§ Postponed proceedings on Question, That this House do now adjourn, resumed.
§ Mr. Freeson
The studies included a series of action research projects, projects in employment, social work, housing and many other subjects. I shall not attempt a comprehensive review of the conclusions of these studies. They were the most major and the most creative studies ever undertaken.
A year or so ago, at the time of the Bristol riots when the Home Secretary made a statement in the House and there were calls for inquiries and investigations, I recall intervening in the questions being put to the Home Secretary and saying that we did not need any more inquiries at that stage. In view of the scale of the riots in Brixton a few weeks ago, however much I welcome the specific nature of the Scarman inquiry and look forward to its conclusions, I still maintain that conclusions have already been reached upon which decisions can be taken on the future of Lambeth and Brixton and many other inner city areas that provide the major social and economic problems with which we are concerned today.
I shall mention two or three of the points because they are relevant to my area as well as to Brixton and other areas. We need a large programme of public and private capital investment in those areas. We need more channels of communication and enterprise to develop jobs. We need an enhancement of further education and training post-16 as well as a change in the content of education provision below that age. Some of these aspects, which so urgently need to be dealt with in these inner city areas, might well apply on a lower key to other urban areas that are not so deprived.
We need a much more coherent approach to the way in which local and national Government organise their services and Departments, what some would call the integrated approach, or, as I have said, the need to apply, if not the structure, at least the style and methods that have been effectively used in the development of new towns over the past 30 years, to inner city areas. Once we embark upon developing policies, programmes and reorganisation of Government and local government methods to deal with the social and economic problems in these areas, we need consistency and constant enlargement of action, not a halting approach.
Taking the last point first for further comment, following the first year or 18 months of what came to be described as the partnership initiative in certain parts of London and in some of our major cities, we have experienced a virtual rundown of the whole partnership or programme concept. It is not that nothing is being done in Lambeth, Birmingham, Hackney, Islington or Liverpool or in any other part of the country; it is that the resources that started to be built up in those areas have been levelled off. The change in organisation and method that was put in hand under the partnership committees that followed the studies to get closer co-ordination of programmes and policies has started to run down, and the main budget for bending the programmes for education, housing, environment, highways and a whole variety of subjects has been dropped.
Most of the work of the partnership committees in the inner city areas, including Lambeth, Hackney, Islington and other parts of the country is devoted to deciding how 698 bits and pieces of the extra urban programme money will be spent. There is incoherence in what is being done, a failure to see that we have to develop a new town style of integration and co-operation between Government, local government and departments.
I stress the need for more resources for these areas. We have seen the reverse. It is estimated that London as a whole has lost about £200 million of Government finance this year. That is a major reason why rates are shooting up. More important to the main area of discussion that I am pursuing is that to that extent it becomes more and more difficult to reshape the budgets of the local authority inner areas so as to direct more resources, more organisation and more effort into the areas of worst deprivation. That connot be done without increased resources.
I said that we wanted more public and private investment in these areas, but all of us, including myself, who—contrary to the view taken by the Conservative Party—advocate the enlargement of public expenditure must be prepared politically to acknowledge that increased investment, whether it be in general public services and infrastructure, or in Government and municipal support for economic development in inner cities and elsewhere, will mean some restraint, or even a reduction, in overall personal consumption in the economy. Looking ahead, we see that we cannot have it both ways. I do not believe that the Government are right, but I am not prepared to go round London or anywhere else in the coming years maintaining that we can have both enhanced investment and a significant increase in personal standards of living.
That is not to say that there should not be a shift in overall personal consumption. I am a great believer in increased equity, equality and sharing in the consumption of wealth, but I shall pursue that on another occasion. I emphasise that if we want improved roads, schools and job training, and more public investment in industrial and economic development, we must forgo any significant overall increase in personal consumption. In other words, if we raise the standard of living in one direction—the "social wage" was the phrase used a few years ago—we must be prepared to hold back elsewhere, particularly in the present situation of nil growth, or indeed of actual decline, in production.
Even if we get back to a better level of economic activity than that created by the Government's policies and the present world recession, we shall still have a nil or insignificant growth rate for some years to come. We must therefore be honest and admit that if we want to improve the environment, infrastructure, education standards and investment for the future, we must forgo other things.
I believe in an investment-led expansion. This applies also in the private sector. We must be prepared to see private sector capital investment being pushed ahead, and somehow, although I shall not develop this today, see that that is done at the expense of private expenditure on matters of less priority and significance for inner city areas such as Lambeth and Brent in London and many others.
We must also be prepared to end the nonsensical arguments about public and private investment. In my view, if local authorities or the Government want to get housing, industrial or infrastructure services going, given that public investment or the public sector borrowing requirement draws to a large extent on the same financial resources in the economy as does the private sector, we should be prepared to use both private and public 699 investment to enhance public services, the infrastructure and public investment in urban renewal, without constantly trying to divide the two.
This is really an argument for a debate on Treasury matters, but it is important to put it on record for both sides of the political spectrum. Whoever has the Chancellorship, the rules and conventions that have applied over the years, under the Labour Government, and even more so under the Conservative Government, and which divide public and private investment, are clearly nonsensical when both draw on the same financial resources. If we are to succeed in dealing with the problem, that division must end.
I stress all these matters because we need the resources. I do not accept the constant argument of Ministers and—although to a far lesser extent these days—their supporters that the resources do not exist in the economy. We know very well that they do, if we organise and institutionalise in order to use them.
I come now to specific issues in the inner city areas. We need to increase employment. My area certainly needs it. It has been said that there will be between 1,500 and 1,700 unemployed youngsters in Lambeth by the end of the year. There will also be 1,500 youngsters unemployed in the borough of Brent, mainly in the southern part, in the old Willesden, Harlesden, Kilburn and Cricklewood areas. As I said in an intervention to the Prime Minister, earlier today, in Greater London nearly 250,000 people are unemployed, out of a total population of about 7 million. That is the second highest regional figure in the country. The fact that the percentage is lower does not alter the seriousness of the problem.
We need jobs in the public sector. I do not care whether the capital investmnt to get houses built on publicly owned or privately owned land comes from the public sector or from the private sector, because both eventually draw on the same source. The way in which we organise to use it is another matter. That must be primarily the role of local authorities. We should not build only houses to rent. Let co-ownership houses also be built, as well as shared-equity down-market owner-occupied housing. Let us get houses improved and modernised. We can then argue about the balance of tenures by studying the localities objectively, rather than following the nonsensical provisions of the Housing Act 1980 and indiscriminately selling off housing. We should study the housing needs neighbourhood by neighbourhood, get the right balance, and get the money organised. That will provide the jobs. I do not believe that it cannot be done. The resources are there if we wish to organise them. It can be done at local authority level if the Government are prepared to back it.
The partnership schemes in Lambeth, Birmingham, Liverpool, Hackney and Islington were just a beginning. Quite apart from a general sadness at my party being out of Government, a source of great personal sadness to me is the incapacity of Conservative Ministers and of many, though not all, of their supporters to recognise the objectives of those partnerships. I do not mean what they were in May 1979, but what we were trying to do over the years to develop an approach to economic activity in housing, social and infrastructure development in a coherent and integrated way, using the partnership approach between Government Departments, local government and private and public activity.
700 As I have sometimes said, to the disturbance of some people in private enterprise "What you must do in these areas and in the country as a whole is to socialise yourselves. Do not worry too much about nationalisation or the Labour Party. Learn to socialise yourselves in partnership with local government and in co-operation with Government Departments rather than indulging in constant warfare." The only way that urban renewal will succeed is by a joint approach at local government level. People may not like the language. They may choose their own labels. It does not matter, so long as what is proposed is along those lines. Otherwise, those areas will go down the drain.
If the inner city areas of southern Brent, Brixton, Wandsworth, Liverpool 8, as our study area was called, parts of Birmingham and now also those of smaller cities, such as Bristol, go down the drain, can our society survive? Can it survive if the hearts of our urban areas continue to decline, as they have done over the years, not just over the past two years, although the situation has been made worse by the recession and by the idiotic and obsessional monetary and economic policies of the Government? That has been going on for years because we have not organised ourselves to tackle the problems in a coherent and imaginative way. If we continue in that vein we shall go down the drain.
I live in an inner area, but many prefer to live in the attractive suburbs, or exurbs, as the Americans call them. We cannot escape what is happening in the inner city areas merely because we only drive through them to go to work and then drive back to the more pleasant pastures and leafy suburbs. We shall all go down the drain together if the inner areas continue to rot.
There must be a commitment. The £200 million—or more—must come back to London, not just for the sake of spending money, but so that the resources are properly spent in the spirit and style that I have outlined. In my borough there are about 80,000 dwellings. About 20,000—or nearly one-quarter—of them, in both tenanted and owner-occupation, are in grave need of modernisation or rehabilitation. Most of the older properties are concentrated in one part of the borough. When one links that to the decaying and declining economic, social and environmental conditions one begins to realise the intensity of the problem. If we are too macro about the statistics, we shall lose touch.
In London as a whole, between 400,000 and 500,000 dwellings are in need of rehabilitation or replacement. London possesses about 2½ million dwellings. About 900,000 dwellings are within the old LCC boundaries. Most of the dwellings in need of replacement or rehabilitation are concentrated within that old LCC area. That means that about 50 per cent. or more of inner London properties are in grave need of repair, renovation, modernisation, conversion or replacement. I am not worried about replacement, although there has been a swing against it over the years. Resources must be put into that area. It is no use kidding ourselves that we can modernise, create a better environment and have metropolitan-style parks within two miles of everybody living in London, without major public expenditure.
Jobs cannot be created unless the banks are organised so that they are based more locally and co-operate with local authorities and Government agencies. The big decision-makers in industry and commerce must go to the 701 localities, as some firms have begun to do. Decisions about closures, openings and the reshaping of business must be made locally.
Businesses must be willing to provide major training opportunities. We need an expansion of further education and vocational and technical training. That in itself will generate economic activity in the old areas, provided that action is taken by the banks and on the other aspects that I have described.
Needs must be met, and they can be paid for. We can generate economic activity if the skills are there and the institutions can be brought to partnership, not at a national level, but in Brixton, the southern part of Brent, Hackney and Islington. Let the banks do what is done in other countries. Let them orientate their economies locally. We must persuade local authorities to work together on projects such as that described by the hon. Member for Ealing, North. Projects such as that of course, are, not the only answer. There are other methods. That project has nothing to do with a Conservative council being in charge. Such an approach has been adopted throughout the country by many Labour-controlled authorities. Similar projects probably take place more in Labour-controlled northern authorities than in London. There is nothing peculiar about that. An attempt is being made to work out partnerships.
No success will be achieved unless we revive the housing programme with public money, get job training and technical education moving, organise national and local departments more co-operatively and coherently in the inner city areas and adopt a more neighbourhood-type approach, not only to infrastructure and social services, but to public and private economic investment and enterprise.
The process will not be easy. It will take years to make the areas environmentally worth while and socially and economically dynamic again, but it can be done. If there is a coherent, localised approach, under whatever national policy umbrella we have, we shall do something that is not easily definable. That approach was described inadequately by the hon. Member for Ealing, North—and I say that not unkindly. The difficulty is in the syntax—that stuff from County Hall. The hon. Gentleman tried to explain that the social demoralisation in some areas could not be resolved by providing new housing. He almost made that an argument against new houses. I do not suppose that he meant that.
§ Mr. Greenway
When analysing what Father Basil Jellicoe had said about slum housing and its social effects I made it clear that I did not find his argument acceptable.
§ Mr. Freeson
That was not how I understood the hon. Gentleman's remarks. However, I am sure that he did not mean that.
We must adopt a neighbourhood approach. That has implications for the way in which local government is organised—but that is a debate for another day. We must have a more coherent, communal and partnership approach, socially and economically. It must involve the environment, local government and private and other enterprises in the inner city areas. We must consider the social and even moral dimension of the way in which people live.
We live in a macro society where everything is giantist, whether public or private. Everything is distant. Economic and social decisions are taken distantly, and yet they can 702 wreck local communities. The way in which we govern ourselves in the large is far too giantist. That is happening in all modern societies. We should try to move away from that towards a local type of decision-making. Perhaps "market socialism", as it is sometimes described, is the right way.
If we could achieve that which I have described we would begin to enhance the social and economic relationships that appear to be missing from our urban communities. We could create conditions so that something bigger would happen. I refer not only to the physical renewal of our cities, economically, environmentally and in terms of infrastructure and the public services, but in the way in which people live, work and organise together.
Ultimately, that is as important, if not more so, than many of the other things that we are trying to tackle. Such action is essential for Brent, Brixton, Wandsworth, Battersea and every inner London area. If the inner London areas were to take that road they might set a course from which the leafy suburbs and exurbs could profit in the years to come. They will not remain for ever the marvellous, successful community areas that some believe them to be. They will also face problems and they may learn a few lessons if we can renew inner city areas along such lines.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. If hon. Members make speeches as long as the last three, many of those who represent London constituencies will be disappointed, even by midnight.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
I am glad not only to speak in the debate but to follow the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson). It will come as no surprise to him when I say that. I disagree with at least some of his points. However, I should like to be constructive about some of his helpful and positive remarks about the problems facing our great city. The right hon. Gentleman speaks with authority and experience. He was a Minister for Housing and Construction for a record period of more than five years and had the important responsibility of chairing a partnership committee.
It was a great pleasure to listen to the speech made from the Opposition Front Bench by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). I have the privilege of being the Member of Parliament for the constituency in which his mother lives. She will be rightly proud of what he said and of the way in which he said it. I hope that it was the first of his many appearances from that Dispatch Box.
I have listened for four hours to a debate about the greatest city in the world. London has many unique characteristics, of which one is the density of its population. As has been said, about 7 million people live on just over 600 square miles. If my O-level mathematics serve me right, that means that the average density,—when the parks and the river are taken into account—is over 11,000 people per square mile.
London is a closely-knit, densely populated city. I have the privilege of representing a constituency in an outer area of London. Last time I spoke in this Chamber, I said that some of my constituents did not like to be reminded that 703 they lived in part of the Greater London area. Some still use a Hertfordshire postal address. The problems of Brixton and of Brent, to me and I hope to the vast majority of my constituents, must also be faced by those living in areas such as Barnet and Bromley. We are of the same parish. Those problems must exercise the minds of my constituents just as much as they exercise the minds of other hon. Member's constituents.
I am not complacent, but the density of population and the demographic composition of the city make economic and social problems inevitable. In an important sense they are exacerbated by the hundreds of thousands of people who come to London five days a week, 50 weeks a year, to earn their living. In addition, many millions of tourists visit London every year. I am told that the tourist industry brings in about £2,000 million, and that only the City contributes more wealth to the capital. If problems arise from the increasing size of the tourist industry, they must be lived with and tackled in a spirit of co-operation and partnership.
Some Opposition Members may think that I have more hope than expectation, but I shall try to avoid bringing in the petty party politics that inevitably find their way into debates on London. I am sometimes guilty of such party politics myself. It is inevitable that they should intrude into a debate that is taking place only nine days before the GLC elections. I have deliberately selected statistics that cover Socialist and Conservative terms of office at the Palace of Westminster and at County Hall. I disagree with some of the views expressed by Opposition Members. Many of the basic problems that face our city have been caused over several years. They have not arisen in the two years since the Conservative Party came into office. Nor have such problems arisen solely in the past four years, since Sir Horace Cutler and his team took over on the other side of the river.
For at least 30 years after the end of the Second World War, successive Governments followed deliberate policies that sought to force the dispersal of jobs and industries from the capital. An interesting recent publication from the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which must speak with authority on such matters, is entitled "Campaign for London" and subtitled "Manifesto for Business". I do not know whether that organisation is putting up candidates for the election, but I shall try not to refer to any other manifesto. It points out that in the 15 years to 1976 London lost no fewer than 600,000 manufacturing jobs. That period included Administrations of both political complexions.
During the last five years of that period—from 1971 to 1976—employment in London fell by nearly ¼ million. Rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly, that was mainly caused by the deliberate policies of central Government. As a result, an increased rate burden has fallen on a reduced commercial and industrial base. Indeed, the business sector now contributes about 50 per cent. of the total rates levied in London. My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) told me recently that that figure conceals wide variations. I believe that he said that in his borough the total rate contribution from the commercial sector of Westminster amounted to no less than 88 per cent.
Industry and commerce have had to bear a great burden. The problem has not arisen solely as a result of the most 704 recent rate support grant reallocation. In one sense, I join in the criticism that has been made. My borough has suffered, as every other London borough has suffered. However, that can be discussed on another day. The fact remains that in the past four years rates in Hackney have increased by about 245 per cent. In Lambeth they have increased by 186 per cent. and in Brent by 183 per cent. I give those figures because those three boroughs have been mentioned in the debate. They are the most extreme increases. Given that, on average, 50 per cent. of the rates bill is met by business, with such percentage increases it is not surprising that business finds itself in a Catch-22 situation. Many businesses have closed or moved out of London, putting a greater burden on the remaining industry.
That leads me once again to peddle a deep feeling I have about the whole rating system. It is patently unfair and oppressive to industry and commerce. To adapt a well-known phrase, a great deal of taxation is being paid, with little representation, by industry and commerce. The domestic rating system, to repeat my alliteration, is unfair, illogical, undemocratic, inadequate and out of date. It is unfair because people do not pay according to their means. That should be the hallmark of a progressive taxation. It is illogical because it is unfair, and people do not necessarily pay according to the services that they use. The system is inadequate and out of date because on average 60 per cent. of total local authority expenditure is met by the central Government. It is not sufficient to say that, because only 40 per cent. or even only a third of total expenditure comes from the rating system, that is a reason for accepting the inadequacies of the present system. The inadequacy, unfairness and iniquity of this impost is only marginally softened by the rate rebate scheme. We shall never achieve equity until there is a fundamental change.
I may be challenged by the Minister. He may say, once again, "We know it is unfair, but the problem is finding a substitute". There is a substitute. It is not perfect but it would be less iniquitous than the present system. Instead of the domestic rate, we should raise the equivalent money by a surcharge on national income tax and the remainder, which comes from commerce and industry—the amounts will be allocated and adjusted from time to time—by a surcharge on the income tax paid by commerce, or by a surcharge on corporation tax or by a turnover tax or small sales tax which would give some local buoyancy. However, this is not the time to go into that in detail. There is an alternative which, if not perfect, is comprehensive and more acceptable than the present system.
§ Mr. Dobson
Will not the hon. Gentleman accept that the rating system has the singular merit that businesses have to pay it? Corporation tax now has become either voluntary or the result of employing incompetent accountants. Less than 9 per cent. of central Government revenue comes from business. That includes petroleum revenue tax and the additional taxation on the banks.
§ Mr. Chapman
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to say that. I am not suggesting that we should start a dissertation on exact allocations, but I am resting my argument on the fact that the rating system is an iniquitous impost.
I do not need to remind the House that the Select Committee on Transport has recently considered the road system in London and concluded that it is a national scandal. We may agree, especially in a debate such as this, 705 that more should be done about London's road system, but there is a touch of hypocrisy—for which I am as responsible as any other hon. Member—when it comes to trying to implement a road policy. County council elections have been won across the water under the campaign slogan "Homes not Roads".
The problem with our road system is the problem once raised by the late-lamented—on this side—Ernest Marples, a former Transport Minister, who said that everyone was in favour of new roads as long as one could not see them and they did not go through one's back garden. Everyone is in favour of speeding up traffic as long as people can park outside the front doors of their homes. Everyone is in favour of more one-way systems, as long as it is not his road. Mr. Marples said that it reminded him of the Christian missionary who tried to persuade the Eastern potentate that monogamy was good and having more than one wife was bad. The sultan listened with great patience to the Christian missionary extolling the virtue of monogamy and said "I am all in favour of this change, but not just yet." That illustrates, in a peculiar way, the problem that we face.
I am happy with our road system because the Government's priority is the completion of the M25. I thank the Almighty that the M25 passes my constituency conveniently a mile to the north. I am also eternally grateful that the North Circular Road passes about a mile to the south of my constituency. The A1 just scrapes the western side of it. I can talk about the need to improve the road system in London with little fear that there will be major disadvantages to my constituents.
However, we must look at the transport system in a wider sense. For example, we can introduce a lorry restriction within the M25, the A1, the North Circular and the A10 box, only because the M25 is being completed. I ask my constituents and other people in London to accept that we must consider the road transport system in the round.
I disagree with the proposals in the manifesto of the Labour Party in London about the fares policy. In considering traffic and transport problems we must be concerned primarily with the mass of commuters to Central London. Over 80 per cent. already come by public transport. From my professional experience and having studied the subject I do not believe that even free fares—never mind the policy of reducing by 25 per cent. and freezing—will more than marginally persuade those people to use other modes of transport and add to the 80-plus per cent. using public transport.
The evidence from South Yorkshire, which is often quoted, will bear that out. At the most, there has been an increase of about 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. of new people using public transport. The existing passengers—most of them on concessionary fares or travelling free—are using it more and taking advantage. To help the finances of London Transport, we should take the example of Sir Peter Parker with British Rail and devise a fare system which will attract new custom rather than making it cheaper for those presently using it. I say that nine days before the London elections, knowing that it is not popular, but it is true.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
I hope that my hon. Friend, to round off his argument, will say something about the large numbers of people from outside Greater London who would benefit particularly from the scheme, 706 at the expense of the ratepayers of Greater London. It is no use pretending that London is sealed off at the Greater London boundary. There are also the large numbers of tourists—many of them rich—who would be travelling free on London Transport, again at the expense of his constituents and mine.
§ Mr. Chapman
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I was just about to reiterate the two points most tellingly made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt), who said that, quite apart from whether the policy is right or wrong—I think it is wrong—it would mean that the ratepayers throughout London would be subsidising the out-of-London people. Many hundreds of thousands of people come in to work each day. There are also the millions of tourists, whom we are happy to have with us, but who should not be supported in the public transport system by the subsidies of my constituents.
I was impressed by many of the points raised by the right hon. Member for Brent, East. I believe that new infrastructure and redevelopment, or renovation or refurbishment of existing old developments, including the housing stock, can only come about with a happy partnership between the public and the private sector.
I give one example. The public sector owns much of the land that will be available—if it is not already available—for the developments that the right hon. Gentleman has talked about. The private sector can perhaps supply not only much more finance than it has been allowed to do but the skill and expertise that are needed in an inevitably long development process between conception and the completion of the construction on the site. That applies not only to housing but to many other sorts of developments that are needed.
Because of the demographic shape and content of London today, whatever policy decisions are taken, at County Hall level or at national level, its population 'will continue to decline. In spite of that, the most expert forecasts in the South-East regional plan and the latest amendments to it, show that, although London's population will continue to decline in the 1980's—I am looking only as far as 1990 at the moment—the number of households within the Metropolis is expected to remain the same. But although the number of households will remain the same, the number of one-person households should increase by about 200,000, with a compensatory decrease among larger households.
I am not, of course, suggesting that there is no need for new development, because there is, and we can argue politically about it. But we must much more intelligently use, refurbish and renovate existing property in London. I know that there is disagreement across the Floor, but it is essential to encourage vacant and surplus accommodation on to the market. That is 'why I am disappointed at the reaction of the Opposition to the shorthold concept in the Housing Act 1980. I know that we disagree on that but I still say it. That is why I believe also that it is wrong o try to work for, effectively, the killing of the private rented sector.
Of course, there have to be sensible controls, but it is wrong to assume—to take the extreme case—that every private landlord is necessarily a Rachman. I am convinced not that it is a complete answer to the housing problem in the cities but that we could with benefit encourage shortholds, and that we could with benefit have a 707 reasonable and more flexible attitude to the private rented sector. It is socially desirable as well as being economically necessary.
I am honoured to have been able to follow such distinguished contributions. I remain optimistic about our great city. Although we are politically divided over many aspects, I believe that many of our constituents would welcome it if we tried to reach more agreement on such fundamental policies as employment, housing and transport.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney Central)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman). I thought that he made most of his good points at the very beginning of his speech, particularly when he paid a tribute to my hon. Friend—and my friend in other respects—the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). I am the first to follow the hon. Gentleman in warming the cockles of my hon. Friend's mother's heart. I am sure that she is proud of him already.
In passing, the hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the value of tourism to London. It is right that he should have done so. It is a very important industry for this great metropolis. When I visited the British Tourist Authority on one occasion I was told of the elderly lady who had complained bitterly about the damage that was done to the environment of London by all the tourists thronging into the city during the summer season in particular. She was told in a letter that, while the authority appreciated the problems that she had posed, the fact remained that the tourists brought in £2 billion to this great city. She replied to the letter by asking "Why don't they just send us the money and stay away?" That would be far more convenient. But things do not work out quite like that.
Perhaps the most significant point in the hon. Gentleman's interesting speech was his remark that nobody could be insular about the problems of the whole city—that the problems of the inner city impacted necessarily upon people who live in the suburbs. I only wish that he would tell that to the Secretary of State for the Environment, beause the effects of the right hon. Gentleman's measures on inner London have been very severe—and I am putting it in a fairly mild way. We all know that it is not only Labour boroughs that have suffered from the effect of the right hon. Gentleman's fairly arbitrary approach to the problems of local Government; Conservative authorities have suffered, too, as the following quotation shows:It has been stated in the past that there have been substantial grant switches in favour of London. This settlement means a switch back. However, with average London domestic rate bills already more than 40 per cent. above the rest of the country, I cannot accept that London has been favourably treated in the least. This makes it all the harder to swallow a significant movement of grant away from the capital which can only jeopardise London's efforts to cope with the problems of decline, particularly in the inner areas.Those were the words of the deputy leader of the GLC, Mr. Richard Brew. I do not always agree with him, but I think that he was 100 per cent. right on that occasion.
I think that most London Members would disagree very much with the Under-Secretary of State's view about this matter in loyally supporting his chief's views about the rate support grant. I appreciate that the Under-Secretary 708 cannot be in the Chamber all the time, and I make no complaint about that, but if he were not holding office, and if he were a Back Bencher—or, more particularly, if he had been in Opposition—and this sort of thing had happened, he would have been the first to complain. I did not notice the hon. Gentleman complaining when London was properly provided with additional help, although not enough in my view, by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in the previous Labour Government. Why is he so selective in his approach?
Mr. Ronald W. Brown
I can help my hon. Friend. In my speech in 1977, I drew attention to the fact that the one absentee from the debate, when London had obtained £200 million, was the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg).
§ Mr. Davis
I feel a little reluctant about pursuing this matter because the hon. Gentleman is not present. I make no complaint about that. He is missing a great speech, but that is his misfortune.
The lack of understanding of the Secretary of State about the problems of Hackney result in a pretty vicious approach to that borough. The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to appreciate that we have a high level of deprivation. There are 16,000 people on our housing waiting list. If one takes a dispassionate view of an area like Hackney, the policy of selling council houses must be seen to be pretty well irrelevant to the attempt to grapple with severe housing problems. One has only to consider the variety of problems in the sphere of social services that face the borough. I shall not catalogue them. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch and I have done so on previous occasions. There is no need to repeat the arguments ad infinitum.
If the Secretary of State would only come to the borough with an open mind and see the scale of problems that exist, I cannot believe that even he would continue to insist on the policies he has pursued against us. These have resulted in massive cuts to the extent of £11 million by way of grants to Hackney.
The policy of the transfer of GLC properties to Hackney will add to the problems of the borough, particularly if the vindictive policies pursued by the Secretary of State continue. The right hon. Gentleman is not really hitting the councillors or the council itself. He is hitting ordinary working people in the borough. They have to bear the burdens. Why cannot he see that?
I should like to explain in a nutshell why Hackney opposes the transfer of GLC properties. All round us the GLC estates are towers of neglect. Of course, it is not only the Conservative GLC or the bureaucracy that is to blame, but a substantial part of the neglect arises from the abdication of responsibility by this Tory GLC as a strategic housing authority. This has led to what may not even be a conscious policy of neglect. Caretakers are difficult to find. I wish that more could be recruited. I understand the problem from the point of view of the local authority and the GLC, but the fact remains that there has been a steady reduction in caretaking and in caretaking standards. The GLC has failed, perhaps more than any local authority, to cope with tenants' everyday problems. When people have a dampness problem in their flats, they want someone to call and to talk to them about it. Often, even when a belated visit takes place, the answer that is given is the wrong one—that it is due to condensation. Later it is 709 discovered that condensation is not to blame but that the problem arises from structural defects that should have been noticed long ago. All too often it is established that the tenants were right to complain but had been fobbed off.
I do not seek to place the blame on local administrators. It is, however, the lack of concern at County Hall about matters that affect and, indeed, scar the lives of ordinary people that must be reviewed. The north-eastern area housing office is located in Homer Road, Hackney. It is staffed by willing officials who are simply overwhelmed by the number of complaints that occur. This creates a vicious circle. I have already mentioned in an intervention that the Trowbridge estate has been part of this pattern of neglect. It was badly built and badly designed. This is not the fault of any particular elected members. It does not matter whether a Conservative or Labour GLC was in charge at the time. However, £15 million will be needed to put things right. To the GLC's insistence that it takes over the estate, the Hackney council responds by asking what guarantees exist that the GLC will meet the bill. The reply is "We will go to the Minister if we are in trouble". If the Minister is this Minister, the council will be told to go to hell.
§ Mr. Davis
He has told it already, as my hon. Friend says. This is a cause of grave disquiet to the local authority and the people living in the Trowbridge estate.
Another cause of concern is that the last Labour GLC, after diagnosing the problems, gave a clear undertaking that it would do whatever was possible to put them right, but this Conservative GLC has reneged on the undertaking. That is a great misfortune.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch referred in a debate on 13 March on Government policies in London to the Sherry's Wharf estate in my constituency. He had a constituent who wanted to move there. Sherry's Wharf is an affront because it abuts on an estate, the Kingsmead estate, that has been greatly neglected by the GLC. Many people on that estate try to make the best of their premises, for which they should be congratulated. Others seem to be incarcerated in squalor. A few yards away there are properties which were not built or designed for the purpose but which are being let at high rents, largely to people from outside the borough. To qualify one has to establish an income of four or five times the net rent and no rebate is available.
My hon. Friend questioned the legitimacy of what was happening. Clearly we must pursue the matter further. When a brand new estate on which properties are let at rents of between £32 and £50 a week is located by the side of an old estate such as the Kingsmead estate, it is asking for trouble. However, the GLC has been totally insensitive to the problem.
Unemployment in Hackney is not a happy state of affairs. We have about 14 per cent. unemployed. One of the most serious aspects is unemployment among young people. Registered unemployment at the present time in the Barbican, Hackney and Stoke Newington areas among young people amounts to 661 with only 22 vacancies—661 youngsters competing for 22 vacancies.
They have little hope. The damage being done by the Government to the partnership schemes does not help to resolve their problems. I shall not pursue the question of 710 what can be done to persuade children to stay on at school for further education, but if they do, they have to be maintained and their families have to be helped. Apprenticeship and training schemes have gone, and they must be replaced by something else if these youngsters are to be given heart and hope. Twenty per cent. of white youngsters in the 16 to 19 age group are out of work, but 40 per cent. of black youngsters are out of work.
That brings me to the racial problems in inner London. I hope that we shall not be afflicted with a Brixton, but already we have had problems in Haringey which have spilled over on to Hackney. On Easter Monday there were disgraceful scenes there. Further disgraceful scenes occurred at Southend and other seaside resorts over the Easter holidays when youngsters went on the rampage. That is not something that society can tolerate. An answer has to be found. However, I am convinced that the answer is not the bold statement that was made immediately after the Brixton disturbances by Sir David McNee that it is all because of people outside. That type of insensitive remark and attitude only exacerbates the problem
I wish that the Prime Minister were more sensitive. I shall not go into the sort of "swamping" statement that she made in 1978 and I hope regrets.
§ Mr. Mellor
The hon. Gentleman talks about the "swamping" statement made by the Prime Minister. Her statement was in answer to a question in an interview; it was not in a prepared speech. She said that some people feel that they are rather swamped. It was not what she felt. If the hon. Gentleman wants to talk about swamping, he should read out the statement first and then discuss it. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman intended to do that.
§ Mr. Davis
That is not how the statement was interpreted. The Prime Minister has made the situation worse by her insensitive statements ever since that time. Indeed, on television the other day, talking about Brixton, she seemed to divorce unemployment, squalor and bad conditions from the problems of Brixton. The scenes in Brixton were vividly depicted today by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), and I think the whole House was moved by what he said.
I put a question to the Prime Minister on 14 April in which I asked:Will the Prime Minister take time today to reflect on her views about the connection between unemployment and events in Brixton over the weekend? Is she not aware that some areas in inner London are seriously deprived, have a high incidence of unemployment and have appalling housing? Surely those factors cannot be divorced from the situation afflicting so many young blacks.The right hon. Lady replied:If the hon. Gentleman considers that unemployment was the only cause of the riots"——I never suggested that—I disagree with him. If he considers that it was the main cause of the riots, I disagree with him".—[Official Report, 14 April 1981; Vol. 3, c. 147.]The right hon. Lady refused to take that opportunity and other opportunities that were presented on that occasion, particularly by the Leader of the Opposition, to say that those factors clearly had something to do with the problem. She does not seem to realise that. It is part of the right hon. Lady's purblind approach. I do not say that she is evil, but I do believe that she is purblind and I criticise her in many ways, but I can only hope that in the near 711 future, because she is Prime Minister and wields immense influence, she will seize an opportunity to assert that racialism is evil.
Indeed, I hope that the right hon. Lady will take the opportunity to do what the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) did, following an intervention that I made earlier, and rebuke the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor) for the infamous and pernicious views that he is promulgating in a pamphlet called "Immigration, Repatriation and the Commission for Racial Equality", which was published by the Monday Club. His call to repatriate 50,000 of our citizens each year is obscene and vile, and brings him as close to the National Front and to the most hideous views of Nazism as it is possible to be. I make no apology for saying that in his absence, because I told him that I would attack his statement.
That sort of approach must be rebuked because it sows the seeds of dissension and fear, and assists extremists from both political wings who want such things to feature significantly in the political struggle in this country.
My final remarks concern the police in their relationship to the situation in Brixton but also in their everyday dealings with both black and white people, particularly young people. Listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton), the situation appeared to be wholly one-sided. According to him, the police could be exculpated from all responsibility for the loss of confidence that has occurred. I do not think that it is a one-sided matter. The police have a difficult task and it does not help to revile them or to call them pigs. It does not help to depict them as the enemies of the working class. After all, many of them are working class boys and girls. They are a microcosm of the community, warts and all. Some of them are racists, and racists behave badly. Some get angry when they see their colleagues attacked. Sometimes those attacks are violent and vicious and the police may lose their tempers as a result.
No one can deny that harassment occurs. Those of us who practise in the law know that there are bad police officers who not only harass but tell lies, intimidate defendants and, indeed, intimidate witnesses. It is an affront when one or two officers in plain clothes jump out of a nondescript police car and shove a black man against railings and start searching him in public and abuse and degrade him. That is the sort of activity that directly leads to a loss of confidence. That is how myths about other officers can grow. The situation can become enlarged out of all proportion, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood said.
It is, therefore, incumbent on the police to do their utmost to dispel these beliefs, which are sometimes misplaced, and to build a better relationship with the public. They must also do what they can to overcome prejudice within the force. Leadership is needed for that purpose. I do not believe that the present commissioner provides that leadership. His statements do not seem to take account of the problems that exist and they enrage many people.
We need more confident leadership—a leadership which is more involved in these problems—than we are getting at the present time.
At one time, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch and myself were able to rejoice in that type of leadership in Hackney. In the 1968–69 era, 712 when we had the "rivers of blood" speech from the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), Commander Brown gave leadership on this issue. So far as he could, if racist views of bad conduct were being peddled within the police force, he ensured that the people concerned were appropriately punished. He was involved with the black community. He himself attended meetings of the predecessor of the Hackney Council for Racial Equality.
That sort of leadership is needed today. There should be involvement with the black community in order to ensure that the black community feels a greater sense of fairness among the leadership of the police. That is something which the black community feels is missing today.
§ Mr. Davis
Of course not. I do not accuse him of that. All I am saying is that his statements seem to go by the book. They do not seem to depict an imaginative approach. That is my complaint against him. It is not that he is involved in a racist approach. I certainly acquit him of any such charge.
There should be far more community policing, such as the policeman on the beat in the estate, be it the Kingsmead or Trowbridge estates, who makes friends with the people. He is a powerful ambassador for the police force. Without exception, such police officers perform an enormously difficult task well because they become friends and are trusted. Confidence is reposed in them, and that goes to the heart of the problem. It is a question of confidence. I hope that these matters will be taken seriously by the commissioner, whom I do not charge with racism or anything of that sort.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Is my hon. Friend's experience the same as mine and that of other colleagues, namely, that where imaginative posting of home beat policemen has been successful the police are held in extremely high esteem? Unfortunately, due to other duties, those policemen are not always available. Does my hon. Friend agree that if the experience of such policemen were passed on many of the problems about which we are talking would be ameliorated?
§ Mr. Davis
That is right. Their experience is part of the training which needs to be communicated to young officers when going through police college. One factor that has led to the break-down in confidence is the over-use of somewhat callow, inexperienced officers who are drafted into an area without any real knowledge of it. That does not help.
I hope that my points will be noted. I particularly hope that Hackney will be spared any further excesses on the part of the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. David Mellor (Putney)
In many ways, I would prefer to go down some of the roads embarked upon by the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson). I enjoyed his speech. He spoke with great conviction and knowledge. I hope that on another occasion we shall be able to debate his comments further. The right hon. Gentleman's speech had the enormous benefit of recognising that the problems of London derive from 713 successive Administrations, various local authorities and Greater London Councils. That same understanding has not permeated all of the speeches from Labour Members.
Given that in little more than a week London faces an important election, it would be wrong not to make some hard political points that need to be made when one is confronted with the choice that London has on Thursday week. I therefore begin with the contribution of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown).
I and many of my colleagues consider the hon. Gentleman to be one of the nicest people in this place. However, something gets into him when he takes part in a London debate. Suddenly, a wholly different world from the world of reality is put before us. It is a world in which London was apparently a marvellous place until that dreadful day early in May 1979 when the Conservative Government came into office, and suddenly there were slums, deprivation, and bad housing. That is also the way in which a number of other people involved in the GLC elections are seeking to portray London. As a result, these matters need to be dealt with.
The hon. Gentleman made almost precisely the same speech a few weeks ago. I then pointed out that many of the policies that have led to the flow of jobs out of London—such as the activities of the Location of Offices Bureau and the fact that virtually every regional policy pursued by the Labour Government regarded London as an area that did not need to be developed—took place under Labour. Therefore, the Labour Party cannot escape a substantial share of the blame for what went on.
That is probably what makes people who are not attached to either party rather tired of party politicians, because apparently we cannot discuss these problems and recognise that they did not spring up overnight. Some people who are not persuaded of the value of party politicians might be even less persuaded had they heard what the hon. Gentleman said.
Those arguments can become pernicious when they are attached to events of major significance to society. I am thinking in particular of the events in Brixton. The speech of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) has been widely admired, but was not quite so much admired by me. Perhaps I took it wrongly. It dealt with an issue that goes to the root of a civilised society, namely, how far we are prepared to tolerate behaviour that involves indiscriminate attacks on people and on property and lays an area to waste, and how far are we prepared to allow social factors to excuse behaviour which to my mind is utterly repudiatory in a civilised society.
It does not help when politicians are unable to resist making cheap party points when they should be talking about matters that are fundamental to our society across the party divide. The hon. Member for Norwood was obviously aware of the problem, but he skated around it. He gave the impression that Railton Road would have been swept off the map if it had not been for the moratorium that was introduced a few months ago. He implied that it was only the problem of decanting that had to be dealt with, but in April 1980, 3,000 empty properties were owned by Lambeth council, so decanting was not a problem. There is a temptation to blame unemployment or the police for the problems, or to say that they are the fault of the wicked Tory Government, but those who suffer form the community as a whole and are not supporters of only the Conservative Party. I refer especially to the law-abiding citizens who live in the Brixton area. It is no 714 encouragement to them to behave properly if they have a licence to behave badly because the problems are claimed to be the fault of the Government.
It is crucial that we reject the simplistic solutions and try not to talk about the subject in party terms. Money is said to be the problem, but most of the young blacks involved in the riots attended schools provided by the Inner London Education Authority. The rates of my constituents have risen by 25 per cent. this year to sustain the enormous capacity for overspending by the ILEA. It is inconceivable that our society, even under a Labour Government, could afford or would tolerate paying more for our schools.
I come from Wandsworth, which has a high immigrant population. We do not qualify for the special aid that has been made available to Lambeth. Most London Members represent areas that have not spent anything like the money that has been spent on social work in Lambeth. It is naive and mischevious to suppose that the answer is to throw money at the problem. It is even more mischevious when partisanship is coupled with attacks on the police. I know that much of what the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch said was true. I have practised in the criminal courts, and no one who practises there can believe that the police are angels, but we know full well that the rotten police officer is the exception and not the rule.
It is no good people saying piously that the rotten police officer is in the minority but then condoning the swingeing attacks on the police by agitators such as Darcus Howe, who wrote not only about race, but about the assassination of Airey Neave. It is monstrous that his perniculous publication "Race Today" is funded by the World Council of Churches. That cannot be right.
It is even worse when agitators attack not only a few police officers but the whole force. And it 'is not only agitators who do that, but people such as the leader of the Lambeth council, Mr. Ted Knight. I am sorry to return continually to him. I know that he must be an embarrassment to Opposition Members. If the people of London are not careful, he could become the chairman of a leading GLC committee in 10 days' time—or even the leader of the council. That does not bear thinking about.
Mr. Knight has said that the police are an army of occupation. In a report in The Guardian he said that Brixton was rather like a concentration camp, because of the policing. That report has been challenged, but it has not been brought before the Press Council, and Mr. Knight has not said that he will sue the newspaper. Perhaps the challenge is an attempt to escape from what he knows to be true. We were properly invited by the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) to repudiate the observations made by one of my colleagues, the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor). On a personal level he is a charming Member and I am happy to call him a friend, but he knows that I dislike his views about race. They are not my views, and I have never espoused them. I say that openly, because that is the right thing to do.
Which Opposition Member will condemn Ted Knight and the extravagance of some of those running under Labour Party colours in the GLC elections? The truth is that some hon. Members who have served in the House for a long time know that at the time when they were elected many of those now running for the GLC elections under Labour colours would not even have been permitted to join the Labour Party. Now, not only are they members of the Labour Party, but they are taking it over. I repudiate the double standards that call upon us to repudiate a remark 715 by one of our colleagues, but allow the remarks not only of the likes of Ted Knight but of many other people. Even the hon. Member for Brent, South, for whom I have a great admiration because of his work for the disabled, could not bring himself openly to repudiate the small faction of people taking over the Labour Party in Brent and throwing out councillors.
§ Mr. Mellor
I hesitate to use that word, but if one or two Opposition Members said what they really thought, they would not be readopted. As long as that suspicion lurks not only in our minds but in the minds of the British public, it cannot be wondered at that many of us believe that it would be irresponsible for anybody to elect a Labour authority, whether it be a local council, a Labour GLC or a Labour Government.
§ Mr. Bidwell
Surely the hon. Gentleman is putting the wrong counterpoise before the House. He is accepting our denunciation of colleagues of his who have expressed white racist views. I do not think that any one of my right hon. and hon. Friends upholds black racist views. I wrote a book, in part of which I denounced the concept of black power. That is the true counterpoise and not this other business of who is Left, ultra Left or middle of the road in the great firmament of the Labour movement.
§ Mr. Mellor
The hon. Gentleman knows that I have the warmest personal regard for him. I believe that race is an important subject and I am always careful about what I say on it, but I do not believe that it is the only important subject, or the only subject, about which we should be concerned. To my mind, the takeover of the Labour Party by Trotskyists is the most fundamental challenge of any that I can think of to the future of our democratic system.
§ Mr. Dobson
The hon. Gentleman has been talking about coups. I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), has returned to the Chamber, because he referred to what happened in Brent. He made no reference to the recent coup within the Tory group on the Camden council. For weeks and weeks the London newspapers were going on about whether the leader of the Labour group of the Camden council would be overthrown in a great coup. In fact, he was returned unopposed as the leader of the group. There were no rumours about any Tory coup, but the Conservative leader and deputy leader were heaved out with only a sigh of relief from their colleagues, just as the hon. Member for Hampstead was heaved out by a private coup in his time.
§ Mr. Mellor
The hon. Gentleman must forgive me if I do not enter too much into the world of Camden politics. I think that he is being rather disengenuous. A personality clash, if that is what it be, is no answer to the philosophical argument that I am advancing. The charge that I am making against the Labour Party is that its organisation is being taken over by Trotskyists who are tightly organised and whose job it is to push out one by one those who are already Left-wing enough. Heaven knows, Mr. Lebor is Left-wing enough, but apparently he is not sufficiently Left-wing for the Trotskyists.
There is a conspiracy within the Labour Party. Lord Underhill has used similar words. It is not only the Tories 716 who are making this accusation. I could make an entire speech by bringing together the words of former leaders and deputy leaders of the Labour Party, or former Cabinet Ministers of the Labour Party. If Labour Members think that Londoners will be taken in by the diatribes against the Government and will not examine those who are making the assaults, they think that London voters are more naive than they should.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
Will the hon. Gentleman take it from me that I am finding that voters are significantly more exercised about the militancy of the Prime Minister and the present Government than about that of any of the other politicians to whom he has referred?
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg
May I set the report straight following the intervention of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson), otherwise it will remain twisted? There is a world of difference between a democratically elected councillor being refused reselection by a Left-wing party and an organisation annually reelecting or not re-electing its leader. That does not deny that man the right to stand or to remain the shadow leader of a major committee. That twist ought to be straightened.
§ Mr. Mellor
As usual, my hon. Friend is right.
What is Labour's education policy in London? What is the policy of those Labour candidates who seek to be elected to the GLC next week?
Much has been said by Sir Ashley Bramall, and even the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) was brought down to my constituency to set the record straight about the Labour Party's policy on education for London. Denials aplenty have been thrown out. The Labour Party has said that it does not intend to abolish denominational schools and that, although the document says so, it does not really intend to abolish streaming or to recognise the National Union of School Students. I wonder what the truth is. I shall read out not just any glossies from the Central Office, but what is said in the policy document of the London Labour Party. If the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) can help me later, I shall be grateful, and so will the many hundreds of thousands of parents in London because the future of their children will be at stake if some of the nonsense in that document is carried out.
I am a cynical person, and the more the hon. Member for Bedwellty comes to my constituency to reassure my voters about Labour's education policy, the more I remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson said about a dinner guest:The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons.The document is entitled:Standing Orders Report to Conference. ILEA Labour Group Manifesto. Re-draft—as amended at the compositing meeting of 6 September 1980.I understand that that is a short way of saying that it is the policy of the London Labour Party on education. There are some revealing sentences in that document. Paragraph 5(7) says thatno child should be educationally segregated by virtue of his or her sex, religious, ethnic or socio-economic status.I am a plain man, and I like to think that I can understand plain English. If "educationally segregated" means that one lot goes to one school and another lot goes 717 to another, the fact that people of one religion should not be educationally segregated from those who belong to another religion must, in plain English and common sense, mean the end of Catholic, Church of England and Jewish schools. What else can it mean?
When one says that children should not go to different schools and should not he educationally segregated by reason of their sex, what can that mean but the end of single-sex education? One knows what upheaval that would mean in my constituency, which would be typical. Fully 40 per cent. of all the schools in my constituency would have to close and be transformed if that policy were implemented.
I shall continue to read out parts of the document so that I can be challenged if I am in any way putting a gloss on it. Paragraph 5 (1) says thatstreaming should be eliminated as soon as is practicable in secondary schools and immediately in the first year of secondary schools.I should be interested to know what piece of educational research carried out anywhere in the world has ever said that it is anything but educational cruelty to put children of mixed abilities in the later stages of secondary schools, even if not the earlier ones, into the same class. It is inconceivable that at a time when standards in ILEA secondary schools are so roundly under attack following the report of Her Majesty's inspectors that that proposal could be made. It suggests that the ILEA Labour group has no commitment to standards of education.
There is an omission from the document that I should like to mention.
§ Mr. Mellor
I shall not give way. I cannot make a habit of it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make a speech later. If he has an answer to my points, we shall be glad to hear it. I am sure that he would prefer to avoid those points, just as so many Labour politicians in London prefer to avoid the reality of what is happening to their party.
The document is singular because it treats education in schools without once mentioning the fundamental reason why people are educated—namely, to learn something. It fails even to mention educational standards. What are parents in London concerned about? They want education to do what Lord Snow said years ago. He said that God gives us a hand of cards and education teaches us how to play them. It does not matter whether one is a genius-level student who would go to university or an average pupil who wants to learn the skills of reading and writing in order to obtain an apprenticeship. One needs the training of a school dedicated to standards to be able to come out of that school fitted for an increasingly complicated technological society. There is absolutely no commitment to that in the document. One is driven to the conclusion that it is not about giving children a good education, but is about putting them into a particular political frame of mind and giving them particular social views and prejudices.
My opinion is reinforced by paragraph 7, which states:ILEA will pursue the enlightened view of a mature relationship between staff and school students by recognising student organisations in all schools where branches exist or are formed.Where it is required we will provide funding and facilities.That statement is amplified in a discussion paper on Labour's GLC election policy, which comes from a working party presided over by Sir Ashley Bramall, so he 718 may have some difficulty in wriggling out of this commitment. It states:We would seek to pursue the enlightened view of a mature relationship between staff and school students by recognising the National Union of School Students or similar organisations in all schools where branches exist or are formed.The National Union of School Students is a Trotskyist organisation. So militant is it that even the National Union of Students, which is hardly a pillar of moderation, has withdrawn its grant.
Is it really the policy of a reputable democratic party to use public funds to propagate the values represented by the National Union of School Students? Is the smooth working of our schools to be disrupted by the need to have communes reminiscent of the French Revolution at the heights of the Terror, where teachers will have to go to justify their policies? Is that the kind of London education that the Labour Party is seeking? Who among the glittering array of talent on the Labour Benches will repudiate the National Union of School Students, as we on the Conservative Benches have repudiated one or two of the things that we do not approve of? One suspects that silence, as so often, implies consent.
The people of London would be foolish to permit this crucial election to float by merely on the grounds that they are unhappy about the Government in an indefinable way or that they are seduced by the view—because simplicity has its own attractions—of the hon. Member for Hackney South, and Shoreditch that all London's troubles relate to the Government. If they do so, they may have the rude shock of finding that they have elected an authority more Left-wing than any that has previously come to power in the country and more reminiscent of the wretched policies pursued behind the Iron Curtain than we should become acclimatised to. That is what is at stake in London next week. One hopes that the message will not be lost on those who vote in crucial areas.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)
I listened with interest and concern to the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), and I listened carefully to see whether he would make constructive points. He attacked Opposition Member after Opposition Member for their speeches, and then devoted the main part of his speech to two Labour documents, without a constructive word about Conservative policies. In the absence of Conservative policies that he could support for the GLC elections, he chose to spend his time denigrating the Labour Party. It was the traditional smear attack that we have seen in other elections. It is time that Conservative Members put forward some real arguments and made constructive points about London.
§ Mr. Mellor
I gave way several times; the hon. Gentleman should accept that. How can it be a smear when one reads from a policy document of a party? I did not devise my own gloss for that document. I am asking whether the plain words of the document are true. I am seeking clarification. Can the hon. Gentleman answer in words of one syllable? Does that paragraph mean the end of streaming in secondary schools, the end of Church 719 schools and the end of single-sex schools? Does it mean that ratepayers' money will go to subsidise the National Union of School Students? It is easy for him to answer if only he will address his mind to the points.
§ Mr. Dubs
I will deal with that in a moment. When I said that the hon. Genleman was indulging in smear tactics, I was referring to the fact that he used words to suggest that a Labour-controlled County Hall would be analogous to an East European Communist dictatorship and other words of that sort. If that does not represent smear tactics I do not know what smear tactics can be. The total absence of any constructive point from the hon. Gentleman suggests a total absence of policies in his part or on the part of the Conservatives. They hope to win the GLC election next week on the basis of denigrating their opponents and putting nothing forward to the people of London.
If the hon. Gentleman had been doing any canvassing, as most of us have been doing, he would have learned that the concerns of the people of London are not the issues which he has been raising. The electors are concerned about desperately bad housing, increasing unemployment, the need for jobs, the worries of school leavers about how they are going to make their way in the world, the mess London Transport is in and so on. Those are the issues that people are raising with us on the doorsteps, at public meetings and in the streets and not the smear issues that have been raised by the hon. Gentleman. I am surprised that he made that sort of speech. I had thought better of him until this evening. I did not realise that he had descended to that level of political abuse.
I am not putting myself forward as an expert on the GLC document to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I do not think I have seen the docment. But I would have thought, for example, that there is a difference between streaming and setting. In the educational world those are seen as distinct. While it is perfectly acceptable to end streaming it is also sensible at the same time in the more senior forms in comprehensive schools to arrange in sets students of equal or similar ability. That happens and has happened for many years in most comprehensive schools, so there is nothing new in suggesting that streaming should be abolished. Doing away with setting is quite different. I repeat that the hon. Gentleman is not aware of the distinction between the terms.
There are real education issues in London. It is obviously a matter of concern that children coming out of schools in London are not doing as well as they might be. This is true of inner city schools in many parts of the country. Obviously, one would like children, particularly from disadvantaged homes, to leave school with more accomplishments to their credit than they may be achieving. The situation varies from school to school.
I would not denigrate the work of the Inner London Education Authority, which has done a good job in improving educational standards. There is a long way to go. We should be turning our minds to how to make further progress. That is more important than smearing the educational system in London.
§ Mr. Eggar
I wish the hon. Gentleman would address his mind to the questions of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor). First of all, is it the policy of the GLC Labour Party to give subsidies to the National Union 720 of School Students? Secondly, is it or is it not the policy of the GLC Labour Party to abolish denominational schools?
§ Mr. Dubs
I am neither a member of the Government nor a representative of the Labour group on the GLC. It is not up to me to answer questions from Back-Bench Conservative Members about detailed aspects of policy which have come from a document quoted by a colleague of the hon. Gentleman. It is not the responsibility of a Back-Bench Labour Member to answer questions of that sort. I answered the main question which the hon. Member for Putney asked and, in view of his subsequent silence, I thought that he had accepted my explanation.
Every London debate has featured housing as one of the main concerns of London Members of Parliament. This debate cannot be an exception, much as I would wish to debate other topics. I am conscious of the increasing desperation felt by people in Wandsworth and other boroughs at the long housing waiting lists and at the sheer hopelessness of waiting month after month, year after year, for more suitable accommodation. Last year there were no local authority housing starts in Wandsworth; there were 71 private sector housing starts in Wandsworth. The previous Labour council had aimed to start 500 to 600 council houses a year.
Tory Members make much of the problem of empty council houses in various parts of London. I shall confine myself to the local authority area in which my constituency is situated. There are empty properties in Wandsworth, some awaiting repair, some awaiting sale. The Government should have an answer to the problem of properties lying empty for either of those reasons. Empty Council properties awaiting repair and renovation are at least partly the result of the Government's policies on money for local authority housing expenditure. In Wandsworth there are 700 council properties empty and awaiting sale, and 300 of those have been empty for over a year.
It is a monstrous insult to badly housed people in the borough that they should be forced to wait year after year for decent accommodation while the Tory-controlled Wandsworth council, aided, abetted and encouraged by the Government, should persuade the local authority to have so many empty houses awaiting sale. It is a waste of resources and offensive to people who need decent housing.
Thus, it is no wonder that one new council estate, started under Labour and awaiting completion, at East Hill, Wandsworth, in my constituency, has been occupied by squatters as a demonstration of their opposition to policies which are so damaging to the interests of people in the local community.
Last Sunday, in common with many other hon. Members, I did some canvassing in my constituency. I went round one council estate where there are numerous empty flats. The estate is not in good condition, and the flats are empty awaiting repair. The council has stopped the process of repairing, and many flats are boarded up. It is difficult to envisage a more depressing scene than a council estate where a large proportion of flats are boarded up and empty, with all the rubbish and the litter left around and the sense of decay. The housing problem is getting so much worse that it is the number one concern of many people in inner London.
721 There are 10,000 people unemployed in Wandsworth—the largest number that has ever been reached in the borough. My constituency has few local employers, but those that are there appear to be in the process of closing, and the council has reduced its work force by 700. There seems to be no Government policy to tackle unemployment in London. There is no Government policy to bring jobs to the Metropolis. I believe firmly that intervention by the public sector at local government and national Government level is essential if we are ever to get jobs back into our inner city areas. That is why there is a lot of hope for Londoners if a Labour GLC is elected, as I am confident it will be, on 7 May. At least the Labour policy for the GLC is to do what it is possible for a local authority to do to create more jobs in the inner city areas.
Of course, this will demand more positive help than the Government are likely to give to a Labour-controlled GLC, but it shows determination and intention. I hope that the Government will not be so niggardly as to stop the GLC helping to provide more jobs in London.
One consequence of the large number of unemployed is evident in the difficulties facing unemployed youngsters. Sadly—this is a national phenomenon—increasing numbers of young people are getting into trouble with the law. I do not believe that there is a simple relationship between unemployment and crime. Clearly, that cannot be the case. Equally, however, if young people do not have jobs, they tend to be on the streets rather than anywhere else because they have nowhere else to go. If young people are always on the streets, inevitably they get into trouble with the police, whether the police are acting responsibly or less than responsibly as regards any particular young person.
This is coupled with the sense of alienation which is sadly prevalent among many young people, certainly in inner London. They believe that society has little to offer them, that society is hostile and that on leaving school there is not much hope and not much to aim for. Such feelings, coupled with unpleasant altercations with the police, inevitably provide a recipe for social tension and social conflict.
If one happens to be a young black in an inner city area, with a three or four times greater probability of being unemployed than if one were white, the situation becomes far more tense and difficult. About 10 years ago, I spoke to a number of West Indians, including young people. I asked whether any of them had had an unfortunate experience with the police. Not one of them had not had such an experience, either himself or herself, or within the family. By "unfortunate experience" I do not mean a polite request or being stopped in the street. I mean an altercation, with abuse, obscenities and racist comments. I do not suggest that that is by any means typical of the police. Sadly, however, it may be typical of a minority of the police. Unfortunately, the experience of the West Indian community in inner London is such that attitudes to the police have been seriously affected by a number of incidents of that kind. Such incidents clearly make more impact because they are directly experienced than they would if they were merely hearsay.
All the problems and crimes of inner London are certainly not the fault of the police, but the police have a responsibility to ensure that the minority who have been behaving in this way should cease to do so if tension is to be reduced in the inner city areas, and if we are to begin 722 to reconcile young blacks with the environment in which they were brought up, seek jobs and wish to make their futures.
I appreciate that this is a complex problem and that there are no one, two or three simple answers, but it is better to consider the problem seriously and dispassionately and to consider the various elements in it. Unemployment is an important factor, although it is not the only one. The attitude of some members of the police force is also important, but many other factors also go to make up the sense of alienation that many young people in our society, and particularly young blacks, feel towards the world in which they are seeking to make their future.
I wish to comment briefly on an altercation in the Chamber a short while ago concerning a remark made by the Prime Minister when she was Leader of the Opposition at the time of the Ilford, North by-election. She actually said that people were afraid of being "swamped". I appreciate that, strictly speaking, that is not the same as saying that she believes that we are being swamped by immigrants or by black people from other countries. But one would have to be an extremely naive politician to believe that the public would perceive such a distinction. Almost inevitably, if one purports to quote people in general, one is making the statement for oneself.
When the Prime Minister said that people were afraid of being "swamped", she must have realised that people would believe that she thought that there was a danger of being swamped. That was an unfortunate statement, which has been quoted often. No wonder many black people are doubtful and suspicious of the Government's policies towards racial minorities. When such comments are linked with other statements and the racist features of the British Nationality Bill people become suspicious of the Government's intentions.
The Government should totally rethink their policies for London, because they are leading to increased unemployment, worse housing conditions and a serious crisis in our inner cities. The policies are creating a sense of alienation which could have damaging consequences.
I am a member of the Standing Committee on the British Nationality Bill, so I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not remain in the Chamber to hear all the speeches.
§ 9.6 pm
§ Mr. Tim Eggar (Enfielcl, North)
I have pleasure in following the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs), although I wish that Opposition Members would be as forthright in their condemnation of law breaking, for whatever reason, as they are when casting slurs on the police by implication. It does the cause of law and order in a civilised society in London and the country no good when such sentiments are expressed in a rather disreputable manner by hon. Members.
Two clauses in the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill will be particularly welcomed by ray constituents. The first is clause 4, which gives councils the power to make byelaws to remove and dispose of cars and other vehicles parked on council property. We all know of council tenants who regard council property outside council estates as free parking lots where they can dump unused and unwanted vehicles until they are scrapped.
The Ayfey Croft estate in my constituency, which is adjacent to the constituency represented by the hon. 723 Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) has experienced problems for many years. I hope that Enfield council will use the power in the Bill to stop that abuse.
Clause 5 gives the police the power to stop people repairing vehicles on the public highway. The clause makes it clear that repairs are permitted on a car which has broken down. In several streets in my constituency garage operations often take place on the public highway. That is unacceptable. There is little that the authorities can do about that without excessive use of public money to monitor offences. I hope that the new power will be widely used. It will certainly be welcomed by my constituents.
Those of us who have been canvassing in the GLC elections know that, unfortunately, interest in what the GLC stands for and does is at a low ebb. However, we should explain to Londoners the serious choice that will face them at the polls on 7 May. They will have a choice between a Conservative administration which has a good and well-proven record and which has put forward a sensible and moderate manifesto, and a load of itinerant Marxists who have somehow managed to capture the Labour bandwagon and banner. In outer London, extremist politics of both Left and Right are not as familiar as they may be in inner London. Sometimes the harsh reality of what is being offered by the London Labour Party is not understood.
The choice for electors in my constituency is clear. If they vote for a Labour GLC representative they will vote for a policy that is a deliberate attempt to confront the Government instead of an attempt to govern London sensibly. They will vote for deliberately engineered confrontation. In specific areas such as housing, what will electors vote for when they vote Labour? They will vote for a Labour Party that specifically states that it will carry out massive municipalisation, which will no doubt be financed by borrowing or by the rates. They will vote for a party that will immediately end the homesteading scheme. That scheme has given great hope and opportunity to many young couples in London. When people vote Labour they will vote for a party that will do everything possible to prevent those whom it has put into municipalised property from exercising their right to buy under the Housing Act.
In my constituency, those who vote Labour will vote for the chairman of Haringey housing committee, whose main contribution has been to threaten to municipalise property not in Haringey but in Enfield. His committee is so well run that Haringey kindly re-roofed many houses in Enfield, only to find that when it asked Enfield council to pick up the bill, the re-roofing had been done so badly that the district surveyor refused to contemplate it. That is the man the people of Enfield, North are being asked to vote for.
Transport is also an important topic. Electors are being asked to vote for bread and circus politics. There has been an offer to reduce fares by 25 per cent. and then to freeze fares, with the apparent intention of providing free transport. That might make some sense in inner London Labour strongholds where there are frequent tube and bus services. In such areas electors might benefit from lower fares and might not find that their rates had increased by more than the reduction in fares. However, that is not so in outer London or in my constituency.
724 What does such a policy mean for my constituents? First, they have always had an infrequent bus service. Therefore, few of them will be able to take advantage of the reduction in bus fares. Secondly, although there are a couple of tube stations within a five-mile radius of where the majority live, buses or cars have to be used to get to them. That means additional costs. If some people go to the tube station in order to benefit from cheaper fares, what will happen to the rail services that the majority of my constituents use? British Rail services will become less competitive because they will be more expensive and fewer people will use them. A vicious circle will start so that eventually British Rail will be forced to close down suburban rail services.
"Ah!" say the Labour GLC, "we had not thought about that when we originally suggested the scheme. Now we shall subsidise British Rail services at a cost of £300 million". That sounds fine, but will the people who live in Hertfordshire and Essex take advantage of the reduced fares for which my constituents have paid through GLC rates? If they do, where will they park their cars when they come to the local stations—in my constituents' streets?
The scheme makes no sense. Why should pensioners, who may not be entitled to a rate rebate, subsidise people travelling to inner London to work and those who come from outside the GLC area? Why should local industry and employers be penalised? People will be more attracted to work in inner London and it will be more difficult for employers in my area to obtain the white collar and skilled workers that are so necessary and, in certain areas, are in short supply.
Where does the idea come from? It stems from the basic Socialist principle that the individual does not know how best to spend his money and that the State—or in this case the GLC—knows better. That is the reason and the philosophy that lies behind the idea. It is a philosophy that is as vile now as it has always been.
Another matter, which in some ways is even more serious because it is less understood, is the Labour Party's determination to gain political control of the Metropolitan Police. The front page of the Enfield Gazette, my local paper, showed a picture of Commander Jim Dickinson, the commander of Y division police force, who was brutally and viciously assaulted by a gang of hooligans at Finsbury Park. After having medical treatment, he returned to take control of his men. The thought that that man, as well as having to deal with hooliganism and riot conditions, will have to watch his back against the Marxist hooligans inhabiting and ruling County Hall is deeply disturbing.
§ Mr. Eggar
It is not pathetic. The result of such a policy will be that more police time will be spent investigating complaints and answering to this and that committee. The number of bobbies on the beat will be decreased, the morale of the police will suffer badly, and the police will be politicised. Nothing could be more serious.
The London Labour Party has, however, been frank. It has said that its programme would cost a great deal of money. There would be an additional 10p rate demand in October and significant rate increases beyond that.
Over the weekend I tried to cost the programme, as best as I could understand it. I reckoned that the average Enfield ratepayer would have paid £100, or approximately 725 £2 a week, by this time next year, if a Labour GLC were in power. What would my average constituent have got for that extra £2 a week? Perhaps he would have had the pleasure of having the next door house or flat bought up by the GLC. That might or might not have been worth it. He would almost certainly have seen the end of any hopes of having the North-South road built, because it is clear that the Labour Party is determined to reduce spending on roads to an absolute minimum.
I would be the first to say that the record of the Conservative GLC in relation to that road has been far from good, but at least at the moment there is a chance that the road will be built; it is still in the programme. There would be no chance whatever if we had a Labour GLC.
What advantage would my constituent have got from the transport concessions? If he used the buses, he might have gained about 60p a week. If he used the tube, he probably would not have gained very much, because he would have had to use the bus to get to the tube, or his own car, so that there would be no net gain.
The chances are that—not by next May but perhaps by the May after that—the morale of the police and the presence of the police on the streets of Enfield will have been directly and adversely affected by the policies of a Labour GLC.
I am not over-egging the pudding; I am not being extremist in my comments. I am just trying to put to the people of Enfield, in a balance sheet way, what the election of a Labour GLC would really mean for them.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I have a feeling that 20,918 electors in the constituency of Finchley are to some extent responsible for the worsening economic and social problems of Greater London, because they, unfortunately, returned the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister at the general election on 3 May 1979. If she is not a major source of economic and social problems, the policies that her Government are following certainly are.
I always like to take people at their own word, so I have been considering the right hon. Lady's policies as they affect Greater London. At the annual Welsh Conservative conference—I do not suppose there were many people there—in a place called the Patti pavilion, Swansea, on 19 July 1980, she made a speech entitled "Contract with realism". There is a rumour that she is shortly to be sued for breach of contract, although I am not sure that the action will finally take place. Nevertheless, at that meeting she urged people to move from areas where there was unemployment to areas where opportunity beckoned.
It is unfortunate for London that so many people learnt at their mother's knee about Dick Whittington and his cat, and about marrying the boss's daughter and going on to great success, for as a result large numbers of people in Britain, and even outside, think of London streets as being paved with gold. It is no longer the case. If someone came to London today, there is a fair chance that he would find that Alderman Fitzwarren's small company had gone bankrupt. There is even the possibility—thinking of the problems on one part of my constituency—that poor Alice Fitzwarren might have become a lady of the streets and be infesting certain parts of King's Cross. London is, therefore, significantly different these days from what it used to be, and is no longer a great attraction for anyone who is out of work.
726 Through my National Union of Railwaymen connections, I received a letter from someone writing on behalf of a man who was out of work in Ipswich and who, as the letter says, took the Prime Minister's advice and sought work outside Ipswich. He finally found work with British Rail at the Southern Region Battersea depot. He is at present living in lodgings and returns home to Ipswich only at weekends. His family life is suffering. He wants to bring his family to London to join him while continuing to perform this useful work for British Rail's Southern Region. There is much useful work that needs to be done. He must go first to Wandsworth council. That council, as it informed the Environment Select Committee, of which I am a member, is selling council houses to improve mobility in the work force. The council also admits reluctantly that some of the properties being sold to outsiders cost between £36,000 and £40,000.
I do not suppose that anyone working in the Battersea depot of British Rail is likely to be able to afford £40,000. The unfortunate Mr. Soilleux is not likely to be able to get any joy out of Wandsworth council in buying a house. If he considers trying to rent a property in Wandsworth, he has to bear in mind that this Conservative Government cut the housing grant to Wandsworth, a Tory authority, by no less than 38 per cent. this year when the sum supplied in the previous year was already inadequate. If he goes to the GLC, as people used to do, he will find that council proclaiming that it is "getting out of housing." That will be no benefit to this man, who has moved to London to find a job following the Prime Minister's advice.
He will also find that there has been a total collapse of mobility of movement within council tenancies in London as a result of the GLC "getting out of housing." Any rubbish we hear tonight from the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) or other Housing Ministers about the famous nationwide mobility scheme can be ignored. It will produce nothing of any consequence in the way of mobility. This man might have considered the alternative provided by housing associations. However, their grants have also been cut substantially.
I understand that the Housing Corporation has been told that priority in the future must by given to building for sale. I do not therefore think that this gentleman, taking the Prime Minister's advice and moving from Ipswich to Wandsworth, will fare very well over housing. Even if, in some amazing raffle, he finds somewhere for his family to live, he will also discover that rents and rates, as a result of Government policies, are being driven up. In the rate support grant announced about the same time as the cuts in housing grant, Wandsworth lost, according to the latest calculation at least £5 million compared with the previous year. The amount has to be recalculated almost daily because of the complexity of the system.
If this man obtains a house and wants to send his children to school, they will go, in all probability, to a school belonging to the Inner London Education Authority. As a result of the rate support grant settlement this year, that authority, instead of getting £140 million in grants from the Government which it received under the old system, may get £5 million or £6 million if it is lucky. I detest the suggestion of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) that the Inner London Education Authority is profligate and is responsible for what happened in Brixton. Apparently, everyone is responsible for what happened in Brixton except the Government.
727 If this man finds somewhere to live and his children attend an ILEA school, and if his income is sufficiently low, which is probably the case in the job he occupies, he will find that he can get grants for children's clothing. This contrasts with what happens in many mean-minded authorities in the rest of the country. He will also find that the ILEA is keeping down the price of school meals and that, if the law permits, it intends to reduce the price of school meals should Labour be returned to control of the ILEA on 7 May. I hope that that happens. I hope, too, that there will not be any mean-minded efforts by this mean-minded Government to prevent a reduction in school meals from 35p to 25p, which is what many people want.
The ILEA is also trying to maintain standards. I reject all criticism of the education authority from a Government who include the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker). He caused the people, teachers and parents of inner London to divert their attention for a year from improving education standards in inner London to persuading this ludicrous Government to abandon the even more ludicrous proposition that the ILEA should be broken up. It was a great shock to Tories in inner London when the people there rose up in defence of the Inner London Education Authority. Although they recognised its shortcomings, they also realised that it was doing the best that it could.
There have been many travesties of descriptions of what Her Majesty's inspectors reported on inner London. The greatest travesty was in the local evening paper. The last paragraph of the report said:It is probable that external circumstances and past events will cause many of the problems in the authority's area and institutions to persist. If, however, the authority can continue to develop its in-service training programme and retain the good will of its existing teachers and if it can continue to recruit and keep sufficient good teachers there is enough good practice in all sectors to justify reasonable confidence that considerable further improvements can be achieved.The Government's response is to cut the money for ILEA, in the space of one year, by about £135 million, and scurrilous attacks continue to be made by irresponsible Tory Members of Parliament and other Tories in London on the efforts of teachers and other people working for ILEA to maintain standards in schools.
Standards are not high enough. Much needs to be done. There are idle and useless teachers working for ILEA, just as there are idle and useless Members of Parliament, peers, civil servants, car workers, estate agents, lawyers, generals, and so on. I do not suggest for a moment that there are any idle, feckless and useless people in the Chair of this Chamber. That would be quite ridiculous. Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you and your colleagues, including Mr. Speaker, probably discharge your duties more conscientiously than any other group of people. Perhaps if I repeat that comment I shall be called earlier on the next occasion.
The cuts in Wandswoth apply in the rest of London, and even outside the ILEA area. According to some estimates, and compared with what might have been expected under the system which prevailed up to this year, London can expect to lose about £500 million of Government money. Yet the Tories in London blame the London boroughs and the ILEA which do their best to maintain their services in the face of swingeing and irresponsible cuts in grants.
728 I ask the gentleman from Ipswich and others like him "Why come to London in the first place?" Under this Government, for the first time London is no longer a good place to find a job. There are 250,000 people officially out of work. During the past 12 months, there has been a 72 per cent. increase in unemployment in Greater London. There are only 48,000 vacancies. Early last year, the number of job vacancies in London fell—as far as I can make out, for the first time in recorded history—below the number of people who are unemployed. Up to now, people could come to London with a reasonable hope of finding a job. That is no longer so.
Nearly a quarter of the people who want work in the construction industry in London are out of work, and it is not because construction is not needed. A quarter of London's housing stock is unsatisfactory by the Government's own standards. A third is unsatisfactory in inner London, and there is a shortage of 100,000 homes.
For every householder rehoused from the waiting list in 1979, six more joined it. In 1979, 17,000 homeless families in London were given temporary accommodation. Council rent levels in London are a third higher than those in the rest of the country. Increasingly people will have to turn to the public sector as the evil effects of the new Housing Act weaken the position of private tenants. Yet public sector building starts in Greater London have declined from 24,000 in 1975 to about 4,000 in 1980, which is one of the reasons why a quarter of building workers in London are out of work. That is an unacceptable disaster.
An even bigger disaster is the fact that, of the 250,000 unemployed in Greater London, no fewer than 90,000 are under 25 years of age. What sort of opportunity now beckons an inner London school leaver? The only one is a large and expanding opportunity to go on the dole. There are no fewer than 49 Old Etonians on the Tory Benches. They should look back to the time when they were rich, privileged and 16 and compare the prospects that beckoned them with the prospects which will beckon the 16-yearolds who come out of inner London schools this summer. They ought to feel ashamed and do something about it, but I doubt whether they will.
Probably the most important Tory of modern times, Benjamin Disraeli, was born in my constituency. He was a great man by any standards—not just because he described the Conservative Party as "an organised hypocrisy". That was true when he said it and it remains true today. He believed in one nation and said that the Tory Party should give the people a stake in the country. If we do not give those 90,000 youngsters—it will be more than 100,000 this summer—a stake in London by providing employment and decent prospects, we shall return to something with which Benjamin Disraeli was familiar and with which we are not, namely, the activities of the London mob. That was the way in which the poor people of London expressed themselves in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when the system took no notice of them. About 100,000 young people in London this summer will conclude that our society takes no notice of them, and they will draw attention to themselves. I think that they will do it violently unless we act quickly.
It is with some trepidation that I turn to another mob in London, namely, the London press. The Government claim that they are dedicated to competition. When they came into office, there were two major competing London evening newspapers. They were far from perfect, but they 729 expressed different points of view. People vaguely on the Left of the political spectrum could expect to get their views properly reported because of that competition. But it is now dangerous for Labour Members to criticise The New Standard. It has a monopoly, and it is able to vilify Labour Members and the Labour Party, not just in the House but in local authorities and the GLC. It knows that the people of London have nowhere else to go for their information because the Government did not act to prevent that monopoly.
It has been the lap dog of the London Tories since it came into operation. It scandal-mongered about Labour councils and about the ILEA. It has made scarcely a peep of reference to what damage Government policies have done to the people of London. It is a substandard newspaper.
The New Standard has indulged in some peculiar reporting of the House during the past few months. For example, today it states:Tory Back Benchers at Westminster joined in the GLC election battle today, hitting at the Labour Party pledge to repeal the British Nationality Act and the Immigration Act of 1971. Twenty MPs, led by Orpington Tory Ivor Stanbrook, have signed a Commons motion saying that Labour's intention …The report was wrong. "Today" should have read "on 14 April" because that was when the motion was tabled and when the bulk of the signatures were appended. I warn anyone who reads The New Standard—and it is a low standard—that next time it refers to "today's racecard at Uttoxeter" it may well be referring to a racecard for a fortnight before. If it refers to "today's television" it could mean yesterday's television or even tomorrow's television. Perhaps the editor will say "Oh no, we never allow sloppiness on the racing or television pages, only on the political page". We need improved standards and another London newspaper. I object to the monopoly, and I thought that the Government did also.
The New Standard is substandard, almost as substandard as the Government. The people of London deserve something better by way of a newspaper, and also by way of local government services. I hope that there will be some improvement when the Labour Party takes control of the GLC. Above all, I hope that the people of London will show that they are not prepared to face a future with 100,000 youngsters unemployed, with services declining and with continuing impovrishment. People will still flood into the capital because they think that circumstances here will be better. It is terrible to admit that, bad as the circumstances are in London, they may be better than elsewhere. That is why people still come to London from the provinces, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
We are moving towards a time when Brixton will be shrugged off because such events will be happening all the time. We must take positive measures now, and they must involve the Government in a total about-turn of the policies that they have applied to London. I hope that the electors of London will give some indication next week that they are not prepared to go along with the current position and that they want a change. Without a change I can see only a poor future for all who live in London, and an even poorer future for people such as myself whose children will be leaving school in two, three or four years.
I want everyone to have a decent opportunity. I hope that the rich and the powerful on the Conservative Benches will ensure that the people of London have the decent opportunity in future that they are denying them now.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
I do not know whether I can claim to speak for the rich and powerful, but at this late hour I want to make a humble contribution to the debate. I have listened to many speeches by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) in Committee on the Transport Bill. They are always engaging, but I gain the impression that he uses many carriages to carry few passengers. That was my impression again tonight.
The hon. Gentleman used this opportunity, as have hon. Members on both sides of the House, to campaign for the GLC elections—and why should he not? It is right that the House should debate London issues a few days before the elections. Once again, we face the prospect of a high-spending Labour GLC. The previous Labour CiLC increased the GLC rate precept by 235 per cent. in four years. Its present programmes are uncosted.
We are faced with a different London Labour Party. We are talking not about the London Labour Party of Herbert Morrison or Reg Goodwin of only a few years ago but about the party of Ted Knight and Ken Livingstone. In the Labour Party's manifesto for the GLC election, it is implicit that Labour intends to use the GLC's financial resources to redistribute wealth. It should be no part of the programme of any local authority to go into the business of redistributing wealth in that blatant way. In previous years Labour stated that it would free London from the scourge of the private landlord. That was a regrettable phrase to insert in a manifesto for a local election.
We have all too few proper debates on Greater London affairs. We have debates from time to time on GLC Bills, and I welcome the opportunity to voice some of the frustrations and some of the hopes of my constituents. I return to the old idea of having a Question Time on Greater London issues on Friday, perhaps once a month. The proposal to have a Minister for London would add only to bureaucracy. Many Departments of State are involved.
We have heard much about the problems of London, but the capital has much going for it. It is still one of the most pleasant and civilised capitals in which to live. Its theatres are the envy of the world. I am told that we now have more concerts in London than in any other city. It has more beautiful buildings and cleaner ones than most cities. I ask Ministers to reconsider the proposals for cleaning the Palace of Westminster. It is a disgrace in its present state and money will have to be spent on not only repairing but cleaning the Palace. Our parks, commons and trees are the envy of many major cities. The Thames, which is still sadly underused, is now cleaner than it has ever been in my lifetime.
I admit that there are pockets of high unemployment. There are slum areas with growing racial problems. There are rising vandalism and high levels of homelessness. The inner core of seediness and decay is a disgrace to Britain. I do not believe that any great city can flourish if its centre is in decay. The problems will ripple out. Indeed, they already have.
I give a constituency example. Some parts of outer London are regarded as soft touches for the professional thief. It seems that properties in inner London are much better barred and bolted than those in outer London.
I passionately believe in the need for a strategic authority for Greater London. It is an area of about 600 square miles. It must be more than a conglomeration of 32 731 boroughs with differing degrees of urban disease. For years County Hall appeared to lose its way. That happened partly because it had no clear understanding of what sort of animal the GLC should be. That is not so now because we have had the Marshall report and a Conservative GLC under the distinguished leadership of Sir Horace Cutler, which has done much to build up the GLC into a proper strategic authority within the South-East region. The GLC has been working to achieve clearer lines of responsibility between itself and the boroughs. I want the boroughs to be seen as primary units of local government in London. Great progress has been made since the Local Government Act 1963. My local authority of Bexley is now a powerful and well-organised London borough.
I am amazed by some of the comments of Labour Members about the obvious decision of the GLC to give its housing estates back to the boroughs. We want local communities to have responsibility for the local housing in their areas. We all know that the GLC housing empire was hopelessly bureaucratic in past years. I also appreciate the way in which the GLC staff has been scaled down by about 5,000—a reduction of 16 per cent. over four years.
I should like to comment on the status of the Metropolitan Police, and its proper control. There is a problem of the precepting authority having no democratic accountability. It would be wise for Conservative Members to recognise that. The Metropolitan Police is second to none. Greater London is an international city and has severe problems resulting from the number of processions and demonstrations that take place in the middle of London. Hon. Members become blasé. We do not know who is processing about what half the time, because there are so many processions.
I wish that organisers of such demonstrations could cut out the ritual march from Hyde Park Corner to Trafalgar Square on a Sunday, which wastes so much time for the police force. The arguments are overwhelming to keep the Metropolitan Police under the control of the Home Secretary. In recent years, there have also been the problems of the shootings in the diplomatic world in central London.
The City has a strange position. It is an anomaly in local government terms. However, the arguments which led the 1960 Royal Commission to recommend no change are still compelling. The traditional aspects of its activities, combined with its role of an international financial centre of acute importance to the national economy outweigh the advantages of a tidying-up operation.
Transport is always an issue for us in Bexleyheath. The way forward must be a comprehensive and balanced approach, with improved public transport, better roads and effective traffic restraint. One cannot have one of those three alone.
The key to successful transport policy in London is improved public transport. That must be the carrot. It carries people more cheaply with less demand on space and on our valuable energy resources and it does less environmental damage. Subsidies towards operating costs destroy the incentive to efficient operation, do nothing to increase reliability of service and do everything to add to the ratepayers' burden. Public finance should be reserved 732 for capital projects for transport. We all want better coordination between London Transport and the London services of British Rail. Much has been done and much more needs to be done.
The plight of London's roads has been mentioned. I notice that the standing conference on London's South-East regional planning said that £2,600 million needs to be spent on London's roads over the next 15 to 20 years. About two thirds of all travel in London is by car. About 60 per cent. of those in outer London journey to work by private car and 92 per cent. of all London's goods still go by road. I am always fascinated by the split personality of the Labour Party, which on the one hand talks about the problems of jobs and on the other hand says that no more money is to be spent on roads. Does it not understand that East London and the dock areas will not be regenerated if one cannot provide better roads to make the area more attractive to industrialists and to create jobs where they are needed?
The M25 is of vital importance to Greater London. It is the top priority in the Government's road programme, as it was in the Labour Government's road programme, but year by year it seems to be postponed. Ten per cent. of all the traffic coming to my constituency on the A2 will be reduced as soon as the M25 is completed. We shall get the full benefit of the road only when it completely circles London.
We also need better roads in London. The South Circular must be enlarged and improved, and limited tunnelling may be practicable. Certain key radial routes must be proceeded with—in particular the A2, which borders my constituency. Other essential local road improvements will be required.
I have the opportunity here to raise a hobby horse of mine under the heading "Streets for people". Many European cities have made far greater progress than we have, although we have had schemes for Camaby Street, South Molton Street and Leicester Square. I am delighted that people will have priority over traffic in the new Piccadilly Circus. However, the initial impetus has been lost. A new initiative is required to give more streets back to people in the middle of the day. More experiments with non-car routes are called for. Perhaps parts of Mayfair or Chelsea would be possible for that. We must strive to achieve a better balance between pedestrians and cars.
Although we have made life easier for cyclists in one or two small respects, London has been slow to cater for their increasing numbers. It was a disgrace that in the new and comprehensively planned Thamesmead, no proper cycleways were envisaged.
Race relations in London have been mentioned by several speakers. The impact of legislation on race relations is at best, only marginal. Clear risks are inherent in having special machinery to handle race relations. Although it can help, it is essential that the coloured population is treated as part of the community and not apart from it. For example, it is much better that a member of a minority community with a housing problem goes to his councillor or Member of Parliament than to a local community race relations council.
For a number of reasons, including our national economic performance, high unemployment and recent events in Brixton, there is a new wave of public anxiety over immigration. We are foolish if we pretend to the contrary. It is a most inopportune time for the Labour Party 733 to be seriously discussing relaxing immigration control. That attitude is not helpful to immigrants in Greater London.
There is no better way to improve race relations in London than to insist on equal opportunities for the rising second generation of the coloured population. Industry and commerce must ensure equality in recruitment, training and promotion. Career advice is particularly important for the immigrant youngster. I should like to see more officials in jobcentres recruited from ethnic minorities.
I praise the Metropolitan Police for what they have done over the years for race relations. They have devoted much manpower to the problem and have spent time and money. I was appalled to read the phrase "over-policing" in the context of Brixton. It is a ridiculous concept. The police commissioner has a clear duty to make sure that areas of high crime in an inner city are properly policed, which may required a large number of policemen.
No one can afford to be complacent about the problems of race relations in Greater London. Politicians of all parties must consider the best way forward. We cannot afford to be complacent either about the progress made in Greater London in recent years. Advances are obvious in some areas but we seem to be falling behind in others.
Iain Macleod once said that money was the root of all progress. That is a great generality which does not exactly fit the tune of the Treasury. Of course, there is much truth 734 in that phrase. We cannot make progress in Great London in housing, in public transport or on roads—hon. Members have heard me mention the figure of £2,600 million—without having money to spend. Also, money is not the only answer. Loncloners have the power to help themselves——
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Berry.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Before I call the hon. Gentleman to continue his speech, may I say that there are six other hon. Gentlemen who have intimated their wish to take part in the debate, so may we have speeches of rather less than 10 minutes before the winding-up speeches begin?
§ Mr. Townsend
Londoners have the power to help themselves to build up their local neighbourhoods without waiting for the planners, the bureaucrats and least of all the bulldozers to move in. They can build up their voluntary services without waiting for the council's hard-pressed social workers. It is not sufficient in a debate like this to criticise the major institutions and authorities in Greater London. It is up to all of us in this House and in our constituencies to do all we can ourselves.
§ 10.1 pm
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
I come from one of the happier constituencies in Greater London which started off this GLC term with a Tory councillor but which has ended up with a Labour councillor because the Conservative councillor who was elected, Mr. Roger Hiskey, resigned in disgust, probably despair more than disgust, at the policies of Sir Horace Cutler. Once he had done so, Sir Horace categorised him as having been of no use anyway from the start. In the subsequent by-election Labour won the seat and in West Lewisham at any rate we look forward to winning the seat again in this election.
I do not want to follow some of the speeches in this election—sorry, debate; I apologise for the slip of the tongue, but one could have felt at times during the debate that it was a sort of election meeting. There was that sort of drone that we all know so well. I do not want to follow that. I want to talk mostly about the police. If the speeches that have been made about the police so far should be thought to represent the total feeling of this House I do not think that would be a fair and balanced representation.
First, I wish to say a word about the Inner London Education Authority, not in a partisan spirit but just to get a few facts straight. The report by Her Majesty's inspectors on the ILEA is the only report on an education authority ever to have been published in the history of the inspectorate. For that reason alone, although the ILEA was keen to have it published and not leaked in driblets by the Government, it seemed like an act of discrimination against London compared with other local education authorities in Britain. I do not think that anyone believes that had a similar study been done about schools in Bristol, Leeds, Manchester or Liverpool the results would have been very different from those for the ILEA. What came out was that the ILEA is striving hard to keep up its legal responsibilities under the Education Act 1944.
When the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts was recently interviewing representatives of the Association of County Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities the chairman of the Dorset education committee, Miss Jean Bisgood, told us that Dorset had worked out the sort of curriculum it thought children should have but found it could not afford it. I asked whether Dorset was obeying the law in giving children less than it was thought they should have. Miss Bisgood replied that Dorset was going very near to breaking the law but she did not think that it was quite breaking the law.
The Inner London Education Authority has a great deal to be proud of in trying to keep up the standards enshrined by the House of Commons in the law of the land in comparison with local authorities which skate on thin ice and try to go as near to breaking the law as they possibly can.
§ Mr. Greenway
It should be made clear that the Secretary of State for Education and Science and Her Majesty's chief inspector said to the Committee that no local education authority is considered to be near breaking the law.
§ Mr. Price
I do not want to say any more than I have. I would not contradict what the hon. Gentleman said. He is a valued member of the Select Committee and works extremely hard on it. I welcome his intervention, but if he 736 reads again what Miss Bisgood said he will see that she indicated the way some local authorities are going. The people who are responsible for upholding the law are the local authorities and, if what she says is right, ILEA has a great deal to be proud of.
I shall confine the rest of my remarks to the police, not because I do not have a great deal to say about the subjects which other hon. Members have mentioned but because we have been asked to keep our remarks short and, coming as I do from Lewisham, I feel that something needs to be said about the police.
I want first to say a word about democratic control of the police. I was a member of the Sheffield watch committee in 1962 when the famous rhino whip affair occurred. The Home Office had to move in on the watch committee and set up a substantial inquiry, after which a large number of members of the police force were sacked. On that occasion I felt that the division of responsibility between the Home Office and the local democratic representatives in Sheffield was the right mixture to put right a police force that in everyone's opinion had gone badly wrong.
It is a defect of the London system that the London boroughs have no statutory outlet if they want to make representations. They can make informal representations to the Home Office, as the London boroughs of Lewisham and Lambeth have. It is not a matter of total control. It is a matter of sharing operational control of the police and financial control, between local authorities and the Government or a mixture of the two.
There is a place for some statutory right of access for local authorities. For instance, if the London borough of Lewisham in 1978 had had a statutory right of access to the Home Secretary it would have been able to prevent the destruction and carnage which took place in Lewisham in that year. I am not entirely happy about the way in which the Home Secretary has banned marches, although I think he is acting quite properly in banning the marches he has banned, and I congratulate him. I am sorry that there is no Home Office Minister on the Front Bench; there was one present earlier in the debate; and I hope that my remarks will reach the Home Office.
The consistent tone of Conservative Members is that we should not make indiscriminate attacks on the police. But by some sleight of hand, that is always changed to mean that one should not make any criticism whatsoever. Any criticism of the police is immediately categorised by the Conservatives as an indiscriminate attack. I intend to make a number of discriminate criticisms of the police because I believe that if this is not done the House of Commons will get a reputation for fawning on the police irrespective of their conduct, and those who are not treated properly by the Metropolitan Police will think that the House does not care about them.
No one in the House who, like me, has attended the hearings at County Hall over the past few days on the New Cross inquest could approach a debate such as this with any kind of levity. I shall speak of that matter later. Earlier this year, I asked the Home Secretary whether he wassatisfied with the decision of the Commissioner to put in charge of the investigation of the New Cross fire—which was the cause of the previous march—the policeman who investigated the Confait case and took down confessions which turned out to have absolutely no foundation in fact".—[Official Report, 5 March 1981; Vol. 1000, c. 403.]I asked whether it was sensible to pick a policeman—Commander Stockwell—with that proven 737 reputation, a statement having been made to the House by the Attorney-General totally exonerating people from whom confessions to murder had been taken down and a conviction secured on the basis of those confessions. When I saw the Home Secretary, he said that he had done his best to persuade the Commissioner but that the Commissioner had decided that it was a matter within his responsibility.
Subsequently, the Commissioner put the very same policeman in charge of the Brixton investigation. I protested once again to the Home Secretary. I mention that only because I welcome the Commissioner's decision, one week later, to remove Commander Stockwell from that investigation. That was an absolutely proper decision and I am glad that he took it.
With regard to the current inquest, I shall not comment specifically on any matter, but the general impression is one of absolute alienation between one group—namely, the youngsters involved in the New Cross fire—and another group of people—namely, the police, the lawyers and everyone else not subject to unemployment, bad housing and police harassment. The alienation is so complete that something must be done about it. That alienation exists not because the Metropolitan Police are bad therein but because a sufficient number of policemen are sufficiently insensitive as to give the whole Metropolitan Police a bad name, particularly among those youngsters.
I am sorry to say that the same thing is still going on. Co-operation is excellent in Lewisham between the commander and the borough council. It is very good between Sir David McNee and the three Members of Parliament for Lewisham. We are always having lunch together. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who pays?"] It is shared. We take it in turns. But co-operation at lower levels in some areas of Lewisham is perfectly awful, and something ought to be done to improve it. I cite two instances. Lambeth borough council has been derided in the debate, but it does some splendid work. It has produced a report on a recent incident at a Brixton youth club. A white leader of a youth club with mainly black members was told by the police that they would burst into his club. The youth leader said that they would cause a row if they did that. He offered to bring out the youngster whom they wanted. The youth leader brought out one of the youngsters. He asked what the youngster was wanted for. Before he knew what had happened he was half-nelsoned, kicked to the ground and arrested for obstructing the police. That person has a high reputation in the community. The police desperately need the co-operation of such people. They must not alienate them.
A report in The Times Educational Supplement describes the events at a parents' evening to discuss the excellent work done in a Kennington school. The parents saw outside the window a fight between blacks and whites. They called the police and found that the whites in the fight were the police. That illustrates the problem involved in trying to police a black community with a white police force. One parent who remonstrated with the police was hit on the head with a truncheon and arrested.
Such incidents are not isolated in South London. I do not know about North London, but I know what goes on in South London. Only one or two such incidents are needed to alienate a whole generation of youngsters. 738 Unless the police take the lessons to heart and do something, our cities will suffer the fate suffered in the 1960s and early 1970s by American cities.
That is the message that we politicians should give to the youngsters of London. It is no good hon. Members and the Prime Minister, who are not suffering from unemployment, rotten housing, discrimination in employment and police harassment, when a riot such as that in Brixton takes place, writing off the causes and saying that the riot had nothing to do with such circumstances. The situation will become worse as the decay progresses unless the Metropolitan Police evolve a system under which they can rapidly increase the number of black policemen in their ranks and rapidly provide better training for all policemen so that the incidents which I have described never occur again anywhere in London.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)
The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) is right in saying that indefensible incidents., isolated or not, should be investigated. It should be made plain when police are obviously not doing their duty in a way which can be supported. We should disapprove and take the necessary action.
We must give more time to considering the job that the police are required to do by us and the community. If my 13-year-old son came home from Battersea Park having been beaten up by 30 children of one or mixed colour, I would not regard poor housing or anything else as an excuse. There is no excuse for 13-year-old children kicking the head of another child.
I live on the nicer fringes of Brixton. However, my house was threatend with demolition because it did not have a bathroom. Now that I have managed to put in a bathroom, the area has been made a conservation area. It is the usual sort of game. There have been 18 burglaries as well as attempted break-ins, car thefts and bicycle thefts. In addition, motor bikes have been burnt. It makes my blood boil when people say that the police should get out of that area of Lambeth. Those who say such things, such as members of the Larnbeth council and its leader, do not pay sufficient attention to me or to by friend Dan. He has a fruit barrow in Brixton market. He saw two or three weeks' earnings overturned and burnt by a rampaging mob. There is no excuse for that.
There may be reasons why people were caught up in the mobs of 300 or 30 who went through Brixton during the riot. None of them is an excuse. We must realise the duties that are imposed upon the police. I hope that the bipartisan agreement between my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) to the effect that there should be more blacks in the police force will be heeded not only by the police but by young people. It is no good talking about a shortage of job opportunities if we cannot turn out of our schools children with the entrance qualifications for the police service who feel that it is a worthwile job. Those who join the service should convince other members of the Metropolitan Police that there is no reason to turn someone over because he is black, has long hair or is a Conservative who opposes a political march or demonstration. There must be a "dilution" and recognition that it is just as good for a black man to be a policeman as it is for him to be a footballer in one of our major clubs or an England cricketer.
739 London's magistrates' courts are generally accepted as being fair by all sections of the community because the Lord Chancellor has gone out of his way to encourage blacks to become magistrates. That is one way in which our system of justice has been made more appropriate. Such activity should be encouraged.
I wish to make a non-party political point about the Inner London Education Authority. I hope that members and officers of ILEA will read of our views on London. Today I received a letter from Peter Newsam in response to a question on how many under-aged children had been put forward for secondary transfer in the various divisions. It is incredible that we should treat children in London in the same way as the horse racing authorities treat horses.
Most hon. Members will know that if a baby is born in the first few minutes of 1 September, it will belong to one year group. If a baby is born before that time, it will be in another year group. Under the ILEA system there is said to be a certain amount of flexibility. Primary heads can recommend, secondary heads can accept and the divisional education officer can approve, an application for a child to be treated out of year; that is to say, a child with a birthday on 1 September can be treated as if he had been born a day earlier. Similarly, a child born on 31 August can be treated as if he had been born a day later. Flexibility extends to a month or two on either side of that date.
In each of the London divisions of ILEA fewer than five children out of thousands were put forward to be treated in that way. In many divisions only one or two children were put forward. Our education system cannot claim to look after the needs of individual children if there is no system for picking out those for whom a transfer out of age would be appropriate. I feel strongly about this matter, because my daughter was born at 4 am on 1 September. At primary school, it was almost impossible for her to be treated with her peers in terms of age, development and ability. People continually said that it would not be possible for her to transfer with them and that she would have to spend two years in the top form of her primary school. That would also have applied if she had been less able or if she had been backward.
The ILEA may be great in some respects but not in others. It should sort out the systems and should look at children as individuals rather than as convenient pawns to be moved around by the bureaucratic machine.
I shall mention other topics not because I hope that they will be taken up by other hon. Members but because it is worth putting them on the record. The London ambulance service is likely to be brought out on strike. Unlike the fire brigade or the police, it is treated not as an emergency service but as an essential service.
There is no reasonable way in which one can differentiate between essential and non-emergency services and the worth of a group such as the ambulance drivers, those who deal with accidents on the roads and for much of their work, with emergency cases. Even if it is not possible this year, I hope that during the year to come we shall find a way of linking their pay increases, not necessarily at the same overall level as the fire brigade and the police, but to ensure that they get the same treatment and are considered at the same time.
We know that there are links between the coal miners, electricity and power workers and the gas workers. We 740 should recognise the worth and value of the ambulance service in advance of strikes and threatened disputes. Ambulance workers have a reasonable case and, although this year it may not be possible to give them what they think they deserve, we should give them certainty that they will be considered properly and not treated as the tail-end Charlies of the essential but non-emergency services.
My last point concerns Lambeth and not the borough that I represent, Greenwich, because it is illustrative of the great Lambeth council. I went to a meeting three days before the riots in Brixton. It was called in the area where I live because Lambeth council had erected new street lights without consultation. The council had used a job lot of street lights and put them into a conservation area 4 ft. away from railings erected outside some new homes built by the council. The railings cost about £1,000 per house because they were made of cast iron rather than the steel railings used by private owners. Lambeth council was spending £500 to £1,000 a house on cast iron railings. Four feet away it had put a concrete lamp post totally out of character with the area and nothing like the lamp posts that were being replaced in the conservation area.
The local residents, whether living on the council estate, owner-occupiers or private tenants, were up in arms. In answer to one question at the meeting the former chairman—he had just retired from the job—of the public services committee was asked "Where would the lamp posts have gone if they had not been put here?" The answer was "Railton Road". That is typical of what has been happening in the centre of Lambeth and Brixton in the past 15 or 20 years. Thousands of pounds can be found for cast iron railings rather than steel railings. Thousands of pounds can be spent on putting lamp posts into an area where they are not wanted or needed rather than concentrating the funds where they are needed.
It is plain that, without the ideological revulsion on the part of the leader of the Lambeth council and his other merry men, it would be possible to sell council homes in Lambeth to make more money available to redevelop areas such as Railton Road and the streets around it. It is clear that what has happened in Lambeth—and going rather wider than Brixton into South Lambeth which is the area of Lambeth to the north of Brixton—is that the area has been denuded of the people who help to make it a proper community. The social workers in Lambeth do not live there; they live in Eltham. The teachers of Lambeth do not live there; they live in Bromley. The policemen of Lambeth probably live in Sutton. The only community leaders who live there are the clergymen—the priests and the vicars.
If we are to spread to the area where I live in Lambeth the benefits that there are in Eltham and the other constituencies represented by Conservatives, we must ensure that the community is as diverse as possible. We need to accept that diversity and ensure that as many opportunities and hopes as possible are available to the people who live in the centre of inner cities as there are round the outskirts of Greater London.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)
The House owes a great debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) for the way in which he spoke of Brixton—and not only for what he said but for the way in which he said it. With some honourable exceptions, I was sorry to hear so many platitudes afterwards from 741 Conservative Members about the police. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) described them aptly. It is sad to hear Conservative Members saying that the Labour Party is just blaming things on the police or that the police stirred things up.
The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) listed a range of Left-wing organisations which, he implied, had in some way led to the problem. That could not be true. In all fairness—and rather sadly from my own point of view—I would have to say that the groups he listed would not be capable of organising a riot because they would be too busy discussing the political equivalent of how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.
There is a problem of racialism in Britain today, and the crux of that problem is white racialism. We have ducked it, and ducked it too frequently. I hope that Conservative Members will join me and other hon. Members in calling for a full debate on it in the House in the near future. I hope that they will be more active in doing that, because it must seem hypocritical to black people outside this House that race issues are discussed in a debate such as this only after an event such as that in Brixton. That is the real tragedy.
I have a clear message tonight for the ethnic minority groups. They should make sure that they go to see the candidates of the main parties in their area and ask them what they intend to do about the problem of racism. They should make sure that their questions are answered.
There are 22 parliamentary constituencies in the London area in which the majority at the general election was smaller than the number of New Commonwealth residents, according to the 1971 census. I hope that those ethnic minority groups will use that political power to get the answers they need and have been so long denied.
Racialism is not politics. We can change our political views, we can change our religious views, but we cannot change our race. It is high time that the leader of the British constitution, The Queen or some other member of the Royal Family, spoke out strongly and clearly against racialism. It is something that is totally and fundamentally different from politics. It is high time that we had a clear lead from a member of the Royal Family.
I praise my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) for his criticisms of The New Standard. I have already said to the editor of that paper that he has failed to develop a responsible attitude in his reporting of racist events in London. There should be a much more positive and constructive response.
I wish to say no more on the issue of race this evening. I have raised it before in London debates. I rest my case on the fact that we must have a discussion of it in circumstances other than the present ones.
Much has been said about rates. Very little has been said about the fact that such Tory-controlled boroughs as Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Wandsworth, have all put up the rates, and put them up massively. They have done so at the same time as they have introduced cuts in services on a major scale and at the same time as they have been creating unemployment.
It is said at times by those boroughs in their defence that it is all down to the Inner London Education Authority. For a start, it is not, and, secondly, if it is, let us be clear what the Tory Party is asking for. Let us be clear what are its election promises in this case. Its message, quite simply, is "Cut education". That is the only conclusion one can draw from its policies.
742 I remember the Tory poster at the time of the general election, with a large number of actors on it, saying "Britain is not working". The unwritten part of that poster was "And we shall make damn sure that it does not work much more". The Tory Party's Health Service poster said that the Health Service was not getting better. It might have gone on to say "And we shall make sure that it has a terminal illness". That was the hidden message.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
The real problem with the Health Service, at the time of the last general election, was the waiting lists, which have since been dramatically reduced.
§ Mr. Soley
The hon. Member will know that the real problem of the Health Service has been a reduction in expenditure throughout. We know that the Health Service will be cut further by the Government.
The rates problem in the inner cities has clearly been caused by the Secretary of State for the Environment. The problem can be seen in every constituency in London in the number of locked toilets, the libraries that have to be closed at certain times because of shortage of staff, the lack of house building and reduced repairs. On the other hand, it is claimed that rates are driving business out of London. I do not accept that. Business men in my constituency inform me that their problem is trying to retain skilled labour. Skilled workers remain in London until they 25 or 30 and then move out because they cannot buy or rent a property. Business is following the skilled labour out.
I understand when business men, like any individual, complain about higher rates. This argument ignores the fact that business men are subsidised. Housing provided for skilled workers mean that businesses are subsidised. If nursery education is provided so that women workers can be employed, business is again subsidised. If we, the people, provide good education we subsidise business. That cannot be ducked.
I agree with the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) who spoke about car repairs on the streets. I receive constant complaints about the matter. We should not, however, duck the issue. The removal of such forms of employment together with the problem of skilled labour drives out businesses. There is no significant connection with rates. It is, however, possible that, as a result of the Secretary of State's bungling on rates, he will be the first Secretary of State who has driven out people over that issue.
The Tory control of County Hall is a damning indictment of failure, an abandonment of housing responsibility and, above all, of strategic responsibility. We have longer waiting lists and decaying property. Will the Minister confirm or deny that a report being kept secret in his Department shows that £2,000 million to £3,000 million needs to be spent on prefabricated flats and houses to put them into the state that should have existed when they were handed over by the contractors? Many sources in the housing world believe that this is true. All hon. Members know of cases of structural defect, condensation and other major problems in system-built flats of this type. The figure I have mentioned has appeared in BBC and other reports. If this report is available, it should be published not only because of its public expenditure consequences but because it could also help the Government.
743 One method by which this country can be brought out of recession is by help being given for the building industry. This could be achieved through a programme of thermal insulation and repairs which would take building workers off the dole and put money into the capital production part of the country. It is no excuse for the Minister to say in parliamentary replies that domestic energy notes Nos. 2 and 4 of his Department are sufficient explanation of condensation problem in modern system-built flats. I understand on good authority that one family was told by its council, not a London council, that the problem of condensation in their bedroom was caused by heavy breathing. I did not believe at first what I heard but, as it was reported by the BBC, I assume that it must contain some truth.
There is a major problem of condensation which is often blamed on tenants. It is not their fault and cannot be seen as their fault. I visited recently a number of blocks of flats and houses in my constituency. I think of the Old Oak estate, built in the inter-war years and consisting of beautiful houses. However, they have been allowed to decay. There are gaps between the windows and the wall. One can crouch in the living room and look out into the open air because the wood has rotted away. That shows a lack of proper maintenance.
I was pleased to find the following comment in the so-called Marxist document that was issued by the London Labour Party, and which I consider to be a good and thorough document:Tenants will be given the right to do their own repairs via independent labour and debit the cost from rent if essential day-to-day repairs are not carried out by the GLC within given specified time after registration with the district housing office".That is the kind of approach that we should support.
I urge tenants to think about using the Public Health Act 1936 to enforce repairs. It is not good enough to have damp and fungus on the walls—as is the case in the Emlyn Gardens and Becklow estates in my area—and to claim that they are not a health risk. Of course they are a health risk, and something must be done about it.
Finally, I ask the Minister to do something about the problems of houseboat tenants. They are rarely mentioned in this place, but those of us who have constituencies alongside the river know that houseboat tenants have no security of tenure, can be evicted more or less without notice, and have their rents doubled—or worse—overnight. It is time that the housing laws were extended to those people.
§ Mr. Martin Stevens (Fulham)
It is always a pleasure to speak in a London debate after the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley), and when the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) is on the Opposition Front Bench. They fill the same role in my life as my old Aunt Florence, with whom one never agreed but whom one was always glad to see at Christmas time.
The Opposition appear tonight under the shadow of the Greater London Council elections. My hon. Friends and I stand at the glorious sunlit door of a further four years in office. For many Londoners the issue is perceived as the difference between the Marxists, the "red Teds", the sinister figures who are mentioned in the party 744 propaganda, and those who believe in a greater degree of freedom and independence. There is nothing particularly sinister about being a Marxist. Perhaps it is right to be a Marxist. I shall not be unduly religious about the matter. A Marxist is a person who thinks that the greatest good for the greatest number is to be found in a social organism in which every serious function is undertaken by the public authorities.
Most of us, particularly those who, like me, have spent 30 years in local government in inner London, are sceptical about the efficiency, effectiveness and degree of pleasure and happiness given to our fellow citizens by public authorities. As Tories, we accept that there is a role for the State and for public bodies, but in those bodies we do not see the ideal solution to every problem.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North spoke about the business rate. In the five years prior to the election of a Conservative authority in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, we lost 59½ per cent. of all manufacturing jobs—more than three times the level of inner London boroughs as a whole. When the then Labour local authority instituted a professional study to determine the reasons, the first of the three reasons given by those businesses which had left Central London was that they felt that the local authority was hostile to them.
Exactly the same hostility felt by those business men whose departure has caused so much suffering in the borough which the hon. Gentleman and I seek to service is felt by the police, too, when they hear the criticisms, specific and unspecific, of many Labour Members.
I could weigh in with my series of stories about things which the police have done wrong. Some London citizens, with some element of truth, could even describe the things that parliamentary representatives have done wrong. The Metropolitan Police are now 1,000 more in number than at this time last year. If two-thirds of the officers in a police station have less than two years' experience each, we are talking about young men with a great deal to learn. They have a heavy responsibility and an immensely difficult job to perform.
Inevitably, in view of recent events, a debate on London must touch on the Metropolitan Police. It is surely the role of this House to give, and to be seen to give, our friends in the "Met" our fullest support. That was accorded to the police by the leaders of the ethnic minority groups in Brixton. They did not criticise the police. Instead, they criticised those social workers, trouble makers and teachers who urge our young citizens to go into the world as rebels and who teach the boys and girls in our schools that they are right to have a grudge against society.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) talked about the litany of bad housing, unemployment and police harassment. That has become a hymn for Labour Members from Central London. Yet, as my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) said, even if they were true, none of those things could justify the kind of anti-social, criminal behaviour which we expect the Metropolitan Police to control.
I should like to touch on two other points. The first relates to housing, about which we are all deeply concerned. However, no one ever mentions the 3,400 empty houses and flats in private occupation in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, many of which have been standing empty for many years because of the Rent Act 1974. The Conservatives on the borough council 745 resigned control because of the level of rates that was forced upon them, but as of last night they have agreed to resume responsibility.
It would indeed be wrong if a borough council spent four years in office and did nothing about those 3,400 dwellings. I am glad to say that I have at last persuaded the council to adopt a "North Wiltshire" scheme to see whether we can persuade owners of such private property to accept tenants on North Wiltshire terms. I am sure that hon. Members will be familiar with those terms.
My final comments relate to a matter in which I have played a reasonably prominent role, supported by many friends in Central London. It concerns the level of lead in petrol. I raise this matter tonight because my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment represents the leading Department in the galaxy of Departments that are considering this problem. The Department of the Environment and the other Departments concerned have recognised that lead in petrol represents a genuine risk, particularly to children in Central London.
In my constituency there is perhaps the highest level of lead pollution in inner London. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who in due course will be making a statement, that we are looking to him for an agreement to reduce the lead content of petrol from its present level of 0.5 of a gramme per litre and to say that lead-free petrol will be available forthwith in our petrol stations. That can be done, and there are many vehicles on our roads, or which are being manufactured in our car factories, that can use lead-free petrol. We ask him to produce a declaration of intent that Britain will go lead-free at the earliest possible moment. We all recognise that we cannot go lead-free overnight. However, a declaration of intent would be an important step forward. It is one that the Australians took last month.
The next step will be to require motor vehicles to incorporate the machine which greatly reduces the emission of the three other serious toxic gases which motor cars throw out into the streets through which they pass. Colour photographs of an American city before the steps for which we are asking were taken show in the sunlight a black haze hanging over the rooftops. The changes for which we are asking took place in America about 10 years ago, and in current photographs of American cities the sky is clear from that sort of pollution. It looks nicer and it is healthier, and that is what we want for London.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
I take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) in making reference to my hon. Friends the Members for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) and for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) and congratulating them on the influence that they have brought to bear in initiating a debate of this nature on London. It is right and proper that the House should give attention to London's problems. There are many from other parts of Britain who think that London is part of the affluent South-East and that it has no difficulties. They think only of Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Soho or Westminster. They do not always necessarily comprehend that we have some of the worst social problems and deprivation to be found anywhere in the kingdom.
As soon as one gets to the east of Aldgate Pump in my area one is moving into an area of great social deprivation. Housing is the issue that comes to the fore most frequently 746 in my advice bureau. There are appalling housing problems in Newham, and London is caught in the pincer movement of a Conservative Government and a Conservative GLC. In these circumstances we have the lowest rate of housebuilding since the war.
I do not know whether Conservative Members are proud that we have the lowest rate of housebuilding since the war. The badly housed who come to see me every Saturday have no hope of escaping from the problem. It is true that under the previous Labour-controlled GLC 6,000 houses were being built each year on average. Last year 36 houses were built. What an abdication! It seems that the Conservative Party's sole approach to housing is to regard owner-occupation as the cure-all at any cost. As a Socialist I have nothing against owner-occupation. There is nothing in Socialism against owning one's own house. Aneurin Bevan said that there was nothing wrong in owning one's own house but that it is when someone owns 500 or 600 of other people's houses that we look askance. However, in most areas of London, people on low incomes have no chance of buying their own house. That is impossible.
§ Mr. Leighton
I shall not give way as I do not have much time. The hon. Member for Fulham will have read his party's election manifesto at the last election. It was entitled "Inner London must live". It said that:The council is making more money available for those who wish to buy in the private sector through GLC home loans.What happened to the policy that people should be assisted to buy their own home?
Since 1977–78, when the Conservative Party came to power, it made 8,000 loans available, at a cost, at today's prices, of £140 million. In its years in power from 1973–74 until the Tories took over, Labour helped 30,400 people at a cost, at today's prices, of £490 million. Therefore, Labour did far more to help people to attain owner-occupation during its tenure of the GLC.
In my borough of Newham, 36 per cent. of our housing stock is unfit. We have a housing investment programme allocation. In 1979–80, it was £25.8 million. That has been slashed by the Government to £17.4 million in 1981–82. I wonder whether anyone is prepared to justify that and whether any Conservative Member is prepared to condone that.
Under the last Labour GLC, pensioners were given free bus passes. The next Labour GLC will extend that to the tubes and to British Rail services.
There is not one London Member who will seek to justify what the Government have done about the rate support grant. Even Kensington and Chelsea, which is not run by the militants, has had to increase its rates by 52.6 per cent.
Unemployment is rising faster in London than the national average. In certain parts of inner London, it is two to three times the national average; and for the black population, it is double that. In my constituency, the latest figures show that there are 20 vacancies and that there are 3,238 unemployed persons. That is an increase of 125 per cent. since the Conservative Party took power. Many of them are school leavers. We are moving into uncharted waters. We are telling those youngsters as they leave school that society has no use for them, that they are not wanted, that they are rejected and that we have no purpose for them. I do not know what result that will have. If 747 society has no use for them, perhaps they will say that they have no use for society. Perhaps they will become antisocial. How will that manifest itself? Perhaps it will be in vandalism or petty crime.
Within spitting distance of the House—across the road into Battersea—one can find people living in great deprivation. They have only to walk over the bridge, to come into the King's Road, to walk down Sloane Street and to go to Kensington to see the shops like vast cornucopias, full of fur coats, diamonds and other examples of the wealth and riches of society. If I had no job, I might feel like smashing a window and helping myself. I do not know, but that is the sort of society that the Government are creating. They will bear the responsibility if they continue to create a situation of no hope.
There is also the racist component. I pay tribute to the Home Secretary for banning the National Front march in Newham last weekend, where 20 per cent. of the population is Asian. Race relations are fairly good, but the Asians suffer harassment. We recently had a racialist killing. The person convicted gave a Hitler salute and said "Sieg Heil" to the judge, as he had been influenced by National Front propaganda. A National Front March in East Ham will cause a breach of public order. The Home Secretary must continue to ban such marches. I shall never agree to the National Front marching in my constituency, and the Asian population would certainly oppose it.
We must consider the problem seriously and ensure, under the public order and race relations legislation, that provocation is not allowed.
§ 11.1 pm
§ Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)
As it is now 11.1 pm, I shall make only one point.
Throughout this seven or eight-hour debate we have heard much about the importance of law and order and the police. The GLC has been operated by a Conservative administration for four years, which has provided an infrastructure, initiated reforms and obtained savings in wastage. Let us not at this point in our arrangements for the proper administration of London throw it all away by a change that will lead only to escalating rates.
Evidence is clearly emerging, certainly in my part of North-West London, that local authorities that are enormously increasing rates are driving industry to areas of London with lower rates. If that is translated to London as a whole, God help our employment prospects. That is why I hope that in a week or so, when the decision is made, the administration will remain the same.
§ 11.3 pm
§ Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)
It gives me great pleasure to wind up the debate on behalf of the Opposition. Although we have had longer debates, perhaps from 9 pm to 4 am or 5 am or later, this is the first eight-hour debate on London in reasonable debating time. The collaboration among all parts of the House has been mentioned. It is something of a momentous occasion.
It is also a momentous occasion because the debate was opened by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), who is well respected and liked in the House. He has spoken on behalf of London Members for many years and has made a valuable 748 contribution to London's affairs. He opened the debate with authority and conviction. He began by detailing the Tory promises not only for Greater London but also when the Government came to power. He dealt with the issues of housing, jobs, taxation and prices. He said what the people of the country were led to believe was that we were about to enter a Tory fairyland; an El Dorado or a bonanza of some kind awaited us. We know that most of what was promised could rightly be categorised as bribes. My hon. Friend rightly stressed the enormous problems Londoners faced, particularly as a result of the loss of jobs.
My hon. Friend also dealt effectively with what he called the dirty tricks and the double talk that the House had heard from representatives of the Government and those who have sought to defend the GLC over the past few years. One of the great values of my hon. Friend's impressive maiden speech from the Dispatch Box was that it exposed the humbug and hypocrisy of Tories at central and local government level. I hope that we shall hear many more such speeches from him from the same position in the House.
We then heard from my hon. Friend's Conservative counterpart on London matters, the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt). I was disappointed to some extent because he set the tone for most of the speeches from his side of the House. He used the bogyman phrase "Marxist", and others of his hon. Friends trotted out the words "Trotskyist" and "Socialist". They used those words as if they believed, first, that they would be understood per se, and, secondly, that they would strike terror into the hearts of the electors. Once or twice Conservative Members sought to explain what they meant. Very quickly it became evident that the terms could be interpreted or understood by different people at different times to mean different things.
The hon. Member for Ravensbourne put a bit of flesh upon his bogymen terms by telling us what Marxism meant in terms of the manifesto. He began by telling us that the manufacture of buses, something which the London County Council and the GLC have been doing for 50 years, is the hallmark of a Marxist council. He said that another dreadful, heinous crime of a Marxist council would be its deliberate policy to reduce and control the escalating cost of transport in the capital city. Many of us have travelled to other capial cities. Reference has been made to the fares that are charged in Paris. I was recently in Athens where one can travel on the buses and on the underground at a flat fare of 10 drachmas, roughly equivalent to 10p. Yet we are led to believe that a council which is intent on keeping down the cost of public transport ipso facto is a Marxist council.
Another point which the hon. Gentleman used to illustrate his view was the attitude of a future Labour GLC to the police. This was dealt with effectively by my hon. Friends, who pointed out that Conservative Members see no problem at all in London ratepayers and the GLC having far less opportunity to influence, let alone direct or control, the police than is the case in almost any other part of the country. Whether the policy that will be pursued will be as deep or, as hon. Conservative Members would say, as dark as they believe will happen I am not expert enough to say.
It is nonsense to say that it is right and proper that a future GLC, or even a past GLC, should suffer from the present position. Evidence has come forward throughout the debate about the disquiet which is felt by many 749 citizens, not that the police are in need of massive control or influence but that there is a need for a greater input into the deliberations and management of the police by the ratepayers or their representatives in London and in many other places.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend
I hope that the hon. Member will deal seriously with my point that Greater London has many processions with special problems as well as a large number of embassies which need protection by a special squad and that there are problems specific to Greater London which are best left in the hands of the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Graham
I entirely agree that London is a special case with special problems, but that specialism ought not to manifest itself in the ratepayers of London being among the few in the country who do not have the same opportunity as others. I entirely agree that there are special needs and special services that the police must provide in London which they cannot provide in other places.
§ Mr. John Hunt
Is it not a fact that the ratepayers of London are the only ratepayers able to express their views about police matters through their Members of Parliament? That is the difference, the distinction and the benefit that we have.
§ Mr. Graham
If the hon. Member is saying that the ratepayers would prefer that system to the one that we propose, they will have the opportunity to say precisely that on 7 May.
The hon. Member for Ravensbourne then made, in a very sneering way, his only other reference to the manifesto, which was to the emphasis laid on a range of community initiatives from which he singled out worker co-operatives. I believe that a great deal can be done through co-operatives to provide jobs, small businesses, capital initiative and so on. I was therefore saddened by the tone that the hon. Gentleman adopted.
The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) did not make a speech but aided and abetted the general tone in an intervention on housing. He asked why Labour councils built large council estates. The question scarcely required an answer, but it gives me the opportunity to say that the reason why large council estates were built in the past was that there was a need for councils, Labour or Conservatives, to tackle the problem of slums, to provide decent housing and to give families an opportunity to live as families. There are no gimmicks here. Socialism, Marxism, Trotskyism, call it what one will, it is simply decent local government by decent councils.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) then described the housing problems in his constituency. We have problems in Enfield and Edmonton—and I am delighted to see my friend on the other side, the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry), as always, in his place but, as always, mute and unable to make a contribution—but they pale into insignificance beside the housing problems faced by many inner London areas. My right hon. Friend made clear the nonsense that has been perpetrated on the people of his constituency and others under the guise of so-called cuts, grants and savings.
I now come to what I considered to be one of the most effective speeches made not just in this debate but in the House for a long time—I am grateful to see the Minister 750 nod in agreement—namely, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser). He was one of those people fortunate enough to be, if not in the right place at the right time, at least in the right place at the wrong time so that he was able to give an eye-witness account of what happened. He went out of his way to repudiate completely the Prime Minister's assertion that social deprivation had nothing to do with the outbreak of riots. He was one of the many Opposition Members who said that they were not prepared to prejudge the outcome of an inquiry but that an inquiry into what happened in Brixton was certainly needed. My hon. Friend said something which I sense was not accepted by Government Members—that there is deep distrust of the police in the black community. He described incidents of deep disaffection and alienation known to him from experience. We are enormously indebted to my right hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) conveyed the sense of exasperation and despair felt at the seemingly unfeeling reaction of Government Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) put the issue of police antagonism in its true context. We resent allegations by Government Members that my right hon. and hon. Friends criticise the police unjustifiably. Equally we resent the inference that only Tory Members sympathise with the problems encountered by the police.
Tributes have been paid to the police. Of course, relationships vary. The relationships with the police in Edmonton are very good. The police are constructive and responsive. However, the social and economic problems in my constituency are far less explosive than they are elsewhere.
I make it clear from the Opposition Dispatch Box that we condemn violence against the police, persons and property as much as anyone in the House. Wrongdoers, black or white, must be punished regardless of the circumstances in which they commit violence against police, persons and property.
However, we do not believe that the police are less likely than any other organisation to harbour rotten apples. Evidence produced tonight and at other times makes it clear that that occurs. We shall continue to criticise police who deserve to be criticised for their individual actions.
My neighbour, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar), referred to the GLC Bill. I agree with what he said about car parking powers and the nuisance of car repairs being done on the highway. He referred to the problem of car parking on the Ayley Croft estate. I was surprised when he referred to the GLC candidate for Enfield, North, Mr. Tony McBrearty, who is the chairman of Haringey housing committee. He made slighting references to the quality of the work undertaken by Haringey council and the rejection of it by the Enfield council. I was surprised because he will have received more complaints about the Avenue estate in Bush Hill Park, built, contracted and managed by the Tory council in Enfield. It has caused more problems to Enfield council than many other estates.
The Klinger estate saga also continues. The Tory GLC and Tory local council have perpetrated a scandal and disgrace against the homeless in both Enfield, North and Edmonton. The houses there were built to rent. The GLC decided to sell them. It failed to sell them. After they have 751 been empty for 18 months and Enfield has refused to accept them because of their bad state, they are to be offered for rent.
I wish Tony McBrearty well. When he has been elected, the people of Enfield, North will have served due notice on the hon. Member for Enfield, North of the shape of things to come at the next general election. It will be an unhappy event for him.
It is no accident that we should be debating the kind of life that we plan and hope that Londoners will have a few days before they speak for themselves in the most effective way, namely, through the ballot box. The press and Conservative Members have made an orchestrated attempt to represent the election as an opportunity to "keep London out of the red".[Interruption.] That could have been taken as read. Conservative Members will have to make a difficult choice. I have been on the doorsteps of houses in Edmonton, just as other hon. Members wil have stood on doorsteps in their constituencies. It is a truism to say that most local elections are fought and perhaps resolved on a Government's record. It is the national issues that hold the day.
However, it is not only the Government's policies that have influenced electors but the attitudes and arrogance of one woman, namely, the Prime Minister. It may not be true in Bromley, but in Edmonton the most mentioned name is not that of the Labour candidate or of the Tory candidate but that of the Prime Minister. She is not always referred to in reverent terms. Conservative Members have a choice. When the Labour candidates have swept to power next week, they can either convince themselves that it was nothing to do with them, the Tory-controlled GLC or a future GLC but was the result of the Prime Minister's policies, or they can convince themselves that, if the Prime Minister and the Government's record are not to blame, the future policies of a Labour-controlled GLC must have been accepted.
§ Mr. Stevens
The hon. Gentleman has offered us two choices. Perhaps he will give us three. Should we praise the Prime Minister or Sir Horace Cutler when the Conservatives are given a further term at County Hall?
§ Mr. Graham
As a democrat, I am prepared—as all hon. Members are—to accept the will of the people on 7 May. My area is represented on the GLC by a Conservative. If the Conservative candidate is confirmed in office, I shall worry, because it will represent approval of the Government's policies. I should be astounded if he were elected, but I should accept the result.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
How many Labour GLC members have to be elected for Ken Livingstone to become leader of the Labour group on the GLC?
§ Mr. Graham
No doubt the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) is a greater expert than I am on the intricacies of the Labour GLC group. Naturally, I do not know the answer and I do not particularly care about it. If the manifesto on which candidates have stood is accepted and endorsed, it will be carried out. I happen to believe that the best leader will be the one who is elected by the GLC Labour group after the election. Members of the group will reach their own 752 decisions in the knowledge of who the best man is. Hon. Members know as much as I do about the choices available. I shall not interfere in the internal affairs of colleagues at County Hall. They will make their decisions.
Our last debate on London was held on 13 March 1980. The Minister then made a slighting reference to the practice of the Labour opposition in the GLC. He mentioned a document that had been couched in modest language and said:It adds to the horde of material being churned out at ratepayers' expense by the Labour Party at Lambeth and Hackney town halls.In referring to his experience and mine in local Government, he said:We would have paid for it out of our own party funds."—[Official Report, 13 March 1981; Vol. 1000, c. 1155.]What hyprocrisy and what humbug.
The Minister will be aware of this document which was not paid for out of our party funds. It was paid for by the GLC. It is a document or a manifesto which in effect sets out for the people of London what a future GLC will do, and it has been paid for by the ratepayers and says precisely that. If it is not a manifesto, it is a declaration of faith in what the present GLC has done; it is a declaration of what a future GLC will do. It is a policy document issued—surprise, surprise—within a few days of a GLC election. It is designed to try to influence the election. It is an apology for what the future Tory GLC would do if it ever had the chance.
There has been constant carping of the way certain London Labour councils seek to grapple with enormous social, economic and environmental problems. I have no brief for every detail of what every Labour-controlled London council does, yet I shall go out of my way to commend the councils of Lambeth, Newham, Lewisham, Haringey, Southwark, Lambeth, Wandsworh—which is not Labour-controlled—Greenwich, Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets.
§ Mr. Graham
All those councils have shown commendable initiative in using the opportunities provided by the co-operative development agency in trying to provide small businesses and small co-operative enterprises to help to tackle their problems.
We have had from the Government a campaign of smear and fear that a London Labour GLC will be subject to outside interference. Last year we heard Sir Horace Cutler say "Leave London alone". He said that not to a Labour Government or to a Labour authority but to the Tory Government which, under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act, heard the bitter reaction of a Tory GLC, the county councils, the district councils and metropolitan authorities and the London boroughs, too.
When the Government seek to stampede the London voters into voting Tory because they believe a Tory GLC will not be interfered with by any outside force, they are asking all Tory councillors in London to forget that they have been up in arms about interference by the Government.
It is the Government's clear policy to rely wherever they can on voluntary organisations. I received a letter this week from the citizens advice bureau in Edmonton which read:As you know, the Citizens' Advice Bureau offers a unique service to the public, and it will come as no surprise to you to 753 learn that the effects of the recession are creating complex problems for many individuals. But did you realise how many people are now turning to us for information and advice?This bureau has seen an increase of some 16 per cent. in new enquiries over the past nine months, compared with the previous nine months; with an increase of almost 20 per cent. in enquiries concerning unemployment, and of over 25 per cent. in enquiries concerning social security. In particular, problems have arisen for those who are suddenly made redundant or face unemployment for the first time.I want the Minister to say how it is possible to reconcile the fact that the Government are determined to reduce the moneys to local government, and thereby consumer advice centres are getting the chop, with saying to voluntary organisations "We rely upon you to do the work" and yet at the same time starving those organisations and not allowing them to do the kind of work that they should do.
In the minute or two left to me I want to refer to another piece of Government hypocrisy. The Secretary of State for the Environment made great play a month ago of the money he was saving water consumers by the diktat he had given to them to cut out waste. Do not take the words from me; take them from Geoffrey Edwards, the chairman of the Thames water authority, who said:The teams of accountants did not report back that there was any fat to be trimmed at Thames Water. The Secretary of State for the Environment asked that we take more risks in our provision for the coming year, and said that he no longer regarded the standard of our services as sacrosant. The authority will do its best to ensure that the reduction in spending does not harm the service it gives to its customers, but there are fears for the future. Unless more investment is made in years to come the whole water service system could be in danger.Rightly, London Members have used the debate to range over the problems facing Londoners. However wide it has been, it will not have fully covered every aspect. It is clear that jobs, housing, transport, race, and police-community relations figure substantially in our minds today. Yes, Londoners will test our party policies on these and other matters on 7 May, but the shadow of the Prime Minister will fall across the ballot box as surely as it has blighted London and the GLC for the past two years.
Government supporters have a choice. They can view the prospect of defeat on 7 May and draw one of the two conclusions I have already outlined. Smear, rhetoric and bluster are poor substitutes for policies. The people of London will make their decision, and as a democrat I will accept their verdict. It will, in my opinion, be based on their rejection of the Prime Minister and her failed economic policies as much as it will be a rejection of a failed Tory GLC and an approval of Labour's alternatives. That Labour GLC will have to wait for a Labour Government before it can give full effect to its election pledges. The quicker we get the chance to fight that election the better.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg)
The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) asked a specific question about citizens advice bureaux. I advise him to read what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said:Our grant to the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux was doubled last year. I am currently considering an application for a further increase."—[Official Report, 16 April 1981; Vol. 3, c. 281.]I wish the hon. Gentleman would not trot out these statements that he knows full well are not true. It is not to his credit. Normally he is a person of the highest credit.
§ Mr. Graham
Is the Minister saying that the increase in the grant to the citizens advice bureaux matches the reduction in Government support to local authorities and other agencies?
§ Mr. Finsberg
The hon. Gentleman said that we were doing nothing for voluntary bodies. I pointed out that my right hon. Friend doubled the amount last year and is now considering a further increase.
May I start by complimenting the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) on speaking from the Front Bench and echo what was said by his hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton—long may he stay on the Opposition Front Bench. It is sad that so much of what he and most of his colleagues said was pure jobbing backwards to the past. The reason is perfectly clear; that is the only issue on which they can remain united. The moment they start looking for policies they fall apart, as we have seen week after week and as we saw again during the exchange at Question Time today. It is sad.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr Hunt) shed light with crystal clarity on what Labour intends to do if it is elected. It is a side of affairs that was carefully concealed by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch.
Let us look for a moment at the 158-page document printed at public expense and called "A Socialist Policy for the GLC". Let us contrast it with the small document printed at the expense of the Conservative Party as its election manifesto. It is no good the hon. Member for Edmonton producing a document which is all to do with the environment, as he knows full well, and nothing to do with the election campaign for the GLC. The trouble is that he has merely seen the document; he has not bothered to study it or look at its history and see when it was first commissioned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) pointed very clearly to the worry that many hon. Members have about rates, particularly in London. All I shall say to him at the moment is that Redbridge is very fortunate in having a council which is careful in money terms to safeguard its ratepayers' interests.
I very much regret that the average rate increase for non-domestic ratepayers in London is 26.8 per cent., compared with an average figure for England of 18 per cent. Both figures are too high, and represent a further unnecessary burden on the private sector, with all the consequences that that holds for jobs and prosperity. But the rate increases in London need not have been as high as they were.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already told the House that in London the rate increases in Labour boroughs have averaged 39 per cent. and in Conservative boroughs 22.5 per cent. That is a very clear difference which will not be lost upon the electors of London when they decide next week who should run the GLC. 'The figures are testimony, if enough has not already been given by the Labour Party in its manifesto, to the fact that the most expensive vote that can be cast next week will be a vote for the Labour Party and for high rate rises.
I remind the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis)—who is my valuable pair—that the main cause of the trouble in Kensington was that it had to suffer the unnecessarily high ILEA impost upon London.
The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), who apologised for not being able to remain, clearly had 755 not read the Labour Party's GLC election manifesto, for with his background he could never have brought himself to accept the crazy Marxist philosophy which is clear right the way through the document. The sooner he can distance himself from those who support it, the happier he will feel in himself.
The right hon. Member mentioned the mobility scheme. I shall send him full details of the scheme, because it is quite complex and, as he knows, has been in operation only since the beginning of the month. It is supported enthusiastically by all those in the local authority associations, including the Labour-controlled Association of Metropolitan Authorities. The mirth and titters from the Labour Benches do not get any echo in the membership of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, or indeed from Councillor John Mills, the distinguished Labour member from Camden. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction, who has the privilege of chairing the committee concerned, knows full well that the backing given by the three associations is very strong.
My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) gave a devastating collection of extracts from what could only be described as gutter filth. Even the Friends of the Earth would not wish to recycle some of the stuff that he read to us.
My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) highlighted the hypocrisy of the Left. He warned of the dangers to London. He reminded us that high rates inevitably drive jobs away.
I add my strong tribute to the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), who made a moving and realistic speech. I shall carefully examine all that he said and see whether there is anything constructive that my Department can do to assist. Would that his speech had been echoed frequently on the Labour Benches. Unfortunately, it was not.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) pointed to the need for the proper teaching of religion and morality in schools, and I strongly agree with him that that is desperately important. We have to remember that religious teaching nowadays is no longer confined to one religion. There are a variety of religions. The sad thing, as has already been said, is that some of those doing social work are decrying the rights of parents to tell their children what should be done, and decrying those parents who are trying to bring up their children against a strict religious educational background. That is sad for the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) commented that successive Governments have forced the dispersal of jobs from London. My hon. Friend will acknowledge, I am sure, the positive steps that we have taken to stop that drain and particularly to remove the weighting against London that existed as a result of a North-East mafia whereby London was forbidden to advertise some of its industrial jobs. One of the first actions we took was to remove that prohibition.
§ Mr. Dobson
If the hon. Gentleman is so proud of his efforts to get jobs into London, will he explain why, for the first time in the recorded history of unemployment figures, there have been fewer vacancies in Greater London over the past year than unemployed?
§ Mr. Finsberg
Sadly, London, like the rest of the country, is suffering from the squandermania of the Labour Government, who could not have cared less about keeping the country solvent. We are having to produce the policies that are reducing inflation. It is only by reducing inflation that real jobs can again be created.
My answer to the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) is that I know of no such report as he has mentioned. It is typical of many rumours that have no foundation. The hon. Gentleman would be wise not to give further credence to it.
I notice that the challenges of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) to the Labour Party went wholly unanswered. We must therefore accept that his charges——
§ Mr. Finsberg
If the hon. Gentleman means to say "a terminological inexactitude", I will accept the phrase. If he is saying what he did——
§ Mr. Dobson
I withdraw the word "lie", Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I heard one of my colleagues answer the questions.
§ Mr. Finsberg
I repeat that the challenge thrown out by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Putney was not answered. This endorses what we believe to be true and that his charges were correct.
My hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) and for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) rightly praised the work of the police and stressed the need to give them our full public support. Their speeches were in contrast to that of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) who has apologised for being unable to remain to hear my speech.
The truth in the press must have got home and hit the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) hard in the light of his vicious and twisted attacks on our free press. I shall be fascinated to see what The New Standard makes of his outright attack on that paper. It is a first-class paper. London is fortunate in having an evening newspaper of that calibre. Long may it continue. I am happy for any merit or demerit to be accurately reported. If attacked, I do not squeal that the press is unfair.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) brought the House back to reality by emphasising the respective roles of the GLC and the boroughs. The Opposition occasionally tend to mix these up. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) was very unfair about those on the Opposition Front Bench, who I do not believe remind him of his Aunt Florence. The Opposition Front Bench I believe, reminds the House much more of King Gama who was sad that he had nothing to grumble about. Both the hon. Gentlemen who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench will, I am sure, miss the superb D'Oyly Carte productions if they cannot continue and King Gama no longer exists.
This has been an interesting and valuable debate. Many facets have been covered. I shall try to respond where I can or ask my ministerial colleagues to pursue any items that fall within their responsibility. I should perhaps begin by 757 referring to the Brixton disturbances. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) has heard most of the debate——
§ Mr. Pavitt
I apologise for intervening at this stage. Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that replies by the DHSS are given to points about primary care by general practitioners?
§ Mr. Finsberg
I thought that my assurance was clear. I shall draw the remarks of hon. Members to my hon. Friends. My hon. Friend the Minister for Health is most punctilious in responding to hon. Members on both sides of the House.
The Government certainly share the very deep concern that hon. Members have expressed about the disturbances that have taken place in Brixton. I urge all the people of Brixton to put the events of that weekend behind them and to work together in co-operation with the police and others who are now at work in the community, to restore confidence in the area.
Nevertheless, it is right that we should have a thorough inquiry into what happened in Brixton. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary asked Lord Scarman urgently to inquire into the disorders. The ten-ns of reference of the inquiry will enable Lord Scarman to consider any matter that he considers relevant to the disorders and the reasons why they occurred. I am sure he will wish to study carefully the remarks that have been made in the House today.
However, I do not wish to speculate on the causes of that disturbance nor to comment on the various views that hon. Members have expressed about the incident. These are matters for the inquiry, and we must await its outcome.
It might assist the House if I say a few words about public order in London generally. I am sure that the House will agree that the police in London have been forced to shoulder a major public order burden in recent weeks. They have, in the Government's view, carried out that responsibility bravely and commendably. But, in view of the serious problems that have occurred, in Brixton and elsewhere, and the enormous demands on manpower which this has made, the prospect of serious public disorder led the Commissioner to apply to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his consent to the most recent ban.
The House will recognise the difficult judgment which is necessary in such circumstances in order to establish the right scope of a measure such as a ban to prevent serious public disorder. The responsibility for that judgment rests on the Commissioner and then on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The Government have no doubt that, in the light of the difficulties the police have faced recently and the prospect of marches ahead of them, it was fully right in present circumstances to go for a ban which was framed in general terms.
I turn now to the other issues that were raised. It has been only six weeks since our last major debate in the House on London, and, although those six weeks have had their share of tumult, even hon. Members opposite have not convinced me that there has been any fundamental change during that time in the problems facing the capital. I remain as convinced as ever that the Labour Party's prescription for dealing with those problems, as set out in its manifesto—and, despite anything that the hon. Member for Edmonton says, it is the manifesto of his party—is wholly and totally mad.
758 We have heard the usual messages of doom and gloom, depression and despair from the Opposition. Once again, they persist in thinking that the answers to these problems lie in massive increases in expenditure and a proliferation of boards and bodies—in other words, reckless increases in the burden of rates and the burden of bureaucracy. I do not underestimate London's problems. But I will say, as I have often said before, that I believe that London remains at heart a great and vital city. The seeds of the solutions to its economic problems lie in the initiative, the skills and the inventiveness of its citizens.
We have to nurture those seeds, not crush them with crippling financial demands and smother them witha blanket of bureaucracy.
One swallow does not make a summer, nor perhaps do two, but it must have been heartening, even for hon. Members opposite, to read on the same day, just before Easter, both the view of the London Chamber of Commerce that the prospects for London and the South-East were better than at any time in the past 18 months and the CBI's view that the recession was flattening out. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch said, it was not based on a feeling, because the London Chamber's forecast is based on its eighteenth trend survey of manufacturing industry. The survey was carried out in February and March. It involved some 360 companies, three-quarters of them with fewer than 200 employees. The picture was not uniformly rosy, but the chamber reports clear signs that the recession is slowing down and that an economic upturn will begin shortly. Business confidence is improving, and most objective indicators show an easing of recessionary trends.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
The Minister is indulging in an orchestrated campaign of euphoria which Ministers think it necessary to apply, even though it is in conflict with the facts. The CBI has said that there is no end in sight to the rise in unemployment, and the Manpower Services Commission estimates that, by the end of 1981, 3 million of our citizens will be unemployed. Does he agree that London is not unaffected by this disaster?
§ Mr. Finsberg
I think the hon. Gentleman was not present for the opening speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch.
§ Mr. Finsberg
I thought that the hon. Gentleman came in about 10 minutes after his hon. Friend had started.
§ Mr. Finsberg
Well, in those vital three minutes, the hon. Gentleman did not hear his hon. Friend talk about "a feeling". I suggest that it is far more than that.
If people want to ignore the fact that businesses are beginning to realise that there is a chance that the recession is ending, we shall talk ourselves further and further into gloom and depression. However, when responsible bodies such as the London Chamber say that the recession is bottoming out, it is no good looking behind that and saying "But it is not true". Frankly, on this occasion I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman has been helpful.
§ Mr. Finsberg
The Government intend to continue with their policies designed to help the private sector to do its proper job——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The Minister has indicated that he is not giving way, so the hon. Gentleman must resume his seat.
§ Mr. Finsberg
London is to have an enterprise zone on the Isle of Dogs. We are familiar with the Labour Party's schizophrenic approach to this initiative. But the GLC Labour manifesto excels itself by saying that health and safety regulations would be abandoned, despite the fact that we have made it absolutely clear at all stages that there would be no question of relaxing any controls needed to maintain standards of health, safety or pollution control.
To sweep the hyprocrisy aside, I have merely to point out that enterprise zones are not imposed on unwilling boroughs. There has been no shortage of Labour-controlled boroughs bidding for enterprise zones in London. Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hackney and Islington all put in bids reflecting the national pattern of Labour authorities which recognise that enterprise zones will provide a real stimulus to private sector investment which is the only means of restoring the economic base to some of our most depressed and needy areas.
We all know that small firms are particularly important in London. According to 1977 figures—the latest figures—the percentage of London's manufacturing employment in units of fewer than 20 employees is about double that for the United Kingdom as a whole—15 per cent. as against 7½ per cent. In every one of their Budgets, this Government have done something to further their general policy of encouraging the growth of small firms.
The last Budget introduced two entirely new measures designed to increase the rate of business start-ups, and this at a time when the Chancellor had to increase taxation in order to reduce public borrowing. One of these was the loan guarantee scheme, whereby the Government will offer guarantees to banks on the major part of certain loans they make to small businesses. The second of these two totally new measures was the business start-up scheme, which will give outside investors in certain new, small trading companies full income tax relief on the capital they put in at the start of the business.
I could detail many more of the initiatives that we have taken on small businesses, but I want to turn briefly to some of the social issues which have been explored in the debate. Housing is of particular concern to me, and hon. Members have rightly drawn attention to the important part which housing plays in ensuring economic and social health. Some have, however, painted such a gloomy picture that a stranger might be forgiven for thinking that most Londoners lack a roof over their heads.
These hon. Members seem to forget the substantial investment in the capital's housing in the last 30 years and the dramatic improvements in living standards which have followed. Today, for example, only a very small proportion of London's households are without a bath, compared with nearly half in 1951.
760 We are, nevertheless, not complacent and we are very well aware of the need for continuing capital investment to maintain and improve the housing stock which is one of London's major assets.
In recognition of the high costs of provision and the significant housing needs here, London local authorities have received HIP allocations this year that are equivalent to about £200 for every household compared with £85 per household in the rest of the country. Inner London authorities have in general fared even better. For example, Lambeth has an allocation of almost £400 for every household in the borough. If Labour boroughs that are dragging their feet on council house sales and complaining about their HIP allocations were to act instead of talking, they could sell more quickly and have more money to spend on new housing projects.
We have ensured, contrary to what has been said by some Labour Members, that housing associations are able to sustain the momentum gained in recent years by giving the Housing Corporation the same gross expenditure allocation in real terms as last year.
§ Mr. Finsberg
No. I fear that I am not able to give way to the hon. Gentleman.
These are facts that I have drawn to the attention of the House on previous occasions, but I make no apology for repeating them, as Labour Members have clearly not absorbed them. They persist in alleging that public housing in London is wholly starved of funds.
It is right to emphasise some of the things that we have done and some of the things that the Labour Party has chosen to ignore. I do not believe that what I have said is a picture of unrelieved gloom, doom, stagnation and deterioration.
If the Labour Party wins control of County Hall, it promises reductions in transport costs. That will result in a 7p supplementary rate straightaway with more job losses. It is true that it intends to cut many much-needed road schemes. I suggest that that is a stupid way of assisting the regeneration of London's economy. I also note that it is calling for new powers to control private parking spaces in London and to impose cordon restraint on private vehicles. I wonder how those policies will commend themselves to those who live and work in London. The private motorist and the taxi driver have everything to fear from a Labour GLC; and the sooner that they know it the better.
In my 30 years in London politics I have never known a GLC or LCC Labour Opposition leader so on the defensive as Mr. Andrew McIntosh. That is possibly for two reasons. The first reason is that in his heart he does not really like the manifesto that has been forced on him. The second reason is that he knows full well that in the unlikely event of his party winning control he will be thrown out by the extreme Left——
§ Mr. Finsberg
That is not rubbish. Ken Livingstone is determined at five o'clock the day after he is elected to knife Andrew McIntosh in the back and to throw him out. This is a real case for Andrew McIntosh of "Heads I win and I lose at the same time". There is a stark choice for Londoners on 7 May—namely, to vote for the continuation of a policy that has put the interests of 761 London first and has had regard to the ability of ratepayers to meet the bills, to vote for the continuation of an administration which has helped tens of thousands to achieve their ambition of becoming homeowners, or to throw that overboard and to vote for a party that has pledged to increase the rates this year by a supplementary levy of at least 6p and whose programme will double the rates during its term of office, thus driving prospective employers away from London.
If Labour Members really want job creation in London, they should know, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet said, that if year after year business is driven away from London, as successive Governments have done, the rate base narrows and those who stay will ask themselves "Is it worth it? Should I move to an authority that is prudent and is trying to attract enterprise by deliberately keeping the rates down?" Labour Members have alleged that the result of the rate support grant settlement this year is a £500 million loss to London. In the calculations it moved back about £100 million. Another £100 million was the result of London Labour authorities deliberately exceeding their targets and thus attracting a penalty. The choice was theirs. If they had complied, as the majority of local authorities throughout London and in the rest of the country had done, the penalty would still have been only £100 million. However, because they decided deliberately to ignore the Government, organisations such at the ILEA which spend far more per head of pupil than most authorities——
§ It being Twelve o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.