§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Thompson.]3.43 pm
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
I first pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip and to my colleagues in the Shadow Cabinet for kindly agreeing to donate this part of the Supply day to a discussion on London. I am also grateful to the Government Chief Whip for allowing part of Government time to continue to discuss London matters.
Britain has enjoyed almost two years of unbridled Toryism, and nothing has been allowed to stand in the way of full-blooded free enterprise, least of all any quaint old-fashioned ideas such as justice, fairness and compassion. There is no room in this Tory fairyland for that kind of debilitating and decadent thinking. People must stand on their own two feet—or preferably on some one else's as well. They must keep in the forefront of their minds that under a solid Conservative Government, who follow strictly Conservative principles, lame ducks, the poor, the needy, the sick and the handicapped are a burden on the Exchequer and should best be left to their own devices or to some charitable assistance.
The Government were committed to such principles when they came into office in May 1979, when inflation was in single figures, unemployment was falling month by month, industrial activity was rising and pensions and benefits were keeping pace with changes in prices and incomes—all against a background of a world recession and rising oil prices.
It was not a bad inheritance, but it was based upon a philosophy of a compassionate and caring society established by a Labour Government and, therefore, totally unacceptable to the incoming Tory Administration. After all, during the election they had convinced the majority of people that it was possible to have one's cake and eat it. They said that life would be so much better under the Conservatives. They said that they would lift the burden of taxation, give people their money back, free industry and commerce from their shackles and turn our society into a dynamic purposeful nation where freedom would abound and every family would be part of the property-owning demoocracy. Above all, they would not accept all this rubbish about world recessions but would blame other people for the faults of the Labour Government. They said that they would set the people free, and that became the catch phrase of the advertising campaign. The posters which showed actors playing people in the unemployment queue still remain one of the lingering memories of the Tory election strategy.
Where have we got to after two years and three Budgets? It is true that the Chancellor of the Exchequer reduced income tax as his first action in Budget No. 1, but he has increased income tax in Budget No. 3. I suppose 655 we can call that a draw. However, the whole Tory strategy was based on lowering income tax, so really the people have been cheated. The Tories raised the level of allowances in Budget No. 2 to exclude the lower paid from paying tax, but they have lowered the allowances in Budget No. 3, which brings more of the lower paid back into the tax net. There are no gains to be had there for the lower paid.
What happened to the Tory strategy that all that was needed was a reduction in income tax and that overnight productivity would soar, industry and commerce would thrive and the people would be free? There would be no 7 per cent. or 5 per cent. restriction on wages. The sky was the limit.
I explained then why the strategy would not work, but the Tories were in no mood for the truth. In May 1979, the inflation rate was 9 per cent. By 1980, it had risen to more than 21 per cent. It is said to be 12.6 per cent in 1981. However, the Tory "fiddle factor", the TPI, now shows an increase of 13.4 per cent., even though it was intended to show that inflation was not as high as it really was. By the time the 1981 Budget proposals are taken into account, the rate will be much higher. In any event, it is a far cry from the single figure inflation of 1979. One needs only to ask the housewife whether she has found prices to be falling.
Unemployment has soared to more than 2½ million, but the true figure is nearer 3 million. The rate is about double what it was when the Tories came to power, and it is still rising. There has been a disaster in that regard, but it has been a contrived disaster because the Secretary of State for Industry recently spelt out the Government's philosophy on employment. He said:Job loss and high unemployment is a part of the cure for the country's economic ills.That encapsulates the Tories total rejection of the policy of full employment, established by the Labour Government of 1945 and followed through until the present Government were elected in 1979.
Naturally, the Secretary of State took care not to make that statement in the United Kingdom. Had he done so, his audience would have wished to know why he and his party deliberately misled the people during the election by pretending that they supported full employment. He would have been called upon to explain why those who pointed out that full employment would not be a part of their policy were accused of scaremongering. By making the statement 6,000 miles away in Los Angeles, the right hon. Gentleman avoided the necessity of justifying it, as well as his further assertion that for many years British Governments had overspent, over-taxed, over-borrowed, over-rescued and over-regulated, and had allowed overmanning to remain widespread, and that the Tories had embarked upon the arduous task of correcting the excesses.
I do not deny that the right hon. Gentleman had a right to say it, but the British people are entitled to know why the strategy was denied. Indeed, why did the Tories not make a virtue of such intentions in 1979?
The Sunday Times ran an interesting column in its business news supplement called "Jobless Britain". True, it was tucked away on the back page and did not keep a running total of unemployment, which was a little unhelpful, but it did identify the firms involved, their trade and the numbers of jobs lost. For example, for the week 656 ending 7 November 1980, 13,843 jobs were lost at firms which included ICL computers, Girling brakes, Pirelli tyres, George Fisher engineering, Wellworthy engineering, Lucas CAV, Hotpoint Electric, GKN motor components, Revlon International Corporation, Salter weighing machines, Allan Bradley electronics, and a host of others. That list clearly shows that the firms represent a wide spectrum of the industrial base of Britain. It includes new industries as well as old, large as well as small. It is little wonder that the business community, the CBI and the chamber of commerce are petrified by the magnitude of the damage being inflicted on industry by the monetarist policies of the Tory Government.
Not surprisingly, the Tory Sunday Times dropped that item from its pages. That is why I had to quote figures for November. It could be called a "Timesgate" cover-up. However, I did the editor the courtesy of telephoning him this morning to ask him why the article had been dropped. The deputy editor telephoned me this afternoon and explained that, following inquiries, he thought that it had been a journalistic decision, with no sinister connotations. I hope the The Sunday Times will resume publication of that item as it provides useful information and helps us to follow the sad, sorry story of the Government's activities.
Unemployment in Hackney in 1979 was 4,159. In 1980 it was 5,298, and in January 1981 it was 8,667. The latest information given to me this afternoon puts the unemployment figure in Hackney at 10,924, which represents an average of 13.8 per cent. unemployed. In some parts, including the area that I represent, the level is more than 14 per cent. It is disgraceful that the position of unemployed youngsters in Hackney is worse now than at the severest point of the 1930s depression, in March 1933. In central Hackney in January 430 youngsters were unemployed, with one job vacancy. It has improved a little now that it is April, with 323 youngsters chasing three vacancies. That shows the disastrous position in Hackney.
Last week saw the start of the Tory era of double talk. All the odd job men, the Lord President, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the other chaps were sent out with their sales patter, properly packaged, and helped by their faithful friends from the media. A great change took place. We were regaled with such headings as "Economy—signs of sunshine", "Signs of hope in economy", "Economy looks brighter again", "Encouraging signs despite jobless passing 2,500,000". We had to look at the small print to see that the economic turnround in Britain remains tentative. The report said:Economic improvement has not yet carried far enough to trigger even the first of three major signals used … to confirm a full-fledged recovery.The Government did not wait for the signals. They went on their way with the story of how good the recovery would be. As always, there is one Christian among them. I am happy to note that the Secretary of State for Employment still maintains his reputation for honesty intact. He is reported as saying:The April unemployment figures were 'a personal tragedy' for more than 2,500,000 people, one in 10 of the working population.He did not view the position in a sunny light.
The London chamber of commerce joined the chorus by claiming that London firms were set for revival. It said that there was fresh evidence that the recession was almost over. I looked for evidence but could not find any. When I contacted the person who had carried out the survey, he said "Well, you know, the firms gave us a feeling that they 657 were set for revival". Is that all the evidence? But, as the House will know, the president of the London chamber of commerce is Earl Jellicoe, a former Conservative Minister. He must have had his package for sale also.
It was a pity that The New Standard, unwisely, printed on one page:London firms set for revival";and on the other side of that page "As small firms quit …" which did not confirm the sunshine——
§ Mr. Brown
If the hon. Gentleman will take some notice of my speech, I am sure that he will find it helpful. He is always learning, and he will be able to learn more now.
As I have said, the employment position is disastrous. House building, both public and private, has dried up. The figures are lower than they were 50 years ago. Housing waiting lists in inner city areas are longer than ever and the condition of large numbers of houses is deteriorating at an alarming rate. The New Standard headline last week read "London … the crumbling city". The article said that the capital needs more and more homes and £4,464 million spent on repairs.
The House knows that the four years of Tory rule at County Hall has been distinguished by the new concept that council affairs are no longer to be conducted in committee and subjected to scrutiny by elected members, as we in the House carry out our work. The Tories substituted the press release system so that only the tightly knit, politically motivated groups of the ruling Tory Party know what is happening—although I doubt even that sometimes. Greater London knows only what they want it to know.
That policy was vividly illustrated by the wilful refusal of Sir Horace Cutler to publish the Housing Strategy Appraisal 1981–83. With great effort I finally obtained a copy of it. He not only refused to publish it but he deliberately suppresed it. That is a scandal. It was suppressed because it contained facts that give the lie to the Tory propaganda being prepared to swindle the electors on 7 May. One could ask "Why not?" After all, that is the way that the Tory Party did the trick in 1979. Why should not Sir Horace try his luck with the same game? Yet the Tory Party make a virtue of law and order.
There is no hope for the homeless or those in need of adequate housing for many years in London. All the Tories do is to sell off existing council housing stock in London. Later we shall discuss the order that will force borough councils to accept responsibility for GLC property. If the order is passed by the House, it will destroy the GLC as a strategic housing authority. The Government's deliberate decision to take financial sanctions against Greater London through the rate support grant has been a major factor in the unprecedented rise in rates. Another headline in The New Standard stated:Why Tory blames Tory in the block grant backlash".The leader of the Kensington and Chelsea borough council is reported as having said:It gives me no pleasure as a Conservative leader to criticise the Government in this way … I believe what they have done is wrong and I believe that it needs to be corrected.658 That view is widely held by many people in London. Yet the Secretary of State for the Environment has nothing but contempt for local government and for those who serve in it.
As the House knows, the right hon. Gentleman has penalised Hackney. He has done so quite wrongly, and the House knows that. He has withdrawn nearly £10 million from Hackney, which is nearly a 30p rate. Hackney's rates have had to be increased by 55p. Conservative Members had great joy in pointing that out to me. However, of that 55p, 30p is directly the responsibility of the Government.
Whatever the Government think about the Hackney council, it has tried desperately hard to meet the needs of the people of Hackney. It has broken no rules, written or unwritten. I am told that the Department of the Environment has wilfully refused to submit its defence to the courts on why it believes it was right to penalise Hackney and other boroughs. It has been so obdurate that I am informed that it has been ordered to present its evidence by 18 May. I am told that 13 July has been set down for the hearing to take place.
Why have the Government caused the borough to employ lawyers in this way? The answer is that they will not answer and produce their defence. This is outrageous. They have chosen to behave in the disgraceful manner that I have described and they have taken the money away from Hackney, which in turn means that people in Hackney are suffering.
The Secretary of State for the Environment is effectively destroying the work of many voluntary bodies, and especially housing associations, which find themselves with empty properties, half-empty properties and properties in appalling condition. They are unable to carry out their work due to the withdrawal of funds.
For about 15 years Hackney has introduced projects at Easter time for disabled children. These projects include puppet shows and library work. The cost this year would have been £900. The council submitted its proposal to the Department in February 1981 and in the normal course of events it was agreed. This wretched Government refused the expenditure of £900 over the Easter holiday this year. That expenditure would have provided puppet shows for the disabled children in Hackney. One cannot get meaner than that. It is disgraceful.
I read the letter that was sent by the Department. One has to be mean to write such a letter on Maundy Thursday to tell the council that it will not be able to put on puppetry for disabled children on Easter Monday, the followng Monday. The letter from the Department caused mayhem because the council had to get in touch with the various groups and bodies that intended to carry out such excellent work over the holiday period.
The Government must take a more aggressive approach to reducing unemployment in London. They must encourage industry to remain in London and to expand. They must take urgent measures to halt the housing disaster and to get the housing programme going again. They must take urgent action to raise the ceiling of the rate rebate entitlement. It is still £6.75. There has been an enormous increase in rates and that is clearly inadequate. Government action must be taken to support plans for establishing a more integrated transport system, to improve transport in London, and to deal with the juggernaut problem. Above all, the Government must stop being such petty tyrants. They must work with local 659 government, with the local people and with local industry. That is the way forward, and that is how we shall achieve a more prosperous London.
The catalogue of infamy of this Tory Government would take hours to complete. I have tried to highlight some of the worst features and to draw attention to the dirty tricks, the double talk and the lengths to which the Tory Party will go to obtain and retain power. If this message gets across, the days of the Tory Party in London and in Britain are numbered.You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.Notwithstanding the power wielded by the Tories and their friends in the media, 7 May 1981 could be the start of something good and the road back to a more compassionate caring society.
§ 4.5 pm
§ Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)
We always enjoy the speeches of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). This afternoon he was again in good form and good voice. If now and again his words sounded rather like those of his namesake, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown), we all understand why. After all, local elections are in the air. The hon. Gentleman had to make his party political points. I readily confess that I shall be engaged on a similar exercise this afternoon in support of the Conservative majority at County Hall which, contrary to the hon. Gentleman's view, I believe has made a splendid contribution to the life of London over the past four years.
Although the hon. Gentleman made a passing reference to the GLC elections, he was curiously reluctant to go into any detailed discussion about the issues before Londoners and the sort of campaign that is being waged by the Labour Party at County Hall.
I shall begin by making common cause with the hon. Gentleman. I warmly welcome the now established tradition of regular debates on London's affairs. This Parliament is the first that I can recall in which the capital's problems have been regularly debated. As he rightly said, we should all be grateful for the co-operation between the usual channels that has made this possible.
Our debate on the economic and social problems of London is being held against the backcloth of a crucial GLC election campaign. It is an election that will decide how London's pressing problems are to be tackled from County Hall in the next four years. I shall concentrate almost exclusively on this aspect of London's affairs. The question that every Londoner has to face on 7 May is whether we are to continue with the skill, imagination and flair shown by Sir Horace Cutler and his team since 1977 or revert to the discredited and outdated dogma of Labour's programme.
The Labour manifesto is entitledA Socialist Policy for the GLC".It runs to 164 pages and in my view should be required reading for every Londoner. It is a turbid and terrifying document. It is clear that Labour's leaders at County Hall learnt nothing during their last spell in power but have merely tarted up their old policies of the 1960s and 1970s with the Marxist jargon of the 1980s.
660 In that manifesto we find all the pathetically familiar phrases about social ownership and producer cooperatives. It includes a concept intriguingly called "London community builders", which turns out to be the latest Left-wing euphemism for the direct labour organisation, a group which was losing nearly £7 million a year when it was closed down by the present Conservative administration at County Hall.
There is a crazy scheme to set up a GLC bus factory. It appears that the ratepayers of London are expected to finance a publicly owned purpose-built loss-making enterprise with an initial investment of hundreds of millions of pounds and an incalculable operational loss from year to year. What a gift such a set-up would be to trade union wage negotiators, who would know that in the Labour leaders at County Hall they have the softest touches of all.
Perhaps the most alarming example of financial irresponsibility in the whole of Labour's programme for London is the madcap proposal to reduce London Transport fares by 25 per cent. and then to freeze them for four years. That is merely a modification of the earlier lunatic plan to abolish fares altogether, a plan which had to be abandoned, not in deference to the long-suffering ratepayers, but because of trade union fears that it would put all London transport ticket collectors on the dole. The latest scheme for fare reductions means that Greater London's ratepayers will be subsidising all those who travel to work from outside the Greater London area—from the plush commuter areas of Sussex, rural Kent and Surrey.
§ Mr. Hunt
Not Bromley, because Bromley is already within the Greater London area.
Londoners will be subsidising those who live outside the Greater London area. Therefore, Brixton will be subsidising the travellers from Brighton, and Tottenham will be subsidising those from Tunbridge Wells. On top of that, we shall all be helping to pay the fares of the thousands of tourists who use our tubes and buses every year. It is an indiscriminate subsidy and an open-ended commitment. It is being promoted solely as a squalid means of buying votes. However, happily, London's electors are not quite as naive as some Labour Members would believe. The plan has had a distinctly lukewarm reception and is proving by no means the vote winner that the Labour election strategists at first believed.
To many people in London, the most profoundly disturbing part of Labour's manifesto is that dealing with the police. It clearly states the Labour Party's intention to establish a police committee in orderto monitor the work of the police force as a prelude to it gaining power to control the police.Coupled with the further proposal to disband the special patrol group, the Special Branch and the illegal immigration intelligence unit, that represents a charter for every militant and subversive throughout Greater London. It could not have been better composed by Miss Vanessa Redgrave herself.
Significantly, those sinister and far-reaching proposals are not even mentioned in the popular version of Labour's election manifesto which is now being distributed in London, yet they are a major part of the full manifesto. The implication is that if Labour, by any mischance, is 661 returned to County Hall on 7 May, it will claim that it has a clear mandate from the people of London for such sweeping plans. Such is the perversion of democracy by the Left in London.
There are immense dangers in creating a political police force in London. For example, one is bound to speculate on how a police force controlled by a Left-wing GLC would have handled the recent riots in Brixton and Finsbury Park. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis would have been placed in an impossible position if he had been obliged to seek the approval of his political masters at County Hall before dealing with such street riots.
London's social and economic problems are undoubtedly immense, and they can and will be made immeasurably worse by the sort of Marxist ideology enshrined in Labour's election manifesto. No wonder some Labour Members are privately apprehensive about the effect of such a programme upon London and the future of the Labour Party.
On the other hand, the Conservative administration at County Hall is fighting the election on its record of realism and responsibility. A small but vivid example of the businesslike approach which Sir Horace Cutler has brought to County Hall lies in the fact that, immediately upon taking office, he cut the number of GLC committees from 130 to just 27, bringing a substantial saving both in attendance allowances paid to councillors and in the time of officials, whose numbers have been cut by about 5,000, with a total saving of £50 million a year to ratepayers.
Massive debts of £146 million inherited from the previous Labour administration have been paid off. The rates, which rose by 235 per cent. during the last four years of Labour administration, have risen by less than 10 per cent. in the past four years. However, we know already that, appropriately, one of the first fruits of a Labour victory on 7 May would be the imposition of a supplementary rate in October, a further sharp rise next April and at least a doubling of London's rates within two years. That is a horrifying prospect for industry, commerce and every householder in Greater London. It can only set back the revival and recovery of our capital, which will soon be under way.
When all the political slogans and speeches are over, the real continuing concern of all Londoners is for the quality of life in the capital and for the improvement and enhancement of the environment in which we all live, work and play. In that sphere, too, the GLC's record over the past four years has been impressive. For the first time for many years, a new park has been created in Inner London at Burgess Park, Southwark, where a bombed site has been adapted to serve as a natural history study area. Next to Tower bridge, the William Curtis ecological park has been established on a two-acre site which was previously used for the parking of heavy lorries. Housing development at Thamesmead has provided the opportunity to create new water habitats.
Those are all constructive and imaginative schemes which demonstrate a forward-looking approach by a Conservative GLC and a concern for environmental matters. There is also the exciting development at Covent Garden and in dockland—all further examples of what can be achieved by a partnership between local authorities and private enterprise.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney Central)
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his vivid description of the great benefits provided by the GLC. Will he come to East London, to see the Trowbridge estate?
It will cost £15 million to put right, if it can ever be put right. People there are living in squalor and the Tory GLC is totally unconcerned and has reneged on all its promises to deal with their justifiable complaints.
§ Mr. Hunt
I am not familiar with that example. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not telling the House that that squalor has suddenly arisen over the last four years. I hope that he also directed his attention to the Ministers in his Government as, presumably, there was squalor at that time on that estate.
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
Did the turbid pages to which my hon. Friend referred contain any proposals to continue to remove the squalor which defaces the Soho area, and which the present GLC has done much to remedy?
§ Mr. Hunt
I can recall no reference at all to Soho in the Labour Party manifesto, whereas there is a substantial section in the Conservative Party manifesto dealing with pornography and the offence which it causes both to those who live in London and to those who visit it. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to that point.
The argument that I was trying to make was that the achievements of the GLC in improving the face of London have largely resulted from a partnership with private enterprise. On the other hand, the Labour Party always has a sour and negative approach to such schemes. Its manifesto urgesa fundamental rejection of the values inherent in capitalist production".I believe that on Thursday week there will be a fundamental rejection of the values inherent in Labour's election programme. It is a programme of higher spending and higher rates, and is totally irrelevant to the social and economic problems of London that are being highlighted in the debate. They can be overcome only by the blend of financial prudence and innovative expertise which have been the hallmark of the past four years at County Hall, and which, I hope, will be a feature of the next four as well.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)
Even though I am diametrically opposed to 99.9 per cent. of what the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) said, I hasten to congratulate him on two of the points that he made. He was sincere in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) on appearing at the Dispatch Box. We all know that no one knows more about London's problems than my hon. Friend both from his experience here and in Greater London. Most of us on the Labour Benches are also delighted to see him at the Dispatch Box. However, the hon. Gentleman was a little unfair to say that my hon. Friend had not dealt with the problems of the GLC. The hon. Gentleman highlighted transport, housing and employment, all of which my hon. Friend dealt with.
Secondly, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on reading the 164—as he called them—turbid pages. My only regret is that he seems to have learnt little from them. I advise closer study. I had a feeling that he was more 663 concerned with one word than with the contents of the 164 pages. The word "Socialist" on the cover was to him like a red rag to a bull—and I am not talking about the hon. Gentleman's girth.
§ Mr. John Hunt
I can live with Socialism. It is Marxism to which I object. The accent of the Labour manifesto goes far beyond Socialism. It is pure, unadulterated Marxism.
§ Mr. Pavitt
I regret that in a short debate I cannot enlighten the hon. Gentleman on either fundamental Socialist philosophy or Marxism, but at any time that he chooses I am willing further to educate him.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the bus factory, and in doing so entered my constituency. For 50 years double-decker buses were built in my constituency, at Park Royal. The factory closed last year because of management malfunction. British Leyland made a mess of things when it could not make up its mind whether it wanted Minis or buses. When it closed, the factory had just exported 400 buses to Baghdad and was making a profit of £3 million a year. Any bus company that can do that is a good investment for the ratepayers of London.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
My hon. Friend will recollect that our own AEC factory—latterly BL—at Southall produced world-renowned vehicles in conjunction with the Park Royal plant.
§ Mr. Pavitt
I acknowledge that. My hon. Friend and I both fought hard to keep the factories open. The management could not make up its mind. In order to rationalise, it opted for Southall at one moment and Park Royal the next. In the end, both factories closed, which was a calamity.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch, I wish to draw attention to the problems in my own constituency. We have two major difficulties that exacerbate each other. We have all the problems of a run-down, clapped-out inner city area, and we have the largest ethnic minority population in London. About 33 per cent. of my constituents originate from other parts of the Commonwealth. We have the pressures of poverty, unemployment, and so on, because of industries being run down, and the Government doing next to nothing to prevent unemployment, social degradation and personal humiliation of the worst kind being doled out to ethnic minorities in general and, in my constituency, the black population in particular. It is a key question to which the Government should address themselves when considering London.
The Government are failing to take the necessary constructive action. There is a need to develop neighbourhood co-operatives, which one of the most effective quangos—the Co-operative Development Agency—has been fostering in areas with large ethnic minority populations. The basic principle of neighbourhood co-operatives should not be outwith the philosophy of the Conservative or Labour Parties. Self-help and mutual aid, the twin pillars of co-operative democracy, need practical encouragement. The Government should put their money where their mouth is instead of bleating pious platitudes.
The Secretary of State for Employment has shown that his heart is still in the right place, even if at times his head 664 is led astray. However, the Government are taking no national action that will help create jobs in London, and my constituency in particular.
We need to bring communities alive and make them a joy to live in. The British Nationality Bill is a major disaster, especially for my area. The Government cannot see that the problem is not one of numbers and that we must undertake the practical work of integration.
With, for instance, an ethnic minority population in my constituency of 33 per cent., a few numbers more or less is irrelevant. The important thing is to establish one community, irrespective of race, colour or creed, joined together in community activities.
I pay tribute to my borough council for the work that it has done. We had the first community relations council, of which I was a founder member, as was the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet), when he was a candidate for Willesden, East. The council has been doing good work for 23 years, which has been possible only because the ratepayers were prepared for their money to be used to support it, instead of having various groups at loggerheads with all the ever more expensive consequences. I also pay tribute to the outstanding leadership of Councillor John Lebor, who has recently attracted attention from the media.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg)
Is that the Councillor Lebor who has not been reselected by the Left wing in the constituency?
§ Mr. Pavitt
Yes, but the matter is in abeyance, and I shall not wash my local dirty linen in front of the hon. Gentleman. I shall deal with the matter locally, as he may wish to do in Hampstead, though perhaps they do not have so much Tory dirty linen in Hampstead.
I wish to show what practical steps my local council has taken over the problem of ethnic minorities. In addition to the community relations council we have the Brent Indian Association. I had the honour of attending its opening some years ago. The association's total grant-aid in 1981–82 amounts to £36,000.
We also have the West Indian Women's Association, which will receive £41,000 in 1981–82 by way of urban aid and grants from Brent, and the Asian Community Development Centre, which will receive £34,000 capital grant and £37,450 revenue. Those are just some of a much longer list of practical support that the council has given to assist ethnic minority groups. Social services alone will be spending £133,000 revenue on groups that cater mainly for ethnic minorities. We are talking about 33⅓ per cent. of my voters. This is a large area. All these people have rights, and their problems must be looked at and solved by practical means.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
Does my hon. Friend not think that, quite apart from the Government's approach on the Nationality Bill, which we all deplore, it is particularly regrettable that the Prime Minister and the appropriate Ministers have not taken the opportunity to rebuke the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor) for the pernicious views that he expressed in suggesting that immigrants and their children should return home? Is it not right that virtually every member of the Government Party now present in the House could equally be convicted of the charge of conspiring with that hon. Member in the disgraceful campaign in which he is indulging?
§ Mr. Pavitt
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, I hope to see some disclaimers from the Conservative Party on that kind of policy. Had I had the opportunity during Question Time I was going to invite the Prime Minister to find time to address some 6,000 people in the Wembley Conference Centre, in my area, on the sincere convictions, I presume, that she was expressing today about the British Nationality Bill. I would like her to stand up and be counted in front of 6,000 from my community. I guarantee that the Prime Minister would have a full house if she would accept my invitation to come and explain her policy on the British Nationality Bill and listen to the problems with which my constituents are faced.
§ Mr. Mellor
The hon. Gentleman has raised the question of the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor). I utterly repudiate—as I have done throughout my time in politics—any idea that repatriation is the answer to the problem of race relations. I am critical of anyone, wherever he is in politics, who stands for that. I ask the hon. Gentleman one question. Is he as utterly condemnatory of those who are manipulating the democratic process in his constituency to oust the Labour leader by what seems to be an unprincipled campaign as I am of certain people in my party? Does he not agree that people like that are damaging to the Labour Party?
§ Mr. Pavitt
There are a whole lot of questions which it would not be my job to answer without going into all the details, and not just those that the media put forward. The hon. Gentleman does not live with the area, as I do, and he does not know the problem. All he knows is what he reads in the newspapers. When he has been in this place as long as I have he will not believe all that he reads in the newspapers. I would like to point out that as other Members wish to speak I shall not give way again.
I want to deal quickly with what has been done by Brent council on unemployment in my area. The Training Workshop has had 30 young people, 80 per cent. of whom are West Indian, and the number will shortly be increased to 50. The Kilburn Building and Training Co-operative currently has 12 trainees, 90 per cent. of whom are black. Kilburn Skills has 60 trainees, 80 per cent. of whom are black. The council has backed the Multi-Lingual Print Shop to the extent of £30,000 a year. During Question Time we discussed first-year apprenticeships. In 1980–81 the council has helped fund five first-year apprenticeships to the Kingsbury Engineering Group Training Association at a cost of £7,500. All the apprentices happen to have black skins. We have a very proud record of sponsoring the first study in the country into problems faced by black business men. I put this on the record because I am very proud of what has been done. I am pleased to be able to get on to the record, too, my affection and consideration for the work that Councillor John Lebor has done, over his 13 years on the council, in areas like this. His integrity and ability has given Brent a first-class leader.
Park Royal 20 years ago was a hive of industry—engineering and the lot. I have seen it run down, and it is now an industrial slum. I blame the Tory GLC for failing to carry out the agreement that was made by the Labour Administration in 1976 to pour £1 million into the infrastructure, mainly on road reorganisation, to attract more industry and fewer warehouses. The problem is not 666 so much in the numbers who are unemployed, although that is bad enough, as in the terrible mismatch where there is a large number of unemployed and a shortage of skilled engineers. This seems to be nonsense. The Government and the Manpower Services Commission ought to be doing something in depth about that problem, especially as it affects my constituency.
I expect that the hon. Member for Ravensbourne, who read the 164 pages of the Labour manifesto, also read that the Labour GLC will establish a new department, which will be able to go in depth on the way in which this mismatch should be dealt with. This means considering not just the number of jobs but the kind of jobs, and their location. Last week 81 school leavers in my constituency signed on the dole for the first time. Some months ago 112 also signed on, so 193 youngsters have gone straight from school to the dole. What kind of civilisation is that? Last year the total was only one-third of that. Out of the 81 going on the dole this week, at least 30 who were born in my constituency will themselves have parents born either in the Caribbean area or in India. When we look at this problem, which arises in various parts of London, we have to address our minds to the way in which we deal with the fundamental social difficulties rather than look at the surface, as has been done recently.
I wish to direct the attention of the House to another great problem in my area and many other London areas, namely, what is happening in primary medical care. In London there are 3,500 general practitioners, but the situation is approaching crisis point because many family doctors are nearing retirement. A survey in the North-East Thames area has shown that 12 per cent. are over 65. In my area the figure is 13 per cent. Inevitably, one cannot run down a service of this kind without some action. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), who is concerned about these matters, is no longer in his place.
Unless something is done by the DHSS to help the area health authorities, through national policies and public expenditure, the family doctor service is going to run down even further. In London 90 per cent. of general practitioners do not visit patients at night or at week ends. They use the three deputising services—Air Call, Medi-Call and London Locums. It is to be hoped that when we win the GLC election on 7 May some attention will be paid by the Greater London Council, in consultation with the British Medical Association and others, to what may be done for Londoners who no longer have the right to see their own family doctor during unsocial hours.
The problems with regard to doctors in Brent are that the basic conditions do not attract young doctors to set up their brass plates in Harlesden, Willesden or Kensal Rise. There is a housing problem, because one pays more and also has a job to find a house. The transport services on the North Circular Road or down the Edgware Road are impossible. The high mobility of the population also affects general practitioners. In my area there has been a change of about 20 per cent. over the last two years. The people do not move far—perhaps from Willesden to Paddington, or Paddington to Kensington—but in terms of general practice it creates a problem.
Brent has a good record in terms of the general practitioners' need for premises. We have constantly tried to make available in new developments a place for a group practice or a health centre. That has been a help. But how can the council help this situation, which is acute, with a 667 rate support grant that cuts down the whole of its expenditure to an impossible amount, and where the cuts do not permit this kind of thing?
In regard to the London ambulance service I wish to point out the need to expedite the current pay negotiations.
The answer to a parliamentary question that I asked yesterday showed that the weekly wage of a man who has served for 15 years as a police constable is £150 and that of a fireman £131. Fifteen years ago the police constable was earning £49, the fireman £57 and the ambulance man £56. This matter is causing a great deal of anxiety to ambulance men in London. I urge the Government to expedite the award which the Whitley Council has produced to give a fair deal to ambulance men in the London ambulance service.
London commuters are the most oppressed of all travellers in Great Britain. Wrong policies have produced astronomical fare rises coinciding with cuts in services and standards and deterioration in the way in which our stations and trains are manned and run. My particular problem is the Broad Street—Richmond line. I have been fighting for more than 15 years to keep the line open, and, thanks to the previous Labour administration at County Hall, it is still open.
To the average person who travels in London the division between British Rail and London Transport is absolute nonsense. These two watertight compartments never meet. The traveller is not concerned about whether the vehicle on which he is travelling is operated by British Rail or London Transport. I hope that the new Labour GLC will integrate bus and train services, providing through booking services and interchange, thereby encouraging people to make more use of the railways.
Last year Sir Peter parker introduced a successful experiment. He allowed grandparents to visit their families in all parts of the country for £1 a time. That experiment lasted six weeks, and in that time British Rail earned £1 million extra revenue. London Transport should decrease fares and increase services. With proper organisation more people would use the bus and rail service, and bumper-to-bumper congestion of cars on roads would be reduced. That is one reason why I, for one, will be active all next week until 7 May, in trying to secure the election of a Labour majority at County Hall.
§ Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) on his elevation to the Opposition Front Bench and on giving us the opportunity to speak on the economic and social problems of Greater London. It is an important matter which I wish we could discuss more frequently in the House. I shall not attempt to cover all aspects; I shall concentrate on a limited number of issues.
First, I wish to speak on the level of rates in London. Many London boroughs which have not been fortunate enough to be controlled by a Tory council, as mine has ever since the London Government Act 1963, cannot look forward to the same reduced rate levels. A number of my constituents conduct businesses in inner London where councils have adopted an entirely different view of their rate levels, and much higher rates become payable, to the 668 great distress of the unemployed who would like to find work in industry in inner London but cannot do so because industry has been turned away.
There has been introduced the new system of block grants. I fully support the Government's proposals for assessing the needs element. The old system whereby local authorities concocted their own needs and thereby had the right to dip into the taxpayers' purse was not fair and reasonable. However, I am concerned about the ability of councils in London to pay according to the rateable values of the properties in the capital.
My concern arises from the fact that rateable values were last reviewed many years ago and there are no proposals to revise the rateable value assessment in the near future, if ever. Consequently, as the years go by the situation will get worse. When rateable values were last reassessed they were calculated according to the notional rent applicable to the premises. The system has, to some extent, fallen into disrepute because there is so little rental evidence, particularly in the residential sector on an open market basis.
In industry and commerce rental levels are not constant throughout the country. Certainly in London they have been changing over the years. When the last rate revaluation took place the rest of the country was 30 per cent. behind in income terms. That figure has now narrowed to only 15 per cent., whereas rateable values in London are about 30 per cent. higher than they are in the rest of the country.
Whilst I do not sympathise with the Labour Administration's method of transferring funds from the shires to the city purely and simply for any benefit it might give to them through the electors there, I feel that there was a reason for doing something like that on the side of fairness. This matter must be looked at. If in the future we are not to have five-yearly revaluations for rating purposes as was originally intended we shall have to find some measure to redress the balance. Whether that means giving a special subsidy to London for that purpose, I leave to the Government, but the question must be considered in detail.
On several occasions recently I have tried to obtain a satisfactory answer from Ministers in correspondence on this issue, but I have not so far received a satisfactory reply. If my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), cannot give me an adequate answer today, I hope that he will consider the matter urgently and let me have something of comfort to tell my constituents. The new system worked out on the computer will give us a clearer idea about where needs arise, and it will be much easier for the electors to see which local authorities give good value for money and which do not. I hope that that will be reflected in the ballot boxes of the future.
I congratulate the GLC on what it is doing in housing. I know that Labour Members take a different view——
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the total house building figure for the GLC is 35 houses?
§ Mr. Thorne
I can confirm that since 1977 33,000 GLC families have become owner-occupiers in Greater London, and that, to my mind, is the most important point of all.
Throughout my professional life, during which I have spent a considerable time dealing with housing matters, I 669 have found that the ownership of property has two great side effects. One is that property owners are keen to improve their property for themselves and for the benefit of the nation. If Opposition Members do not believe that, they should look at the do-it-yourself business operations which at the moment are having an all-time boom. We should applaud the ability of people to improve their direct environment, and I want to see that extended in the future.
The second important aspect of home ownership arises from human nature, cynical as it may seem. When people grow old they are, on the whole, far less lonely when they have property to leave to their children than when they do not. I find far fewer cases of this among old people in owner-occupied accommodation than in council-owned accommodation. That is a fact of life. I believe that it is a definite advantage for the future for people to own their own property and to retain those links.
I did not intend to raise the subject of immigration. However, it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt), for whom I have great admiration and respect. I believe that, like me, he was born in my constituency, or at least lived there for many years. I compliment him on his good sense. However, I must point out that when I was out canvassing last week in connection with the GLC elections I found that the immigrants in my area, albeit less numerous than in the hon. Gentleman's constituency of Brent, South, welcomed the Government's British Nationality Bill for the simple reason that those in Ilford, South are anxious to get on the best possible terms with the indigenous population.
§ Mr. Pavitt
Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to address a meeting of immigrants in my constituency? I shall arrange one the moment he suggests it.
§ Mr. Thorne
I should be delighted to do so. I willingly accept the invitation. I have addressed many meetings of immigrants in my constituency. Indeed, I have addressed every such meeting to which I was invited with due notice and have extremely pleasant memories of all those meetings. If the hon. Gentleman is having difficulty in his constituency, I shall be delighted to help him out. My constituents are anxious that this matter should settle down. They do not see the Bill as discriminatory. Some of them expressed concern when colleagues at work gave them an entirely false impression of the aims and intentions of the Bill. I am pleased to say, however, that, their fears having been allayed, they believe, as I do, that it is in their own best long-term interests.
With regard to public transport, I consider it particularly stupid to suggest a reduction in fares at the expense of ratepayers. To penalise retired people, local workers and local business and commerce is at best unfortunate and at worst will lead to greater unemployment, because the rate level has a real effect on the level of business activity in a community. Many people seem not to appreciate this. Some seem to be born with the idea that all businesses make a profit. I hope that the events of the last few years have made it clear that that is not always the case. If it is not possible to make a profit, it is not possible to employ people.
To transfer yet further burdens on to the local community purely in pursuit of some political dogma is therefore entirely wrong. If the issue were only thought through, people would realise that it would merely increase the eventual value of property in the centre of the 670 city. By reducing the burden on the commuter in getting to the centre, offices and commercial undertakings in the centre are thus able to pay more in rent. The idea is therefore complete nonsense.
I believe, however, that the Government should consider more carefully giving tax allowances on season tickets. I was disappointed to see that under the Budget proposals season tickets provided by employers are to be taxed. I believe that this is one area in which positive assistance could be given to public transport. I therefore hope that the Government will be prepared to look at the matter again.
The running cost of public transport is mainly that of wages. Wages and salaries in London Transport are no exception, accounting for no less than 80 per cent. of the total running costs. I believe that the only way to get a viable public transport system in the centre of London is through a greater realisation by the unions as well as by management that they must encourage the gradual demanning of the operation. Certainly we must consider the speedy introduction of ticket dispensing and collection machines and single manning. I hope that we shall have the support of the trade unions on those matters.
On a recent trip abroad, I noticed that the penalty for loss or defacement of a railway ticket in Hong Kong was £60. That is a very heavy burden. Nevertheless, some penalty should be imposed on people who do not have a valid ticket to present at the end of their journey. I believe that there is a great deal of swindling at the expense of other public transport users by people who claim to have lost their tickets but who in fact joined the tam some distance down the line. I hope that that, too, will be considered.
With regard to roads, what would be the Labour Party proposals for road improvements if the community were unfortunate enough to find itself with a Labour-controlled GLC next month? Last year less than a penny rate—that is less than £19 million—was spent on the improvement of roads. Under the heading "Financing Labour's Programme", the Labour Party's manifesto says:The Tory empires that have been set up … to build urban motorways will be broken up and the staff redeployed. Capital will also be freed, particularly from the road programme".If that is the Labour Party's intention, it is very regrettable indeed. The manifesto continues:The Tory GLC has been quietly shifting resources back in favour of road building … We welcome the stand of the Labour group at County Hall which has opposed this policy shift … to proceed with schemes of this nature in a time of financial restraint and increasing oil costs is beyond understanding.The Labour Party further states:road traffic growth must be curbed".But nowhere does it say who are to be the second class citizens who will not be permitted to own and run cars, thus restricting the predicted traffic growth. Without adequate transport facilities and road services to businesses, employers cannot continue to employ their staff. It is ridiculous to put forward proposals of that kind. To suggest, on the one hand, that the Labour Party is worried about unemployment but, on the other hand, to make it as difficult as possible to carry on businesses and to create employment is typical of the way in which the Labour Party conducts its affairs.
I hope that the electorate will see the nonsense of those policies and will support Horace Cutler and the return of a Conservative GLC in the forthcoming elections.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
If I understood him correctly, the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) objected to the use of public money to subsidise London Transport. As London Transport's total costs are covered by public subsidy only as to about 30 per cent., while the Paris authority is covered as to about 70 per cent., he is making a far greater attack on the French method, and particularly on Mr. Chirac, the mayor of Paris, than on the London Labour Party. I do not know whether the hon. Member regards Mr. Chirac as a Marxist. If he does, Mr. Chirac would resent it probably even more than I would.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South congratulated the GLC on its housing policy. Since it has done nothing, the hon. Gentleman must have modest ideas about how many houses should be built. There is no doubt that Tory housing policy—and in particular the indiscriminate sale of council houses—has produced a housing situation in London that is worse than at any time since the war.
In Wandsworth, in particular, transfers and rehousing have slowed down to a level that is worse than any that I can remember since 1945. One can now offer little help to anyone who requires rehousing. Council houses in many parts of the borough, including a complete new estate in my constituency, are standing empty while the council vainly tries to sell them to people who cannot afford to buy them.
Semi-derelict houses, which urgently need repairs and are owned by housing trusts, are standing empty and deteriorating because the Government refuse to provide money to make them habitable. The record of the Tory GLC is bad. The hon. Member for Ilford, South attempted to compare it with that of the Labour GLC. In 1976, when the Labour Party was still in power at County Hall, the GLC rehoused 11,450 families. In 1980 the Tory GLC rehoused 2,870 families. The figures show clearly what has happened.
I do not know whether Government Members realise what present policies mean in human terms. I could describe hundreds of examples in my constituency, but I shall cite only one. The husband of an old lady in my constituency has been forced temporarily to live elsewhere because he is disabled and unable to climb the stairs to their flat. The old lady is frail. She is left alone. It is impossible to reunite husband and wife until they are rehoused. The old lady says in her letter to me:I have not been to bed for three years because of my nerves … I am under the hospital, but now I am getting pain in my side from sleeping on the settee. I am in a very bad way. You are the only person who can help me."—After months of asking, the council cannot make an offer because too many new and old council flats are being sold. That illustrates the real effect of the sale of council houses.
The policy is made even more squalid because the government are carrying it out not because of a motive connected with housing but because they believe that only owner-occupiers vote Tory. If that were not their motive, the Government and the Tory councils would make two conditions for the sale of council houses. First, they would say that they could be sold only to sitting council tenants and, secondly, that if they were resold they would have to be sold back to the council that owned them. I would support the sale of council houses on those two conditions. 672 I should be glad if sale without the conditions were made a criminal offence, because it causes more human suffering than anything except unemployment.
We are told by the Secretary of State that the GLC is to hand over a large stock of council homes to councils that do not want to buy them. They are doing that hastily, before the elections. The only effect will be to make it even harder for a poor or needy family to move from one part of London to another. The Prime Minister exhorts workers to be more mobile and to leave Wales or Scotland for London. However, present policies make it almost impossible for council tenants to move from one part of London to another.
One of my constituents recently took the Prime Minister's advice. He left Somerset and came to Battersea. He obtained a job with London Transport. When he and his family had to leave their temporary lodgings they were told by the Wandsworth council that they had made themselves intentionally homeless because the man had deliberately left Somerset—at the invitation of the Prime Minister. That is an interesting example of how mobility of labour works.
§ Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the motive behind the sale of council houses. Will he comment on the Labour Party's motive when Herbert Morrison caused massive council estates to be built throughout London?
§ Mr. Jay
My motive is a desire for people to be better housed.
I was encouraged when the Secretary of State said that there was to be a housing exchange or mobility scheme between London boroughs. May we have details tonight of how that will work, how applications should be made, and how the scheme can be pushed forward? Under the old scheme, transfers could take place only in exceedingly rare cases. How many families have been rehoused under the new scheme promoted by the Government? How many families were rehoused in any one year under the old scheme? Until such questions are answered I shall be extremely sceptical. I fear that the new transfer scheme will result in even less mobility within London.
§ Mr. Reginald Freeson (Brent, East)
Brent is one of the London boroughs under most pressure in terms of housing. Between 500 and 600 transfers from the district took place under the previous mobility scheme. Now, fewer than 100 transfers a year take place.
§ Mr. Jay
That confirms the impression that I have received from my constituency.
Until recently there was a children's library in my constituency, in the middle of a large group of council estates. It was popular with both black and white children, and young people used it for reading and school work in the afternoons and evenings. Many people were thankful that at least some facilities existed to keep young people off the streets and to give them an alternative to watching television.
The Wandsworth council decided to close the library in order to save a few hundred pounds a year. So incensed was the entire local community—both white and black, who were united at least on this issue—that it maintained a vigil protest, led by the local vicar, for many weeks. However, the council closed the library.
Is it surprising that there are idle young people on the streets when such policies are pursued? Can anyone doubt 673 that housing conditions and unemployment, caused by the policies of a Tory Government, the GLC and Tory-controlled borough councils, have contributed greatly to the events that took place in Brixton? Incidentally, it was not only black youths who rioted. Of course, there was more than one cause for those deplorable events. It is impossible to prove how much of the trouble was due to one particular cause. However, it is perverse to believe that if thousands of young men are left with nothing to do amidst ever worsening housing conditions, there will be no consequences for public order.
I wonder whether Conservative Members remember that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker)—made an impressive speech in the House only two years ago. He said that if we allowed unemployment to continue, even at the level of two years ago, public order would be threatened. Since then, unemployment has doubled. The right hon. Gentleman was right. His prediction has been fulfilled. It is the latest and greatest condemnation of the Government and of the housing and employment policies that have been followed during the past few years.
§ Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)
A debate on the economic and social problems of Greater London cannot ignore recent events in Brixton. Since my constituency lies within the borough of Lambeth, I have decided to comment on those events.
It would appear that the riot was not principally a racial one. We must all be thankful for that. If anything, it was a riot against authority and society and, principally, against the police. I must bring several charges. First, hostility to the police had been growing in the area for some time and owed much to a deliberate compaign over months, if not years, of anti-police indoctrination of the youth of Brixton, both black and white.
Secondly, those who are guilty of exploiting such youngsters are as morally guilty as those who attacked the police and looted and burnt down houses. Thirdly, some colleagues of Opposition Members must bear part of the guilt, particularly as some had positions of responsibility in the community. I shall substantiate that charge. For some time Lambeth—particularly Brixton—has been a centre for Left-wing organisations and organisations of the extreme Left, which have adopted the usual methods, namely, meetings, rallies, marches and the distribution of leaflets. Such organisations seem to have had a common purpose, namely, to stir up hostility towards our society and institutions, using the police as the whipping-boy.
I agree that there has been a strong police presence in the area, and particularly in Brixton. There is a high rate of crime in the area. However, the vast majority of citizens in Brixton are law-abiding and support the police. I agree that there is an unusual level of deprivation in the area. Whether that deprivation takes the form of housing or lack of jobs, the House deplores it. However, no level of deprivation can excuse what happened in Brixton. If any Opposition Member disagrees with that statement I shall gladly give way to him. The environment created a critical mass, such as can be found in other urban centres in England. The detonator was provided by Left-wing organisations which had been working towards that end for years.
I am surrounded by leaflets, which were picked up in Brixton and sent to me as a result of a question that I asked 674 in the House some weeks ago. Some are old leaflets and some are more recent, but they all have similar things to state. For example, the Caribbean Times states:Deptford…Police knew it was a bomb.In its review the Revolutionary Communist tendency states:Police out of Brixton.There is an inflammatory editorial inside that paper. The Socialist Worker carries one headline:Brixton: black and white unite to fight!The "Workers News" states:Bring them down … The working class response gathers strength.Here is an odd one: It is aJoint Statement: Gay Liberation South London Brixton Gay Housing Co-op.The statement is unsigned, as many such leaflets are, and is consequently illegal. It states:For the past five years the people of Brixton have been the victims of constant police harassment. We unconditionally support the initiative.The "New Cross Massacre Inquest" states:We know the police will try to cover up the real truth. We know from previous experience not to trust the police investigation … Despite their efforts the police have been unable to come up with a black scapegoat.A leaflet entitled "Brixton—The Communist View" states:The uprising against police oppression that took place in Brixton has brought forth many explanations.The Workers News Group uses the headline "Lessons from Brixton". It continues:The spontaneous uprising of the people of Brixton against the intensified police harassment …Even the Council for Community Relations in Lambeth issued a press release——
§ Mr. Shelton
I said "even" because the CRR is partly funded by Lambeth council. It states:CCRL sees the events of last weekend as the inevitable result of long standing and consistently provocative policing policies … the weekend's violence was the only way people could express legitimate resentment at persistent injustice.All hon. Members will surely disagree with such a shameful statement. The "Brixton Socialist Worker Bulletin" states:Frontline news … No one wants rioting, if there is an alternative. But for many people in this area … there is no alternative.A leaflet entitled "Brixton Socialist Workers' Party Public Meeting" states:It was a magnificent way for Brixton to fight back.I have many more pamphlets, all of which were found in Brixton. Many are given only to coloured youngsters and are often given by white men. Opposition Members may ask what all that has to do with the Labour Party. 'The headline in a leaflet headed "Labour Party Young Socialists" makes the following demand: "Defend Brixton". There is a photograph of Brixton burning. It continues:Brixton has erupted with an explosion of pent-up anger. It was provoked by a massive police presence … Responsibility for what happened lies squarely on the shoulders of the police".Among its demands are the immediate release of those arrested, the dropping of all charges, the disbandment of the Special Patrol Group and democratic control of the police.
I had expected the hon. Member for Lambeth. Central (Mr. Tilley) to be in the Chamber during a debate on Lambeth. If he had been here I would have told him——
§ Mr. Shelton
I withdraw my implied criticism. I shall tell the hon. Gentleman of my remarks. The "Labour Party Young Socialists" leaflet was published in connection with a meeting at which the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central was to speak.
§ Mr. Shelton
I am delighted to hear that. If the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central spoke at the meeting, I am sure that he would have said the same. I have no way of knowing what he said. However, his name appears on a leaflet so I presume he must have seen it. I should not allow my name to appear on a leaflet for a meeting at which I was to speak if I had not seen it beforehand.
I return to the subject of the Labour Party's involvement. The working party report on community police relations in Lambeth was commissioned by the Labour-controlled Lambeth council.
I have referred to that before in the House. The first chapter is headed "Army of Occupation". The subheadings include "Intimidation", "Arbitrary arrests", "Misuse of laws", "Continual harassment", and so on. It is a disgraceful report. It was sponsored by the Labour Party through the Lambeth Council. It costs £4. It did not have a wide circulation, but the best parts of it were published in the "Lambeth Local" the borough news sheet, which goes to every home. So the excerpts from that disgraceful report were widely circulated throughout the constituency before the riots in Brixton.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
Did not that report have the support of a Conservative councillor, who subscribed his name to it?
§ Mr. Shelton
The hon. Gentleman is correct. A Conservative councillor signed the report. I do not withdraw my remarks about it being a disgraceful report. I am sure that he bitterly regrets having signed it.
The report is not the only direct involvement of Lambeth council in the events to which I have referred. For example, I wonder whether the House knows that £62,000 of ratepayers' and, ironically, taxpayers' money through the inner city partnership scheme goes to the Union Place resource centre, which is for the use of the community. A list of organisations sponsored by the ratepayer and taxpayer through the Labour-controlled Lambeth council reads as though they had escaped from the pages from Peter Simple. Examples are Red Therapy, Gay Teachers,—hon. Gentlemen will find leaflets and posters at the centre for these interesting and bizarre organisations—Rock Against Sexism, Advisory Service for Squatters and the Brixton Ad-Hoc Committee Against Police Repression. At least the last, in my use of language, would be an organisation directed to subverting the society in which we live. I draw the attention of the Opposition to the £18,000 of ratepayers' and taxpayers' money that 676 goes to the collective bookshop funded through Lambeth council, which provides information on the Revolutionary Marxist Tendency, the Communist Party, and many of the same ilk.
When the leader of Lambeth council, Councillor Ted Knight, was questioned about that, his reply was:We have responsibility to improve the quality of life in all directions".His role as Labour leader of Lambeth council is interesting. The Guardian on 21 April quoted him as saying:Lambeth is now under an army of occupation"—a phrase that we have heard before—and the situation is, as days proceed, that steps are being taken by the police to step up the same apparatus of surveillance as one sees in concentration camps".That man is the official Labour GLC candidate for Norwood and was the Labour Party candidate for Hornsey in the last election. I am glad to say that he was defeated. He and his Labour colleagues are good at only two things—bankrupting the borough and stirring up social discord.
Lambeth's initiative was for a specific purpose, towards local control of the police—what it calls a more democratic control of the police. I have another quotation about Councillor Knight from The Guardian report of the same meeting.He called for the police to be entirely withdrawn from Brixton and for the force to be disbanded and replaced by an organisation answerable to the working class people.The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) may laugh, but these are his Labour Party colleagues in positions of responsibility in the community, standing for election in a few weeks' time for an important position in the Greater London Council. That is not a laughing matter. The conclusion of the report on police and community relations states:This situation is created by the nature of the police force … At the moment the police are not controlled by the community or seen as part of it.There is a tendency for the Left wing to believe that the police should come under local council control. The Opposition may say that that is peculiar only to Lambeth, and that it is a bizarre aberration. I remind them, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt), that the 1981 GLC Labour manifesto says:A Labour controlled GLC will invite boroughs to join in establishing a Police Committee to monitor the work of the Police Force as a prelude to it gaining power to control the Police.The vast majority of people in London and in the British Isles would profoundly reject that ambition. I believe that it is dangerous, damaging and sinister.
§ Mr. Shelton
The right hon. Gentleman must know that the London police perform a national function. I remind him that what I said is true. Such a proposal would be rejected by the people of London.
In conclusion, I make two points. First, I urge the youth of the borough in which my constituency lies, and elsewhere, not to allow themselves to be exploited by fringe Left-wing groups or to be misled by councils such 677 as Lambeth. Secondly, I warn the people of London that economic bankruptcy and social discord will tend to spread London-wide if Labour wins the GLC elections.
§ Mr. John Grant (Islington, Central)
I shall not attempt to follow the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) in his detailed survey of what happened in Brixton, according to him. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) will say something about that. However, I shall say something about race relations during my speech. I shall be brief, as many other hon. Members wish to speak. The problems of London as a whole have been admirably covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). I shall add a few comments to his remarks on the overall scene.
It has long been my belief—I have expressed it both in the House and outside over many years—that the problems of London have, by and large, been neglected by successive Governments. However, the Labour Government made something of a breakthrough, for London had more recognition than ever before and we were making real, albeit halting, progress. Now there is no progress, halting or halted. Under the Conservative Government and the Conservative-controlled GLC London has been moving steadily backwards. The problems of the inner city were beginning to be imaginatively dealt with by a Labour Government and a Labour-controlled GLC, but that deprivation is now being intensified.
London is a capital city in crisis. The grave unemployment figures, the crippled essential services, both voluntary and statutory, soaring rents and rates and the inadequate, unreliable and ultra-expensive public transport system all bear witness to that. I wonder whether the Government and the GLC can point to a worthwhile advance in any area in recent months. The truth is the reverse. I am sure that the combination of a Tory Government and a Tory GLC will be short-lived. One is led by a would-be empress and the other by a clapped-out impresario. Every time his name was mentioned it brought forth mirth from the Conservative Benches. That combination has been an utter disaster for London.
I want to refer to three problems of particular concern in my constituency. The first concerns road transport and heavy lorries. The second problem is housing. After that, I should like to spend a little more time dealing with employment.
I do not imagine that any hon. Member will deny that London has an appalling road system, and that that is partly for historical reasons. But the resources to tackle the problem are now being denied, whether by central Government or by the GLC. Indeed, one of the Tory GLC spokesmen recently admitted that no more than piecemeal improvements to the London road system can be managed. Despite that, some things can be done without major spending.
§ Mr. Grant
The hon. Gentleman has read the manifesto, and I assume that it will be carried out when Labour takes over County Hall. I was about to say that a number of things can be done without major spending, and certainly without significant increased spending, in the public sector. I welcome the announcement by the GLC opposition leader that if Labour is returned to County Hall next week, there will be a special public inquiry into the possibility of a ban on heavy lorries in London.
I know that real practical difficulties—certainly economic difficulties—would arise if such a policy were carried out. There would be howls of protest from the various road interests. I have heard some of those howls in the past when I have trodden on their toes, and I would not wish to raise false hopes about what might be done. But the Armitage report picked out the Holloway Road, which runs through the middle of my constituency, as suffering effects from heavy lorries that are "severe and all-pervasive". That was in relation to the effect of lorries on the health of my constituents and all the other problems of stress, noise, fumes, vibration and intrusion.
The plight of those living on the feeder roads in my constituency—the new North Road, Canonbury Road, St. Paul's Road, Balls Pond Road—is, if anything, a good deal worse than that of those living on the main road. I have already told the Secretary of State for Transport that I shall strongly oppose the. Armitage proposals for an increase in the permitted weight of heavy lorries if they are pursued.
My local authority would favour an inner London ban on juggernauts as part of a package of remedial measures. Even when the closure of a road is sought, it has usually been sought by the GLC, and sometimes by the emergency services. It has to be said that the GLC has done very little to work jointly with the boroughs to establish an agreed secondary road network.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
From the point of view of a balanced GLC, I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not advocating favoured treatment in this respect for inner London as against outer London. We shall take a serious view in outer London constituencies if he is.
§ Mr. Grant
I am trying to equalise the treatment. I am trying to gain some relief for my constituents who suffer dreadfully from the juggernaut scourge. The Armitage report acknowledges that ours is one of the worst affected areas. If I had more time, I could mention several useful measures that could be introduced. If the inquiry that is promised can bring some relief to my long-suffering constituents, in one of the places in Britain worst afflicted by juggernauts, it will earn my full support and that of the people of Islington.
As a result of the cuts in rate support grant, Islington has lost about £16½ million, or 34.7 per cent in real terms. That is a dreadful blow to our local authority, as it would be to any local authority. The Government's assessment of our borough's spending needs is set at the ridiculously low figure of £48 million. That is a shortfall of £20 million on our needs.
Our borough's housing difficulties are among the worst in inner London. We have lost about £2 million in Government subsidies on the revenue side, and our housing investment allocation has been cut by £13 million. That is a real cut of one-third. Although the Council is 679 managing to increase spending on rehabilitation and on action on the older estates, which are greatly in need of attention, there has had to be a major cutback on new building and on grants to housing associations, and it will go on. Our housing waiting list is continuing to rise, and one has to ask where the people who are joining that list are to be housed.
What are we to say to people who come to our constituency advice bureau to ask about their housing problems? Homelessness is growing. Thousands of families in my constituency now live in adverse conditions, without the basic amenities, largely in private tenancies. The Government have now condemned them to go on living in those conditions indefinitely.
I acknowledge that the problem is not new—I have raised it in this House and outside over the years—but the previous Labour Government were beginning to overcome it. There was hope for young couples, and for older people seeking transfers and rehousing. That hope is fast disappearing as the Secretary of State for the Environment clamps down and punishes Londoners as though he has to demonstrate his political virility at their expense—perhaps for the benefit of the next Tory Party conference.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), who has left the Chamber, told us what the GLC are doing to help. He congratulated the GLC. We had to rely on the figures fed to him from the Opposition Benches. The GLC openly brags that it has destroyed the house building programme of its predecessor; that is a proud record to have to take to the electorate on 7 May. Yet, at the same time, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) said, the Prime Minister has been urging unemployed people to come to London for jobs.
§ Mr. Grant
At least, she was urging them to come to London for jobs; she has kept rather quiet about it lately. Perhaps she has learnt her lesson. If she has, she would do well to show the courage for which she is so often praised by her supporters, and tell the House that she was wrong and that she misled people. I tell people that if they come searching for jobs they will not find anywhere to live in my constituency. I also add that they will be very lucky to find a job.
We know that there has been a huge rise in unemployment throughout Greater London since the last general election. The previous Labour Government gave Islington partnership status, along with Hackney, and when the inner city strategy for the partnership area was drawn up—I was involved in it as a member of the Government—it was stated:The objective should be to reduce resident unemployment to at least the then Greater London average by the end of 1982. Thereafter attempt to maintain an economic structure for the area which provides a reasonable supply of job opportunities".The Conservative Government have urged the continuation of that strategy and have endorsed it, but we have to examine what has happened to employment in the borough under that Government. I do not want to get involved in a league table. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch mentioned the figures for Hackney. Our figures are a good deal worse. In May 1979, in Islington 7,478 people were out of work. This April, the figure stands at the record level of 12,778. That 680 is a massive increase. It means that the borough has about 15 per cent. unemployment. Our unfilled vacancies stood at 1,936 in May 1979. They have now plunged to 527. About 24 people are chasing every job opening. The gap between Islington at about 15 per cent. and Greater London as a whole at 6.8 per cent., is alarming, and there is no hope of meeting the objectives of the partnership strategy that the Government have endorsed.
I can do no better than quote to the House from the annual report of the Islington employment committee, which has only recently been published. That committee does not consist solely of members of the council. It includes representatives of local trade unions and the Chamber of—Commerce, and Members of Parliament also take part in its work. The report says:In our annual report to council last year we were able to show steady progress being made in halting the decline in firms and job opportunities in the area. We were able to see the results of three years of concerted action which involved a combination of measures—the provision of new or rehabilitated industrial and commercial accommodation by the council; the progress of major industrial and commercial developments involving the private sector; special advisory services to help businesses remain and expand; special financial assistance to firms, and, wherever possible, the creation of a climate to encourage firms to stay and invest in the borough. All this had contributed to avoiding job loss and to creating new opportunities. Shortly after our report last year the position began to change dramatically. The Government's harsh economic policies combined with a general national recession bit deeply into Islington's fragile economic base. Reports began to reach the council of closures, or threatened closures, of short time working and a general trimming of workforces as many of the remaining local firms tightened their belts in an attempt to ride out the worst of the recession. It is depressing to have to report that Islington's current unemployment problems compare with many areas of the North-West, the North-East and Wales".
§ Mr. Grant
I shall deal with that matter in a moment. Having read those remarks to the House, I wonder how Conservative Members can talk of genuine progress and expansion in what I can only describe as a climate of depression and despair in London. We are force to spend our time and energy bolstering up various special measures to try to tide things over instead of dealing with the real problems of unemployment, particularly structural unemployment, in London.
I should like to say a few words about youth unemployment and ethnic minority unemployment, partly because my constituency, like Brixton, has suffered seriously in recent times from riotous behaviour. My constituency includes a large area of Finsbury Park and a sizeable part of the Seven Sisters Road. We were hit by what I can only describe as mindless vandalism and hooliganism after the recent FA Cup semi-final at Highbury and within days by more serious rioting on Easter Monday.
I do not want to draw too direct a comparison with Brixton, but the Prime Minister's offhand dismissal of the social causes—that is how it came across to me—including youth unemployment in Brixton, was another example of her truculent insensitivity. What happened at Finsbury Park was somewhat different. I am inclined to share the view of the police commander, who was despicably attacked from behind, that it was a general protest against society rather than against the police.
681 There have been generally good race relations in Islington during the time I have represented my constituency. It has not been trouble-free, but has been relatively peaceful. I cannot excuse what happened on Easter Monday. It has to be realised that the alienation of young people generally and young blacks in particular is in danger of becoming a sustained and growing symptom of our times. All those in public life, community organisations and especially parents have to work twice as hard to prevent this temporary madness from becoming a regular occurrence. The real commitment of both resources and will must come from the Government. It is not there.
If the Prime Minister wants to help, she could start with a belated but nevertheless firm and unequivocal declaration of her commitment to a multiracial society and a renunciation of the racist views that are emerging inside her party more clearly now than ever before. She ducked the issue at Question Time. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) has referred to one hon. Member whose views fit what I have been saying. The right hon. Lady should reject the patronising approval of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). She seems significantly to avoid doing so. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) has argued, the right hon. Lady would do well to drop the guillotine on the British Nationality Bill. There is a large ethnic minority community in my constituency. Like my hon. Friend, I find that many of them are dismayed and anxious and that they fear the consequences of that legislation. If debate is curtailed, their anxiety and fears will be heightened.
I believe both sides of the House will join me in condemning the cowardly attack on my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) last night in Swanley. It was the action of thugs and extremists. I can speak with feeling because only a fortnight ago I addressed a meeting on the same platform at Swanley. I was told at the time of the fears that existed and that the local Labour Party offices had been vandalised by extremists.
I should like to return briefly to the employment scene in Islington and to mention a positive range of local assistance to firms to try to help ease the situation. The latest effort was a successful trade and industry exhibition organised in conjunction with Hackney. The council's employment programme activities are funded almost entirely through partnership. Much of the effort is at the margin. Government economic policy is the key. While partnership funding is helpful, the Government have turned the screw viciously at local level, especially through the rate support grant.
Islington has levied one of the lowest commercial rate rises of any metropolitan authority this year. This also applies to the domestic rate rise. There has, of course, been great agonising. The decision was aimed partly at helping to prevent still more closures and redundancies with consequent increased unemployment. Whatever the efforts of local authorities, employers and trade unionists, the grim truth is that London is now as vulnerable as the rest of the country to this Government's callous and failed economic approach. Every statistic—we have 2½million unemployed—and every forecast, certainly every independent forecast, proves that it is only the Prime Minister and her blinkered supporters who choose to ignore the facts.
I still believe that we have the greatest capital city in the world. We have it despite the efforts of this 682 Government, and their GLC lapdogs who will only control County Hall, we hope, for another week. Sir Horace Cutler and his colleagues are, I believe, not unwilling scapegoats for the Prime Minister. They back her disastrous policies all the way. They have applied them in London wherever they could, irrespective of the damage. If we cannot get rid of the Government just yet, Londoners can give a clear lead on 7 May and can show by cleaning up at County Hall what will happen as soon as the whole nation gets a chance to ring the changes.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Paddington)
I am glad to take part in this debate on London because of its importance for its people and for the future of our capital, about which all hon. Members care deeply. I wish to follow the theme developed by the hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant) and also by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton). We are discussing the future of the capital of our country. We are talking about Greater London. An evil and malicious force will take London unawares at the GLC election on 7 May unless the electorate of London can be made to understand the seriousness of the threat that now faces them. One need only to look at the policies of some of the Labour candidates to realise that I am not being alarmist in calling them Marxists. The official Labour GLC candidate in my constituency, who could well lead a Labour-controlled GLC, has publicly sponsored policies of the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory. I should like to quote some of these policies to the House.
§ Mr. Wheeler
The organisation says:Make the bosses pay, not the working class, millions for hospitals, not a penny for defence …Nationalise the banks and financial institutions without compensation …The capitalist police are an enemy of the working class …Support all demands to weaken them as the bosses' striking force …All firms threatening closure should be nationalised under workers control …Scrap all immigration controls.It is astonishing that a party that claims to be able to provide an alternative Government for this country, let alone the alternative controlling party at County Hall, can include within its ranks men who are ignorant of the aspirations of ordinary people and who are intent upon breeding class hatred within our society. It is sad that constituency Labour parties have consistently dropped so-called "moderates" in favour of these Left-wingers. Sir Reginald Goodwin, a much-respected figure in London public life and a former leader of the GLC, who gave. 40 years' service to his party, is just one such example.
There are now Left-wing candidates in 30 of the 45 GLC seats which Labour either holds or stands a chance of winning in the GLC election next week. The constituency Labour parties plan to tighten their control still further if their candidates are elected. In Hampstead, for example, Labour councillors now provide the party management committee with written minutes and voting details from Camden council meetings. No doubt that will be required of Labour councillors on a future GLC.
We have the evidence of the record of the Left when in control. We have seen what happens when Left-wingers get power. The extreme Left controls the Inner London 683 Education Authority, and almost everyone knows about the extravagances and inefficient expenditure of that authority. I need only remind the House that the ILEA is apparently planning next year to spend much the same as it did in 1978–79, although between 1978–79 and 1981–82 its pupil numbers will have fallen by about 13 per cent. In 1981–82 the ILEA will cost London ratepayers about £700 million. That is an increase of £105 million over last year, despite the fall in school rolls. The ILEA accounts for 51 per cent. of the rates raised in my council district, the city of Westminster. The council apologises in a letter to each ratepayer for the ILEA's unchecked extravagance, over which it has no control.
In practice, in London, "ratepayer" increasingly means London business, which now contributes, in Westminster, about 87 per cent. of the money raised by my local authority.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of education, will he make it clear that he and his party are asking for a major cut in spending on education with a resulting lower level of education in the capital inner area, which has a good reputation throughout the world?
§ Mr. Wheeler
It is not a question of the money that is spent by the ILEA, but of the quality of education. Is it not a scandal that many young people leave ILEA schools unable to read or write, and are thus unable to get jobs in our capital?
High rates have inevitably become a material factor in management decision-making today, and not only in terms of cash flow and biting into profits. Businesses now have to cut down the number of their employees to pay the rates. I have been in correspondence with a large store in my constituency. The director writes:The rate increase in excess of 20 per cent. is not reflected in the sales increases.Consequently, he says, it will be necessary to look at the "viability of the business" and decide whether it can continue. In other words, perhaps for the first time in many years rates are now beginning to determine whether business will survive in London.
§ Mr. Nicholas Scott (Chelsea)
Even where business survives it may have to cut down the staff that it employs. I, too, received a letter, in this case from what is normally regarded as a well-known Knightsbridge store in my constituency, where the rates have gone up by 41 per cent. The store says that the only way in which it can cover the extra cost is to cut down the staff that it employs and thus get further into the vicious circle of declining employment in central London.
§ Mr. Wheeler
My hon. Friend is right. Every £5,000 increase in rates to London business results in the loss of another job. The Labour Party talks about increasing job opportunities in London, yet at the same time its programme for the GLC demands a tremendous increase in the rates burden, which inevitably will be paid by the business sector.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
Is it not true that the store to which the hon. Gentleman referred is in an area that is run by a Conservative council that has 684 put up its rates by 52.6 per cent? Is that not a condemnation of the Secretary of State's rate support grant settlement?
§ Mr. Wheeler
I cannot account for the 52 per cent., but, as the hon. Gentleman will hear in a moment, the city of Westminster has little control over the amount of money raised in rates within its district. I shall perhaps be able to give the hon. Gentleman some useful information.
The burden of the rates hits not only big business, but small business, too. London used to be the haven of the small business, but how many can now survive? A small business in my constituency faces a rate increase of £111 for a typical corner shop. The rates will now be £595, as against £483. The ever-increasing rates burden, whether on big business or small business, guarantees that fewer jobs will be available and that the services enjoyed by the people of London will be diminished accordingly. More and more businesses are having to move out of central London. It is not surprising that the Location of Offices Bureau became redundant when Labour last controlled the GLC. In fact, the rates were doing the job for it.
Far from creating jobs, the ILEA, for example, is destroying employment in London. The last Labour GLC, in 1973–77, proved incapable of looking after public money. It increased the GLC rate precept by 235 per cent. and doubled fares on London Transport two years after promising free fares. If the Labour Party gains control again, the cost will be still greater. In transport, the proposal is to build a fully publicly owned, purpose-built, loss-making bus factory, at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds. Labour also plans a 25 per cent. reduction on London Transport, costing about £130 million per annum. In housing, Labour is planning a massive council house building programme, together with a freezing of council house rents at a cost of £300 million per annum. And so the list goes on.
Who pays? The Labour Party has given little thought to how much those policies will cost, because it does not envisage ever having to pay for them. The policy in Labour's manifesto is quite simple. The Labour Party will run up enormous overdrafts, and if a Labour Government come to power they will nationalise the banks and cancel local authority debts without compensation. If that happens it will be goodbye to sterling and to our ability to survive and trade in a free world.
Back in the real world, Labour's planned supplementary rate demand of 6p to 8p in the pound in October will be a mere drop in the ocean, even though it will cost the city of Westminster £15 million. The real cost of Labour's programmes is likely to triple or quadruple London's rates bill and have catastrophic effects on London businesses. Public spending programmes must be paid for, and under a Labour GLC the price will be the jobs of the people who are creating the nation's wealth.
It is not surprising that the extreme Left is making such a determined effort at the forthcoming GLC elections. As a rule, a general feeling of apathy surrounds local authority elections. A large part of the GLC's expenditure is paid for by people without votes—the London businesses.
One large store in the city of Westminster now pays a rates bill of £1,351,000. This year that will increase by £311,000. People fail to understand that the price of the goods in that store will bear the price of the rates charged. Everyone pays rates, including those who receive a rate rebate.
685 Of the £300 million raised in rates in the city of Westminster, about 16 per cent. is spent by the city itself. That is the amount of money that the elected councillors can control. A massive 51 per cent. is precepted by the ILEA. The GLC precepts about 20 per cent. and the Metropolitan Police about 13 per cent. The rates burden in London now impinges severely on the future of business and the well-being of domestic residents, many of whom find that they can no longer afford to live in their flats and houses. That is the question that must be decided at the GLC elections on 7 May. Whatever promises and plans are made, there will be a cost that will rapidly rebound upon ordinary people in London.
§ 6.4 pm
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
The hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) has just advanced the argument that rates in London are far too high. One cannot lightly contemplate a continued increase in rates at the levels that we have seen in both Labour and Conservative authority areas. Some hon. Members have slagged Lambeth, yet the rates there are going up by only 37 per cent. compared with much higher figures in some Conservative-controlled boroughs. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman does not succeed when he tries to make a political point on that issue.
The hon. Gentleman suggests that the rates are far too high and that if people vote Conservative in the forthcoming GLC elections they will somehow be reduced. However, political control by the town halls has not had that effect on London rates. The cause has been Government policies which have shifted taxation from income tax, particularly from the richest section that is able to pay, to the individuals who live in our boroughs. The Government have transferred that tax burden in a regressive manner. That is what the hon. Gentleman is rightly complaining about, and all of us join him in making that complaint.
Some years ago, when I was concerned with race relations and employment, I visited Atlanta, Washington, and New York. I saw what I thought in British terms was a vision of hell. I knew that if we did not get the right policies for employment, housing and race relations, the sort of conflagrations that I saw in Washington in particular, and the lawlessness that I saw in New York, might be visited upon London. I always hoped that I was too pessimistic, but now I am not so sure.
London is one of the richest and most pleasant capital cities in the world. At the same time, it is at its lowest ebb in many areas. As a Londoner born and bred, I am sorry to say that. Lambeth is an area where London is at its lowest ebb in terms of unemployment, social tension, crime and poor housing. I suppose that the effect is worse in London because many areas are rich, privileged and successful, and it is that very constrast which makes for a greater degree of social tension.
People coming from the North of England often ask "What do you have to complain about? Our unemployment is higher". That may be so, but it is higher in a homogeneous community. In many areas of London, the problem lies in the contrast between wealth and poverty, opportunity and total deprivation. Racial and class distinctions make the problem even more acute.
A sense of social deprivation and discrimination has created the problems recently faced in Lambeth and in my constituency. There have been many warnings that what 686 happened in Brixton would occur. Such a warning was given in a survey of relations between the police and the community in Lambeth. Many other people have given a similar warning, including the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We have been accused of being melodramatic and guilty of exaggeration. Such warnings have been regarded with scepticism. In future, if such a warning is given, it will not be scepticism if it is disregarded; it will be utter recklessness.
Some people, such is the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton), have theories about how the Brixton riot broke out. The hon. Gentleman's theory is that a number of groups, which between them could hardly muster 200 votes in a parliamentary election, were able to instigate a riot. However, many of those people came on to the scene after the event and not before it. A more acceptable theory is that this is the hard end of monetarism and the Government's social and economic policies, and that it is a consequence of the deep distrust which, unfortunately, has been breeding for many years in our inner cities.
I found the events in Brixton quite shattering. Indeed, I can immediately discount the idea that the riot began because of political motivation. I was holding my advice bureau on a Friday evening when it started, and it may be instructive if I relate what happened. A black man stabbed another just outside my advice bureau. The injured man was taken to a car by the police. I am not sure of the exact facts, but I think that he was being questioned. A number of black people on the street alleged that he was being held for too long, that he had been stabbed in the heart and that his life was at risk. Someone tried to seize the man from the police, and a mini riot broke out. Indeed, that night, I went back to my party headquarters and said "We have just had a mini Bristol". Little was I to know what would happen the next day.
However, about 200 yards up Railton Road, the story was that a man had been stabbed in the heart and that he had died as a result of police brutality and their failure to allow him to go to hospital. That story was not true, yet that is how it had changed within that short distance. That illustrates the way in which people are prepared to believe such stories and distrust the police. The riot broke out the next day because of a similar incident.
I found the events shattering. One street in my constituency looked like a scene from "Gone with the Wind"—the street was burning, a fire engine had been hijacked and there was not a policeman, ambulance or fireman in sight. White people—not black—were looting. I took someone who was lying on the pavement to hospital and returned to see what I could do to help. I had never seen anything like it in my life.
That is the dramatic side. Let us consider some of the causes and see whether the Government can reverse their ways and do something constructive. That sort of outbreak is indulged in by only a tiny minority of the local population. That is beyond dispute. No matter their colour, class or race, the majority were shocked and scandalised by the events. However, the truth must be told. I recognise that there was a slight tinge of pride, exhilaration and satisfaction in the fact that somehow the community had hit back. That very unhealthy pride was present among a small number of people. It would be wrong to deny that that feeling was present the next day also.
I do not intend to apportion blame, because the inquiry will do that, but such events could happen elsewhere, and 687 a prime cause is the profound distrust and disaffection between a few black youths and the police. It is no use continually saying that the distrust and disaffection are unjustified. That will not get anybody anywhere. The hon. Member for Streatham knows that. He knows of black people who have been arrested for imputed harassment of the police. He accompanied me to the local police station to express concern about the relationship between the local community and the police.
§ Mr. John Hunt
We are listening with great interest to the hon. Gentleman's account of the terrible events. Can he throw any light on the reason for the suspension of the police liaison committee in Lambeth? Why has it not been reconstituted? It would be a vehicle to rebuild mutual respect between the community and the police. Can he give the House any background information on that issue?
§ Mr. Fraser
The liaison committee was suspended because the police arrested three men from the community relations office in Brixton, took them to Brixton police station and questioned them for a long time. They were released without any charge being levelled against them. On that day the local police community relations officer was not consulted or involved in the exercise. It was an insensitive action. Normally, the police would question people in their offices and ask for their co-operation.
The sort of incident that caused the breakdown of the liaison committee has happened time and again. I have seen mini riots breaking out in Railton Road time beyond number. I remember one riot happening because a Nigerian diplomat was arrested for a parking offence. On another occasion a black man carrying a parcel was stopped in the road and asked to open it on the spot. He did not want to do that because he was afraid of being robbed. He wanted to go to his shop a few yards away and allow the police to examine the parcel there. The position was handled with misunderstanding and a lack of sensitivity, and in no time at all a mini riot had broken out. That sort of incident happens time and again. The difference in the recent riot was that it was on a larger scale and bombs were thrown—but the seeds had been there for a long time. It is no good pretending otherwise than that the deep distrust and disaffection between young blacks and the police is at the root of the trouble. It is no good justifying one side or the other. What people believe to be true has consequences that are true.
§ Mr. William Shelton
I am also listening with great interest and a great deal of understanding to the hon. Gentleman. Will he comment on my allegations that there are groups within the community whose objective appears to be to increase the distrust?
§ Mr. Fraser
We are mature people and it should not surprise us that groups inside the community see the possibility of gaining some advantage. The hon. Gentleman's remarks about Ted Knight talking about a police withdrawal were untrue. I questioned people who were present at the meeting and a denial has been sent to The Guardian. Let us hear no more about that.
I want to return to the facts that lie behind the events and to the millions of pounds worth of damage that flowed from them. What can be done? The Home Office and the 688 Metropolitan Police must stop trying to justify their actions. I do not say that in a vindictive or attacking manner. They must recognise the deep disaffection that exists. That must be the starting point. Practical steps must be taken to rebuild trust between the local police and the community.
Relations between the local unit beat policeman in that most difficult area and the local population remain excellent. Often the problem is imputed to young CID officers and other policemen who do not know the area. Unit patrols should be established in the small area where the riot began. We need three, four or even 10 times more policemen in the area. They should get to know almost everyone living in the immediate area. That is not such a difficult task—politicians do it all the time. If there is a misunderstanding, we hold small meetings, we knock on doors, and we get to know people by their Christian names.
Even at the heart of the riot I could have walked down the road and people would have said "Mr. Fraser, there is a problem here", or "My auntie has suffered a stroke" or "What about my poor husband lying in bed?" Both black and white people come to me on such occasions. There is trust, understanding and a personal relationship. It is possible to build such a relationship between the police and the local community. There are many examples of that both in this country and elsewhere, especially in Los Angeles, which has the small precinct system that involves intimacy and a degree of community interest between the local population and the police. The police are felt to be the friends of the community rather than the enemies. Law and order is finished the moment the community regards the police as enemies, even if for entirely the wrong resons. The moment that happens, we can forget about having any law and order.
Another practical step would be to deal with the problem of unemployment. Youth unemployment in Lambeth is between 1,300 and 1,400, with about 30 or 40 vacancies. Adult unemployment stands at 13,000, with virtually no vacancies. We need training and apprenticeships for youngsters in Lambeth. It is a joke to talk about that for reasons that are not entirely the fault of the Government. I do not blame them for everything that has happened, but I blame them for cutting down training when they knew the position. If they reverse their policies and devote more money to training, whether through the industrial training boards or through the training services agency, we shall at least bring some hope to the area.
Some youngsters are so alienated and disaffected that they have fallen below the threshold of hope. There appears to be no hope for them. We are talking about a small number of people, but they are lying at the bottom of the pile and their attitude is perfectly understandable when they look at those more privileged than themselves. Black youngsters are hit more severely by the recession, unemployment and the lack of opportunity than their white counterparts.
Provision of training and further employment are important. How can we bring about employment? The Department of the Environment could approve local housing schemes that would bring employment to those youngsters. In the area where the riot took place a compulsory purchase order was refused some years ago. I called for demolition to take place. At the time I was a Minister in the Labour Government. I said that the refusal was a disaster. To his credit, the then Deputy Speaker 689 visited my constituency and agreed that I was right. I am glad to say that a compulsory purchase order was made extremely rapidly.
In the area where the riot took place there is a mixture of the seediest shops with housing above. They should have been demolished. They could not be demolished because of the moratorium on local Government expenditure. The only way of achieving demolition was to invite the demolition contractor to pay the authority to demolish the properties rather than pay out a small extra sum to get the properties down in time.
The moratorium was a disaster. We should reverse the squeeze on housing associations.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg
The hon. Gentleman has said that the compulsory purchase order was made when the Labour Government were in power. The moratorium was introduced about 15 months after the Government took office. What was Lambeth doing in the meantime?
§ Mr. Fraser
It was decanting. The greatest problem in an area is to implement a decanting policy. A large part of the decanting had been done when the moratorium was introduced. Once a moratorium is imposed, groups come in to squat. That is a fact of life, and I am not trying to be pejorative.
§ Mr. Fraser
There is an area that is no more than one mile away from the riot area where a terrace of houses could be used with a view to putting people to work. The terrace could be used to provide homes for the single homeless and those who are especially vulnerable. What have the Government done? They have told the South London Family Housing Association that it cannot have the money that it needs and that it should sell off the premises. A reversal of that policy would be a practical step.
There should be a more generous allocation of assistance under the housing investment programme. I know that Lambeth has received £39 million, but a large part of that sum was already committed expenditure. The housing investment programme cuts will lead to a dearth and a famine of housing that will not be seen for two or three years until existing schemes are concluded.
In Railton Road we could get approval from the Department of the Environment for rehabilitating up to 150 other dwellings. However, if the Department does not give that approval the spiral will be intensified. There will be further empty houses awaiting rehabilitation. There will be a further loss of jobs and a further diminution of employment and training opportunities. Therefore, we want a reversal of that policy as well.
We want a commitment from the Department of the Environment that it will do everything in its power—this will not cost very much—to end any blight by dealing rapidly with compulsory purchase orders and other schemes submitted to it. I have in mind the reconstruction of Brixton town centre and other schemes in the immediate neighbourhood. In a few months we may want to ask the Department for an extension of the general improvement area and for housing action area status. Time is beginning to run out for some of the existing schemes.
We should have an attack on poverty, frustration and deprivation. I hold an advice bureau in the riot area of Railton Road every week. It is attended by some who are 690 employed but living in poverty, especially those who have young children. We all know that teenage children can be expensive. There are those who say "Mr. Fraser, I cannot afford to heat the house" or "I cannot afford to feed myself." When I take the aggregate of their gas, electricity, rates and rent, fares and other commitments, their claim is perfectly understandable. In some instances one has to give the advice that as a consquence of the Government's economic policies on fuel charges and taxation they would be better off and would be doing their families a favour if they ceased working. That is advice that I never want to give, but it is one of the consequences for those at the bottom end of the income scale.
The situation will be made worse because the Government propose to penalise Lambeth to the extent of 10p in the pound for any extra money that is spent on clearing up the debris of the riot and engaging in schemes to try to ensure that it does not happen again. Perhaps I can have a commitment that if we do not get a penny from the Department at least we shall not be penalised for dealing with the problems that have been created.
The Home Office will have to consider what is sometimes called the cannabis sub-plot. Recently there have been a number of police raids in the search for grass, marijuana or weed, whatever people choose to call it. This has led to considerable resentment. The police can raid without a warrant when they are looking for drugs. I am not trying to make out a case for legalising cannabis. However, the phenomenon that is to be observed in not only Lambeth but in other parts of London is one that bears careful examination.
There are many people—I am not talking about the black community—who no longer find the laws in respect of the prohibition of cannabis socially acceptable. That law is becoming more and more difficult to enforce. At the same time, millions of pounds are being made out of the trade. In some city areas we have an American prohibition situation. That can be corrupting of public authority as well as corrupting of the people involved in the trade.
This is not the right occasion to debate the use of cannabis. However, the trade, the use of police powers and prosecution policy bear careful re-examination in the light of what has happened in places such as Brixton and Bristol.
I know that there are some who think that after the disturbance at Brixton the situation is hopeless and that it will not be possible to shed the reputation that has been created for the area. I hope and believe that that is not true. We can climb out of our difficulties and ensure that such events do not happen again if we take the right attitude and if the Government and local authorities enter into a dialogue with good will. At present we want not only good will but money and co-operation and an end to the Government's vindictiveness.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I shall not take up directly many of the avenues so interestingly explored by the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser). However, I shall refer to some of his valuable suggestions.
I had long experience as a prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate in East London. When I was a candidate for Stepney and Poplar I had a close association with Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, then Bishop of Stepney. We often addressed meetings together. We visited local housing and saw where people worked. I am 691 not generally a depressed person, but one of the small depressions that I have had since coming to the House has derived from listening again and again to the facile argument that bad housing necessarily leads to delinquency.
That is an argument that Archbishop Trevor Huddleston and I picked up less than 10 years ago. He had been inspired into the priesthood partly by the remarkable example of Father Basil Jellicoe of Summerstown, whose great crusade against bad housing in that area was a great part of his fundamental Christian message. He said that if we could get slum housing razed to the ground and new and decent housing put in its place, the people would change. We know that in Summerstown there has been a complete replacement of slum housing, but vandalism has not ceased. Trevor Huddleston and I felt the same about East London, but we had to come to the intellectual, moral and political conclusion that, inspiring though the words of Basil Jellicoe were on this theme, it was a false argument.
I put it to some of my sixth form pupils in my last school in Lewisham a year or two ago when the same proposition was pressed by the Archbishops of York and Canterbury. My pupils felt that the argument was much too facile and that their homes were their homes, whether they were in bad housing or in good housing. I am not excusing bad housing or saying that it is acceptable, but we must always remember that bad housing is the home of the individual family within it. That family is self-respecting and wishes to be seen as such, as with any other individuals or families, and is not to be expected to riot or to behave badly on account of its housing. That argument must be dealt with because it is valueless and has no honest intellectual basis.
It has been said again that poverty leads to vandalism. Perhaps it does. I do not wish to see anyone in poverty or anything approaching it, but, if I may make a political point, there is no doubt that if one looks at history one comes to the inescapable conclusion that under Labour Governments the rich have become richer and the poor have become poorer in substantial numbers. That has happened again and again. There has been much more poverty under Labour Governments than under Conservative Governments.
§ Mr. Greenway
At that time, too, and during the period of office of the last Labour Government. I advise the hon. Member to do his history before he makes glib remarks.
The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) spoke about immobility in council housing. He was right to do so. No one who advocates municipal housing could deny or would attempt to deny that there is great immobility built into it. In East London, I remember trying to rehouse people who had had large families, whose children had grown up and gone away, who were living in units with four or five bedrooms, and trying to move them to one-bedroomed accommodation. It could not be done. Some people had been trying for more than 10 or 20 years, but that could not be achieved. That is a major and glaring fault of municipal housing. There is now the same situation in private housing. Particularly in Greater London, due to legislation introduced by Labour 692 Governments, people, often wealthy, with good jobs—I know many and I do not suppose that there is anyone who does not—are in rent-protected accommodation, whilst people on low incomes are struggling to obtain accommodation and, when they succeed, are having to pay high rents.
§ Mr. Dobson
Enlarging on social history, would not the hon. Gentleman accept that during the period from the formation of the National Government during the war to the untimely demise of the Labour Government in 1951, when Socialist principles governed practically the whole of the distribution of wealth and the disposal of resources, there was a materially real increase in the standard of the living of the British working classes?
§ Mr. Greenway
I do not deny that, but I do not say that it was due to Socialism. We all remember the substantial lease-lend programme after the war and the aid which we had during the war which led to a rise in living standards for everyone. We all welcome that, but it was not due to Socialism. During the period of Socialist government, the people to whom the hon. Gentleman referred became correspondingly less wealthy more quickly than other sections of the community. That has happened again. The hon. Gentleman will see that if he looks at history.
Reading the GLC Labour Party manifesto, printed at public expense, I note that not a word is said about road maintenance and road repairs, yet there was a great deal of flak in the last London debate about potholes in the roads. I cycle a great deal, and I am concerned about potholes. They are uncomfortable for cyclists and are bad for car drivers. However, we have had a reasonable programme of road repair and maintenance under the present Conservative administration of the GLC. Over the past four years, roads have become better slowly, but definitely. There is no prospect of further improvement under the Labour proposals.
The hon. Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant) interestingly presented the important argument that juggernauts should be banned from inner London. I sympathise with it, but it is a typically divisive Labour proposal for the GLC area that the inner area should be set off against the outer. What about outer London? All hon. Members would want to see equity in handling that vexed situation. That must be considered.
Much has been said about Brixton and the black community. Violence in London has been increasing for many years, certainly during the period of over 20 years which I have spent in London schools. I saw a gradual, but definite, complete change in social trends in terms of behaviour. One would only have to be a regular attender at soccer matches to see how crowd behaviour has deteriorated over the years. However, one does not need only to consider behaviour at soccer matches. Similar deterioration has occurred in other areas.
There has been a definite deterioration in behaviour among children in schools with the weakening of RE teaching. That is serious. From the Religious Education Advisory Council's 1980 report, we know that in many schools there is no teaching in morality or Christian ethics. If children are put into such a vacuum, they will not know how to behave out of school or while they are there. One only has to study reports of the NUT and NAS/UWT conferences last week to realise what teachers are saying about increasing violence in schools. Not enough thought 693 has been given to modern ways of handling discipline in schools. Sanctions which teachers had have been swept away, and nothing has been put in their place. Teachers have been put into a serious situation in trying to handle a growing disruptive element in schools.
Children are witnessing an increasing array of strikes by teachers. I am not necessarily criticising the teachers—they have a right to strike as much as anyone else—but it has a knock-on effect. Children leaving school are less settled, less balanced and less assured than they used to be.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that in Northern Ireland, where everyone gets a full dose of religion, they have it right and that we have it wrong?
§ Mr. Greenway
I did not refer to Northern Ireland, which is another problem. I merely said that in English schools religious education has seriously deteriorated. In many schools, it no longer exists at all. Children are not taught about values, and that contributes to the present problem.
I have been in schools for over 22 years, and have gradually seen the percentage of black and coloured children increase. Equally, black and coloured teachers have come into schools, and they have been a valuable addition. Black and coloured children can identify with them in situations where they cannot identify with white teachers. They are valuable common room colleagues and so on. The mix in the teaching profession has helped to contain the situation in schools.
The police have tried hard, but I should like to see them make even more strenuous efforts, with the support of hon. Members, to recruit black policemen. The Metropolitan Police has a force of 24,263, of whom only 107 are black, to look after an area with a large ethnic minority population. The benefits of having more black policemen are obvious.
§ Mr. Wheeler
Happily the number has advanced to 114. However, can my hon. Friend comment on the report that some head teachers in inner London, for whatever motive, refuse to allow police community officers into schools to talk about civic responsibility and the work of the police?
§ Mr. Greenway
I do not know of any head teachers who deny entry to police officers. If there are such people, they should be chased hard by parents, governors and all concerned.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
It has been stated that the report was a misunderstanding. The police now agree that there is no evidence of inner London schools excluding them.
§ Mr. Greenway
It should cause great concern that such suspicion and fear have even existed. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) for drawing attention to the report.
We all deplore it when the police are "knocked", particularly by extremist elements in Lambeth and some Labour councillors who should know better, in a way almost intended to demoralise—or at least that is how it appears to the innocent reader. If the police become demoralised and are unable to maintain law and order and 694 equality before the law for everyone, the whole community will suffer, so we must rally round to support them.
Parents in Ealing and elsewhere in London are concerned by a manifesto sentence that has been denied, disowned, and finally admitted by the London Labour Party. It reads:No child shall be educationally segregated by virtue of his or her sex, religious, ethnic or socio-economic status.The Labour Front Bench spokesman on education, the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), seems to spend more time in Ealing than anywhere else, and he was there dealing with the issue recently. If that is not threatening single sex schools for all and Church schools for Roman Catholic, Church of England, Methodist or Jewish children, I do not know what is. It is no good the Labour Party saying that it will not directly close Church schools. There are ways other than direct closure to bring them to an end. If it wishes to go back on its statement, the Labour Party should state clearly that Church schools will be allowed to continue without let or hindrance and will be available for parents who wish their children to have a specfic religious education if and when it gains control.
Turning to the question of job creation, the Labour programme for the GLC states that it will create 10,000 jobs a year, which we should all like to see in Greater London and elsewhere. However, how can it be done, and is it a realistic and honest proposal? In the late 1960s, the then Labour Government had a drive to create new jobs in the North-East. Those jobs were costed at £78,000 a time. In addition, new industries need continuing financial support for a few years until well established.
New jobs can best be created by private enterprise and initiative. They cannot easily be created by municipal or State enterprise, which is highly expensive, and the money has to come from ratepayers and taxpayers. The hon. Member for Islington, Central wisely admitted that Islington had avoided increasing the domestic and industrial rate in order to save jobs. In Ealing, the industrial rate has been held to 16 per cent. and the domestic rate to 19 per cent. this year, which is a great deal better than almost any other Greater London borough.
On the creation of new jobs, Ealing has taken the initiative to introduce private capital for a town centre redevelopment that will generate a rateable value estimated at £¾ million. To do this it has sold land that will be developed by a major construction company which will establish new headquarters in the borough and create 4,000 new jobs at no cost to the taxpayer or the ratepayer. Is this not a more positive, realistic and honest way of approaching the matter?
Ealing is also selling off a large vacant school site to enable a prominent housing association with private finance to build starter homes, including privately owned sheltered accommodation so that elderly people who are living in under-occupied houses may buy more efficient flats and at the same time receive more care in their homes,. This is the positive Conservative approach. Firms are not milked to the point at which they have to shed employees so that money gained in that way may create jobs for employees elsewhere. That is a cock-eyed Labour argument which does not hold water.
In regard to the need to create a positive environment and a positive lifestyle for the citizens of Greater London, it is little known that young people leaving school, having 695 had an extensive grounding in sport, fall right away from leisure activities of any kind. Only 15 per cent. continue to follow a recreational activity, principally because of their inertia. However, if there were more provision for them, perhaps more of them would continue to take part in sport.
The GLC report and accounts for 1979–80 said:The council has a particular interest in preserving and enhancing the city's environment and concentrates on features of London with wide significance such as the maintenance of the green belt and the use of the capital's waterways. A programme of work is undertaken to bring vacant sites into temporary amenity use.As 34,235 hectares of green belt are within the GLC boundary, of which 16,150 hectares are wholly or in part owned by the GLC—that is an important figure—this is a particularly important commitment. In 1974–75 the Labour authority's revenue accounts show gross expenditure on parks and open spaces to have been just over £4 million a year, whereas in 1979–80 it was £13 million. This is a useful indication of the priority given to this important aspect of life in the capital. The total expenditure on sports and recreation by the GLC in 1980–81 is estimated to be in the region of £14½million.
The GLC's stated objective is to ensure that most Londoners live within two miles of a park of metropolitan significance with district and local parks close at hand, that these parks should have high standard sports facilities within a reasonable distance, that the citizens should have the opportunity for recreation in rural surroundings, and that they should have access to centres containing a wide range of indoor and outdoor leisure facilities for families as well as individuals, enabling families to spend as much as a day at a centre. It is hoped that the council will add 202 hectares to the capital's public open space over the period 1980–85 to meet this aim, which I commend to the House. The more positive we can be in providing for Londoners—young, middle aged and old—a life which they can enjoy, the more likely we are to have contented and happy people.
§ Mr. Reginald Freeson (Brent, East)
I want, first, to touch on some of the points referred to by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). Having apparently rejected the idea of an expansion in public expenditure, or even, by implication, holding the present level of public expenditure in local government in London, the hon. Gentleman ended by supporting policy objectives which he read from a brief that had been handed to him by County Hall.
§ Mr. Freeson
I think I had better not comment on that, in view of its content and style.
The hon. Gentleman lent his support, however phrased, to certain policy objectives about open spaces, sports facilities and the like, which were fine—everybody living 696 within two miles of a park of metropolitan significance, as well as having small local district parks within two miles of where they live. To achieve that would cost hundreds of millions of public expenditure over the years in London and in other parts of the country where such objectives need to be achieved. Let us get away from this nonsense of knocking public expenditure as if it is some kind of burden or curse that debilitates the economy and debilitates us socially. It does nothing of the kind. It all depends on what one wants to spend the money on.
I accept all the objectives which the hon. Gentleman ended his speech by describing, but I say again that they will cost a lot of money. He and his party, as well as the public at large, had better be prepared to stand up and argue in favour of such expenditure. They cannot say in one sentence, "We are agin it", and in another series of sentences describe all the wonderful things that we should set as our objectives in local government which would cost the very money which they object to spending.
§ Mr. Greenway
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I welcome any observations on my syntax or anything else that he cares to make at any time. What I had taken the trouble to write out was the GLC programme that the Conservative Party set out for 1981–85. All that we have to do to achieve it and to keep the rates down is to vote Conservative.
§ Mr. Freeson
The hon. Gentleman says that we are to get metropolitan parks within two miles striking distance of everybody in London within the next five years without spending any money—indeed, by cutting down on expenditure. Let us not be daft about it.
Let me go on to the other observations that I wish to make. Although I represent Brent, East in the borough of Brent, I shall start with Lambeth because there are lessons to be learnt there for other parts of our inner city, such as those that make up a large part of my constituency, a large part of Brent and many other areas in London.
I had the honour and the interest to chair the steering committee on the inner area studies throughout the country over three years. One of the areas studied was Lambeth. The studies were completed in 1977, and major reports were produced. A whole series of action programmes, not just desk duties, were put in hand by the consultants, the local authorities and the Government acting jointly to produce an understanding and some conclusions at least about what needed to be done in Lambeth, Liverpool, Birmingham——
§ It being Seven o'clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking private business), further Proceeding stood postponed.