, and so on. Hackney found such a site, but had a struggle with a firm of speculators which also sought the site. Finally, after a great deal of hassle, the council could solve the problem only because of what it identified as the primary need. In that it was supported by the Secretary of State's statement that providing sheltered accommodation for the elderly was the most important issue, as against the speculators who were putting the site together in order to sell it off to developers.
Therefore, the council put a compulsory purchase order on the site and a public inquiry was held. At that inquiry all the arguments were adduced. The inspector rightly dealt with the matter in great detail. His report ran to many pages. He pointed out that, as he saw it, Hackney's problems were real. He adumbrated all the facts about the case—the 10,000 families on the waiting list, the fact that only 5 per cent. of the elderly who should have been housed were being housed.
The inspector said in his conclusions that he would recommend to the Secretary of State that the compulsory purchase order should be confirmed. He said:My overall conclusions on the order are that the council have established that they have a need for sheltered accommodation in the area which cannot be met by existing accommodation or accommodation at present being built.That was totally in accord with what the Secretary of State had said. There could not have been two more similar statements. The inspector, who had had the opportunity to examine all the facts, and the Secretary of State, who knows Hackney so well, adduced the same arguments.
The House will therefore be surprised to learn that when the Secretary of State made his decision he said:It is also accepted that the Council have a need for more sheltered housing, part of which could be satisfied by their redevelopment of this sitebut also said in the final paragraph:In the light of the Government's policy that the growth of home ownership should be encouraged, the Secretary of State has concluded that the objectors' proposal, for which planning permission has been granted, should be allowed to proceed. He has decided, therefore, not to confirm the order, in dissent from the Inspector's recommendation.What a scandal that the right hon. Gentleman could stand up in public and 1190 pretend that he understood the problem, saying that everybody should provide sheltered accommodation! It is sheer dishonesty, whichever way one looks at it, and I demand the right hon. Gentleman's resignation. It is hypocrisy of the first order. I have never liked the right hon. Gentleman. There was a time when, some years ago, he misled me with an untruth in Standing Committee. He finally had to apologise at the Dispatch Box. That was an unnecessary exercise.
Here the right hon. Gentleman is again on exactly the same issue. Of course, he was not to know that I would have the opportunity today to raise the matter in the House. He took a directly opposite view, making it impossible for the London borough of Hackney to provide the accommodation that he had already said was vital. The hon. Member for Ravensbourne intervened earlier to point out that that is what we ought to do.
I hope that this House will demand from the Secretary of State for the Environment an explanation of this extraordinary conduct, which I believe can be satisfied only by his resignation from his high office. This is scandalous behaviour. One begins to suspect that the Government do not care very much about what is happening.
I then began to get interested in the speculators. When the Secretary of State behaves in that manner, one begins to wonder who the speculators are. Some interesting things are revealed. We begin to see who they are, the number of subsidiary companies and the bits and pieces. For the information of the House, may I say that I have been in touch with the directors of this organisation.
Another interesting feature is that I find the speculators are all round my constituency buying up bits of land. I received a tragic letter written on behalf of a constituent of mine, a Mrs. Koopman, of 27 Skipworth Road. She is over 70 and has lived in the constituency for 32 years. In the letter written on her behalf she says that she thinks that I am an extremely good Member of Parliament. I place that on the record. It is said that she suffers very much from phlebitis and arthritis of both legs. The letter says:to gain access to her accommodation she has to climb two sets of stairs, thus causing her considerable pain. The decorative order of her flat is appalling. Paper, both wall and ceiling, 1191 hangs down, due to the dampness and old age of the surfaces they cover. Plumbing is of a most primitive nature, consisting of a toilet and only cold water. Cooking was carried out on a two-burner electric stove which broke down, beyond repair, at the beginning of April. A week later her electric wiring became faulty and began to smoke.This is an old lady of 70.The landlord"—and this is an interesting commentary on our time—is the Sir John Cass Educational Foundation. It refused to repair or rewire because of the cost. From then on she has only survived due to her hardy nature and good will of her neighbours.The electricity was cut off because of the danger of fire.
The House will not be surprised to know that the current owners of this property are none other than Fairview Estates, the friends of the Minister, who apparently can give the company other sites, which he adduces it can develop. Yet here is the company owning the property of this poor elderly lady, handicapped and suffering in this way, with no electricity for months. Yet she cannot be rehoused. It is an absolute scandal that the right hon. Gentleman has behaved in this way.
I am now asking the council to take care of this poor woman. It does not have the sheltered accommodation which she needs, because the Minister is stopping it from building. It is interesting that the speculator will have bought this property from the Sir John Cass Educational Foundation as an occupied property at a knock-down price. This is tantamount to "winkling", because if the company can make this poor old lady die before she is rehoused it will get the house empty at a much cheaper price.
This is a disgusting story. I am ashamed that I have to stand here and speak of it in this way, drawing the attention of the House to the Secretary of State for the Environment.
§ Mr. John Hunt
Without knowing the facts, I should not want to defend the example given by the hon. Gentleman, but does he agree that Hackney council would have the power to take action against the landlord in this matter if it wished to do so?
§ Mr. Brown
Yes. As soon as it came to my attention, I contacted the Hackney council's public health department and, as always, it was on the ball. It sent an inspector along and it is dealing with the matter for me.
The Government are already demanding that councils must cut back. We have insufficient public health inspectors—now called environmental health officers—because recruitment is frozen. How can we look after the Mrs. Koopmans of this world if we do not have sufficient environmental health officers to carry out the work? I have always regarded the Secretary of State for the Environment as a bit of a "bovver boy", but his behaviour in this matter has been outrageous.
Let us consider the claim of home ownership. Some Conservative Members have referred to this matter. I am and always have been in favour of home ownership. It is important to encourage people to purchase their own homes, to take care of them and to enjoy them.
In the Queen's Speech there was a reference to the Government's intention to assist with home ownership. They argued that it was the kernel of their policy. The Secretary of State for the Environment, when he addressed the House during the debate on the Queen's Speech, did not hold back at all. He embellished the whole thing. He told us that he was a proponent of the argument about home ownership. He was going to give people the opportunity to buy their flats and houses at knock-down prices. He could not get the price too low.
Later I put down a question to the right hon. Gentleman. I pointed out that I was partly in favour of home ownership and asked whether my constituents, some of whom had been in rented properties for 20 to 30 years, would be permitted to purchase those properties at knock-down or any prices, because they were owned by the Crown Estate Office.
First, the Secretary of State did not want to answer that question, so he shuffled it off to the Treasury. The Treasury then gave me an answer which bore no relationship to the question. So we have a new situation: we are in favour of home ownership for everybody, 1193 except in some cases. Why are my constituents considered to be different? If home ownership is the Government's great argument, why do they cavil at my constituents being permitted to buy their homes? After some time I was given a crumb of comfort. The Government pointed out that the Crown Estate Office was selling some of its properties in Regents Park. That was of no great assistance to me.
Earlier I referred to Fairview Estates. I should have referred to the types of properties that company is to be given permission to erect in a working-class area which has just about every problem there is. The price of a two-room flat—not two bedrooms; one bedroom—is £11,895 at 1977 prices. The price of a three-room flat—a two-bedroom property—is £14,195 at 1977 prices. We know that property has escalated in price. That is the type of property to be erected on that site in place of sheltered accommodation for 30 or 40 elderly people in my constituency.
On the one hand, we have that attitude and, on the other, we have the great issue of a property-owning democracy and making it easier for people everywhere, except in Hackney, South and Shoreditch, to buy their homes at the lowest possible price. The GLC stops them moving, the Minister stops the council building and the Government say that my constituents cannot buy the houses in which they live. The people of Hackney, South and Shoreditch want to know what the Government are up to.
I trust that I shall have an answer from the Minister. He is an Under-Secretary in the Department of Employment, but I am concerned about the policies of the Government of which he is a member. I demand from him the answers to the matters that I have raised. They are political and involve his judgment. They do not need to be referred to any particular Department. He is a member of the Administration and must be called to task to justify the hypocrisy of this Government.
Another important matter in my constituency that I have raised many times in the House is transport. My constituents and I are being hassled by heavy lorries. They are coming through at a rate of knots and in large numbers. It 1194 is a GLC responsibility because the lorries are using a GLC road, but the council appears to have no means of communication except with the press. It seems to have given up going through the chairmen and members of committees. That system does not seem to work any longer.
Graham Road, in my constituency, is a disgrace. I concede that it is only part of the whole picture. My hon. Friends from Islington and other constituencies through to the M1 are all suffering, but I refer only to the problem in my area, where a man was killed by a juggernaut a couple of weeks ago. These lorries ought not to be coming through my constituency. They do no work there and they do not stop there: they just come through.
The number of lorries has increased in recent months, and when I tried to find out why I discovered a conspiracy between the GLC and the City of London to ensure that no lorries of more than three tons are allowed into the City unless they have business there. Consequently, they go through my constituency, which is in juxtaposition to the City. In addition, the GLC and the corporation have decided, spuriously in my opinion, that Tower bridge has been so badly maintained by the corporation that it is a danger and heavy lorries can no longer use the bridge. The result is that every one of those detouring lorries is using Graham Road.
When I tried to find out what consultations had taken place with Hackney borough council before the decision was taken to close the bridge, the answer was "Go suck a lemon." There was no discussion. It was a conspiracy between the Tory GLC and the Tory City corporation to get out of their difficulties. They ignore relationships with the people next door. It is outrageous.
Thinking that the Minister of Transport would understand these matters and that if the GLC will not operate as a local government unit as we have always expected the Minister could use his influence to get Hackney council and the GLC together to discuss the problem and to save lives, I asked the right hon. Gentleman to arrange a meeting between the authorities. We have already lost one life and had two others damaged in the past three months.
1195 The Minister said that it was nothing to do with him and was a matter for the GLC. No doubt he knows the attitude of the GLC because he did not even offer to talk to his friends there. Presumably he has no lines of communication either.
Therefore, I am left trying to help my constituents whose cause of complaint comes directly within the responsibility of the GLC and the City corporation, which took this action to protect themselves. Let us always remember that the total population of the City, in juxtaposition to my constituency, is about 4,000. Yet the corporation stopped the lorries going there, 24 hours a day, and certainly all night. The corporation has its own Private Popski's army to make sure of this. Now the corporation has closed the bridge to these lorries to make sure that this army of juggernauts comes through my constituency, 24 hours a day.
I hope that the Minister will answer me this morning. Again, it is public policy. Whilst I accept that the Minister's preferment is for employment, nevertheless it is Conservative policy that I am challenging. He should be competent to answer the House and tell me why he believes that this lack of consultation should be permitted to continue.
Fundamentally, what we see in the illustrations I offer is complete lack of interest in people. We have lost that. Whether we are talking about housing, education or employment, the Conservatives do not want to talk about people. The Conservative Government do not care about people.
I spent all day yesterday on one of the issues. The health authorities have been told that they must cut back on their expenditure. The result is that patients are suffering. But the one word that never passes the Government's lips is "patient". We are told that it is an economic matter; it is financial, problematical, difficult, and these are times of economy. We have heard all the arguments except the one word, the human issue, "people".
The illustrations that I have offered the House tend to support what I have long suspected, namely, that if the Conservatives were returned to government the people of this country would be in for a very bad time indeed—as they are experiencing now.
1196 I join with those of my hon. Friends who have been with me in fighting to get the dispersal policy stopped, although my right hon. Friends instituted it some years ago. Like others, I was delighted last night to hear from the Minister of State, Civil Service Department that the dispersal policy was being stopped and that the taking away of London's lifeblood was to cease. I am so pleased that, at long last, we are seeing a move in this sphere where the interests of people are being put before the interests of simply dreaming up an idea which has no relationship to the humanities of life and going ahead with it as though people did not matter.
Finally, I refer briefly to the need to ensure that we as Members of Parliament are kept informed of what the responses will be to actions taken by the Government. I illustrate the issue of value added tax. I have raised this matter with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I asked a question, because in my constituency it has been decided to close some hospitals. I was not satisfied that the case had been made. Indeed, the Minister for Health, most kindly and with his usual courtesy, accompanied me to my constituency yesterday to look at the problem. I say no more about that because the Minister is examining the matter. I pay tribute to him for the manner in which he dealt with me yesterday.
However, what I was not aware of when the Chancellor came to the Dispatch Box and announced the increase in VAT from 8 to 15 per cent., but of which he must have had knowledge, was that the regional health authority covering my area will now have to pay between £3½ million and £4 million extra this year out of its existing revenue. At the same time, it is proposing to close two hospitals in my constituency to save £1½ million that it claims it is overspending.
The House has the right to expect Ministers, in putting forward proposals for changing financial arrangements, to be honest. Hon. Gentlemen cheered wildly when the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that he was increasing VAT from 8 to 15 per cent. Those cries of joy would have been somewhat muted had they known that the health authorities in their areas would 1197 have to pay £3½ million to £4 million this year and £4½ million or more next from existing revenue to cover those increases. I asked the Chancellor whether he would cover it, and he said "No". I also asked the Secretary of State for Social Services, and he said "No". It seems that an ordinary, reasonable health authority will have to pay about £12 million for the Chancellor's various antics.
I do not believe that the House was aware of those facts. If one had to issue a report on the first three months in office of this Government, it would read "This boy wants his backside smacking pretty hard. He is a bit of a cheat".
§ 7.26 a.m.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) has with characteristic vigour and relevance asked the Minister some important probing questions about issues affecting the London borough of Hackney, but they also relate to inner city problems generally. His powerful advocacy is borne out by the experience to which he alluded, which is one that I share, of a weekly surgery where 50 or 60 people come to see us about problems, most of which have little possibility of solution as long as we have a Greater London Council motivated by an extreme form of doctrinaire policy comparable to that of the Government.
It is appalling that we should have an abdication of responsibility for housing on the part of the Greater London Council at a time when the pressures on our constituents are worse than they have ever been. The policy of sale is irrelevant to people living in the inner London area. It makes their prospects of being rehoused more remote, at least as far as the GLC is concerned.
I wish to refer first to the problems affecting the partnership scheme. We have had visits from the Under-Secretary—hon. Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester)—and the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), who has responsibilities within the Department of the Environment and who, I believe, genuinely recognises some of our problems. He himself represents an area that is afflicted by many of them.
1198 I worry deeply about the present consideration which the Government purport to be giving to the inner city partnership schemes. Are those schemes in jeopardy? What is the purpose of their reconsideration? Are we simply going through rather kindly conversations with the local authorities concerned, in particular Hackney and Islington? Is it, at the end of the day, simply to be a charade? Or are the Government genuinely looking at ways of promoting the schemes? Are they trying to build them up?
It would be completely out of character if the answer to that last question was in the affirmative after the exercises of the last three months which my hon. Friend has, in a brilliant resum£, recapitulated. We are told that the Government are genuinely attached to the principle. But we are not only concerned about principles; we are also concerned about the realities. We are concerned about the fact that, as a result of the partnership scheme that is being developed in Hackney and Islington, new hope is being offered to these areas, with the prospect of bringing new industry in to revitalise them.
The prospect, of course, must be accompanied by a sensible housing policy which will support it. However, there is very little sign of an understanding of that need on the part of the GLC.
§ Mr. Stevens
The hon. Gentleman refers to the need for housing to be responsive to the requirements of new industry. Is he saying that he approves of the principle of providing council accommodation for key workers from outside his borough?
§ Mr. Davis
Of coure there must be a measure of that—we understand that. What the Government are purporting to say is "Rely on the private landlords; stimulate them". To expect that of the private landlords in Hackney, with their legacy of neglect over the years, is to expect the greatest miracle since Moses struck the rock; it ain't gonna happen. The truth is that we need the local authorities to be helped, not to be hindered, in the provision of local authority accommodation; and the arguments about council house sales have little or no relevance to the problems of our people.
1199 I return to my question about the inner city partnership schemes. What worries me is that I have heard it being said by Conservatives sotto voce "There are some things wrong with partnership schemes; there is too much bureaucracy." That is the standard answer to any question one poses today. One is almost as likely to get a response to that effect as when one talks about quangos. It is a knee-jerk reaction.
One has to have an element of bureaucracy—in the sense of an administration—in getting the partnership schemes off the ground. I feel that, underlying all this talk about attacking bureaucracy and pruning it, is a desire to assail the whole concept of the partnership schemes. Perhaps this will not be a frontal assault. Perhaps it will be a corrosive influence which will render the concept void over a period of time. Time will tell.
I remember a debate on the partnership scheme—I did not participate because I was then on the Treasury Bench—and hearing the hon. Member for Hampstead, now Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, saying that he did not believe that putting money into areas such as Hackney and Islington was necessarily the right response. Is that still his view? I do not know whether the hon. Member for Beeston is able to answer, but he is taking some part in this job of examining the partnership schemes, and I hope therefore that he will be able to. The hon. Gentleman ought to be fair with us. I hope that he will say whether the Government's policy in this respect, as in others, is to cut, cut and cut again. If he says that, I warn him that he is in for a lot of trouble. To cut off or even reduce this vital form of aid is to end all hope of resuscitation of the inner city area which I represent. It is to cut off its breathing apparatus.
The problems of the inner cities can be resolved only by a co-ordinated, planned attack by all the agencies working together—central Government, local government, the community itself, voluntary organisations and so on. That cannot be done without additional financial support. That was the theme of the Labour Government. It was their programme in action, and now we have a great many question marks over it.
As for housing, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shore- 1200 ditch spoke of the extraordinary contrast between the Conservatives' policy of making it mandatory on the part of local authorities to sell and no parallel policy affecting private landlords. I remember the Minister for Housing and Construction getting into all sorts of terrible trouble when he made his baptismal appearance at the Dispatch Box and was asked that very question—" How do you answer this dichotomy?" To be fair to him, he was still wearing the badge "Running in, please pass", but he made an awful fool of himself, and Government supporters recognised that, too. The fact is that the two policies are incapable of reconciliation.
I take up the theme about which my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch spoke and which he exemplified by referring to the case of Mrs. Koopman. There are thousands of Mrs. Koopmans in Hackney. Most of them do not come to see us in our surgeries because they cannot. Many are housebound. Many elderly people are imprisoned in great tower blocks, with lifts going out of action all the time. In these blocks, the standard of caretaking by the GLC is a scandal.
§ Mr. Davis
Parts for the repair of lifts are not available. The heating comes on in the summer and goes off in the winter. There is a failure to look after the elderly, who all too often find children getting out of control because there is no adequate caretaking. Children play ball outside their flats, and windows are broken. There is also a degree of vandalism. I do not say that this can be cured simply by having more caretakers and spending more money. I accept that. But some of the problems can be mitigated, and it is here that there is a further dereliction of responsibility on the part of the GLC.
On the question of the sale of council houses, one finds a policy that is offensive and obscene in an area like my constituency. This policy amounts to a vicious attack on public authority housing. The GLC says that it intends to cut out its responsibility for building new local authority developments. In my constituency there is a severe shortage of family houses. Many people are living 1201 in overcrowded and rotten conditions. But the GLC insists on selling properties in Hackney. It says that it wants to encourage owner-occupation. But the intending purchaser is not asked whether he intends to live in the house. That is a strange omission. What it means is that the person who can pay most will get the property—a strange language of priorities.
The rest of the tenants, denied the opportunity of living in improved housing conditions, will be imprisoned in the worst housing. Purchasers will not be buying flats on the Kingsmead estate. So those tenants will be left in a type of housing that will be increasingly burdensome to maintain and whose rents will go up disproportionately. Tenants will be paying higher rents for lower standards. That is the essence of what will happen as a result of the policy of the GLC, stimulated and encouraged by this Government.
I should like to give an example of the relevance of the policy of selling houses in Hackney. There are a number of properties built for letting in Hassett Road. They remained empty for months because purchasers could not be found at a time when 10,000 people were on the housing list.
§ Mr. Davis
I am sorry; I should have said 10,000 families.
Then the GLC built a fine estate called Sherry's Wharf. It abuts on the Kings-mead estate, where many decent families are trying to overcome immense housing problems. There is vandalism on the Kingsmead estate which leads to many problems; there is overcrowding, there are flats in decay; there are flats subject to extreme dampness. Abutting this estate are 143 beautiful houses, built for rent and to combat some of the problems to which I have referred. Now they are to be sold. The price is £30,000.
§ Mr. Davis
The GLC has not come clean about that situation. The information had to be prised out. I attended a meeting held by the Kingsmead tenants' association a few weeks ago. To his credit, Mr. David Ashby, who deals with 1202 these problems on behalf of the Greater London Council, came to the meeting. I was not, however, very impressed by his attitude, but he heard the representations that were made by the tenants at a well-attended meeting. He treated them, I thought, with a pomposity, an arrogance, an indifference, a contempt and a degree of irresponsibility that I have seldom experienced before.
§ Mr. Davis
That powerful amalgam hardly impressed the tenants. Mr. Ashby said that an agreement had been reached in principle to sell the 143 properties in Sherry's Wharf, but he could not or would not reveal the price. Yet we know that to make the scheme viable they have to sell at £30,000, and it had to be prised out of his officials that that, indeed, was the probable price.
A price of £30,000 per house will not give much scope for rehousing tenants on the Kingsmead estate. What families living on that sort of estate, or, indeed, in Hackney as a whole, will be able to service a mortgage of £25,000, £28,000 or £29,000? Probably none—perhaps one or two, but it is very unlikely, to say the least.
As I said, there is no necessity for someone to be on the housing list to be considered as a buyer. The council will use estate agents to promote the sale. Is it not deeply offensive to use public money to enrich estate agents by flogging off properties which in all probability will not go to anyone living in Hackney? This will not solve the problems of the Mrs. Koopmans of this world.
At the end of this performance, David Ashby said "Having listened to what has been said, I shall go back to think about it again". He has not yet said what the result of the rethink has been. I suspect that it was a device to escape from a rather hot meeting which was giving him the sort of reception that he thoroughly deserved. The whole concept should never have been dreamed up in the first place.
It is an outrage that the idea was ever put forward. It is irrelevant to the needs of Hackney, and it is offensive to people like those living on the Kingsmead estate. It is a pathetic saga of the dereliction 1203 of responsibility in this area of housing and in others by the Conservative-controlled GLC. It is an indictment which it will in due course have to answer, but I fear that, in the meantime, that council, in consort with this Government, will wreak terrible damage before it is brought to account by the electors.
§ 7.47 a.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Jim Lester)
I am sure that the House welcomes this opportunity to have a wide-ranging debate on the problems and opportunities of London. This subject attracted 22 signatures, with 12 participants, four hours of debate and speeches lasting up to 25 minutes. It says something for the constitution of hon. Members on both sides. I hope that they get their due reward in the early edition of the Evening Standard, even if some of their statements have been geared to that end in any case.
We miss the presence this year of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), whose interventions in last year's debate did much to enliven it. But, as has been said, the House has a substitute in his next-door neighbour—myself.
This is the first time that I have taken part in a London debate. One is conscious of the passion and fervour of London Members. The suggestion that there should be a London Question Time or even provision for London in the Committee structure is one on which the Leader of the House should take note of the comments of London Members.
The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) made a characteristically reasoned and levelheaded speech. He said that hon. Members were looking not for a Minister from the Department of Employment but for my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), who spoke in debates in previous years as the Opposition spokesman on London. In fairness, it should be said that a similar debate last year was answered by the hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant), who had responsibilities similar to mine.
If hon. Members would prefer my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead to reply to a debate about London next 1204 year, they must reword their motion and I shall be happy to encourage him to attend.
As I listened to the debate, I became conscious that employment, the peg on which the debate was hung, has been taken to cover a wide variety of topics. They have included unhappy personal problems. One can understand them, but one cannot say that they were created in the last 92 days. The topics have covered tourism, the resignation of the Secretary of State for the Environment, the exhibition centre, transport, housing, education—which is beyond the terms of the debate—the GLC, health, social services, law centres, local government, rate support grant and the responsibility I have for the Enfield borough council and the Wandsworth council. To reply to all those matters would tax my modest talents. It would tax the talents of many Ministers, to say nothing of the time that it would take to do those items justice.
It is right that these topics should he raised because the employment level depends on a multitude of economic and social factors. One cannot talk of employment and unemployment as isolated phenomena. I hope that hon. Members will understand if I do not attempt to answer all their questions now. I shall ensure that these matters are brought to the attention of my colleagues.
London is often seen in other parts of the country as a city flowing with milk and honey, where such problems as exist cannot be truly serious. I am sure, from what I have heard in the last four hours, that few hon. Members who spoke in the debate agree with that notion. Nor do I. I cannot claim that London is my home base, although I have had a flat here for five days a week for the past five years. That probably does not give me parentage yet. No one who has taken a trip round Docklands, as I did a few weeks ago, could still believe that London has no problems.
The hon Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) asked about the Jubilee line and the Docklands strategy. With resources severely limited, and likely to remain so in the immediate future, the Minister of Transport has asked the Greater London Council to accept a pause 1205 in the planning of the extension of the Jubilee line until the options can be examined.
The Government intend that this should be a concentrated and effective review of all the transport options—whether by road or rail—which could be relevant to an agreed strategy for the regeneration of Docklands.
I emphasise that the Government remain firmly committed to the need to get the right transport links for the area. It is essential that plans should be related realistically to resources and that priorities and programmes for the regeneration of Docklands are examined together so that the most effective and economic means of achieving agreed ends are arrived at.
I was surprised at the suggestion that the Jubilee line should have preference over road improvements in Docklands. Surely one of the highest priorities for industrial and commercial development in Docklands must be to ease access for goods. A Tube line would hardly do that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington also asked about a Channel road and rail link. I share his view and I hope that in his multi-role he will take every opportunity to promote that in Europe and here.
Let me return to the overall picture of employment in London. A starting point is the official statistics which, it must be said, reveal a relatively buoyant London economy. In July overall unemployment in Greater London stood at 3.7 per cent., a rate slightly below that for the South-East region and well below the national average, which stood at 5.9 per cent. But, as many hon. Members have pointed out, we should not write off London's employment prospects from a casual glance at the rates—the figures need to be probed a bit more.
First, we should not ignore the scale of the human problem represented by those simple rates, because 3.7 per cent. unemployment in London is over 140.000 people.
§ Mr. Stevens
The figure for London as whole is quite correct, although it is fair to say that in Fulham, for instance, registered male unemployment is practically 10 per cent. Fulham, like many other 1206 boroughs, is way above the figure that my hon. Friend has quoted.
§ Mr. Lester
I take that point on board.
May I point out to the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), who said that we did not care about people, that one of the first things I have tried to do is to translate a cold statistic—3.7 per cent.—into a move meaningful one of 140,000 people. We are conscious that that is what the figures mean. It is a large number by any standards, and is very nearly as many unemployed as there are in the entire West Midlands region. London's unemployed represent over 10 per cent. of all those unemployed in Great Britain.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
The hon. Gentleman's Department was engaged in an investigation with the intelligence branch of the GLC to discover why the official statistics are so different from the GLC figures. Is there any progress to report in that work?
§ Mr. Lester
I am not aware of any progress, but I shall look into the matter.
Second, we must bear in mind what has been happening to jobs in London. Between 1971 and 1976—the latest date for which we have figures—the number of employees in employment in London fell by 230,000, a decline of nearly 6 per cent. Within that total employment manufacturing fell by over 24 per cent. So we see a net migration of employment from London superimposed on the national trend of a shift from manufacturing to service industry. While we may argue over whether it is right to see a continued emigration of people and jobs from London, it is clear that shifts of this magnitude in the structure of employment can of themselves give rise to strains in the London economy.
This leads me to speak of regional policy, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) touched on and which London has understandably criticised for many years. In the Government's view, it makes both economic and social sense to continue a regional policy whereby aid is given to those parts of the country where the need is greatest. But what we have seen over the years is the expansion of the definition of need to a point where approaching half of the 1207 country is in receipt of some form of special incentive. This has led to quite justifiable complaints from London and other parts of the country which were not so favoured that they were being asked to sacrifice investment to areas which were in many cases little worse off than the non-assisted areas, and in some cases demonstrably better off than the sort of figures quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens). The recent announcement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry on regional policy has cleared much of this ground. The assisted areas, once the changes he has announced take effect will cover only some 25 per cent. of the country—the areas to which it is reasonable for national priority to be given. At the same time, we have lifted some of the restrictions which have so often seemed petty and unreasonable to London. I refer here to the restrictions on office development permits which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is bringing to an end; the so-called Government "health warning" on advertisements promoting industrial development in London which my right hon. Friend has also abolished; and the raising of the industrial development certificate exemption limits to 50,000 sq. ft. announced recently by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) seemed to be rather pessimistic that this will have any effect. I can assure him that the deputations that I have seen from the North-West and the North-East have rammed home to us that they think that it will have a profound effect on their areas. We are anxious that that should not be so. So the Government have indirectly helped London by making sure that the assisted areas make sense and by lifting unnecessary restrictions. However, I shall not pretend that this is some magic cure for London's employment problems because the difficulties go much deeper than any governmental magic wands can reach.
What are the difficulties? Let us return to the figures. Just as the simple 3.7 per cent. unemployment rate disguised the scale of London's employment problems and the movement of jobs, so it disguises the fact that much of London's unemployment is concen- 1208 trated in certain areas. Here I refer particularly to the inner city, to which the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) made reference. In the inner city, as we have all come to realise, unemployment is but one of a multitude of ills that the populace faces. Others are dereliction, vandalism and a poor environment. The danger is of these problems feeding in on themselves and of inner city ghettos of poverty forming.
The Government are very conscious of the real inner city problem. We are reviewing, with a genuinely open mind, the policy established by Labour, and we wish to consider all the options, however radical or imaginative they may be My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and his ministerial colleagues have been meeting all the inner city partnerships to take the views of the authorities involved—the process is still going on. I cannot, of course, anticipate the conclusions of my right hon. Friend, but let me make some preliminary observations.
Above all we must avoid reaching the state where the inner cities become permanently subsidised ghettos of deprived and disadvantaged people. We have to reach a situation where the leaders of communities and commerce—the small business men—will wish to return to live and work in the inner city. This will not be done merely by dishing out subsidies and setting up committees, which too often was the approach of the previous Administration.
We must ask why so many of London's unemployed and disadvantaged live in the inner city, often only a stone's throw from major centres of employment and prosperity such as the City and the West End. The answer must be, in part at least, that the poor tend to live where no one else wants to. We have seen the migration from the inner areas of many who have made their way in life—those, for example, who are moving into owner-occupation. One of the major aims must be to offer a decent life—and a chance of buying a house in the inner city—to such people, otherwise there will be little hope for those who remain. It is necessary only to see the improvements made in homes that people have bought and made into their own individual homes to recognise and support that policy.
1209 Reference has been made to high-rise flats. Wherever they have been built there is great difficulty getting people to live in them happily. The policy changes that were introduced stemmed from the pressure that was applied by Labour Governments, by means of grants and circulars, to encourage that sort of development. There was Government involvement. Local authorities were forced in many ways to construct what we now recognise are major sociological problems. I do not try to minimise the difficulties that they have caused.
We need new ideas, and I am happy to think that in the debate many of the new ideas to solve the problems to which I have referred have come from my hon. Friends. I welcome many of the suggestions that have been made and we shall take them into account.
Some hon. Members have referred to mobility and housing. The Department regards that as a critical factor. I am sure that all hon. Members will admit that few councils in London or elsewhere are willing to provide housing for people moving in for employment reasons. I appreciate that there are some honourable exceptions, and I understand that Enfield is one of them.
Many Labour Members have made great play of expenditure cuts and gloomy prognostications. However, let us remember what their policies have done for London. Their five years of office were full of controls and subsidies. Unemployment in London rose from 58,500 in March 1974 to over 143,000 in March 1979—an increase of very nearly 150 per cent. If that is an example of the sort of plans that Labour Members are putting forward, no one can be surprised that the people of London have voted now for a different approach. We all believe in high standards of public service, but we have to create the means first before we can have them. They are not there just as of right when the economy cannot sustain them.
I return to the basic statistics of London, for a little more probing reveals another important—possibly the most important—observation. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham touched on this in what I thought was a very constructive and balanced speech. Last month there were over 58,000 vacancies notified 1210 to employment offices in the London area. A survey undertaken in 1977 showed that in the South-East only about 35 per cent. of unfilled vacancies were notified to employment offices. Applying this proportion to London would suggest that there may be about 160,000 vacancies in all at the present time. This, of course, is only a rough and ready calculation, but there is no reason to doubt that it reveals the rough order of magnitude.
In London, therefore, we are talking about a labour market in which the number of unemployed more or less equals the number of vacancies. But if this is equilibrium, it is equilibrium at a very high—an unacceptably high—level of both unemployment and vacancies. It vividly illustrates what my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Budget speech about the problems of the economy being due to the failures on the supply side.
The mismatch revealed by these figures is hard to explain. The reasons are undoubtedly numerous, and I doubt whether anyone has yet come up with a totally convincing explanation. Partly, no doubt, we have a position in which the vacancies are in skills and occupations for which those who are unemployed are not suited. I have already noted the large changes in the structure of unemployment in London.
Some hon. Members have suggested that the answer to this must be that the Government should undertake a massive increase in training. This is quite absurd. Although it is right that there should be some public provision for individuals who wish to retrain, in no way can Government training be a substitute for that performed by employers. It is far better that people are trained by the firm that is to employ them. If the Government were vastly to increase their training provision, it would result in worse training and very probably have no effect on the total amount of training done, since employers would undoubtedly cut back on their efforts. No, the approach must surely be to encourage employers to fulfil their own training needs and to provide them with the incentive to do this.
But we must also ask why people are reluctant to train and update their skills. I believe that the rigid pay policies of 1211 the past few years have had much to do with this. Their effect was to make mobility between firms and occupations less and less attractive to people. One must also mention excessively high levels of individual taxation. This must reduce the incentive to train for, and travel to, jobs. Pay policies and taxation have had a stultifying effect on London's work force, in the same way as excessive controls and restrictions have held back growth in London's firms. The Government's policies of reducing taxation, increasing incentives and cutting down unnecessary controls must mean a healthier economy for London in the future, as for the country as a whole.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
I draw the Minister's attention to the Bolton report on small firms, which specifically discussed this matter and did not come to that conclusion.
§ Mr. Lester
We have the Bolton report on our desks. It is permanently in our Department. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, our whole philosophy is based on the growth of small businesses and the need to encourage them. But it is true that everything that has been suggested to us by small businesses in our five years in Opposition, as to the things which have restricted their growth, is now being tackled by the Government. I am sure, as I have just said, that we shall see a healthier future economy for London and for the country as a whole. In the years to come our record will prove it.