HC Deb 02 December 1981 vol 14 cc231-3
17. Mr. John Fraser

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he intends to make any change in the policies of his Department in the light of the Scarman report.

Mr. Heseltine

Lord Scarman has made a major contribution to our understanding of inner cities. It is too soon to say what the full impact will be, but I am reconsidering a number of policies in conjunction with the report. First, I am examining the distribution of urban programme resources. Secondly, I am considering how best to involve minority groups in the work of the Merseyside task force and elsewhere. Thirdly, I have been considering the representations made over the last year about my decision to hold back some urban programme funds from overspending authorities, one of which has recently threatened legal challenge. I have decided that it would now be right to approve new urban programme projects in Lambeth, Hackney and Tower Hamlets.

Mr. Fraser

That sudden change of mind is welcome. I hope that the Secretary of State has taken note of Lord Scarman's description of the very serious housing problem in Lambeth and the other problems faced there. Will he restore the £2½ million that he has taken away from Lambeth in penalties, as well as the cuts in the housing investment programme? If he had continued cutting the moneys of sick and hard-pressed authorities such as Lambeth, we might have thought that he was engaging in a form of municipal euthanasia.

Mr. Heseltine

I am aware of the comments made in Lord Scarman's report. Lambeth council will be able to proceed with its package of environmental improvement schemes for Brixton under the partnership programme. The rest of the question is a matter for detailed discussion with the authority concerned.

Mr. Steen

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the major inner city needs is to involve the people in the decision-making process, and that they should decide how the money is spent and how they should work out their problems?

Mr. Heseltine

By his commitment to that aspect of inner city life, my hon. Friend has shown a significant way forward. I am much in sympathy with what he says, although in the end it will not be a possible avenue simply to abdicate from central Government or local authority decision making. However, we should, of course, seek to involve local people as much as possible.

Mr. Alton

Is the Secretary of State, from the Olympian heights of his Atlantic Tower hotel room, unable to do better than provide a bit of the Tate gallery or to talk about festivals for Merseyside? If he cannot do better than that or provide some of the housing money required to tackle improvement—[Interruption.] Is it not entirely missing the point to talk about the rights of minorities without saying what he will do to exert pressure on the Home Secretary to change the procedure for complaints against the police? I believe that that is to miss the point entirely. Will he assure the House — [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Heseltine.

Mr. Heseltine

The one thing that the whole House can recognise and sympathise with in the hon. Member's question are the words "missed the point entirely", which he, uniquely, does so well.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Does the Minister agree that Lord Scarman's recommendations are a positive discrimination towards the black community? Does he agree that that means more public expenditure in inner city areas, in places such as Toxteth in Merseyside, and Brixton in Lambeth? Will he therefore restore to the local authorities all the moneys covering the inner city areas that he has taken away from them in the rate support grant cuts?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure that before he advocates further public expenditure the hon. Member will want to ask how many of the existing public sector programmmes are recruiting their fair proportion of ethnic minorities.

Mr. Stokes

Would it not be utterly deplorable if Government money were to be spent only on areas where there have been serious riots? What about the rest of the United Kingdom, which, with its unemployment, has been law abiding? Why is there concern only with violence? Is that not utter cant?

Mr. Heseltine

I fully suppport my hon. Friend's view that it must not be a question of spending money only in areas where there were riots. One of the points that I made clear as a result of my appointment to Merseyside was that I am considering the whole community, and not one part of it.