HC Deb 02 May 1980 vol 983 cc1733-63

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Berry.]

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

I thank the Government for providing an opportunity once again to discuss the problems facing London and to place on record some of the difficulties that we are experiencing. It is an apposite time to discuss these issues because yesterday the Government received a heavy vote of no confidence since people believe that their total strategy is wrong. The Government can now begin to understand that people realise that their economic policy is a disaster. It has overtaken the country and in the end it will bring us to our knees.

Mr. Martin Stevens (Fulham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brown

I must go on because many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate, and I do not want to take too long.

The Government strategy goes back 50 years or more. Nothing in Tory policy is new. In London we are being brought to our knees because resources are being reduced to such an extent that life in the capita] is becoming almost impossible. Unemployment is soaring. If Government Members query that, I can give an example from my constituency. On 30 April 1979 unemployment in the Hackney and Shoreditch area was 5,680. On 30 April 1980 it was 7,330. That is an increase of 1,650, or 23 per cent. I do not know why the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) should think that that is funny).

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brown

I am sorry, but I shall not.

Mr. Bottomley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has accused me of laughing, which I was not doing. Now he refuses to give way to allow me to explain.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)

It is not for me to say whether an hon. Member should give way, but since the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) made an accusation against the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) it might be as well if he gave way for a moment.

Mr. Brown

I am grateful. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West appeared to be making observations from a sedentary position. I am happy to give way to him so that he can explain why he thinks that the unemployment figures are amusing.

Mr. Bottomley

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He referred to an expression on my face and to remarks which I did not make. My visual expression was caused by the hon. Gentleman's failure to comment on the massive rate increases imposed by Labour-controlled authorities. They are relevant to the growth in unemployment. In Lambeth rates have risen by 50 per cent. for two consecutive years. That is one reason why businesses cannot employ as many people as they used to do.

Mr. Brown

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that he has explained himself. Reaction to rate increases came last night when the votes in the country were counted. Many of the boroughs which have imposed heavy rate increases because of a reduction in Government resources have returned councillors with huge Labour majorities. The hon. Gentleman's comments are invalid.

Unemployment in London is soaring and yet the Government pin their faith on enterprise zones. For years there were enterprise zones in the East End of London. They were called sweat shops. In 1936 legislation had to be introduced to control those zones. It was called the Factories Act. It therefore seems extraordinary that the Government are taking us back to the time when urgent action had to be taken to protect the workers. So, what is new in enterprise zones?

We are told that the Government will get rid of council housing in London and will leave the provision of homes to private landlords. But that was how it was before. Before the Second World War there was very little council housing in London, and such as there was was owned mainly by the London County Council. The drive to provide council homes became necessary because of the anarchy in housing in London at the time.

There was little or no rent control, but it became important to develop it because tenants had to be protected against shortholds—they were called furnished accommodation and all sorts of names, but they were shortholds. The tenants were at the mercy of the landlords because there was no alternative form of housing. The Government are therefore taking us back to the time when landlords had no problems in getting rid of their tenants. Rent control was brought in to try to protect tenants from that because families were being put on the streets.

I keep asking the Government what will happen, if their shorthold proposals get through, to a family which at the end of its shorthold tenancy is unable to renew it because the landlord wants too much rent or because it is not convenient for the landlord to renew. The landlord will have the inalienable right to put the tenant out. Who do the Government suggest will house that family? There will be no council houses to accommodate families who are put on the street.

The Government want to bring back pirate buses and private operators to solve the transport problems in London. London had all that when the London Passenger Transport Board was set up in 1934 to overcome the anarchy and chaos that then existed. The Government want to take London back to the position of not having a good service of public transport. The board was established then to remedy that situation

The environment is being destroyed by itinerants, but the Government stand by and do nothing. They are leaving the London boroughs to cope with the problem and to pay for the clearing up. AH the boroughs can do is shuffle the problem around.

We are witnessing a deliberate rundown of the health services. In my constituency hospitals are being closed in order to save about £1.25 million. Yet it was announced last night that £2 million is to be paid as a transfer fee to get someone to run the steel industry. That is more than it would cost to reopen one of the closed hospitals in my constituency.

Mr. David Mellor (Putney)

The hon. Gentleman is not advancing a sound argument about British Steel. In the last year of the Labour Government some £700 million—the cost of running the National Health Service for five weeks—was spent on British Steel's losses. If, at a cost of £2 million, this gentleman manages to do for British Steel what he has done for other concerns with which he has been associated, will that not spread enormous benefit in the country?

Mr. Brown

The operative word is " if". The Government's track record is not very good, and nor is that of the Secretary of State for Industry. He was responsible for the disaster of London government and the disastrous reorganisation of the Health Service. That record does not lead me to believe that the right hon. Gentleman's judgment is any good. I believe that he is wasting £2 million which could have kept open a hospital in my constituency.

The Government have failed to get to grips with primary health care in London. In my constituency it is almost non-existent, yet plans are still formulated in the Health Service on the assumption that an adequate primary care service is available and that the general practitioner service is flourishing. Neither of those assumptions is correct.

The latest development of the Department of Health and Social Security shows its attitude to the people of London. It has declared war on geriatric patients. Let me read a memorandum which is now being circulated in my constituency. It states: Our hospitals appear to have varying success in using the pocket money of long-stay patients to buy clothes, in order to supplement the inadequate allocation from the NHS budget. There is no reason why patients' pocket money should not be used for this purpose, so long as some permission is obtained. If a patient is capable of giving permission, there is no difficulty in the patient being asked and persuaded. If the patient is not capable and there are no relatives administering the patient's affairs, there is no problem because the court of protection can be asked for permission and apparently regularly gives it. The complication is where the relatives are looking after the money. What I suggest there is that you, the doctor or the social worker should write to the relatives a persuasive letter, explaining that pocket money is for patients' comforts, that it is not being spent and that clothing would be a good thing on which to spend the money. You should emphasise that it will be personal clothing with the patient's name on it, not to be used by other patients, and that the relatives will not be expected to wash the clothes. We have reached the bottom of the barrel if the Department has to take from long-term geriatric patients their £1 a week pocket money in order to pay for their clothes. It is not even true that these patients get their clothes back. I have raised with the Minister evidence of where in my constituency these patients have been buying clothes and not getting them back. I have raised these matters with the Minister, and the people of London are entitled to know that he is taking an interest.

I hope that the debate today will at least make it clear to the Government that London needs additional resources. It does no good to take nearly £250 million from the rate support grant, and it does no good to slash London's housing improvement programmes by half. Letting the GLC divest itself of its strategic housing responsibilities will not help to house London families. Breaking up the ILEA will be of no benefit to the people of London.

We in London need an adequate rate support grant, a housing programme geared to the problems, health services that can cope with the demands made upon them and urban aid to help the development of the voluntary services, industry and jobs. We want a prosperous London and a city that we can be proud of. Surely the Government can understand that. Time is running out. The people of London are entitled to expect action. I hope that after today the Government will begin to move in these matters.

9.48 am
Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)

It is now six months to the day since we last debated London in this House. I hope that we have now established a pattern of regular discussion of London's problems, a development for which the Government deserve praise and credit. Of course, the other great cities of Glasgow, Liverpool and Birmingham also have their problems of health, housing, transport and education. However, it is the sheer scale of the problems in London which makes our capital unique and underlines the value and importance of regular debates of this kind.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) referred to the problems of unemployment in London. I do not want in any way to minimise the problems which exist, particularly in specific pockets within the capital. But it is fair to claim that the Government have taken a number of steps since coming into office to revive and encourage business activity in the capital. For example, office development control has been scrapped—that was done in August last year—the Location of Offces Bureau, which played a leading role in the previous policy of dispersal from London has also been abolished, and further Civil Service dispersal from London has been virtually halted.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge and recall that he and I led a deputation to the Minister of State, Civil Service Department, urging that specific step, which was never taken during the years of Labour government. However, the Conservative Government have responded quickly and effectively to the representations that we made. As a result, further Civil Service dispersal from London was stopped. I believe that will help to retain jobs in London and to provide further opportunities.

The Urban Development Corporation, which has been established by the Government, should do much to revive jobs and investment in the dockland area, which has been neglected and run down for so long. As to enterprise zones, to try to equate them, as the hon. Gentleman did, with sweat shops, seems to me to reduce the level of serious debate in this House to sheer farce.

Mr. Mellor

It particularly distressed me that the Labour Party should say that, having regard to the fact that in the borough of Wandsworth, when Labour was in control of the council, 30 per cent. of the industrial base disappeared. Yet the Labour Party now pours scorn on the proposal to make use of sites in north Wandsworth, in respect of which we have applied for the creation of an enterprise zone, which have lain derelict and have become a monument to Socialist waste since the War.

Mr. Hunt

I fully accept and agree with what my hon. Friend has said. I fear that the Labour Party's reaction to the suggestion of enterprise zones merely reflects a partisan, political attitude rather than an attitude which is geared to the real needs of London.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch was also critical of the shorthold proposal in the Housing Bill. I was sorry to hear that reaction, because I believe that that proposal represents the only real chance which people such as teachers, students and nurses—who will never acquire a sufficient number of points on a council housing list to be accommodated—will have of obtaining short-term accommodation in London. I fear that the Labour Party's attitude to that proposal—particularly its pledge to repeal that provision—may well torpedo the proposal and deprive people such as those whom I have mentioned of housing accommodation.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

Was not that sort of wringing of hands exactly the response which emerged from the Conservative Party in 1957 in respect of the Rent Act? Did not that lead to immense disaster in London—the disaster of Rachmanism and everything else associated with it? Is not this proposal a further prescription for disaster?

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Gentleman takes us a long way back into history. His remarks relate to 25 years ago, and I do not believe that one can make any comparison at all between the Rent Act of those days and the very much more modest shorthold proposal which has now been put forward. This is something of an experiment which deserves encouragement rather than the kind of negative criticism which it has met from the Opposition.

Those of us who were born and brought up in London, and who live and work here, have over many years sensed a discernible decline in the standards and standing of our capital, and it is to the quality of life in London that I should like to address the rest of my remarks. In a debate only two weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) made some scathing comments about the state of London, and appeared to pin the blame almost exclusively upon the tourists who visit our capital. In my view, that is a gross over-simplification. It is quite unfair to use the tourists as a scapegoat for the state of London.

After all, it was not the tourists who designed and built the drab and dreary buildings which sprang up in the postwar years and which now litter our landscape. It was not the tourists who funked the planning of a really effective road system for London. It is not the tourists who have tolerated and condoned the squalor and decay of Piccadilly Circus and its surrounding area. Those who snipe and sneer at our overseas visitors should pause to think of the substantial subsidy which they provide for things such as London Transport, the London theatre and our museums and art galleries.

Without the tourists, that money would have to come from the pockets of London's taxpayers and ratepayers. Each year, between 3 million and 4 million overseas visitors attend plays and concerts in London and spend more than £20 million at the box office. I suggest that that should be put on the credit side of the London tourism balance sheet.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

Speaking under the tourist hat, may I point out that there are 8. million foreign visitors in London alone, who produce more than £2,000 million a year in revenue for London and its City. That is the most recent figure from the London Tourist Board. As to theatres, without the money which flows not only from the United States but elsewhere, one would not be able to keep the London theatre going. It is wholly dependent upon that, and upon a great many other positive facets.

In dealing with the cleanliness point, will my hon. Friend make it plain that the recent problem of the rats and so on in Piccadilly arose from the strike by NUPE and others? No doubt that matter can be dealt with quite quickly and easily in the future.

Mr. Hunt

My hon. and learned Friend is perfectly right. I accept his figure with regard to the number of tourists. I know that the current figure is about 8. million. I was referring to those who attend plays and concerts, which, unhappily, is not the whole number, although it is a growing proportion of those who come to London. I believe that the GLC was absolutely right to point out in its recent policy statement on tourism that tourism is a major contributor to the wealth and well-being of London. That should be more widely accepted and understood.

The quality of life in London also depends upon the effectiveness of the Metropolitan Police in enforcing the law and fighting crime in our streets and homes.

In the wake of the current siege in Kensington, I am sure that the people of London would like to say how thankful and grateful they are for the job which the police carry out. This debate is an appropriate occasion on which to express that gratitude. While there is always that small but vociferous minority which is eager to pick upon and exploit the occasional error or lapse in the ranks of the Metropolitan Police, those who criticise in that way would do well to look at the police forces in New York, Paris and Rome and compare their methods and tactics with those in London. Therefore, I speak as one who admires and applauds our Metropolitan Police force.

However, there is one aspect of its activities which concerns me at present. I detect a growing trend for police in London and elsewhere to stop and harass young people not simply young blacks, but young people as a group, particularly those on motor bikes or scooters who may have unconventional dress or hairstyles. If that continues, it will lead to antagonism and alienation on a wide scale.

Mr. Bryan Magee (Leyton)

Already—if you want it.

Mr. Hunt

Yes, it has already started, and if it continues, it will be a source of growing concern to the community as a whole. The fight against crime and violence in London must be a combined effort by the police and the public. As a community, we cannot afford to have groups of people remaining on the sidelines in the continuing war against the thug and the criminal because of what they regard as police unfairness to them. In other ways the police are doing splendid work among young people—through juvenile bureaux, their work in schools and their involvement with youth clubs. However, that good work could be undermined by a few over-zealous officers, and I hope that the Commissioner, who in his latest report on the work of the Metropolitan Police referred to the need for them to win the hearts and minds of young people, will give the order to his men to cool it in their treatment of young people in London.

The quality of life in London also depends upon preserving the institutions of character and distinction within our capital. I give two examples of institutions that are currently under threat. One is the Jubilee Hall at Covent Garden—a building of considerable architectural interest which is now being developed by a few dedicated local volunteers as a sports and recreation centre. It is serving a community in desperate need of such facilities. I and other hon. Members have had the opportunity of seeing the marvellous work that is being done there.

I acknowledge that the GLC maintains that the retention of the hall is not a viable proposition and that it is now proposing the incorporation of some sports facilities in the development. However, there is a strong case for urgent intervention by the Secretary of State in the matter, and possibly for a public inquiry to be held.

Secondly, there is the case of the Westminster hospital, which was raised in an Adjournment debate this week by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor).

I am sure that the plea that he made is endorsed by all hon. Members. The uncertainty must be resolved as soon as possible. This hospital and medical school is part of the Pimlico community. It is also a centre of excellence and international repute. I cannot believe that it is part of the policy of a Conservative Government to destroy such a valuable part of our medical heritage.

There have been suggestions in the press recently that the Westminster hospital might be saved and become a sort of show case for British medical equipment.

Mr. Rees-Davies

On the Select Committee we have been considering the question of Westminster hospital only this week. There is no question of its being a show case of any kind. We seek to retain Westminster hospital as an effective hospital. The children's hospital may be telescoped into it, but all these matters are merely at the suggestion stage. There is not the remotest chance of the Government making the Westminster hospital a show case.

Mr. Hunt

I am interested to hear my hon. and learned Friend's reaction, but I am not quite sure with what authority he speaks in these matters. He is not a member of the Government——

Mr. Rees-Davies

It is right for my hon. Friend to say that, but these matters are under discussion and are a matter of evidence to my hon. Friend the Minister of State. There is no suggestion from Conservative or Labour Members that the Westminster hospital should become a show case. That is not even Lord Annan's approach. We can safely say that Westminster hospital will be effectively used.

Mr. Hunt

I accept my hon. Friend's view. I was merely referring to an idea that was floated in the press. I do not know the source of that suggestion. However, it is an interesting option, and I hope that if such a development takes place eventually it will also mean that a show case could exist in conjunction with the existing school and hospital. Perhaps the Select Committee and the advisory group which is now being set up by the Minister can consider that. My point is that the uncertainty should be ended as quickly as possible.

This will be a wide-ranging debate, and that reflects the variety and diversity of life in London. It is that variety and diversity that hon. Members representing London contituencies must always seek to maintain and promote.

10.6 am

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich, East)

I hope that the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) will forgive me if I do not follow him in all his comments. However, I endorse his remarks about the relationships between the police and young people. It is an important issue. Certainly in constituencies such as mine the relationship between the police and young people from ethnic minority groups is a major problem. It is a problem which the police recognise, and one which must have a good deal more attention.

I wish to return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), because I believe that the theme running through many contributions from Labour Members will be the need for more resources to be devoted to tackling the growing problems of London, particularly of inner London. It is fair to say that that was the policy of the previous Administration. There was a policy of positive discrimination in favour of the inner areas, and certainly in favour of inner London. Many of my hon. Friends and I had to defend that policy to hon. Members who represented constituencies in other parts of the country and did not see the importance of it.

That situation has now changed. For example, in the rate support grant settlement this year there was a positive switch away from inner urban areas towards the green shires and the leafy urban districts. It is no accident that almost all the inner London boroughs were net losers under this year's rate support grant settlement. However, it comes a little ill from those who imposed a rate support grant settlement of that sort to complain that rates in inner London have risen when they caused that increase by cutting down central Government support.

I wish to comment on the problem of housing because for most inner London Members it remains the major social problem. It dominates our Friday night surgeries. It is extraordinary that so many years after the end of the war, when the population of inner London has decreased to its present extent and when so much building has been carried out, we still have massive housing problems. Waiting lists seem to be longer now than they were two or three years ago.

I wish to quote the experience of my borough in relation to housing capital spending. My borough put in a bid under the investment programme for £34.3 million for housing capital spending. Its allocation, together with all the tolerances available, was £22.9 million. That is a shortfall of over £11 million—a cut of almost a third in the programme that the borough wished to carry through. Over £19 million of Greenwich's housing expenditure is committed capital expenditure which it is impossible to avoid. That means that there must be substantial cuts in the uncommitted areas of housing capital spending. That will mean cuts in new house building. It will mean cuts in grants to the private sector.

The sad thing is that the axe has had to fall particularly on home loans. A borough such as mine—which has had a proud record of providing money for home ownership for over 50 years—has had to suspend its home loans programme because the Government will not allow funds to be made available for those who come to the local authority seeking help to buy houses. Also, the improvement programme will be substantially curtailed.

The net result of all this is that there will be fewer new homes in my borough and there will be fewer environmental improvements—or they will be slowed down and will take place over longer periods. It will be more difficult for many working people to buy their own homes.

The only response from the Government to this sort of problem is to talk about the shortholds—as if that will have any impact at all on the problems of young couples searching for their first home—or to point to the policy of selling council houses.

I accept that if one is a fairly affluent council tenant and one is offered a very good council house at a knock-down price—at up to 50 per cent. discount against the market value—that may very well be a good buy. But for many of my tenants, stuck in flats with small children, the good buy is a different sort of good buy—it is goodbye to their chance of ever having a home with a garden and the chance to bring up their children in reasonable housing

Mr. Rees-Davies

Before the hon. Gentleman develops his argument, may I ask him whether he will agree that the shorthold concept relates particularly to the young executives coming into London, who have not yet reached the stage of wanting to buy their own home and who want the right to get a tenancy for a period of months, or perhaps a year or so, at a reasonable price in the market in London? At the moment they are quite unable to do it. They are having to pay immensely high rents for short holiday lettings in older to get any accommodation. There is nothing for the young executive. Is that not the market that the Government will succeed in meeting in London through shorthold lettings?

Mr. Cartwright

The hon. and learned Gentleman seems to be some sort of self-appointed Greek chorus, commenting on every contribution made in the debate. He will have a very busy day if he keeps this up. But he has made the point that I was trying to make—better perhaps than I was able to make it. I am trying to show that for the young couple living in an inner London borough, who have lived there all their lives and want to go on living there, the shorthold system will do nothing to meet their immediate needs.

The policy of selling council houses provides not one extra home to meet the needs of those on the waiting list. In fact, it may worsen the position marginally, because those council tenants who would otherwise have been encouraged to move out and buy a home of their own in the private sector will now be encouraged to stay in the public sector and to take a public sector home out of the available pool.

Health has been a major problem for my constituents over the last few years. My area health authority is a losing authority under the infamous Resource Allocation Working Party formula. We have been through a period of painful rationalisation, as it is called by the administrators; the man in the street interprets the policy as one of cuts. There have been a number of reductions in services, there have been a number of closures, and there are still further threats to hospitals in my area.

There are continuing financial problems. My area health authority carries forward an overspend of about £1 million into this financial year. It has a cut of £1¼ million, dating back to 1976, which it was never able to make. It has been told that those two sums together must be saved in the current financial year—a saving of £2¼million.

On top of all that, we now have the problem of the cash limits, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer has set the cash limits at 14 per cent., even though, as he charmingly put it, he expected the inflation rate to be" a point or two higher than 14 per cent. We know that it has now reached 20 per cent. We have it on the authority of the Prime Minister that it will get higher before there is any improvement. This means that bodies such as area health authorities will have to pay more for the goods and the services that they need. They will be compensated only up to a level of 14 per cent, inflation. Where is the rest to come from? The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that it must be found in increased efficiency. That simply means still more cuts in health services, still more wards closed, and still more services reduced in order to meet the imposed cash limit.

I turn to the urban programme. There are fears in the inner urban areas that the Government are proposing additional cuts in the urban programme. A consultation document has gone out. The fact that there is no separate figure in the public expenditure Blue Book for the urban programme beyond the current financial year raises doubts in the minds of many people about the Government's policy on the continuation of the urban programme.

In my area and in many other inner London areas the urban programme has been of tremendous advantage in meeting a wide range of social problems. Cuts in that programme would have a substantial impact. It would mean the loss of jobs. It would affect not only local authorities' services but also the voluntary bodies.

The programme has been particularly geared to the needs of disadvantaged groups. In my area it has provided much needed services for the ethnic minorities, for the elderly, for the mentally ill, and for one-parent families. There is no chance in the current economic climate of these services being funded by local authorities if the urban aid programme is curtailed. I hope that the Minister, in his reply to the debate, will give us a clear and absolutely firm commitment that there will be no cuts in the urban programme affecting the very important inner London areas.

I should like to mention one local problem which is also a problem for my colleagues in inner and outer London. I refer to the continuing problem of caravans. When one says " caravans ", people immediately have romantic ideas about gipsies and Romanies, with their beautifully painted caravans, towed by shire horses, and all the rest. The caravans I have in mind are not like that. They are very large and look very expensive. They are towed by very large and often very expensive looking motor cars. They are associated with very large and very dirty lorries. The occupants spend their time in totting and in metal breaking of all sorts. They have a charming habit of leaving the rubbish that is associated with their trades wherever their caravans happen to rest.

In my area the target sites have been council estates, roadside verges, and unused industrial sites in Abbey Wood, Thamesmead, and on the Woolwich industrial estate. Hon. Members may say " What about the Caravan Sites Act? ". My local authority has met its obligations under the 1968 Act. As long ago as 1971 it provided a site for 54 caravans—not the 15 that the Act requires, but 54. It cost over £300,000 to provide it. It was planned, in conjunction with the Gipsy Council, to meet the needs of travellers. It has acted as a magnet for a great many other travellers who now come into the area because the site is there.

Greenwich is now a designated area because it has met its obligations under the Act. But, unfortunately, we have discovered the hard way that designation gives no legal protection whatever. To take legal action under the Caravan Sites Act means going to the magistrates court. That involves a delay of anything up to two months. It also means having to take action against a named individual. It is incredible how many " D. Ducks" and " M. Mouses" live in caravans parked temporarily on sites in my constituency. It also means having to serve the summons personally on the head of the household. It is incredibly difficult to do that because he has always " gone down the road to see a man about a horse " and is never available when someone tries to serve a summons on him.

In my area and in others we are forced to use possession proceedings in the county court. That can take up to six weeks. An eviction notice is served, the caravan is moved, but it moves only a few hundred yards down the road to another site, and the process starts all over again, or it moves across the border into the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved).

Mr. Tim Eggar (Enfield, North)

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is he aware that in the original draft of the Local Government, Planning and Land Bill the Government introduced clauses that would have speeded up repossession orders taken out by councils? Would the Opposition support the reintroduction of those clauses into the Bill at this late stage?

Mr. Cartwright

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I had intended to turn to that point shortly. I shall be happy later to take up his invitation. I accept that it is a very important issue.

Our experience of these travellers has been that they are totally irresponsible in their approach to any attempt to protect sites. Concrete posts are pulled out, oxy-acetylene cutters are used on fences, and very often lorries are deliberately driven through attempts to defend land against their invasions. It is costing a lot of money to try to protect open sites. It is costing the time of a lot of very busy local government officers who constantly trip backwards and forwards to courts attempting to get eviction orders.

The hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) reminded us that some action was proposed. We had the Cripps report as long ago as 1977, which suggested an examination of the possibility of strengthening the legal enforcement powers for those authorities which had met their obligation to provide sites and had as a result been designated. That was forced on the Labour Government. I argued it very strongly with Ministers in the last Administration but not with any great success. I was pleased, therefore, to receive a letter dated 8 August 1979 from the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), who for some extraordinary reason combines responsibility for caravans with responsibility for sport. He said that changes were proposed in the en- forcement powers to make them more effective. He referred particularly to court orders for eviction, and he said that such orders would be enforceable against both named and unamed occupants found on sites at the time orders were carried out. That seemed a step in the right direction.

I tabled a written question on 19 November 1979 asking when these powers would be brought forward. I received a brief answer saying simply "Very soon ". When I saw the original draft of the Local Government, Planning and Land Bill, I saw that those powers were in it. When the Bill came back to this House in its second form, they had disappeared. Therefore, I tabled another parliamentary question on 5 February again asking when the powers would be brought forward. The answer was slightly longer but much less acceptable. It simply said " Not this Session ".

I cannot understand why there should be any dubiety on the part of the Government in bringing forward these powers. If they are not brought forward, I propose to table a new clause to the Bill, and I hope that it will have support on both sides of the House. This is a problem affecting the quality of life of many of my constituents. It affects industry in my constituency. Many of my constituents cannot understand why people of this kind can be allowed to flout the law when they are expected to abide by it.

I hope that the Minister who is to reply to this debate will indicate that he has decided to pull his finger out and do something about this serious problem.

10.24 am
Mr. Kenneth Baker (St. Marylebone)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, as I welcome the very fact that it takes place at all. It has become the custom in recent years to have a full day's debate on London rather than those contrived three-hour debates between 7 and 10 o'clock on the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill and the Greater London Council (Money) Bill. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) knows how unsatisfactory those debates were when we were on different sides of the House from those that we occupy at the moment, how contrived those debates were when hon. Members tried to keep in order on very narrow Bills, how hon. Members were encouraged to speak at length to keep out other hon. Members, and all the other paraphernalia of absurd procedure. It is much better now that the House is becoming accustomed to a full day's debate on London at least once a year. There is an unwritten understanding between us that we do not drag out our contributions but allow plenty of opportunity for right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to speak.

I should like to see London matters debated much more frequently on the Floor of the House. There have been suggestions in the past that there should be a Minister for London, and I have supported one view in the past that there should be a London Question Time. But those ideas probably will have to be put aside for the moment until the spectre of devolution arises, if it ever arises, again in our constitutional arrangements.

I want to touch upon the subject of education in London. I find it extraordinary that I cannot recall since coming to the House a debate on the education services of London. I do not think there has been one. London's education services have been debated in the context of national education or, very peripherally on the Greater London Council (Money) Bill, which normally contains a clause on the capital expenditure of the ILEA. So I make no apology for referring to the ILEA, which is the education authority responsible in my own area.

The House will know that I was asked by the Secretary of State to chair a Conservative Party committee on the ILEA which was to examine the constitutional and financial arrangements of the ILEA. We reported earlier this year. Following the receipt of that report, the Secretary of State set up an inter-departmental review to examine the administrative and financial arrangements of the ILEA.

It might be helpful to the House if I explained briefly why my colleagues and I came to the conclusion that in the inner London area the individual London boroughs, acting either separately or in conjunction with their neighbours, should be responsible for the education services within their boundaries. Three factors led us to that conclusion. The first was the lack of democratic accountability under the present system. The second was the lack of financial accountability. The third was the considerable disquiet felt about the educational attainments of the ILEA.

As for the lack of democratic accountability, I think that everyone agrees that the constitutional arrangements for the ILEA are unique. The greatest defenders of the ILEA will not deny that.

The ILEA is composed of GLC inner London members and nominated members from the councils of the inner London boroughs. That creates a strange constitutional arrangement in that there are two elected bodies where some automatically go on to another body, the ILEA, but where the other elected body, the borough council, can nominate anyone whom it chooses. In fact, it can change the nomination at will. What is more, those two bodies, the Greater London council and the London borough council, are elected in different years. Therefore, it is not surprising that education issues are not put so directly to the electors of inner London and of London generally as they are in the rest of the country. They are mentioned in the GLC elections each four years. I do not deny that. However, they tend to get swamped in all the other issues of the GLC elections. Similarly, in the local borough elections in inner London, as we all know, education does not form any part because the individual London boroughs have no direct educational responsibilities.

This strange constitutional arrangement means that the ILEA draws its membership from two widely differing sources, each the subject of a different electoral process operating at a different time, on a different representational basis and with a different tenure of office. It is a unique constitutional arrangement.

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

Will the hon. Member accept that the idea that educational issues are swamped in the GLC elections applies equally to elections in other parts of the country? Is he aware, for instance, that at the time of the great Tory rebellion in Tameside, the leader of the Tameside council, a metropolitan authority with educational responsibilities, did not even mention education in his election address, even though he was leading the campaign against the comprehensive measures of the then Government?

Mr. Baker

I am not familiar with the Tameside example. The hon. Gentleman may be right. However, in London politics the decision-making process in education is rarely put clearly to the electors in inner London.

The second factor to which I referred just now related to the lack of financial accountability of the ILEA. Again, even the greatest defenders of the ILEA cannot deny that its financial position is unique. It determines its own budget. It decides what it spends. It sends the bill to the GLC, which cannot question it and cannot reduce it by a penny. The GLC then sends it on to the inner London boroughs by means of a precept which again cannot be questioned or denied.

Mr. Cartwright

I accept the logic of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but will not he accept that it applies even more strongly to the Metropolitan Police, over whom there is no democratic control? Will he apply the same argument to them?

Mr. Baker

No. That raises entirely different matters. If the hon. Gentleman is moving along the police line of argument to support my argument on education, I welcome a convert, but he should not expect me to convert back to him on the question of the police, because it raises fundamentally different matters.

The uniqueness of ILEA is that in every other education authority in the country there is a trade-off between the various conflicting demands of local government expenditure. That does not happen in London, where a ring is put around education. Education is taken out, and ILEA determines how much will be spent.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that the precepting arrangement with regard to education in London is exactly the same as the precepting arrangement that applies outside London for county authorities, for any precepting authority as against a rating authority?

Mr. Baker

I accept that. Nonetheless, there is a trade-off between the conflicting demands of local authority money. There are debates about how much should be spent on education and how much should be spent on the other services. My point is that that does not happen in London. Whatever changes may be made in ILEA, one might expect a change in its financial accountability. All reports over the years have tended to point to that.

Before coming to my third point, the disquiet about examination results, I should like to deal with ILEA'S reaction to my report. It reacted vigorously and questioned some of the statistics in the report. The way in which it did so shows that ILEA has a scant regard for statistics. Indeed, for it to use statistics in rebutting my statistics in the way that it has shows that it has fallen far short of the standards that one would expect of a major education authority.

Mr. Dobson

" Lies, damned lies and statistics ".

Mr. Baker

Professor David Smith, of ILEA, will publish a further report rebutting the ILEA statistics which rebutted mine. It is a marvellous battle. The leader of Wandsworth council, Mr. Chope, has put a paper before that council which also deals with the statistics.

I should like to draw attention to three matters. One is the size of the boroughs and whether they could provide a sufficent base for an education service. That is very important. In my report we took the age population of children from 5 to 19, which is the normal way to proceed when one is considering education services. This was, indeed, the figure that Sir Frank Marshall used in his report only 18 months earlier.

In its response, ILEA said that one must look only at actual school rolls in 1986. I contend that taking the age population 5 to 19 is correct. But even on the ILEA basis most of the Inner London boroughs, certainly those south of the river, will have a school roll—which does not include the further education services, which are essential when one is considering the full range of education services provided by a local education authority—in excess of that of many of the outer London boroughs. I suspect that the ILEA figures, which include Greenwich, 33,000 and Wandsworth, 27,000, are rather pessimistic.

Mr. Stevens

To endorse my hon. Friend's point, may I tell him that subsequent to the publication of the ILEA'S rebuttal of his figures it has announced that the school roll figure was pessimistic, and that it will be higher than it stated in its response to him?

Mr. Baker

That does not in the least surprise me, because my experience of ILEA forecasting of school rolls is that it tends to massage its figures. When it was trying to destroy the grammar school in my constituency in 1971–72—and eventually succeeded—its forecasts of school population were absurdly and extravagantly wrong. It had the political motive of trying to show that there would be such an enormous number of school children in Marylebone and Westminster that the Marylebone grammar school had to be combined with the local comprehensive school, which is almost about to be closed, because the catchment area would require it. I am sure that those statistics were wrong when ILEA advanced them.

I suspect that ILEA's present forecasts of the number of school children are pessimistically low. I have evidence for that suspicion. Mr. Chope has looked at the GLC projection for Wandsworth's 5–19 population in 1986, which is 49,200 to 47,900. The figure in my report was 49,500–48,900, a difference of a few hundred. The Camden figure in my report was 21,000–21,900, whereas the latest GLC forecast is 22,700–23,000. Those higher figures show that the ILEA accusations are totally unfounded and that its forecasts are completely out of line with those of the GLC.

Mr. Ernie Roberts (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Will not the hon. Gentleman agree that the matter is not simply one of statistics? In a class of 30, one school may have children of 18 different nationalities, who have problems with the English language, numeracy, and so on, as a result, while other schools do not have such problems.

Mr. Baker

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. It is part of ILEA'S argument that its social and education problems are unique, and that therefore ILEA must be retained. In a nutshell, that is what it says. I answer that argument by relating it to the money spent per pupil in inner London and in the other inner-city areas, which are not dissimilar. I know that in inner London we have acute social problems, but so do Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Bradford. Some of them have as wide an ethnic variety as London does.

I wish that I could read all the figures into the Official Report, but Back Benchers are not allowed to insert statistics and figures in this way. However, the amount spent per pupil by ILEA in 1978 was £733 and the comparable figures for the other major cities were: Birmingham, £481; Leeds, £461; Liverpool, £547; Manchester, £602; Bradford—considered to have one of the greatest problems of ethnic minorities as regards linguistic abilities of schoolchildren—£450.

What value is being obtained for the money spent on the children of inner London? The education results are very disappointing. This is another area where ILEA has reacted shrilly against the statistics that I quoted. All of those statistics are nationally prepared; none was cooked up in Conservative Central Office.

The figures show that in the ILEA area 25 per cent. of all children left school without any qualification. ILEA has responded by saying " Look at the other inner cities". In fact, the only city with a worse result is Bradford. The comparable figures in some of the other cities were Sheffield, 19.4 per cent. and Manchester, 22 per cent. The national average is 16 per cent. I do not argue on the national average, because that includes country areas and suburban areas, and I am trying to base my argument on comparable inner-city areas.

There is disquiet about education attainment. The document to which I have referred is to be published so the statistics will be available. However. ILEA comes almost at the bottom of the list for passes at CSE level and passes at O-level at various grades, including the higher grades. It is fair to say that ILEA does rather better for passes at A-level. It does not reach the English national average, but it does better than many other inner cities.

When we talk about education attainment to the defenders of ILEA, they appreciate that the attainment is not very high. They soon say that passing examinations and getting O-levels and A-levels is not all that important. They claim that the important thing is to subject oneself to the education process, especially the enriching part of it. I maintain that the statistics in my original report are fully justified.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that ILEA is entirely an inner city education authority and that he is making comparisons with authorities that cover not only inner city areas but suburban areas where there are fewer disadvantaged children?

Mr. Baker

ILEA includes areas that are not disadvantaged. It includes the beginning of the outer suburban areas. It includes part of my constituency, Chelsea, Kensington and parts of Camden. There is a social mix that is found in other inner cities. I do not accept that the hon. Gentleman's argument holds water.

We came to the conclusion that education standards would be better if individual boroughs were responsible for education services. I know that that is contentious. I know that when we try to change something we have to fight considerable vested interests. I have had the flavour of what must face Labour Members when they try to change an institution. I hope that the inter-departmental ministerial committee that is considering ILEA will report soon and recommend a substantial change in the education arrangements for London.

I note that this week the London Labour Party has issued a manifesto. It has elected a new leader, Mr. Mackintosh. It has been rather a good week for appointing people with Scottish names to big jobs. Mr. MacGregor will have to deal with the ailing fortunes of the British Steel Corporation and Mr. Mackintosh will have to deal with the even greater problems of the ailing London Labour Party.

Its manifesto contains two proposals on which I shall comment briefly. I understand that it will enter the next election with the proposal that Labour will cut tube and bus fares by 25 per cent. and that by 1982–83 travel on the buses and tubes in London will be totally free. Every other inner city in the world has examined that proposition over the years and has come to the conclusion that it is a lunatic idea. I see that Labour Members are nodding in approval. If an idea as daft as that is put into the London Labour Party's manifesto, an idea which is discredited from the start, it is clear that it is lashing itself to a totally dead idea. That only shows the predilection of the London Labour Party for morbidity.

The second issue in the London Labour Party's manifesto with which I seriously quarrel is the proposal to come out against the southern relief road in the development of Dockland. I have long been interested in that development. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) will remember that we fought each other a long time ago in his constituency. Over the years I have been depressed to see the decline of dockland. The reasons have been well studied and reported and I shall not go into them now.

I am convinced of the need for better roads through East London. I am glad that the Government have agreed the northern relief road. I understand that it has reached the stage of planning approval contracts. It seems that it is agreed. I am sorry that the southern relief road has not been agreed and that the London Labour Party has come out against it. Surely the road is essential to bring back economic life to large parts of East London—for example, the Surrey Docks area, the Isle of Dogs and going beyond the Isle of Dogs and crossing the river again. I hope that the Government will look with greater favour upon the southern relief road.

I am not arguing for a particular route. That is an issue that must be left for local politicians and the locality concerned. However, I believe that the concept is essential for the development of dockland. I hope that the Government will take in hand and push forward the bringing into existence of the southern relief road.

10.45 am
Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)

First, I congratulate the communities which had the opportunity and good sense yesterday to return Labour councils in the local elections. Throughout the country fed-up and dissillusioned ratepayers have given the thumbs-down sign to the Tory Government after one-year in office. In my constituency of Edmonton we shall have to wait a further two years before we can sling the Tories out of Enfield civic centre.

Mr. Eggar

The hon. Gentleman will have to wait much longer than that.

Mr. Graham

We shall see.

Mr. Stevens

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I seem to be joining some of my hon. Friends in the running of a Greek chorus. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that a swing of 3.9 per cent. is large enough to justify the exultation that he and other Labour Members have been indulging in? If it were the other way round, I do not think that he would be too worried. I do not think that my right hon. and hon. Friends are worried.

Mr. Graham

I am certain that the hon. Gentleman realises that the trend is all-important. If the Government have achieved such disillusionment in one year, in two years' time when my constituents will have the opportunity to vote, I am certain that they will sling the discredited local government out of Enfield civic centre.

For the past three years the Tory council in Enfield has used every device open to it to avoid fighting the election in two years' time on the boundaries that were drawn up by the Boundary Commission. It has been spending tens of thousands of pounds of ratepayers' money. There has been no freeze or squeeze in fighting the recommendations of the Boundary Commission. It has been continuing the fight against the views of ratepayers and responsible organisations and opinion in Enfield. It has dragged a tattered, sordid and antidemocratic case through the High Court, the Appeal Court and the House of Lords. It finally begged the Home Secretary to throw it a lifeline for 1982.

As I expected, and as the House would expect, the Home Secretary endorsed fully the proposals of the Boundary Com mission. He has left the Enfield Tory group to reflect that its rule will come to an end in 1982. The ratepayers have been left to reflect——

Mr. Eggar

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that when the council first went for a hearing in the High Court the judge concerned found in favour of Enfield council, and that on every occasion there was justification on constitutional and legal grounds for appeal right the way to the House of Lords? Does he accept that he has grossly exaggerated the amount that Enfield has been spending on the appeals system?

Mr. Graham

When the figures are dragged out of the Enfield council and its leaders I shall be prepared to agree with the hon. Gentleman if my charge that tens of thousands of pounds have been spent is not substantiated. The sums that the council has spent in its vain attempt to avoid the declarations of the Boundary Commission will surely amount to tens of thousands of pounds.

It is a fact that the Boundary Commission made proposals and that the Enfield council fought and lost. The High Court listened and Enfield council won. The Appeal Court listened and Enfield council lost. The House of Lords listened and Enfield council lost. The Home Secretary listened and Enfield council lost. Even if the hon. Gentleman does not think that a score of five to one is a trouncing, there are many others who share my view.

I am confident that the people of Enfield and of Edmonton will sling out the discredited Tory council. I shall use as my text yesterday's issue of the Enfield Gazette & Observer. The headline states: Council face big precinct losses Underneath which it states: Bill for Town Centre could be £2m. I had the privilege of being the leader of the council and chairman of the planning committee during the 1960s, when the precinct was organised. I am pleased that the precinct is coming to fruition, after 12 years of dillying and dallying by the Tory council. However, as a direct result of Government policy, Enfield ratepayers will have to pay an extra £2 million. It is a bombshell. The newspaper states: Privately, Tory councillors admit that the new figures look bad. But they blame the current high interest rates which blacken the picture. As a result of the Government's monetary policy, my constituents will have to pick up a bigger share of the bill.

Another headline in the Enfield Gazette & Observer states: Eastern Enfield could face fire ' devastation '. My constituents have suffered the triple blow of a Tory council, a Tory GLC, and a Tory Government. I have mentioned the cuts being made by the GLC before. However, the report continues: Members of the Co-Ordination and Policy Committee expressed concern about likely ' devastation' if fires occurred in the eastern part of the borough.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

Does my hon. Friend recall the disastrous fire that took place in Kilburn, in the London borough of Brent? As a result of the rundown of fire services, that fire ended in tragedy.

Mr. Graham

I recall that tragedy. Fortunately, the London borough of Enfield has not yet had a tragedy of that dimension. No councillors can have been more assiduous in trying to impress on the GLC that cuts will lead to such fires, than those in Enfield. The Enfield Gazette & Observer also contains an article about the chairman of the GLC fire brigade committee. It states: The chairman of the GLC's Fire Brigade Committee had agreed to review the situation throughout their area. I welcome that review. During the past 12 months the chairman of the GLC's fire brigade committee has steadfastly refused to acknowledge that the fears expressed by the council were valid.

One then finds another article, which states: Labour fail in free help bid. That refers to the despicable decision of Enfield's social services committee. It decided to charge £1 for the use of a home help service. It sent letters to everyone, pointing out that if a person was receiving supplementary benefit, he could recoup the charge. It believed that it could pass the bill on to central Government. Of course, the Government quickly pointed out that they would not allow the charge to be passed on by the Supplementary Benefits Commission. Consequently, many of my constituents will suffer. I congratulate my fellow Labour councillors, as they have kept up an unremitting campaign on behalf of the weak and disadvantaged.

The newspaper contains another headline, which states: Unions' war on mean and shabby' cuts. Trade unions in my constituency, together with those in Southgate and Enfield, North held a conference last week. They went out of their way to point out that Government and council cuts were having very serious effects.

Another headline states: Stand by to be ' clobbered '. The headline refers to a speech that I made in Committee on Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill. I pointed out that as a direct result of central Government policy Enfield council would shortly charge for planning applications and objections. The Government have told Enfield and other authorities that they want to save £30 million. They have told them that their constituents must pay for the privilege of applying for planning permission.

The letter page of the Enfield Gazette & Observer is always full of interest. This week's issue contains two interesting letters. One is headed: Drowning in a pool increase. Enfield council has increased swimming pool charges not only for individuals, but also for clubs. The letter points out that the swimming club will be faced with an extra annual cost of £1,000. It points out that Enfield will not get any more money. The increased charge will mean merely that fewer people will receive training. Another letter has the headline " Pay us now." Old-age pensioners are appealing against the Government's policies, and their effect on pensions, and so on.

I turn to the housing policies of central, regional and local government. Not for the first time, I shall refer to the Klinger site in Silver street. I notice that the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) is smiling wryly. I have taken great interest in this subject. The GLC reneged on its agreement to build the site, and to rent the houses. Those houses were built so that those who lived in tower blocks could live decently. However, last year the GLC announced that it would sell those homes. I received some details this week. Instead of the houses being rented to those in need, they will be allocated according to the size of an individual's purse. Two-bedroom flats will be available from £27,450. A three-bedroom maisonette will cost from £28,950. Those flats should be occupied by needy and desperate constituents, but they will go to those who can pay the bill, wherever they may live.

My constituents did not vote for this Government. They did not vote for their council. Last year they elected a Tory to the GLC. I forecast that that relapse will be remedied in the GLC elections.

10.57 am
Mr. John Wheeler (Paddington)

I am glad to take part in this debate. In common with other hon. Members who represent London constituencies, I welcome the opportunity to discuss some of the problems and issues that concern so many of those who live within the Greater London area. I shall not apologise for taking up the theme adopted by my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt). I wish to discuss the quality of life of the 7 million people who live in London. In addition, one must consider the 1 million to 2 million people who work in the capital and our many overseas visitors.

Not many years ago, the citizens of London and of the United Kingdom could proudly boast that our streets, buses and Underground were among the safest in the world. We could boast that we could use those facilities without any fear or regard for personal safety. We had every confidence that a journey could be undertaken and completed without damage or harm.

Today that is no longer the case. Hardly a day passes without there being reported in the national press and in the London newspapers an incident that is both shocking and alarming. Indeed, we learnt only a few weeks ago that a former Prime Minister had been attacked on the Underground and put in fear. That is not uncommon.

It being Eleven o'clock, Mr. SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 5 (Friday sittings).

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