HC Deb 12 June 1979 vol 968 cc309-64

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

7.12 p.m.

Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)

It is with great pleasure that I recommend the Bill to the House, in the hope that it will be given a Second Reading. I shall keep my remarks brief, since the measure is not especially contentious. No petitions have been received against it and it will therefore go to the Committee for unopposed Bills, should it succeed tonight. The Greater London Council (Money) Bill was given an unopposed Second Reading earlier today.

Hon. Members from all parts of the House always welcome a debate on London. It is our capital city, and it suffers from many of the inner city problems that we see in our other great cities. It also has special problems of its own. Figures that I received recently showed that last month unemployment in Greater London was under 4 per cent., a most satisfactory level, but unemployment in the docklands and the adjacent areas was 13 per cent., which gives some measure of the special problems to which I have referred.

In 1966 the population of London was about 7.8 million. Eleven years later it was 6.9 million. That is an indication of the decline of the city, a decline for which all London Members, whatever their political persuasion, feel great concern.

It is always a great pleasure to debate London, and I and many of my hon. Friends looked rather wistfully during the last Session of Parliament at the time that was allocated to debates on Scotland and Wales.

I warmly welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) to the Government Front Bench. He has made a great contribution over the past two years to solving some of London's problems, and I hope that he will intervene in the debate.

I shall deal briefly with the clauses in the Bill. The first of any substance is clause 3, which deals with the licensing of public entertainment in Greater London and seeks to amend schedule 12 to the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act 1963. The GLC licenses public entertainments in London—that is, music and dancing—specifying such matters as the number of ushers who shall be present. Many of the specific requirements of the licence are often contravened by licence holders, but they can be prosecuted for only one offence—breach of the licence. The penalty for that is currently a maximum fine of £200. That may have been satisfactory in the past when a licence holder was anxious to retain his licence year after year. That has changed in certain respects, especially with the introduction of pop concerts, for which the holder may wish to hold only one licence, never to return for another. It is becoming increasingly profitable for such a licence holder to ignore all the requirements of the licence and not to worry about such matters as the numbers attending, the number of stewards, sanitary conveniences, and so on. He does so because he knows that he can be prosecuted for only one offence, and that is breach of the licence.

The objective of the clause is to create separate offences for each and every breach, and to increase the fine to a maximum of £500. In an extreme case, therefore, if there were 10 distinct breaches of the licensing provisions a licence holder could be fined as much as £5,000. This sensible provision has been brought forward as a result of the Council's more difficult experiences with pop concerts at which almost every code of the licence has been breached.

I turn now to clause 4. The Council has a statutory duty to maintain various committees to operate alongside certain statutory bodies. There is, for example, the London Transport Executive. In 1970 the London Transport passengers' committee was set up. This consists of a chairman and members who in return for their duties receive travelling, subsistence and pay allowances. They do not receive salaries. The previous Government recommended that the chairmen of all major consultative bodies for the nationalised industries should be paid. For instance, the chairman of the transport users' consultative committee receives a salary of £1,000 a year. It is proposed in clause 4 that the Transport (London) Act 1969 should be amended and that the chairman should be paid a salary instead of attendance and financial loss allowances.

I felt that this provision needed to be looked at fairly closely, and I discovered that the duties of the committee and its chairman are considerable. It is no sinecure. In 1978, 237 matters were brought before the committee, mainly consisting of complaints by the public. Each year the committee meets six times, and the chairman is on a sub-committee which also meets six times. In 1978 he attended 23 working parties. What we are doing is bringing the chairman of this useful committee into line with the chairmen of most of the other consultative committees to the nationalised industries.

Clause 5, which is not of major national importance, refers to advertisements, such as those on the drums in Oxford Street which were put up not only to advertise but to enhance amenities. It refers also to the maps—with advertisements round the edge—which identify where the onlooker happens to be. They are often put up by councils which receive some small income from them. Apparently it is not certain whether it is legal for the Greater London Council and other councils to do this. It seems that they are not empowered to do it. The issue has never been challenged or tested, but it was felt that it might be sensible to regularise a position which might be irregular. This clause seeks to legalise the existing situation so that those advertising drums in Oxford Street will not be removed.

Clause 6 is a tidying-up clause of no significance. Nor is clause 7 of great significance. Apparently the provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1974 regulating parking on grass verges and footpaths will come into force in October of this year. As the GLC currently possesses similar powers in relation to such parking, it was felt that it coud be embarrassing to have two similar, though not exactly similar, provisions, one under the Road Traffic Act 1974 and the other under GLC powers. Clause 7 therefore seeks to repeal the powers of the GLC to regulate parking in certain places as and when the provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1974 come into force. When those provisions come into force, and if this clause is accepted, the GLC will simultaneously lose its similar powers, which will be taken over by the Government. I think we all agree that these are sensible provisions.

Clause 8 touches on what might be thought to be a contentious matter, which is the transfer of Greater London Council housing estates to the boroughs. However, the clause itself is in no way contentious. It proposes to establish the machinery to ease the transfer when it takes place and seeks powers to set up a staff commission which will ease the transfer of staff consequent upon the transfer of the GLC estates. As staff are transferred to the local boroughs, there will inevitably be a rundown of GLC staff and a build-up of staff in the boroughs. This commission will assist in the transfer of staff from the GLC to the boroughs. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead will enlighten us as to the date of the transfer.

The purpose of the commission is to safeguard staff interests. Clause 8 goes into some detail as to its general purposes. They are:

  1. "(a) considering and keeping under review the arrangements for the recruitment of staff by the Council or a transferee authority …
  2. (b) considering such staffing problems arising in consequence of a staff transfer order …
  3. (c) advising the Secretary of State on the steps necessary to safeguard the interests of staff"
and so on.

The commission is not controversial. It has general support from the white collar unions. I understand that the previous Secretary of State, for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), also supported the commission, which is a matter of machinery and not of principle. Consultations are still proceeding with staff representatives and the authorities concerned. I am sure it would be right, proper and sensible to give the Greater London Council the powers that it seeks in this case.

With clause 9 we move on to what is, perhaps, a more debatable issue. It certainly caused considerable debate last year, as many hon. Members will remember. The clause refers back in some ways to the inner city problems which London faces. The purpose of the clause is to give the Greater London Council and London boroughs powers to guarantee loans made to companies by banks and other institutions for the purpose of constructing, extending or improving industrial or commercial building. The nonsense is that at the moment the GLC and the boroughs have power to make such loans but not to guarantee loans. In other words, they can go the whole hog and put their money into a venture but they do not have the power to go to a bank and guarantee part of a loan which the bank is proposing to make to this or that company.

There was some controversy last year about this proposal. It was accepted after considerable discussion by the Select Committee and then removed on Report. The proposal meant a far wider use of various powers in this context. The clause that we are now examining is much less ambitious and concerns only the power to make guarantees. It is hedged about, as right hon. and hon. Members have seen, by certain safeguards. For instance, it is proposed that this power should expire at the end of 1984 unless it is then renewed. In London it is restricted to areas designated as such by the Inner Urban Areas Act 1978, so that this power can be used only in those areas of which the House is aware. The local authority concerned will, of course, assure itself that a loan will help the development of the economy in the area in which that loan was being made and that the financial prospects are sound. There will have to be evidence that the private market has provided some venture capital and is taking an un-guaranteed first risk.

Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

I am interested in the safeguards described by the hon. Gentleman. Is there any limit on the amount which a local authority, or the Greater London Council, may guarantee in a particular case? Will any sanction be required from the Government before a guarantee is made?

Mr. Shelton

My understanding is that if the Greater London Council is given this power no sanction will be required. However, I shall check on that and also on the limit. My understanding is that there is no limit, but I shall assure myself that this is so before the end of the evening and if I am wrong I shall tell the House.

This provision is also in line with the recommendations of the interim report of the Wilson committee on the financing of small firms. I confess to some difficulty about this, because if it is a sound venture that gives a return, why should the company look to the local authority for a guarantee? The only answer that I can give is that the problems that we face in London are of such gravity, in some cases, that I believe that this would be a tool in the hand of local authorities which, in certain cases, could be advantageous for the area.

I have already spoken of the 13 per cent. unemployment figure in the dockland and associated areas, which is extraordinarily high compared with the 3 per cent. figure in the Greater London area as a whole. We must, I suggest, look to every measure that we can adopt to improve the situation, and I believe that this is one of them. In any event, I repeat that it seems to me extraordinary that councils have the power to lend all the money themselves but do not have power to guarantee a loan. This is a normal piece of financial management. Of course, it is much cheaper for a council to make a guarantee, provided that the guarantee is not called upon, than it is to put up all the money itself as first provider.

Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)

Will not this power be of particular value to small firms in Greater London and inner London which are not covered by the existing Industry Acts? In that sense, are we not extending the help which is already given under existing legislation but specifically gearing it to inner London and its problems and the contribution which small firms can make towards their solution?

Mr. Shelton

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a point made also by the Wilson committee on the financing of small firms. We on these Benches—I believe that the Opposition join us in this—look to small firms to contribute substantially to the reduction of unemployment in London. I do not wish to be drawn into the activities of the Location of Offices Bureau over the past 10 years, but at least it seems to have reversed its movement and is now trying to bring back firms into Greater London. At any rate, this question of guaranteeing loans can be thrashed out in Committee, and I very much hope that it will not hinder the Second Reading. We can look at it in detail in Committee and make our decisions then.

Part IV, which covers a considerable number of closely written pages in the Bill, deals with the registration of hostels by borough councils. This is an issue which certainly calls for action. Over the past few years a considerable number of problems have arisen where hostels have abused their position and those who use them, allowing too many youngsters to use them, putting up tents in the back garden, not providing sufficient amenities, and so forth—in other words, overcrowding in the summer period. I believe that there must be a move towards their regulation.

However, I must tell the House that all the clauses in part IV are under consideration and discussion. There is some reservation about them—about the wording, not about the objective—and I think it likely that they will be withdrawn before the Committee stage. I believe that they will then be represented next year, so the Bill will lose a good bit of bulk when it goes to Committee. Since the whole of part IV will almost certainly be withdrawn, I shall not now weary the House with the intricacies of the regulation of hostels.

The final two clauses calling for comment, clauses 22 and 23, are both London borough clauses included in the Bill at the request of the London boroughs. Clause 22 is not exactly of transcendental importance, although one presumes that those suffering infestation by the brown-tailed moth feel badly about it, since I understand that the windblown hairs of this moth, if they happen to lodge in a person's underclothing when it is on the clothes line, will cause that person considerable inconvenience when the underclothing is next worn. I understand that the moth also kills trees and shrubs.

I notice that the invasion by this moth started from Canvey Island. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), who is responsible for that area—no doubt, he is exhausted by his exertions yesterday—is not here to defend Canvey Island or to explain how he came to release on the world this pest from Canvey Island, which has now reached Tower Hamlets and is advancing westwards.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)

And southwards, so the hon. Gentleman had better watch out.

Mr. Shelton

The GLC is seeking powers in the hands of the boroughs to serve notice on occupiers of land infested by the moth, requiring that they should spray their land or, if they do not do so, power for the authority to do it itself and to make a charge. Exactly how the councils propose to identify which bit of land has the moth on it, apart from which trees and shrubs have been stripped by it or which people have been made uneasy in their underwear, I really do not know, but I am sure that this is something that will be welcomed with acclaim by all those who find themselves in the path of its attack.

Clause 23 promises relaxation and fun for our capital city. Reading it carefully, one reaches the conclusion that its purpose is to allow councils to give permission to restaurants, cafes and so on to place tables and chairs on the pavements. At present they are theoretically prohibited from so doing by the various Road Traffic Acts, or whatever it may be, but if they have this power, perhaps, when the sun shines, we may see London looking a bit more like Paris, at least in the way that tables and chairs are put out. I am sure that we should all welcome that and that it must be regarded as a good thing.

I have now come to the end of my brief description of the various clauses of the Bill, and I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.

7.38 p.m.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

The House will wish to thank the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) for the courteous and friendly way in which he has sponsored the Bill and gone through the clauses. He has had an advantage over the rest of us in having very few clauses to go through, since this is one of the thinnest Greater London Council (General Powers) Bills that we have had for some time.

I warmly support what the hon. Gentleman said about clause 7. This seems to me to be extremely important, and I feel that the GLC could have done far more in transport matters anyway with particular reference to highways and footways. In my constituency roads are blocked. Graham Road, in particular, is regularly blocked, yet the GLC seeems unwilling to do anything about it. We are constantly drawing attention to the vast array of heavy vehicles travelling up and down that road. Only in the past three months, three of my constituents were injuired. Although it is aware of the problem, the GLC does absolutely nothing about it.

Last week I put a question to the Minister of Transport asking if he would call a meeting between the GLC and the Hackney borough council, since there seems to be no way in which they can call themselves together. The answer the Minister gave me was that he could not do that; it was the responsibility of the GLC, which ought to do it. I hope that the hon. Member for Streatham will tell his friends at County Hall that it is about time they acted. Graham Road is an important area. When the GLC decided that lorries would be banned from going over Tower bridge, they were re-routed. They now use Graham Road automatically.

We are merely told the effect of clause 7, but even that is a tragedy. As the hon. Gentleman knows, 1 October 1980 is the operative date. We shall have to wait until then before help can be given in our boroughs.

The hon. Gentleman indicated that he considered clause 8 to be non-contentious. I must advise him that that is not so. It is extremely contentious. I do not believe that the unions are entirely in favour of its provisions. NALGO has indicated clearly that implementation on 1 January 1980 will be far too quick. It considers that implementation should be delayed until 1 April 1980 so that everything may be brought together.

Also challenged is the need for a new commission. It argues that the New Towns Commission, which is sitting and has been sitting for a long time, is running out of work and that it could pick up another brief. It is argued that it is not necessary to establish a fresh bureaucracy to undertake the work. I hope that the GLC will consider whether it is necessary to establish such a commission.

As we are talking about the setting up of a commission and all the other nonsense that is taking place, housing estates in Hackney and in other London boroughs are being deliberately run down. There is no maintenance and tenants are unable to be transferred. Property is being kept empty for months on end. All that is costing the ratepayers a great deal of money. To argue about a commission is not dealing with the point that we wish to make to the GLC, namely, that the whole exercise is ridiculous. No provision is being made for those in my constituency to enable transfers to be made to other property outside Hackney. Therefore, there is strong objection. How can the GLC claim that it is handing back 200,000 homes without any transfer agreement and without any agreement on the financial issues as it affects all London boroughs? Surely that is nonsense.

We know that the GLC talks to its friends in the outer London boroughs. Of course, those boroughs have a particular interest. They do not want to allow transfers from inner London to outer London. They are happy to have transfers from outer London to inner London if they have a problem of which they wish to divest themselves. They do not accept the reverse argument.

On clause 8, I take a different view from that expressed by the hon. Gentleman. I do not believe that the GLC has made any real endeavour to undertake its own responsibilities seriously. It is trying to offload the problem. There are involved 32 boroughs, 22 district councils and over 7,000 staff. However, the GLC regards it as a simple exercise to set up a commission on 1 October 1979. It seems to think that everything will come right on the day. It is fascinating that the one word that never appears is "tenant", the person for whom the GLC is supposed to be working. Tenants are living in the property that it owns. They are the people whose lives can be affected by these decisions.

I find clause 9 fascinating. When I read it I thought that there was something rather familiar about the wording. It is part gobbledegook and I remembered it. I found that clause 9 was clause 14 in the 1977 GLC Bill. Clause 14 also seemed familiar and I read the debate on Second Reading. I found that the hon. Member for Streatham and some of his hon. Friends tabled a motion seeking the exclusion of clauses 8, 9, 10, 11 and 14. The hon. Gentleman wanted to prove that he was against clause 14. He was not satisfied merely with tabling a motion. In the Division, the hon. Gentleman served as a Teller.

Against that fascinating background, I waited tonight to hear the conversion on the road to Damascus. I waited to hear the hon. Gentleman explain his enlighten- ment and why he is now in favour of the scheme. I read the Official Report of the 1977 debate. I noted how the hon. Gentleman approached his task on that occasion. He said: I put my name to the motion for an Instruction and I wish strongly to associate myself with the persuasive and crisp speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg)".—[Official Report, 26 April 1977; Vol. 930, c. 1145.] It is fascinating to read the words of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsbery), now Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. The hon. Gentleman referred to a mess and mass of politically motivated clauses. He talked about "Bennery". He would have none of it. He told me that on 5 May 1977 it would not be part of the Bill. If that was his attitude at that time, why have it tonight?

I thought that there must be something different in the Bill now before us. I read it carefully and found that there were only two differences. First, the 1977 Bill defined the words "industrial building". Those words were defined closely, but this Bill does not offer a definition. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will tell my why it does not. "Commercial building" were words described closely in the 1977 Bill. That was done so that we would know what the term meant. There is no such definition in the Bill. I wonder why. We want to know what "industrial buildings" and "commercial buildings" are in terms of the guarantees that are being given. I hope that definitions will be spelt out.

On a further re-reading, I thought that the only possible argument was that application would be until 1984. That is a change, but it is not a change in principle. If one were to oppose it, seek its withdrawal and become a terrier against it, surely there would have to be a more persuasive argument than the fact that it will fall five years from now.

I hope that the House will be told why the clause that Labour Members argued passionately for and were prepared to vote for in a Division, which was then opposed by Conservative Members, is now being sponsored by the Conservative Government. During the passage of the 1977 Bill, Labour supporters did not have the advantage of the assistance of Government Whips, but I suspect that the Government Whips will be present to-night. In 1977 we did our private whipping. On that occasion 192 Members voted in favour of the clause.

If part IV is removed from the Bill, there is little left after clauses 8 and 9. I intend to discuss in detail the value of hostels. Moreover, the hon. Member for Streatham has taken that issue away from me, so my hare has gone. I regret that.

The GLC must be invited next year to put before Parliament a general powers Bill that will do genuine work for London. That which is of any good in the Bill now before us belongs to the boroughs. If we take away the brown-tailed moth, which belongs to the boroughs, we do not have much left. I hope that the GLC will take its task seriously.

I do not want to launch into a political attack on the GLC tonight. It is relatively easy meat. However, some of us are getting rather fed up with it. Its behaviour in London is appalling. It is doing everything by means of secret sessions. The idea of committee meetings has long since passed. Things are done by chairman's edict. Members know nothing until after the event. That is bad for democracy.

I was not in favour of the GLC in the first place. I though it was an excess that we could do without. However, once it was established, I was happy that it should play a strategic role. But now it does not wish to be strategic. It does not want the housing responsibility and the work that it should be doing, including planning responsibilities. It seems to be divesting itself of its basic responsibilities. The Bill is an indication that the GLC has run out of steam, if it had any in the first place. Under this Administration it is wilfully abdicating its responsibility. The sooner 1981 comes and those at present in power are gone, the better it will be for London.

7.51 p.m.

Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)

This Bill, by the standards of general powers Bills, is a fairly thin and modest measure. Its proposals are modest and constructive and are, on the whole, non-controversial—even the part which deals with the activities of Euproctis Chrysorrhoea. I thought that he was a member of the Greek underworld. However, it is the brown-tailed moth, which has created a trail of havoc and destruction from Canvey Island to Tower Hamlets.

I shall deal briefly with those parts of the Bill that I deem to be the most important. In the process, I shall take up one or two of the comments made by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown).

I am glad to see that under clause 4 the chairman of the London Transport passengers' committee is to be paid a proper salary. That is the right way to go about the matter. The committee is one of the few statutory bodies of its kind for which no provision was made. To pay its chairman a salary will help to give the committee the status it deserves. We should like to congratulate Mr. Ian McLeod on his recent appointment as chairman of the committee. We wish him well in his watchdog work on behalf of the often harassed and frustrated users of London Transport.

Clause 8 deals with the commission for the transfer of the GLC housing staff. That is a consequence of the transfer of the housing management functions to the London boroughs. The transfer is a separate issue. However, the hon. Gentleman referred to it.

On the latest figures that I have, 23 London boroughs went along with the GLC proposals. Five of those boroughs are Labour-controlled. The hon. Gentleman referred to the shortage of time and the inadequacy of consultation. The target date for transfer has already been extended once. That is an earnest of the GLC's intentions in this matter. There is no wish to rush the transfer. However, Government supporters believe that it is a desirable move.

The hon. Gentleman said that there had been no reference to the interest of the tenants. The transfer of the GLC estates to local boroughs will be of benefit to the tenants. It will bring about an element of decentralisation and bring the tenants closer to the officials and councillors with whom they have to deal in the boroughs in which they live. Therefore, there is a lot to be said for the transfer. I do not think that this is necessarily a party political issue.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

How many GLC estates are there in Bromley?

Mr. Hunt

There are 750 GLC properties within the London borough of Bromley. I am sure that a number of those tenants will prefer to make their complaints and contacts at the Bromley town hall rather than at the remote and distant County Hall. This step will be welcomed by most tenants.

I turn now to clause 9 and loan guarantees. The hon. Gentleman had fun at our expense. He alleged all kinds of inconsistencies by some of my hon. Friends. Similar powers were sought in last year's general powers Bill. Those efforts were obstructed on that occasion not by Conservative Members of Parliament but by the Department of Industry, which was greatly opposed to them, largely on the basis that it did not want powers granted to London which would then perhaps be requested by other parts of the country. I did not know what was the motivation. However, this was in line with the general discrimination against London which we have found too often from Government Departments in past years. The Department of Industry was opposed. I think that the Department of the Environment was not too happy, either.

Although the provisions referred to were supported in Committee, they were rejected on Report, presumably as a result of the votes of Members of the Labour Party, and certainly by the payroll vote. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is in any position to cast aspersions upon Government supporters. I am persuaded by those in office across the river that these powers are necessary and will be of great benefit to the revival and regeneration of inner London.

The proposal for loan guarantees in designated districts will be of special assistance to small firms which, most of all, may assist in the revival of London which Members of Parliament on both sides want to bring about. Many of these small firms do not at present qualify for help under the Industry Act. This is an attempt to supplement existing legislation and to reduce the high level of unemployment in inner London which, in parts of dockland and elsewhere, is running as high as 13 per cent.

On this occasion the GLC again requests these powers, albeit in a more restricted form than hitherto. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) detailed a number of safeguards that are being written into the Bill on this occasion. For example, it is to apply in London only in districts designated for the purposes of the Inner Urban Areas Act 1978. It will expire on 31 December 1984. The power is not to be exercised unless the designated district authority is satisfied that the industrial and commercial buildings concerned will be of benefit to the district and that the building is unlikely to be provided, extended or improved unless the guarantee is given.

These are very strong and very adequate safeguards. On that basis, I can see no possible objection to these powers being granted. They will be of direct help in bringing new jobs and better prospects to the most rundown and depressed areas of inner London.

For all these reasons, I believe that the Bill, modest as it is in its scope and intentions, is worthy of support on Second Reading. I hope that it will be given an unopposed Second Reading. Points of detailed discussion can be further considered at a later stage, but I think that in principle we ought to approve the Bill tonight, and I hope that we shall do so.

8 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

I am sure that the Bill contains many worthy minor proposals. I am fully prepared to accept the views of the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) about the brown-tailed moth because, as far as I know, it has not reached either Battersea or Hampstead.

Mr. Mikardo: There is one on the way.

Mr. Jay

I am also fully in favour of the guarantees for industrial loans. Unlike the hon. Member for Streatham and the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, I was fully in favour of those in 1977 and 1978 as well as in 1979. But when we come to clause 8 and the proposals connected with the transfer of GLC housing to the boroughs, it is a very different story. As has been said already, there has been very little mention of the tenants of council houses so far, or indeed of the feelings of the people of London about these proposals. There is no doubt that housing policy has far more effect on the lives of ordinary people and ordinary families in London than any other proposal in the Bill. I believe that the transfer of GLC housing to the boroughs will have a very harmful effect on housing. Over the last 20 or 25 years, I have found that of the distressed families coming to me for help with their housing, there is always a number of council tenants. They are often widows whose families have grown up and moved elsewhere and whose sole desire is to move to another part of London outside their own borough because they wish above all to live near to their son or married daughter.

I have proposals from families to move, for instance, from Battersea to Islington, or to somewhere in North London. Up till now, almost the only practical way of doing that, if they are too poor to buy a house and are only on the council list of their own borough, is through the old London County Council and GLC arrangements which enabled people to move from one part of London to another. If nearly all this GLC property is to be transferred, that possibility will be severely curtailed. I am seeing cases where it is already happening.

It is rather ironic that we had the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying four times today that one of the objects of his proposals was to increase freedom of choice for ordinary people. Nothing will restrict freedom of choice in housing more than restricting movement to the narrow boundaries of the boroughs. That has no particular relation with ordinary human life.

Mr. John Hunt


Mr. Jay

I think that the hon. Gentleman is intending to say that there is to be an arrangement for exchanges and for a central bureau between the boroughs. I am sure that the intention is good, but I have found in the past that it hardly ever works for families who are really in need. Although I am sure that it is well-intentioned, I shall believe it when I see it, and I am sure that the transfer will curtail movement between boroughs to a very much lower level than that which existed when the GLC was really a housing authority.

We have to remember that at the same time the GLC is selling council houses and flats wholesale. In order to do this, it is at the present time holding empty a large number of properties. I do not know how many properties are involved—perhaps the Minister can tell us later—but it is certainly holding properties empty while they await sale. The double effect of these two actions is to reduce the total stock of council property available for people who wish for transfers and who cannot afford anything other than rented council property. Indeed, the GLC at the present time seems not merely to be ceasing to be a housing authority but becoming a positively anti-housing authority in that all its actions are making the housing position in London worse.

There might be some mitigation of this situation if the transfer to the boroughs were to create a better position in the boroughs, but unhappily, in the case of my borough council, which is now under Conservative control, it is merely aggravating the position further, because that council is following precisely the same policies. In the first place, it is also engaged in an almost reckless sale of council properties, not merely to existing tenants—for which there is no doubt in some cases a good argument—but of newly-built properties on the open market.

The major effect of this is, of course, that the vacant premises available for the transfer of overcrowded and distressed families are now steadily shrinking in number month by month. I am finding in my surgery and my correspondence—which is as to nine-tenths concerned with housing—that the whole process of transfer, which, goodness knows, has always been slow enough, is now being further slowed down. I am being compelled to say to people who come to see me in these circumstances that if these Conservative policies continue both at County Hall and in the boroughs I can see very little hope after some time of any transfers at all being possible.

In the case of the Wandsworth borough council, not merely is all that true but it has aggravated the position further by an extraordinary decision that transfers from council flat to council flat may only take place within small areas within the borough—areas of not more than a few hundred yards or so in extent. If one adds that to the difficulty of moving from one part of London to another, one can only say that it is a remarkable way of giving free choice to people as to where they live.

The total effect of all these policies will, I believe, very soon be to make the housing position in London—which has always been the most acute problem for ordinary people, certainly in my area—worse than it has been at any time since the war. One of the factors contributing to this is the GLC abdicating or dismantling its whole housing policy. The present GLC seems not to care at all how people live in London. That is the only explanation of its policies. I believe that its policy will have a deplorable effect.

Although, as I said earlier, some of the proposals in the Bill are worthy or justifiable, I do not think that we ought to let it pass without some sort of protest about the effect on the lives of people in London of the housing policies of the Conservative GLC and some at least of the Conservative boroughs.

8.9 p.m.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

I should like first to support the remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) and for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) and then to refer the House to item 10 of the schedule, which covers flood prevention. In particular, I refer to the urgent need for flood control works to be initiated in the Ruislip Gardens area of my constituency to avoid a repetition of the serious flooding which occurred in August 1977, causing about £750,000 worth of damage. Since then, there has nearly been further flooding on at least two occasions. It has been estimated that about 250 homes in Ruislip Gardens are currently at risk of flooding in extreme weather.

To its credit, the Greater London Council has acknowledged the extent of the problem, and only a week or two ago the new chairman of the GLC's public safety committee met the two Bourne ward councillors from South Ruislip, Councillors Maher and Howarth, and the flood committee chairman, Mr. Barrand The GLC member for Ruislip-Northwood, Mr. Cyril Taylor, has been unremitting in his efforts to secure an early start to the flood control measures necessary in South Ruislip. Hitherto, the GLC had indicated that work on this preject would begin as soon as the design work had been completed.

Last year the GLC approved a 30-year flood alleviation programme for non-tidal rivers costing £81 million, entitled RCS 110. The document, in the first paragraph, admits: As recently as 1977, severe and damaging floods inundated some 1,200 homes in north-west and south-east London and since then more properties have been flooded during 1978 in south London and in January 1979 in west London. As well as the direct damage caused to property, both public and private, there is extensive indirect damage due to dislocated telecommunications, road and rail transport systems and public utility services (for example, some 40,000 telephones were out of action for up to six weeks in 1977)".

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman. To which clause of the Bill is he referring? There is no item 10. I have been searching for it. He has defeated me in following him.

Mr. Wilkinson

I anticipated that question. The parliamentary solicitor to the Greater London Council specifically advised Members in the GLC area that they were entitled to raise the subject of flood control, and he brought to the attention of hon. Members—

Mr. Brown

I believe that the hon. Gentleman is on the wrong Bill. I think that he is on the Money Bill, which was unopposed. We are on the general powers Bill now.

Mr. Wilkinson

In that event, I got my opportunity wrong. It is important that the flood—

Mr. Mikardo

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman, who is obviously struggling, but, if I understood him aright, he said that the solicitor to the Greater London Council sent out information about what was and was not in order on the Bill. Surely only the Chair can decide what is in order in our discussions. If what the hon. Gentleman said is right and I have not misunderstood, surely the solicitor to the GLC was acting grossly ultra vires in suggesting what we may discuss. Is that right?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

I am grateful for support from the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo). In fact, I had not heard what the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) said, because I was dealing with another matter. If he said what is alleged, I think that he must be wrong.

Mr. Wilkinson

I think that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) is being a little harsh on the solicitor. He should really be harsh on me, not the solicitor. The solicitor was clearly giving advice on another piece of legislation which the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) rightly reminded the House had been passed earlier today. I was erroneously seeking to raise the issue of flood control in South Ruislip. Perhaps you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would advise me whether it is possible to raise that subject as there are measures in the schedule—for example, the Ilford Corporation (Drainage) Act 1950—which refer to flood control measures.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If, as I assume, Ruislip is in London, the answer is that the hon. Member may refer to it.

Mr. Wilkinson

I am garteful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Your ruling is as had anticipated, although I have been quite rightly reproved by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow.

I revert to the question of flooding in the Greater London area. However, under the scheme no work could begin on any river catchment area other than that of the River Brent until the Brent river flood control works were finished. The River Crane catchment area, which includes the Yeading Brook, in my constituency, has the next highest priority. Surely the positive approach would be to initiate design work on the South Ruislip flood control culvert and start concurrent negotiations with London Transport and British Rail so that the construction of the culvert and related works can begin as soon as the River Brent flood control scheme is completed.

That seemed to be the approach of the GLC, but we now learn that a shortage of design staff means that the necessary construction work in South Ruislip will not start until 1984 and probably will not be finished until 1985. I understand that authorisation for the engagement of a further 22 design staff has been given and that the interviewing of applicants has begun.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

Everything said by my hon. Friend about Ruislip is of intense interest to the people of Pinner and concerning the River Pinn, which overflowed on the same night. Is he suggesting that the delays in the design work being started are because the GLC wishes to employ 22 new experts on this matter? I should have thought that that was an inferior practice. There may be consulting engineers ready to deal with this matter. I should be indebted to my hon. Friend for his advice.

Mr. Wilkinson

I asked that very question. My feelings and initial judgment were the same as those of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page). The advice that I received was that previous experience had taught experts in the GLC that it was best for them to engage appropriate staff themselves. My instincts were entirely those of my hon. Friend.

Anyway, I suggest that, as soon as these gentlemen are hired, they be engaged on the South Ruislip project, bearing in mind that the original target date for completion of the project was 1982. The slippage which has occurred is of acute local concern. As I said, the total cost of the works is about £500,000. The total cost of the flood control measures in RCS110 is £81 million. The damage that was caused in Ruislip Gardens in 1977 was £750,000. Therefore, the project is not a local amenity issue; it is a cost-effective programme which is necessary to protect the property of my constituents. Unless urgent steps are taken to speed things up, I shall seek every means such as exploiting schedules to Bills of this kind to raise the matter again.

8.19 p.m.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)

I should like to make a few observations on the Bill. If I may offer a word of comfort to the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who has just spoken and who got into a bit of a jam, I hope that he will not take it too much to heart. We have all dropped that sort of clanger in our day and survived it. I dare say that he will.

I am sure that the House is grateful—I certainly am—to the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) for the clear and concise way in which he took us through the clauses of the Bill and straightened out any complexities that there might be in it. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) in thanking the hon. Member for Streatham for the way in which he moved the Second Reading.

As has been said, this is a relatively, though not altogether, non-controversial Bill. That is why it has had a relatively easy passage so far any why, I believe, it will continue to have an easy passage this evening. I hope that those who sit in County Hall will not make the mistake of deducing from that that there will be any lack of vigilance in the House about what they are up to or about any further measures which they may seek to introduce.

Some of us are highly suspicious of what the Greater London Council is up to and deeply disturbed by some of the things that it is trying to do. I hope that those in County Hall will not become complacent because the Bill receives a Second Reading this evening. I hope that they will inform their solicitor not to tell Members of the House what is or is not in order to discuss on a Bill. If he continues to do that, one day he will be kicked very hard in a sensitive part of his anatomy.

There are two or three parts of the Bill to which I wish to refer, following what was said by the hon. Member for Streatham. I refer first to clause 7, which, as he explained, moves the control of parking on footways, grass verges, and so on from one authority to another. It does not matter who is responsible for controlling such parking. What matters is that it is controlled. The degree to which it is controlled varies considerably from one area of London to another.

I was pinched—quite properly, and I make no complaint about it—and fined. I pay tribute to the vigilance of the policeman who noticed it. I was pinched for leaving my car parked in a square in Westminster with the nearside rear wheel just on the pavement. For that, I got it, quite properly, where the chicken got the chopper. I should like to take hon. Members and the Commissioner of Police for a walk, any day of the week during the hours of eight in the morning to six in the evening, down Hanbury Street, E1, which runs eastwards from Commercial Street and crosses Brick Lane. There is not one yard of that street—it is a narrow street with narrow footpaths on either side—which, for seven days a week, not five, does not have vehicles parked on it within 1ft of the wall of the buildings. People walking down Hanbury Street have learnt to move no longer as homo sapiens but as crustaceans. They walk sideways, because the only way that one can walk up Hanbury Street is sideways between the vehicles and the walls. There is not room to walk straight forward.

I do not believe that that would be permitted for one minute in the more delectable parts of the borough which the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) represents. It certainly would not be permitted for one minute in the city of Westminster where I live. How is it that it goes on with impunity in an area where only working people live? Is that the reason? If not, what is the reason? I repeat that what clause 7 does, by transferring control from one authority to another, is meaningless. What is meaningful is the extent to which the control is implemented.

The provisions in clause 8 about the machinery are relatively uncontroversial, though, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch, who is a great expert in these matters, they are not altogether uncontroversial. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) said, the principle is very fundamental indeed. One day we shall have to look at this principle. It really will not do in a conurbation such as Greater London to imagine that one can satisfy the needs of the people with about 30 pockets of housing administration.

We have been saying for years that what we need in this country is more mobility and that people should be able to move in order to change jobs. My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North gave graphic instances of the way in which mobility worked. The instances that he quoted were for social reasons—widows who wanted to be with their children, or the daughter who wants to move to be near her ailing mother to give her a hand—and, for heaven's sake, why not? But there are other instances.

I put a point to the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt). He seems to have missed it, but I am sure that he is conscious of it. At my last advice bureau but one I saw a chap who lives in Bethnal Green. He lost his job and now has the chance of employment in the West Essex fringe of the Greater London area. He starts at six o'clock in the morning, and he does not have a car. There is no way in which he can get public transport from Bethnal Green to the Essex border to be at work by six o'clock in the morning. It was precisely for that sort of case that the system of nominations from the boroughs to the GLC was developed. Although it did not work by any means perfectly, and although there were many snags about it, it made a real contribution to deal with that sort of case.

I do not believe that this vague, co-ordinating get together will be a substitute for that system of nominations, and I do not know anyone who believes that it will. Somehow or other we must find a way of creating housing mobility. If the GLC does not want to do it, some other way must be found. We must find a way of creating housing mobility in Greater London, otherwise we shall get a situation in which the social and economic life of Greater London will be fossilised because people will be locked in the boroughs in which they live, and in employment terms will be locked within the public transport accessibility radius of those boroughs.

Labour Members enjoyed openly, and Conservative Members must have enjoyed a little wryly, the outcome of the research undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch into the peripatetic gyrations of the Conservative Party with regard to the guarantee of loans in designated districts. Before I speak on this, I must declare an interest as the chairman of the Tower Hamlets centre for small business, which exists to promote small businesses in the borough. It is a highly non-financial interest that I declare, because the office of chairman of this centre is a highly unpaid one. Nevertheless, I declare the interest.

The hon. Member for Streatham posed a valid question, namely, that some people may ask "Why should a company have to look to the local authority? Why does not the normal banking and financial system satisfy it?" The hon. Gentleman found one answer to his question. I shall provide a different answer, from which he may not altogether dissent. It is that the banking and financial system is incompetent and too narrow and too unimaginative to deal with it. It works in Germany, France and Holland, but our financial organisations are much more conservative, much less inclined to lending except on stone bonk assets than are the banking and other financial institutions in the other countries of Western Europe. That is the reason that I put to the hon. Member for Streatham why provisions of this sort must be there. Doubtless it is a belated understanding of that fact which has brought Conservative Members to abandon the views which they expressed a little while ago.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch ought not to worry about this. He ought not to complain about the inconsistency of Conservative Members and about the fact that they are now promoting something which they bitterly opposed. Has my hon. Friend forgotten that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth? He is witnessing something that we should all applaud. The Minister—the hon. Member for Hampstead—has been smitten by a blinding light on the road to the Front Bench. We should all be glad of that and grateful for it.

We know why we ought not to spend much time dealing with part IV. It has been explained that we shall be having a separate look at that. However, I should like to make one comment about hostels. Hostels are like prisons, borstals and airports, in that everyone is in favour of them if they are put somewhere else. Everyone appreciates that we must have another airport—"But not where we are; put it somewhere else". We understand that there may be need for another prison because we are short of prison accommodation—but there is a very good reason for putting it somewhere else. It is the same with a borstal, a mental home, a mental hospital or a hostel for alcoholics, vagrants, handicapped persons or other under-privileged persons. No one wants such things near himself. Everyone is in favour of them as long as someone else is their neighbour.

Having said that, I believe that we really ought to look at the distribution of these social institutions through Greater London to see where they are and how it is that some people in some parts of Greater London—Hampstead, Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea—manage to achieve the desideratum of having them somewhere else. Let us look at East London. Of course, it is not 100 per cent. one way or the other. However, I ask the Minister to get a map of Greater London and to mark out and list all the institutions to which people, reasonably or unreasonably—sometimes they are unreasonable—could take exception in their locality. Let him look at the relative density of such institutions in various parts of London. He will find it highly instructive.

Finally—resisting, gravely, the temptation to have a long dissertation on the brown-tailed moth—I move to clause 23, which is concerned with the matter of putting tables and chairs in cafes, pubs and other places. Perhaps I may confess to a personal weakness. I love to eat and drink outdoors. I think that it is one of the attributes of civilisation to eat and drink outdoors, whenever the weather allows. When people ask why there is so much less of this in London than in other countries, others will sometimes say "We have this terrible climate" But our climate is no different from the climate of Amsterdam, Brussels or Paris, and on the whole it is better than the climate of Berlin, where eating and drinking outside is commonplace.

But there is a "but". The habit has been greatly increased by the business of putting porches out on pavements. Our planning authorities must adopt a more flexible approach. There are snags and grounds for resistance, but we need to be more flexible if we are to encourage outdoor eating. A soft roof and some element of heating make it pleasant to sit under an open awning in autumn as well as on a summer evening. We do not use our imagination in the way that they do in some Continental cities and in North America, where the climate in the north and east is, by and large, worse than ours. Pavement life adds much to the gaiety of a city, and we should have more of it. It requires imagination from the restaurant, cafe or pub owner and more flexibility from the planners.

I shall not be unhappy for the Bill to have an unopposed Second Reading, but in Committee we must look more closely at one or two things. To end as I began, I warn the chaps in the big building on the other side of the river that they must not be too complacent after this evening and imagine that their deeds will go unwatched and their intentions unexamined.

8.37 p.m.

Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) on the way in which he brought the Bill before the House and explained it. I also congratulate, or commiserate with, the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), who finds himself in the seat that he now occupies.

Clause 9 has been mentioned several times, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) spoke of the Government's attitude. One enormous difference between the situation when the Conservative Party in its previous incarnation opposed that clause and now is the existence of the Inner Urban Areas Act. That Act gives the designated districts with which the Bill is concerned the sort of powers which they require, except the power which is contained in the clause.

I am interested to know the attitude of the Government to this clause. The Under-Secretary of State may not be able to tell us this evening, but perhaps he will do so later. If there is to be an extension of powers to local authorities to enable them to assist industry in their areas, that should be done nationally in terms of relative national need. That is why the then Secretary of State designated certain districts not just in London but in the country at large.

I might feel some misgivings if the Government were inclined to allow local authorities in different parts of the country to outbid one another in claiming powers through private legislation which enabled them to compete with the kind of wares which might be available to them for attracting industry to their areas. Attractive as it might be to those of us who represent London constituencies to see our own local authorities acquire powers which might enable them to have the edge over other local authorities, it could well be that if local authorities began outbidding each other in this way London would be worse off than it is now.

The districts that are mentioned in the Bill are precisely those which have been singled out for special assistance under the Inner Urban Areas Act. The hon. Member for Streatham drew our attention to the relative rates of unemployment in the Greater London area as a whole, and dockland in particular. It was precisely because the situation in dockland was so serious that not merely was it made a designated area under the Act but it was given extra powers as a special area. That gave it priority or preference over designated districts. I shall be most interested in the Government's comments on this matter.

Can the Minister say whether the Government would accept the situation in which powers of this kind were acquired by local authorities without the necessity of any sanction from central Government, and without any necessary financial limit being placed upon the size of the guarantee that might be made? I recognise that the Minister might not be in a position to answer those questions this evening.

In other respects I find the Bill relatively non-contentious. Although there are issues upon which several hon. Members have expressed doubts and reservations, most of these can be cleared up in Committee, and I personally have no intention of dividing the House on the Bill.

8.43 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg)

The Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill is one of those annual events which draws, depending on whether there is an election in the offing, more or fewer London Members. In that respect, it is like the Consolidated Fund Bill. Tonight, in the aftermath of a general election and the European elections, there are fewer London Members present. That may also be due to the fact that this is a less interesting Bill than usual.

Briefly, I shall answer one or two of the points that have been made and then give an indication of the Government's attitude to the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) on the way in which he introduced the Bill. He did so with great skill, and there is no excuse for any hon. Member to fail to understand the Measure's contents or the reasoning behind it. Some of my hon. Friend's arguments were not unfamiliar because we have been over part of the course on at least one other occasion. The major arguments put forward by my hon. Friend should convince the House that the Bill deserves a Second Reading.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), whom we welcome back from Europe—perhaps Europe will welcome him back here—made his usual intervention in a London debate. London debates would be very much poorer without his interventions.

The hon. Gentleman's remarks on the transfer of estates were not germane at all to this Bill. However, they were a useful rehearsal for the debate which no doubt we shall have when the transfer order is debated. It will certainly help whoever has to deal with that matter to know the kind of arguments the hon. Gentleman will adduce on that occasion.

I do not grumble at the fact that the GLC has produced a fairly thin Bill, because that fits very much into the philosophy of the present Government—namely, that there has been far too much legislation in the past. I hope that the GLC will not be tempted by the hon. Gentleman's remarks into filling up its Bill next time. I do not use the phrase "filling up" in the accepted Private Bill sense but in the sense of finding more clauses containing more powers.

The hon. Gentleman spoke as though the GLC were unpopular, and indeed he said what a bad organisation it was. That was certainly not proved by election results in the GLC area when the swing against Labour was almost identical to the earlier swing against Labour. The people of London are happy with what the GLC is doing. Their votes prove it, particularly in the constituency of Holborn and St. Pancras, South, where the swing in the election, compared with 1974, was the same 10 per cent. against Labour.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt), in a most helpful speech, added extra information to what we already knew. His remarks about the estates managed by the GLC in Bromley were useful in the context of accepting that local borough management of housing must bring matters closer to the tenants, which is the whole object of the exercise. A local borough is usually in a better position to keep in touch with tenants' problems than is a county, irrespective of its political control.

The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) was predictably against the transfer of estates, and certainly against the sale of council houses, but those two policies appear to me to be the wish of the electors and of the tenants, otherwise I would not be on this side of the Chamber.

I welcome to our London debates my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) from his previous Yorkshire incarnation. It was helpful that he brought to the notice of the House the flooding problems in his constituency—exactly as I would expect any constituency Member to do. My hon. Friend may wish to know that there ore some nasty episodes of flooding in Hampstead, and I hope that they, too, will be dealt with. I make that remark, as did my hon. Friend, strictly in accordance with the Bill and its long title, which uses the phrase "and for other purposes".

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) mentioned parking on footways. He must not believe that such problems do not also exist in Hampstead. I could take the hon. Gentleman to many streets in so-called salubrious Hampstead which are permanently blocked by vehicles on the pavement. One of the reasons for this situation arises from the shortage of police manpower. I believe that the increase in the number of police which we hope will follow from the recent pay award will begin to make an impact on this problem. I have an odd feeling that anybody who parks in Hanbury Street after this debate has been read in certain quarters may find things slightly warmer than has been the case so far.

Mr. Mikardo

I believe that is right. We have all talked to the police. They always say that they do not have enough manpower for constant vigilance, and, of course, they do not. However, I do not understand why they do not use the occasional blitz technique—it does work. The bus drivers refused to drive down Roman Road in my constituency and the police had to do something about it. Every six weeks, they or the traffic wardens come down that road on a Saturday, hand out tickets and tow away vehicles. For the next four weeks everything is lovely. Then the problem starts to drift back and the operation is repeated. If the police were to spread out their manpower intelligently in that way, much good could be done.

Mr. Finsberg

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is perfectly right and I shall see that those remarks are drawn to the attention of the Commissioner to see if there is anything more that can be done.

I understand that the basis of this clause is that it is felt better that the power should be exercised under a Government Act rather than an Act promoted by a local authority. It is not a change from one to the other, but the provision will be strengthened by being part of a Government Act when it comes into force.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

The problem of police power is that an obstruction has to be identified. If parking on the pavement is not an obstruction, the police cannot handle it. That is why on 1 October 1980 the police will be able to take action against parking on the highway.

Mr. Finsberg

One can recognise an obstruction if one has to scuttle crabwise past it, as the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow told us occurs in Hanbury Street. There are similar obstructions in Belsize Lane or Birchington Road in my constituency. I am sure that all hon. Members can repeat the story.

Mr. Michael Neubert (Romford)

Will my hon. Friend indicate whether the Government accept the commitment of section 7 of the Road Traffic Act 1974 being brought into effect on 1 October 1980? Even that date is a long way away and the problem is with us now.

Mr. Finsberg

My understanding is that that is so. That is precisely why the GLC has asked for the withdrawal of its powers in the Bill. If my hon. Friend has any doubt about that, I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to write to him on the matter.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow referred to cafes and open-air restaurants. Again, he is right that we are not enterprising enough in this country. I hope that the Bill will give the green light to restaurateurs and so on so that the public will begin to demand these facilities more and more.

The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) uttered some sound words about clause 9. I shall refer to his remarks later.

I should like to give the House an indication of the Government's attitude to the Bill. For the most part, we have no objection to what the GLC seeks to achieve. Its proposals have been discussed with its representatives and we shall be setting out our views in due course in our customary report to Parliament. The provisions about hostels may well be withdrawn because we do not feel that they are satisfactory. The GLC may prefer to have them reintroduced next year in a more acceptable form.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham will forgive me, but I regret that in his excellent introduction to the Bill he made no reference to schedule 1. I should be fascinated to know what section 191 of the Erith Tramways and Improvement Act 1903 was, since we are being asked to repeal it. Perhaps if my hon. Friend catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and obtains the leave of the House to speak again, he might tell us.

There are two points about which I wish to comment, the first being clause 8. It provides for the Secretary of State to establish a staff commission to oversee the transfer of Greater London Council staff both to the borough councils and to certain district councils outside London in connection with the transfer of housing from the GLC to those authorities. This Bill in no way deals with the principle of the transfer of GLC estates.

The Government regard a statutory staff commission as an essential means of protecting the interests of those staff affected by the transfers. I therefore welcome this clause and strongly commend it to the House. I believe that this will not be controversial, since the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), took the same line at the end of January.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State proposes to establish the commission directly this clause becomes law. In the meantime, we hope it will be pos- sible informally to announce the names of its members and give them an opportunity to become familiar with the terms and conditions and all that is involved. We are at present consulting the local authorities and unions involved on the membership and asking them for their views, and we hope to be able to make an announcement about this very shortly.

My right hon. Friend will in due course lay orders before the House providing for the transfer of staff and property to those authorities that have so far requested him to do so. As has been stated, those authorities are not of one political persuasion. The negotiation of transfer terms and associated arrangements are essentially a matter for the GLC and the other parties involved, and I believe there are not many issues still to be resolved between them. I hope the parties can reach final agreement soon—perhaps with the help of some neutral umpire, though I am not volunteering for that role myself.

Be that as it may, the Government whole heartedly suport the GLC's wish to transfer its housing management responsibilities at the earlier possible date. However, the intervention of the general election has meant that progress towards laying the necessary orders and, in particular, the passage of the Bill which proposes the commission have been delayed. Of course, I am not complaining about the election. I am glad that we had it.

The commission must be formally established before the first date on which staff are to be transferred, and the commission can be formally established only when this Bill is on the statute book. Therefore, I think it is realistic to take 1 January 1980 as the date for transfer, and I hope that all concerned will proceed accordingly.

I turn now to clause 9. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch for reminding the House of the eloquent speech that I made from the Opposition Benches on a previous occasion. I think that his words were even more flattering than that. I should remind him, however, that I made not one, but two speeches. He needs to read both of them in order to appreciate the full flavour of those debates.

I remind the House that earlier in this speech I said that the hon. Member for Greenwich had uttered some sound words about clause 9. The Government are firmly opposed to clause 9, which would allow the guarantee of loans in designated districts. I recognise very clearly—and the House would not expect me to say anything else—the desire of local authorities to participate in efforts to promote industrial development in their areas.

There is no doubt that local authorities can help to create a better environment for the development of industry through sensitive planning policies and procedures. However, the Government are concerned at the prospect of what I might call a proliferation of powers for local authorities to give financial assistance to industry, whether by means of loan guarantees, as in clause 9, or by giving grants or loans on favourable terms. I have to remind the House that such powers are being sought in several of the Private Bills at present before the House.

Mr. Mikardo

What is wrong with that?

Mr. Finsberg

My reason for taking this view is perfectly clear. At a time when this new Government are taking a critical look at the extent of their own powers of assistance to industry, it would be wrong for local authorities to obtain new powers in this area. We will therefore oppose provisions in all the local authority Bills now before Parliament which contain any new powers to assist industry or any extension of the life of existing local powers beyond 1984. The power which the GLC is seeking is a new power and a substantial one. It would not only be new to the GLC; it is one that is held by no other local authority in the country. We believe that this must await any review of general policy which we carry out.

Mr. Mikardo

What the hon. Gentleman has been saying makes it manifest that all that he and other members of his party said before and during the general election about helping small business was a piece of arrant hypocrisy. The first time that we get something in this House to help small business, the Tories are against it.

Mr. Finsberg

Doubtless the hon. Gentleman did not hear the Budget, which certainly helps small business. If he bothers to read the first speech to which I referred, he will see that there are many other powers available to help small business. This local power cannot be brought in while the Government are reviewing the scope and extent of their own powers, and I do not accept the words the hon. Gentleman has used.

I ask the House to give the rest of the Bill a blessing and a Second Reading so that it can go to a Committee which can examine its provisions in the usual detail.

9.3 p.m.

Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)

I should like to speak with particular reference to clause 8.

I join in the commendations which have been made of the hon. Members for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) and for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt), who have, quite rightly, said that this is a modest debate. There is not a great deal of controversy in it and yet we have already heard, particularly in the comments from the Opposition Benches, that there is a great deal of disquiet about clause 8. The Minister was right to say that the clause does not deal directly with the transfer of property. Nevertheless, it does deal with the protection and conditions of the employees who will be involved in the management of the properties which are to be transferred.

When, as in the London borough of Enfield, there is the unholy alliance of a Conservative council and the Conservative GLC, there are a great many people there for whom this is not good news at all.

Let me begin with a confession. I am certainly not one of those who are against the sale of council houses, and I am certainly not against the spread of home ownership, but I am definitely one who, attending his surgery as often as he does, hears the stories of misery and despair of many constituents for whom the only possibility of escape from some of the conditions in which they live—principally in high-rise tower development—is to get what they always speak of longingly as ground floor development with a garden.

In the London borough of Enfield we have the sad spectacle of 7,000 families on the waiting list and 7,000 on the transfer list, their great hope primarily being to escape from high-rise development or to get into council housing, and for this purpose we must keep in our housing stock the very houses which are likely to be sold.

It is all very well to speak of transfers of staff. I was a member of the council of the London borough of Enfield in 1964, 1965 and 1966 when we experienced the great trauma of the transfer of staff from Middlesex and from the LCC. I am fully conscious of the need to have adequate protection for the pensions and conditions of work of the employees. But in what will they be engaged? It will be in the management of property, and we have already seen that the GLC is anxious to get out of housing as quickly as possible. Enfield also wants to get out of housing as quickly as possible. Therefore, the staff who will be transferred, whether directly or indirectly, into the housing department of the London borough of Enfield will be engaged in helping in that process.

I made some inquiries today and I must tell the House that, although there has been reference to the transfer of estates and the staff who will be involved, we have no GLC estates as such in the London borough of Enfield. We have about 400 properties. The former authorities of Southgate, Enfield and Edmonton were not engaged in GLC estate building. Southgate built very few council houses. Edmonton had its own direct labour force, and Enfield followed it in a great many respects. In fact, the GLC has some 400 properties in Enfield, and it is engaged in selling them off as fast as it possibly can to anyone willing to buy them.

One of the most treacherous acts perpetrated between the GLC and the Conservative London borough of Enfield in the past few years was the way they treated the Klinger site in Silver Street, Edmonton. This was a site bought by the GLC in the late 1960s and developed in collaboration between the GLC and the council, whether Labour or Conservative, over the past 10 years. It was developed in order that houses would be made available for rent primarily for people to be transferred there from high-rise development and the like.

Then, last year, the deadly deed was done. The GLC decided not to continue the collaboration with Enfield, so that it would not substantially be Enfield waiting list and housing transfer people who would occupy those dwellings but the houses would be sold. Thus, 350 houses which were built for rent are now to be put on the open market at prices which I frankly doubt that many people will be able to afford. Indeed, I hope that the GLC will have the greatest difficulty in selling those houses, which would have done so much for my constituents.

The GLC and the Enfield council will talk about giving council tenants the right to buy their own houses, and we now understand that if people have lived there for a long time the discount will be 50 per cent. Whose assets do the Conservatives think they are distributing? They are community assets. The asset belongs not just to the person living in the dwelling but to the ratepayers and taxpayers of the country as a whole.

The Conservatives are determined in their dogmatic approach to get out of housing and to give lucky tenants who have lived in their homes for years—lucky tenants living in desirable houses—the opportunity to purchase. Staff who have been transferred will take part in a process that will be socially divisible. A great many people are buying their houses for the first time and they have to pay the market value. They will bitterly resent the fact that a council house tenant has the opportunity to buy his own home at a bargain price after having lived in it for a long time.

The Bill will not be opposed, but it contains, especially in clause 8, a sad continuation of a saga that is socially divisive. For my constituents that will mean the continuation of their deep desire to obtain better housing. The Bill will do nothing to aid that process.

9.12 p.m.

Mr. Michael Neubert (Romford)

I welcome the annual opportunity afforded by the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill for a discussion of issues concerning our great capital city, although three brief hours are scarcely commensurate with the scale and importance of London in our national life.

I have to acknowledge, as others have done, the insubstantiality of the Bill before us today. With the Minister's announcement that the Government are to oppose clause 9, it becomes a very slight measure indeed. In certain respects it is expressly disappointing. If the Bill is an expression of Conservative opinion that less legislation is healthy, I can support it. However, there are at least two respects in which the Bill disappoints me where delay is foreseen in matters which are pressing and which require firm action now.

First, I refer to the powers to control parking on footpaths and grass verges. I have the good fortune to represent a constituency in one of the leafy outer London boroughs which so exercise the resentment of Labour Members who, for political effect, on so many occasions seek to strike a division between inner London and outer London.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

Not all Labour Members. To some of us they are both the same.

Mr. Neubert

That may be the view of the hon. Gentleman, who represents part of the East Midlands. He is entitled to express a view, and we welcome him to our closed society of London Members.

In towns such as Romford, there are roads which have the benefit of grass verges which are being spoiled and damaged irreparably by the parking of cars. In one road there has recently been a great detraction from the amenities. The local council has found it necessary to cut down several mature lime trees. The road has grass verges, and there is a constant problem with the parking of cars on those verges.

In my correspondence with the council I was referred to the predicament that both the Road Traffic Act 1974 and the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1974 contain powers yet to be implemented. We are told that the reason for clause 7 is that the Greater London Council wishes to withdraw its power in favour of the Government in order to avoid duplication. That power will not be implemented until 1 October 1980, which is 18 months away, and I find that disappointing.

That is a problem, although it does not affect the working-class area of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), as he insists on describing it. The hon. Gentleman would no doubt be amazed, if he were in the Chamber, to learn that only a few years ago I worked in Brick Lane. It is no good his coming here complaining about the absence of enforcement of parking conditions in Hanbury Street. If he has ever tried to park a car in that locality, he will know that the facilities are not there. Motorists do not park on pavements with the intention of annoying local residents. They do so because they have no choice.

Anybody given the choice of parking without charge in a proper place would do so. However, in such areas and in other parts of London, there is not the parking capacity to meet the demand. It is not enough for us to press for greater controls and an increase in the power of the police to enforce them. We must look to the greater problem, that of providing adequate capacity for parking in London's busy streets.

The Minister indicated that the Government felt that at this time of a general review of assistance to industry they could not support clause 9.

On the previous occasion when we debated this issue, the then Minister implied that we could not at any time discriminate positively in favour of London. I do not think that that is a valid argument.

As our capital city, London is in unique circumstances. It has a unique claim to different treatment. There is no question of London being treated like any other major city or region of high unemployment. London must be looked at in a different light. There may well be a case for certain powers being conferred on the Greater London Council and not on any other local authority. I should be prepared to support that in principle.

I wish to see an area such as dockland, with its high rate of unemployment, supported in any way possible. I should be prepared to resist the arguments of hon. Members representing other regions of the country against such a proposal even though it would mean setting a precedent.

We are told that part IV of the Bill will lapse in Committee. Here I express my disappointment. The problem of hostels is urgent. I should like to correct an impression given by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow that this was the concern only of privileged parts of London—expressly the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea. He also gave the impression that this related solely to hostels for social welfare purposes.

As I understand it, the major purpose of the clause is to control the use of hostels by people staying overnight who overflow London hotel accommodation and who find it difficult to find any other accommodation in the centre of our attractive city. Tourism is immensely popular in London—at least to those who visit London but not always to those who live here. There are problems related to properties being used as hotels overnight without the necessary controls.

As the problem of greater numbers of visitors to London is not noticeably decreasing, I regard the registration of hostels as urgent. I greatly regret that the proposals are not in a form that is acceptable to the Government. Apparently it will mean another year before we can come to them again.

Hostels may be a nuisance to local residents. The case that came to my attention was not in a privileged part of London. It was in the London borough of Newham, where the taking over of a substantial, formerly privately occupied house by a hostel to accommodate drug addicts, derelicts and other layabouts has caused a nightmare for other people endeavouring to live a normal, decent life in that residential street. The occupants of this hostel apparently sleep during the day—they have no other call on their energies—and they make the nights hell on earth for the people who live next door, causing people who must work and children who go to school to have sleepless nights and bad health. We have an obligation to those who are unfortunate, who have no other accommodation, or who find it difficult to find gainful employment, but we must also recognise the need of people to lead reasonable lives. If the local authority could be given greater powers of control over such hostels, it would find it of great assistance in a case such as the one that I have mentioned.

I turn to clause 22, and, at the risk of destroying the gravitas of my speech, I have to point out, coming from the London borough of Havering, that the control of the brown-tailed moth is a very live issue there. It is not so in Romford, in the north of the borough, I am glad to say. The caterpillars of this moth certainly cause a very painful rash. Although it may seem extraordinary to most people that it is necessary to enact legislation to secure the eradication of the brown-tailed moth, I support the clause. I hope, however, that this will not bring me into trouble with the animal lobby. After the campaign to put animals into politics, I hope that my advocacy of the eradication of the moth will not lead me into difficulties with my constituents.

I wonder, in passing, how it is to be established where the moths are to be found. Does a local enforcement officer get the instruction "Follow that moth"? Does he go to the owner of the property and say "You are suspected of having moths on your property"? It seems absolutely like Disneyland in its concept.

I welcome clause 23, which would provide for the control of tables and chairs—and perhaps even sun umbrellas—on the pavements of London. I welcome it not because it is something novel to London—it is to be found in many places—but because it seems to be symbolic of an acceptance that tourism is of prime importance to London. I hope that it indicates that tourists are to be welcomed. They have a great contribution to make not only to national prosperity but to the prosperity and welfare of London itself.

When we consider how much is contributed by tourists to the public transport services, we realise that without that contribution we would have a skeleton service on our trains and our buses. In addition, many small businesses, many shopkeepers, depend upon the extra revenue which comes from foreign visitors and visitors from other parts of the country to London.

Even though we do not have the spacious boulevards of Paris, we should none the less have some of the amenities of that lovely city, with people dining and drinking at tables on the pavement. The very existence of clause 23 will, I hope, once again underline the commitment of all those concerned for the future well-being of London to the importance of tourism.

With those remarks, I welcome the Bill. I hope that some of the measures in it will be implemented rather sooner than is anticipated and that it will have a very rapid passage through this House.

9.23 p.m.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich, East)

I follow the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) in referring initially to clause 7, because I believe that the problem of parking on pavements is a growing menace in many parts of London. It is not just the odd car with a couple of wheels on the pavement; it is very often a car with all four wheels on the pavement or, worse still, it is the problem of heavy lorries parked on the pavement. There is not just the question of the impact on amenity, in the sense of the look of the thing, which is disgusting enough, I accept. There is the damage done by this sort of practice, particularly when heavy lorries crunch across the paving stones, leaving them shattered for the ratepayers to repair afterwards.

We often forget the impact that this practice has on the disabled, and on the blind in particular. A campaign was launched last week by a number of disabled groups and by the Pedestrians Association under the general title "Give us back our pavements". It ought to have a lot of support in this House. The disabled, and the blind in particular, ought not to have to contend with these extra hazards of parked vehicles on pavements.

Although I accept all that has been said in the debate about the operation of section 7 of the Road Traffic Act 1974, the position does not seem to be quite as explicit as some hon. Members, and particularly the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, have suggested. The GLC has provided us with an excellent and very helpful brief. Perhaps I ought to say this in view of some of the stern words of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) about the GLC solicitor. The brief referred to section 7 of the 1974 Act and said that the Secretary of State in a previous Government announced that it would be made fully operative on 1 October 1980. However, the brief goes on to say that the intention of the present Government is not yet known. There seems to be a less clear-cut situation than that presented to us.

I hope that when the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) replies to the debate he will make it clear that, if there is any delay in the operation of section 7 of the 1974 Act, some attempt will be made to use the GLC's current powers which are to be repealed only contingently on the operation of section 7.

Referring to clause 8—the transfer of GLC housing staff—the principle of transfer has to some extent been dealt with. Like the Under-Secretary of State, I have always been in favour of housing being managed as near as possible to the tenants. It is a good thing for the tenants. It is also a good thing for elected councillors who are responsible for providing the services. One of the great indictments of GLC housing is that people sit in an ivory tower in County Hall and take decisions about estates that they have not seen and are unlikely to see. Therefore, it is a good thing to manage housing as close to the tenants as possible.

Many GLC tenants in Greenwich will be strongly in favour of being transferred to the Greenwich council, first because they see much lower rents in Greenwich housing than in GLC housing. For example, the average rent increase for Greenwich council housing was 20p compared with £1.50 for similar housing on GLC estates in Greenwich.

It is also true that many GLC tenants locked up in high-rise flats regard transfer to the borough council as the only way in which they will get houses. They sit in those high-rise flats, often with young children, on the sixth, seventh or eighth floor of a block, and look down and see houses empty week after week and month after month and they know that there is no way in which they can have those houses. Why? Because they have been put up for sale. Some houses in my constituency have been empty for eight or nine months because they have been put up for sale. Therefore, GLC tenants say "We know that the London borough of Greenwich is not selling its houses. The best chance for us to get houses with gardens for our children is to be transferred to the London borough of Greenwich".

I accept what others of my hon. Friends have said about mobility. I understand that the problem of transferring from one part of London to another has been made easier by the operation of the GLC's housing schemes. On the other hand, I notice that there is to be a mobility scheme attached to the transfer of GLC housing. I understand that the scheme will require between 20 per cent. and 50 per cent. of the net vacancies in transferred property to be reallocated by the GLC to other needy boroughs in London. No doubt the aim is laudable, but the thought of two boroughs and the GLC being involved in the exercise makes me wonder how much bureaucracy will be entailed and how long it will take someone to get a transfer from, for example, Hackney to Greenwich when so much red tape is involved, with three local authorities handling the operation.

Coming to the question of protection of staff, which is what the clause basically is about, I accept that we should protect the standards and position of the transferred staff of the GLC. But we should also have some regard to the standards of the borough staff who will have GLC transferred officers working alongside them. I understand that the proposal is that not only the income of the transferred staff but conditions of service, hours of work, overtime and bonus schemes shall be protected. In that situation, harmonisation of the two groups of staff will be a costly and difficult exercise. If we have two groups of staff—one transferred from the GLC and one existing in the borough—on different rates of pay, different standards of overtime conditions, for example, and totally different bonus schemes, it will need a lot of delicate and difficult adjustment to sort out that problem.

I understand that powers will be taken to restrict the boroughs when it comes to the appointment, replacement and promotion of staff. That again is something which I believe will cause difficulties, with staff who have worked for many years for a borough housing department finding their promotion opportunities blocked by staff coming in from the GLC. It is therefore very important that in protecting the standards and conditions of transferred GLC staff we ensure that it is done fairly.

I hope also that when we talk about standards we remember the standard of service to tenants. Certainly in my experience the standard of maintenance which the GLC provides for its tenants is sadly deficient compared with that of the average borough council. I could delay the House with many horror stories of GLC tenants living for three months without heating or hot water, or people who ask to have windows repaired and receive calls not from glaziers but from electricians and plumbers.

If the transfers go through, I hope that we shall have a rather higher standard of maintenance of the transferred property. I hope, too, that if we are to protect the conditions of the transferred staff we shall not have the monstrosity of mobile caretakers inflicted on boroughs which accept the transfer. Most GLC tenants would say that a caretaker whizzing around in a van gives little protection and very poor service indeed. It is, I believe, the view of many that some of the vandalism problems on GLC estates are not helped by the caretaker getting into his van and disappearing at top speed whenever trouble crops up.

Finally, I turn to clause 9 and the question of powers to guarantee loans. Like other hon. Members who have spoken from the Opposition Benches, I support the principle enshrined in this clause. I accept what was said by the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) that this would give help to small firms. In my borough we have had some of the worst large-scale industrial closures of any part of London. We lost 50,000 jobs over a period of 10 years. What we have been able to do in more recent years is to bring in a large number of small firms that have taken the place of at least some of the large companies that have gone out of existence. In our experience, many of these small firms need financial assistance, or at least financial backing. Many of the facilities available through organisations such as the NEB, Finance for Industry and the big banks are not what the small, one-man operation is looking for. Therefore, I believe that the guarantee powers proposed in clause 9 are very useful indeed.

I was sorry to hear the statement of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg). If he is not dizzy with his convolutions, I think that most of the rest of us are. He started by opposing the powers, then he supported the powers and now he is back again opposing the powers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Flexible".] Flexible, perhaps. "The india rubber man", some may say. My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow talked about a conversion on the road to the Front Bench. One conversion we can understand, but two conversions seem somewhat excessive.

I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Hampstead has to adopt such a position. He may well argue that today's Budget creates a new climate and that the entrepreneur will now walk the land and private enterprise will rescue all these small firms and provide all the money for which they are looking. The GLC brief, which I find a very useful document, says that this clause is intended to benefit areas where there is a lack of investing confidence. That, I believe, is the nub of the problem.

Many of the areas we are talking about, such as dockland, are areas which the banks have turned up their noses at, the red lined areas and so on. I am very sorry that the Government have found it necessary to reject what I think is a useful initiative by the GLC.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that he and I were described as traitors by the Under-Secretary of State in the Evening News, because he said that we voted against that clause? How does my hon. Friend rate that in relation to the performance of the Under-Secretary of State?

Mr. Cartwright

I shall look forward to a confession from the Minister in the next edition of that London newspaper now that he has attained his exalted position.

Despite the disappointment which, no doubt, the GLC feels as a result of the Government's rejection of what I regard as a useful initiative, I very much hope that the GLC will stick to its guns on clause 9 and will try to fight it through. If it does, it can be assured of some very solid support from Labour Members.

9.36 p.m.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) and to other hon. Members for not being in the Chamber when the debate began. The reason was that I was at a meeting of Greater London area Conservative trade unionists. It was a celebration of the election. There were so many of them, they were so enthusiastic and they had so much advice to give me to pass on to my right hon. and hon. Friends that, unfortunately, I was delayed coming back to the House.

Speaking late is always a challenge, because the best points have already been made. Some of my points have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert). I hope it will not damage the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) if I say that I had intended to make one or two points that he made. Of course, that allows a greater amount of shorthand.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), by an act of parliamentary sleight of hand, was brilliantly able to introduce the question of flood control in the neighbourhood of that part of Middlesex. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) is present, and he will remember that famous, horrible night in August 1977 when the Welsh Harp overflowed and the River Brent and River Pinn, which is usually a smallish culvert, became raging torrents. I was glad that my hon. Friend was able to raise this matter.

In my constituency, the Pinner Association has arranged a magnificent self-help system of voluntary flood warning officers. That is something that should be followed. However, I must tell my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that I am disturbed to hear that background work on the flood prevention system is likely to be delayed by the GLC which rightly says that it cannot afford to take on new staff—until 1982. I know that many consulting engineers in London, probably extremely experienced, are not over-burdened with work at the moment.

Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)

They are probably unemployed.

Mr. Page

The hon. Gentleman talks about there being unemployed surveyors and architects. They will not be employed until 1982. But if the work were given immediately to consulting engineers, they could be employed tomorrow, as I hope they will. I hope to take this matter up with the GLC member for my constituency, who happens to be Mr. Horace Cutler. I hope that he will bring pressure to bear.

I shall be brief, because I want to sit down before 9.45. I support clause 3. It is rather a neat plan that offences for music, dancing, human posing, boxing, wrestling and so on should be taken separately.

I turn quickly to clauses 5, 7 and 23. I raise one point connected with all three. Clause 5 talks about advertisement units and showcases, even those especially for the GLC, on pavements. Clause 7 deals with parking on footways. Clause 23 deals with tables and chairs and pavement cafes. The hon. Member for Woolwich, East mentioned something in relation to these clauses, and I should like to mention it more strongly. I sincerely hope that the advice of the National Institute for the Blind and other local blind organisations will be taken into serious consideration here. Twenty or 30 years ago, a blind person or a nearly blind person with a stick could get along pavements, but now there are so many cars parked on pavements and so many obstructions—regrettably, possibly even these new pavement cafes—which could all cause danger to such people.

I should like to mention in passing a growing nuisance in my constituency. Perhaps it applies to other constituencies. That is the increased amount of bicycling by young people on the pavements. Again, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) is tut-tutting in a rather nurse-maidish way. Does not he feel that the roads are probably the best place for bicycles to be ridden, so that elderly people, blind people and people with children in prams are not knocked about?

Mr. Stuart Holland


Mr. Page

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman, out of fairness to my hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading, but I promise to try to do so at a later date if the hon. Member wishes to interrupt me.

I revert to clause 23. I very much enjoy eating out in the open, provided that it is not in an area which is infected by Euproctis Chrysorrhea—the brown-tailed moth—whose caterpillars might well fall into one's Camparis. Where these pavement cafes are organised, it should be done, if possible, on a kind of permanent basis, so that blind people will know very easily where they are.

In considering the provisions relating to registration of hostels, under part IV, I hope that my hon. Friend will not make the restrictions too severe or too difficult for cheap accommodation to be found in London for young visitors from home and abroad.

Here I must tell, very quickly, an anecdote in connection with a hostel, which concerned me about six weeks ago. I was rung up at five minutes to four on a Saturday afternoon—I was leaving at four o'clock—by a young relative of my wife, who said that she was outside a hostel and standing by a taxi and she did not have any money. She had got a cheque book, but no one seemed to want to cash a cheque for her. She asked what she ought to do. Then she got the taxi driver to speak to me. I said "How much?" He said that it was £16 on the meter because they had been out to London airport and back to try to cash a cheque.

I arranged for the driver to call at the House of Commons. I said that I would be delighted on the following Monday to give him a drink and some money. I asked him to ring me up in the evening to say how much it was. He rang me up in the evening and said "You owe me £27, because I gave her £5 for a night a the hostel and another £5 to spend."

That man happens to be a taxi driver and he is a member of the Samaritans. In view of some of the things that people say about London taxi drivers, that is a fine example of the fact that at least this good Samaritan turned up.

I must stop now. I would only remind my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that over the years we have suggested a full day's debate on London every so often, at least annually, and not trying to hang our coats on the various pegs of general powers Bills. I hope that we shall have the support of my right hon. and hon. Friends for such regular debates.

9.44 p.m.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

Unlike the happy wanderers on the other side of the Chamber, I shall confine my remarks entirely to clause 4—and I hope that no one will object to that statement. I am concerned about the proposal to pay a salary instead of allowances to the new chairman of the London Transport passengers' committee. A number of questions need to be answered: why is that salary needed, what level of salary is likely to be proposed, how will it be paid and will the public get value for money?

To date the chairman of the London Transport passengers' committee has got by on allowances and expenses, and I do not understand why it is necessary for the new chairman to receive a salary. The GLC councillors put themselves to the trouble of going to the electorate for approval, but when they attend meetings at County Hall they only get allowances. From what we have heard tonight, it is clear that those councillors who are not idle attend considerably more meetings and do more work than the chairman of the London Transport passengers' committee. I therefore question the introduction of a salary for him.

One reason for increasing pay is to attract people to a job. The reports of London Transport indicate that it is difficult to recruit bus drivers, tube drivers and such people to provide services. London Transport is jibbing at paying those people enough money, but the GLC is paying to encourage someone to be chairman of the committee.

We have an unhappy example of GLC payments to senior people at London Transport. I remind the House of the peculiar arrangement whereby the GLC agreed to pay the present deputy chairman of the GLC—not by sending him a cheque on which he pays tax—and I quote from its report that authorised the payment: By a special arrangement with Dumon Stansby & Co. Ltd., the services of Mr. J. Stansby as deputy chairman have been contracted for a period not exceeding 3 years, subject to a payment to the company of £22,500 a year". I should like to be assured that the GLC will not come to any arrangement over the payment to the chairman of the London Transport passengers' committee other than payment directly to him.

Above all, people elected to this House should be concerned to see that the public are getting value for money. The GLC informed me that last year the London Transport passengers' committee cost about £23,000 and the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) has told us that it dealt with 237 complaints. My mental arithmetic is pretty bad, but that is about £100 a complaint. Its annual report for last year shows only about 70 complaints, and that works out at considerably more than £300 a complaint. I am not sure that we are getting value for money.

We have been told that if the chairman gets a salary it may add to the status of the committee. It certainly needs to, because although the committee reports to the GLC and not to London Transport, last year its report was so significant in the eyes of those in control of County Hall that they did not even bother to discuss it at the meeting of the Council. That is a reflection on them and the status of the committee.

I have galloped through my speech to enable the hon. Member for Streatham to reply. I shall not go into the highways and byways raised by the Under-Secretary of State, but he says that people in London are perfectly happy with the GLC. In the immortal words of the Duke of Wellington: If you believe that, you will believe anything. The GLC has rightly been described as the slowest bureaucracy this side of the Kremlin, and the sooner it is abolished the better.

9.50 p.m.

Mr. William Shelton

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall take the few remaining minutes to answer the questions that have been put. I appreciate the helpful manner in which the Bill has been treated by hon. Members, and I also express my personal thanks for the kind words that have been said about me.

I begin by telling the Minister that the Erith Tramways and Improvement Act 1903 was a distinguished Act to improve the tramways in Erith.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) referred to clause 4 and asked why the chairman should have a salary. The principal reason is that it was recommended by the previous Government that he should. It seems the sensible thing to do, and I suspect that his salary will be less than his present remuneration. The chairman of the transport users consultative committee draws £1,000 a year, and this may be some guide to the amount that this chairman will receive.

Clause 7 deals with parking. I agree that the present situation is not particularly satisfactory as the powers of the GLC are not in force, principally because of the request made to the Minister of Transport in 1975. The London boroughs felt that implementation could not be achieved. In other words, there was not sufficient money to make sure that cars did not park on pavements and verges. Therefore, it is not illegal to park in such places at present. I understand the difficulties of the London boroughs because of the cost involved. However, the Under-Secretary has given us the assurance that the Road Traffic Act 1974 will come into force in October 1980. I agree that that is too long to wait, but I understand that it is a matter of cost.

Clause 8 has been the subject of most discussion this evening. It is simply a piece of machinery to ease the transfer of houses. It is nothing to do with the fact of the transfer of houses, which no doubt will be debated extensively by the House when the order is laid. In this Bill we are merely talking about a way of helping the staff in the transfer. The Minister has given the date of transfer as being 1 January.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) asked whether there was any trade union support. I understand that the GLC staff committee supports the principle of setting up a staff commission, as does NALGO. I was also asked whether the tenants had been consulted. Certainly they have been consulted in Camden, where a survey was undertaken. Perhaps rather to the dismay of the local authorities in Camden it was found that there was general support for the principle of transferring to the boroughs.

Hon. Members talked about the importance of mobility in housing. I agree entirely and believe that the House recognises the importance of this. I should be very unhappy if I thought that the transfer of estates from the GLC to the boroughs would diminish mobility. We must make sure that this is increased, and, in my view, the sale of council houses will increase rather than diminish mobility. People will have an asset which they can sell when they wish to move rather than a refuge from which they have to venture with little chance of achieving a similar refuge, as is now the case with council housing. From the point of view of mobility, I can see only advantage in the sale of council houses, but if the transfer of houses to boroughs decreases mobility we must ensure that that trend is reversed.

It was asked why the New Towns Commission should not merely replace the staff commission mentioned in clause 8. The answer is that it is not improbable that certain members of the New Towns Commission might find themselves on the staff commission. Certain discussion has taken place about the transfer in general. It appears that so far only seven London boroughs have categorically refused to accept the transfer.

Clause 9 also resulted in a certain amount of discussion, the ardour of which has been somewhat dampened by the remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister. No doubt there will be considerable discussion of these matters at later stages of the Bill's progress.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch talked of conversions on the road to Damascus. It must have been a fairly crowded road, and I welcome the hon. Gentleman to it, because I well recall that last year, as he has already confessed, he cast his vote against these proposals.

I was asked why there was no definition of industrial and commercial buildings. The short answer is that, rightly or wrongly, the same phraseology is used in this Bill as was used in the Inner Urban Areas Act 1978.

The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) asked whether there would be financial limits to the guarantees. The answer is in the negative. He also asked whether there could be Government sanctions and controls. The answer again is in the negative, but this matter can also be discussed at later stages. Certainly such steps are not foreseen at present.

Questions were asked about the sums involved. In general, we are talking of small businesses, and therefore the amounts may not be very great. If this Bill is enacted, an exception might be made on the lines of the Trammel Crow trade mark case in Southwark, which was discussed last year.

In regard to part IV of the Bill dealing with hostels, my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) thought it was a pity that these provisions were not brought forward earlier. I agree that it is a pity, because I understand that one of the major problems is that in certain parts of London hostels have been taken over by undesirable persons who go to such hostels with the plea "I shall give you £500 for this hostel for the month of August". For that month that group will take control of the hostel and exploit it in every possible way. Such a group may tend to overcrowd the hostel and deny those in the hostel their rights and privileges. Because of housing pressures, such a group may get away with it. This is one of the principal reasons why registration is important.

It has been said several times that this is a modest Bill, and I welcome that fact. I deprecate the thought that we should ever have legislation for its own sake. I trust that we shall be able to cope with the withdrawal symptoms of less legislation as we move along our path. I am grateful to the House for its kind words, and I commend the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.