§ Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)
I beg to move,That this House, being of the opinion that the Government's failure to recognise and accept the special problems of the capital city and its environs is creating a crisis that could result in the irreversible damage to London's industrial and commercial base, considers that at a time when the problems of education, unemployment, housing, homelessness, roads, transport, health, social service and crime are reaching grave proportions, the Government's decision deliberately to penalise London by cutting the rate support grant will further reduce the quality of life of London's citizens; deplores the effects of the Budget on London which will be to create further unemployment, fewer homes, and greater hardship for those least able to protect themselves; and calls upon the Government to initiate urgent discussions with the Greater London group of Members of Parliament, the London Boroughs Association, the trades unions, chambers of commerce, and representatives of voluntary organisations in order to develop a strategy for saving London.May I first congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on what I believe is your first Friday stint in the Chair? I hope that by the end of the debate you will have recalled pleasant memories of a previous existence.
As soon as I heard that I had been successful in the ballot for private Members' motions I began to turn over in my mind all the subjects about wihch we all feel strongly and which we hope will be debated some day. The more that I thought about that list, the more I realised that most of those topics with which I am immediately concerned are also connected either with the effect of the Government's policies on housing or environmental problems in that part of inner London where I have lived and worked for over 40 years, or with the institutions and infrastructure of this great capital city. I decided that those topics could not be discussed in isolation. Therefore, I opted for a more general debate on the effects of Government policy on London as a whole. The result is the motion on the Order Paper.
I firmly believe that the Government's deliberate failure to recognise and accept the special problems of London, 1108 particularly inner London, and the politically motivated decision to deprive London of an adequate amount of essential resources, have brought the capital city to a crisis.
In every town hall in London, councillors are facing agonising decisions. They know that the problems that I have outlined in my motion are increasing almost daily. They know that the statutory and voluntary services set up to deal with those problems are in dire need of more resources, not less. They also know that the punitive approach of the Secretary of State for the Environment leaves them with stark choices, such as increasing rates to intolerable levels, or increasing unemployment, or destroying essential social services. In some cases, councillors even face personal financial losses through surcharge or bankruptcy.
Some years ago I served on a local authority in inner London which faced similar problems, although on a smaller scale. I know something of the pressures placed on elected representatives and their families in the capital by that sort of Government interference, to say nothing of the spectre of the district auditor and his arbitrary and far-reaching powers lurking behind every deliberation. Councillors are governed by a desire to represent the people who live and work in their areas. They are entitled to far more protection from catastrophic Government interference.
I was pleased to hear this morning that Camden, my local authority, had at last ended this round of public agonising over rates. It is now able to announce next year's rate increases. Whether they will be accepted by the people is another matter. The agonising process that the councillors have gone through over the past two months has my sympathy and understanding.
The Government's decision to deprive London of between £300 million and £400 million could cause irreversible damage to the capital's industrial and commercial base. Some of London's problems began many years ago. A previous Tory Government initiated local government reform that created massive administrative and financial problems. We still suffer from the effects. The reform removed much of the local aspect of local government, to the detriment of many millions in the London area. The Seebohm committee's recommendations created even more massive problems for social welfare and children's services in London. I recall, too, with regret, the reorganisation of the Health Service, which was yet another disastrous and expensive blunder. It seriously damaged the NHS, created yet further problems for the people of London and added to the difficulties of local authorities. In addition, the decision of planners in the 1950s and 1960s to disperse industry from London caused serious employment problems, with a loss of thousands of job opportunities.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Does my hon. Friend also recall the reorganisation of the water services, which took away from London the Metropolitan Water Board and took away from the Greater London Council the responsibility for drainage, in order that the system could be run on a commercial basis throughout the country? Are not the complaints about the water services yet another example of how London has been done down by a Tory Government?
§ Mr. Stallard
I hope that the motion is broad enough for hon. Members to point out other problems of reorganisation from their experience. I agree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend.
In the past few years many of us felt that there was a recognition that the massive reorganisations had been largely mistaken. Politicians and experts in the disciplines immediately involved accepted that the reorganisations may have caused more problems than they solved. In the early 1970s steps were taken to try to cure some of the problems. We were geared for what appeared to be a major and constructive attempt to return to solvency in our great capital city. Recognising that, Labour Governments made changes in the rate support grant system. They did not go far enough, but the changes at least recognised the problems of inner cities. The foundation was laid for further steps to be taken. Those small and hesitant steps have been destroyed by this Government's intervention in London's affairs.
In 1977, Mervyn Scorgie, who is not a member of my party but was chairman of the industry and employment committee, stated:The Greater London Council is now embarked on the huge task of transformation.That was a recognition of the need for transformation. In the same year, Richard Brew, leader of the policy and resources committee was demanding more money for London, as we all are. He said of a Labour Government that theiradditional financial contribution is insignificant in comparison with the GLC's investment programme.He called for more money and greater powers for the GLC to help industry. That was at a time when Tories were attacking a Labour Government. The GLC did not get additional money. What it had was dramatically cut and is being cut still further. Instead of being given additional powers, the powers that they have are being taken away from London and London authorities. Richard Brew seems to be ignoring this Government's actions. He is silent.
In 1979, the Secretary of State for the Environment said:We cannot afford the waste of resources, of people and of land represented by areas of dereliction and desolation around our city centres.He had just toured London. He went on to say:We cannot risk the build-up of frustration and anger to which such decay gives rise.In 1981, after presiding over catastrophic inner-city decline, he said:Inner cities remain vitally important to the health of the economy … the changes I have made … should ensure that we can mobilise resources as effectively as possible.If that is not a major example of humbug, I do not know what is. The Government's speeches do not match their actions.
In the past two years the Government have not only halted the progress that we hoped to make; they have made matters much worse. Without further thought, I can find no adequate words to describe the damage that the Government are doing. They have shown a callous disregard of London's needs. They are placing any and every obstacle in the way of inner city revival. Their policy will lead to social disaster.
I shall mention one or two problems of major importance. I hope that other hon. Members will mention other aspects of our inner city problems. I come first to 1110 housing. Inner London's housing capital expenditure for 1981–82 was cut by 31 per cent. from the 1980–81 allocations. In anyone's language, that is a massive cut.
In addition, the system of allocation is based on a general needs index. In the view of many who are far more expert than I, that index is open to serious criticism. It does not take into account the resources available to local authorities, such as finance, staff and land. It does not take into account the statutory responsibilites of local authorities. I refer, for example, to their responsibilities towards homeless families. It does not take into account the contributions—or lack of contributions—to meet the housing needs of the private sector. It does not take into account the assessments made by local authorities of their housing needs. Therefore, it does not begin to understand London's special needs and the need for more resources.
London's share of the housing investment programme allocation for England will fall from 35 per cent. in 1980–81 to 30 per cent. in 1981–82. Therefore, London has a far smaller slice of a much smaller cake. The exact opposite is needed. Last autumn's moratorium and the freeze on contracts mean—as we all know—that there will be no new housing, that there will be an even greater housing shortage, and that councils will have no new flats after those presently under construction have been completed. Those flats will probably be completed in 1981–82. If no new flats are built there will be only relets—dead men's flats—or flats available due to medical transfers, despite the fact that the situation is worse than it has ever been in the city's history.
A report recently commissioned and produced by the GLC was suppressed. I do not know why it was suppressed, but I have a good idea. From that suppressed report we know how serious is the housing crisis in London. More alarmingly, we know that it is likely to become much worse in the immediate future. Yesterday, I happened to read an excellent article in the winter edition of the magazine Roof. Many hon. Members may be familiar with that magazine. In it Nick Raynsford states:The Greater London Council's latest analysis of London's housing makes a complete mockery of earlier claims that the capital's housing problems were well on the way to being solved …But the GLC looks set to ignore its own evidence and will not be making the report widely available.As far as I know, that report has still not been made widely available. We all know why. But the people of London are entitled to see what is in it. Certainly, local authorities and councils are entitled to do so. The article goes on to describe the assertions that were made in previous reports and states:These assertions were made on the basis of grossly misleading and selective statistics … Indeed, this new GLC Housing Strategy Appraisal provides chilling evidence of just how serious a housing crisis London is currently facing, and, even more alarming, of how much worse it is likely to get".
§ Mr Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on raising the subject of London's policies. Although the population of London will continue to decline in the 1980s the number of households is expected to remain the same. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the number of one-person households is expected to increase by 200,000 with a compensating decrease in the larger households? If the hon. Gentleman accepts those figures, does he not think that the shorthold concept assumes a greater importance in the Metropolis? Does he not agree that he and his colleagues could make a contribution by accepting and 1111 welcoming the new shorthold concept within the twin pillars of existing provisions for rent registration and security of tenure, instead of promising to abolish the system?
§ Mr. Stallard
I know of the hon. Gentleman's interest in this subject. Indeed, from time to time I have read some of his stuff in the Estates Times. However, I do not share his enthusiasm, nor do I accept his analysis of households. It is not true of my area, because there will be an increase in households. As a result of marriage, households are created al the time. More people are coming into my area. Those who do not live in my part of London do not realise that we are continually receiving families and households from elsewhere. More and more people are corning into London. That has always been the case. Indeed, I came to London more than 40 years ago.
People are still welcome in the London boroughs that I know of, but the resources with which to help them are drying up. Therefore, I accept that fewer households in inner London will be chasing fewer houses. Certainly, more accommodation will be needed for single people. As the hon. Gentleman may know, I am also interested in the problems of the single homeless through the Campaign for the Homeless and Rootless and other organisations. Those organisations are very concerned about the single homeless. I do not share the hon. Gentleman's support for shortholds. However, I am sure that some of my hon. Friends will deal with that later. At present, there is a total of 19 shorthold tenancies in Greater London. We could debate this point for the rest of the day, because I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's position.
For the first time since the early 1950s the number of new applications on London's housing lists has topped the 100,000 mark. The number has reached 102,000. That is the first time for many years that the figure has topped the 100,000 mark. That is very worrying. In addition, rents have soared to ridiculous heights. They are well beyond the means of those to whom the hon. Gentleman referred. I read my local newspapers and I know—as other hon. Members will know—that rents for modest dwellings—that is being kind to them—vary between £50 and £150 per week. Those are the rents charged for the few available properties.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
The GLC escalates the rents and is deliberately creating high-rent properties—above the £50 a week mark—in order to set the scene for the private sector.
§ Mr. Stallard
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the benefit of his expert knowledge on housing and rents in inner London. When I began to think about this debate my attention was drawn to a report entitled"The Future of London's Housing", which was produced by the London Boroughs Association. No one could claim that that is a Red organisation. No one could claim that it advocates profligacy—or whatever the current term is. The report states:There is no reason to expect any improvements in the housing shortage in London over the next few years. Past optimism was misplaced. The demand for public housing in London, as shown by applications to Council house waiting lists, is 60 per cent. higher than in the mid-1970s. Last year showed an 18 per cent. increase in homelessness compared with three years earlier. The high price of houses for sale in London severely limits the 1112 number of households who can afford to become owner-occupiers. If owner-occupation is to be extended to low income families, the structure of financial support must be reconsidered.At the end of last year the average price of a dwelling in Greater London was just over £31,000. Building society statistics show that the average advance made was about £18,000. The average income of applicants for mortgages was just over £10,000. From those figures we can tell that not many bus conductors, postmen or health authority workers were among the applicants. Those people are being thrown into the local government sphere for housing because that is their only hope of being rehoused in decent conditions. Their hopes are being destroyed by the Government's policies.
The LBA went on to say that housing associations, to which we all pay lip service and which we thought we could support and draw on for help, face cuts on the same scale as councils and will no longer be able to offset the reduced supply of council houses. That is another hope dashed.
The LBA says that public sector starts in London declined from 24,600 in 1975 to 4,500 in 1980. Who am I to dispute the LBA's figures? I would put its figures even lower, but they are bad enough. The result is that only half the number of households housed in 1980 will be housed in 1983.
The LBA continues:Government legislation in respect of the right to buy,"—and God knows we have heard enough about that—and the right of succession results in increased pressure on council lettings.We have been saying that ever since the scheme was first mooted. We are still saying it, and now the LBA is supporting us. I hope that the Government will get the message before it is too late.
The LBA goes on:The new subsidy system should take into account the higher building costs in London."—that is another special factor that is ignored in many of the Government's calculations—A realistic allowance should be made for inflation in management and maintenance costs. Over 40 per cent. of dwellings in London require repairs costing over £1,000.That is another underestimate. The LBA says:£5 billion is needed immediately to put London's housing stock into good order.That is extra money. The LBA continues:The rate of replacing unfit property must be increased. Councils need new powers to deal with the worst properties. Further consideration should be given to the impact of subsidies and tax relief on the deterioration of the housing stock. The housing situation in London will deteriorate further unless the Government's policy of cuts in housing investment is reversed.I could not have a better ally for my case. The Government deliberately misrepresent London's needs and deliberately refuse to accept the special circumstances.
Massive increases in council tenants' rates, rents, water rates and heating charges have occurred. Some local council tenants estimate that their weekly outgoings will soon have increased by between £12 and £14 a week. I do not know where they will find the extra money. Many of them will not find it. I speak from my experience of London. Such massive increases are a recipe for unrest and disaster in London.
A self-organised strike on rents and rates already exists. There will be no need for speeches to organise tenants to protest against the huge and crippling increases that will hit hardest young couples with children, the elderly, and 1113 others who cannot claim supplementary benefit. The increases are a recipe for major unrest in the capital city in the next few months. One could go on, because there is no end to the problems.
There is a chronic shortage of decent suitable housing for single homeless people. I acknowledge that London's housing authorities have not given sufficient priority to the supply of housing for single people, but by the mid-1970s the London boroughs recognised that the number of single persons needing housing had increased and would increase rapidly into the 1980s.
Statistics from the GLC's household projection paper show that between 1976 and 1986 there will be an increase of 2.3 per cent. in the number of one-person households in London. In 1977 a major joint working party of the London Boroughs Association and the GLC recommended that to avert a crisis 100,000 additional dwellings for single people would be needed in London by 1987.
What has happened, and what are the prospects for single people in London? The GLC has completely abandoned its building programme. In the Tory GLC campaign guide we read the shocking boast:the present Conservative Administration has cut the pre-1977 GLC programme of 6,500 annual housng starts to almost nil.The Tories boast about getting out of housing altogether. The problems are massive. The Government have underestimated them and made such a mess of everything that they have decided to cut their losses and throw the problem to the boroughs. Many people are worried about the recent negotiations on transfers to local authorities.
So much for the Government's contribution to the 100,000 additional dwellings that people need. The London boroughs which have tried to give single people access to decent housing find that the Government's massive cut in the HIP allocations is forcing them to abandon their small, hesitant but much-needed initiatives.
The London borough of Camden, for example, has recently rehoused 140 homeless men from one of the biggest lodging houses in the country. I applaud its efforts. All those people were in dire housing need. They are people with high medical points, elderly and without relatives, or disabled. They were carefully chosen. The council would like to rehouse many more, but the supply of accommodation, even of hard-to-let properties, which are unsuitable for such vulnerable people, has dried up. I could describe similar special housing initiatives by other local authorities as diverse as Wandsworth, Islington and Haringay. They were beginning to make an impact, but they have abandoned their attempts because of Government cuts in housing rsources that we deplore. There is no prospect of the target of 100,000 dwellings set by the LBA and the GLC in 1977 being met by 1987 or 1997.
I asked several voluntary organisations that provide accommodation for single homeless people in London to tell me about the numbers turning to them for help. Centrepoint night shelter in Soho reported that in 1980 it had 13,000 requests for admission from young homeless people between 16 and 25 years of age, compared with 12,000 in 1979 and 8,500 in 1978. That is a fairly steep increase. Those figures are an addition to the households in London, and not a diminution of them. I was told that there appeared to be a direct correlation between the increase in youth unemployment in Scotland and London 1114 and the South-East and the increased demands on services for yougsters from those two areas coming into London to seek work. The threshold housing advice centre in Wandsworth reported that in February 1981, 16 per cent. of the single people who turned to it for assistance were literally on the streets, compared with 7 per cent. in February 1980.
Providence Row night shelter, in the East End, reported that it was now sheltering many more young people, especially the younger unemployed. In its latest year's figures there was a 16 per cent. increase in the number of homeless, unemployed under-25-year-olds coming to it for assistance. We must take the problem far more seriously. The all-party parliamentary group has tried to maintain pressure on local authorities and the Government about the serious problems that, if neglected, will create even worse problems for the capital city.
We have all been shocked and horrified at the ever-decreasing age of the young people in this hopeless situation, unemployed and totally homeless. The hostels and local authority services are unable to cope, and more and more people are sleeping rough, with all the attendant problems that that produces. I shall not repeat the burden of what I said in my speech on Ten-Minute Bill, which I hope will receive a Second Reading today. That would deal with some of the aspects of the increase in those problems.
The voluntary organinsations, including CHAR, are having to provide for London's single homeless because the Government are cutting back on the boroughs' resources. However, the organisations are facing serious financial problems. The Government expect the voluntary sector to protect the single homeless and to carry out the vital work with reducing resources. That is an impossible task. Many of the charities have had their grants from central or local government maintained for the past two years at the same level as that at which they stood at the end of 1979. Others have had increases that have failed to take account of the effects of inflation in costs. Costs are enormous, and the reduction in funds is causing great hardship. Many ieorganisations have had to lay off staff. They are not able to attract the kind of worker needed in specialised work with homelessness and housing. If the Government seriously want the voluntary services to survive—if we are to believe them, they want the organisations to flourish—the amount of public money that the services receive must be increased.
I have spoken of the effects of Government policy on voluntary services for the single homeless. Unfortunately, those services are able to assist only a minority of the homeless in London and those coming to London. The lot of growing numbers is the nightly round of London's squalid lodging houses, doss-houses and night shelters. Millions of television viewers will have seen the appalling inside story of so many of these places through the BBC Nationwide series"Down and Out". The programmes have shown the degrading conditions, the ail-too-frequent fire risks, the crippling poverty and, above all, the lack of a comprehensive housing service to secure a decent home for the thousands of men and women.
All that is being shown on our television screens at a time when we are being told by some people that there is nothing to worry about. Last night's episode showed the Camberwell spike, which must be well known to viewers in the London area. It is a relic of the Poor Law that Tony Wilkinson described as 1115a massive Victorian fortress that had become the dark satanic depository for the twentieth century poor.The Government have said that the spike is to close in 1985. What Government resources will be made available to the boroughs to ensure that that place closes in 1985, and not a day later?
This week the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that we must all share in sacrifices if the country's economy was to be put right. That is correct in his terms, of course. But can we, in all humanity, say to thousands of London's single homeless in the capital's doss-houses, spikes and night shelters that to help the country they must endure degrading conditions for God knows how long? How can the Government justify not expanding the housing budgets of London boroughs that are genuinely attempting to tackle the serious problem to enable single homeless to have decent homes?
I have spent some time discussing the housing problems of London's families and single homeless. I shall try to deal as briefly as possible with the other major problem—
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
Before my hon. Friend moves from the plight of the homeless, particularly those from outside London living in lodging houses, will he say how he thinks the Prime Minister and the Treasury Bench reconcile those housing circumstances with the Prime Minister's statement in Wales that those in Wales without jobs should move to other areas, such as London, where jobs are available?
§ Mr. Stallard
Unemployment is the other major area of policy about which I am concerned. I accept my hon. Friend's point. Many people about whom I have spoken have taken the Prime Minister's irresponsible advice that if they cannot get work where they live they should move. I am sure that every week Conservative Members meet, as I do, constituents who have arrived in London looking for work. Some have been successful.
Last week in my advice centre I met a fellow who had been an electrician in Birmingham but had been made redundant. He has been unable to find suitable employment in Birmingham. He does not want to live on benefit but wishes to work, and so he came to London. He left his wife in Birmingham. Just as his money was running out after a few days in London he found a job selling vegetables in a large chain store. He accepted it. It was work, and he needed work. He then went to try to find accommodation so that his wife could join him. To this day he is still living in a hostel. He cannot find a home. His wife is still in Birmingham.
I am still having to deal with the serious problems attendant on that young fellow, his wife and family because he took the Prime Minister's advice and moved. As my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) correctly said, that illustrates another aspect of the special problems that exist in London that are not recognised by the Government.
I want to deal briefly with the unemployment problems of Londoners, particularly young Londoners. Some people have been in London for far longer than I have. I have already said that I have been here for only 45 years. It is no exaggeration to say that in many ways the position is worse now than at any time that I can remember—and I came not in the good old days but in fairly rough times.
1116 The signs are there for all to see, if one drives around London, or preferably if one walks—though the pavements are becoming so hazardous that that is a dangerous occupation.
§ Mr. Stallard
Hon. Members should try riding a bicycle. Only this morning I heard on the radio of a long report by, I think, the Friends of the Earth about the dangers of cycling in London. Potholes are increasing, and they are getting deeper. There is no sign that there will be any improvement. It is all very well for hon. Members who live miles from inner London to mock when I describe such conditions, but if they take the trouble to get out of their cab just once, or if they tell the chauffeur to come back later, after they have gone for a walk, they will find that the signs are there for all to see: the empty shops, the empty factories, the boarded-up houses in abandoned development areas; youngsters wandering aimlessly in the streets, or congregating in amusement arcades, cafes and so on.
We are told that all this may be the result of profligate spending by some local authorities. I heard an hon. Member mumble"Lambeth" from a sedentary position. We have heard ad nauseam of the problems from hon. Members who do not even know where Lambeth is—
§ Mr. David Mellor (Putney) rose—
§ Mr. Mellor
I know precisely where Lambeth is; it is next door to my own borough. If the hon. Gentleman is talking about boarded-up properties he may care to say why Lambeth currently has 3,000 properties boarded up. Why had 1,200 of those, at the last count done by the Department of the Environment, been in such a condition for more than 12 months? What has that to do with Government policy? Does not the hon. Gentleman think that what he has been saying is all a little one-sided?
§ Mr. Stallard
I do not profess to know all about Lambeth's problems. I am frying to deal with the matter on the basis that we all understand the problems of inner London. Most of us have served on local authorities and know their difficulties in acquiring properties for redevelopment, conversion and rehabilitation. We all know that they have to buy a few at a time and negotiate the purchase of many of them. The compulsory purchase process takes months and months.
Because of all sorts of other difficulties, dare an authority leave property unattended or unprotected while it acquires more properties to make a scheme feasible? I am only telling my granny how to suck eggs. Even Conservative hon. Members should understand that, because they have been involved in the process and know the difficulties and expense of assembling properties for such schemes. They know that local authorities have to buy in advance of development—that they have to acquire and accumulate.
Hon. Members must also know the difficulty that ensues when the money is cut off just when authorities have properties ready for rehabilitation. I cannot talk about Lambeth, but I can talk about Camden, where there are hundreds of properties affected in that way. Now Conservative hon. Members have another solution. They say"Sell them. The council should never have bought 1117 them in the first place", although at one stage they were saying that the regeneration of the inner city must take place, that housing associations, councils, landlords and others should renovate all the properties. They threw all sorts of carrots to landlords to entice them to renovate properties, but the landlords did not take them. It was left to local authorities and housing associations.
We could go on for ever about the dereliction and devastation that have taken place and are taking place, at an increasing rate, because of the Government's policies on London.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) rose—
§ Mr. Greenway
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is a cyclist, so I was particularly interested in what he said. I travel in a chauffeur-driven car only when I am travelling on business from the House or travelling under the auspices of a Labour authority. Would the hon. Gentleman support increased facilities for cyclists? I am a regular cyclist. What we cyclists need is to be able to cycle in safety. Cycling in London is very unsafe. There needs to be much more traffic consideration for cyclists. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?
§ Mr. Stallard
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It is true that, right now, I am not a cyclist, because I am terrified of riding a bicycle in London. That is the only reason why I am not a cyclist now. I have been a lifelong supporter of cycling, and I always was a cyclist. I cycled many miles when I was able.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's analysis; cycling in London is a terrifying experience. When I drive and see fellows on bikes I am frightened for them, because I know that in the next few hundred yards they will go down a manhole, hit an obstacle, or be hit by something else. I would wholly support any moves by the hon. Gentleman to improve conditions for cyclists in London. By that I do not mean the introduction of penal taxes, which would make matters worse for them. I refer to genuine improvements in the conditions that would allow those that want to cycle to indulge in what is one of the healthiest occupations.
I have been straying a wee bit, as is inevitable in a debate on the problems of London. I wanted to deal briefly with the problems of unemployment. I had said that there would be accusations against those of us who were known as big spenders. I do not apologise for the label"big spender" when it is applied to Camden. We are proud of the services that we have spent money on. We want to spend more to improve those services. We hope that in the next few months, after the elections, we shall have the chance to do just that.
Unemployment has increased dramatically in London—far more than ever before, and far more than in places outside the London area that we hear much more about. They are not all in the areas of high spenders. For example, between January 1979 and January 1981 1118 unemployment in Richmond increased by 99 per cent., which is a fair increase, in a place not noted for profligate spending. The increase in Bromley in the same period was 83 per cent., and in Twickenham it was 89 per cent. I have here a whole list based on the Government's statistics, including Tottenham, 102 per cent.; Camden, 52 per cent.; and Hackney, 72 per cent.
The dramatic increase in unemployment has been experienced across the board in London and is not tied to any council's policies on rates, housing, or anything else. It results from the Government's mishandling of the national economy and their complete disregard for people's welfare. When the Government came to office in 1979, total unemployment in Greater London was 126,000. By January this year that figure had increased to 218,000, and it is still on the increase. In the same period, notified vacancies decreased from 52,000 to 16,000. Those figures represent massive problems of human suffering, which I hope all of us will understand.
Those few facts prove that London's position is worse than the position in many other parts of the country. As I said earlier, we suffer from the problems in other parts of the country. Inner London's problems are even worse, and are increasing because councils are being forced to meet the Government's guidelines. That will result in a cut in staffing levels. It is estimated that Wandsworth will have to sack 700 workers; Haringey, 4,000, and Camden, 600. The number of unemployed will go up and up and up.
§ Mr. Stallard
The hon. Gentleman has just come into the Chamber. No doubt he wants to see the figures increase. I hope that he will develop that argument in his speech. The increase in unemployment in Ilford is 52 per cent., yet the hon. Gentleman says that that is not enough. I hope that his constituents agree with him, because if they do not he will soon be joining the ranks of the unemployed. In some areas in London unemployment is approaching 20 per cent., which equates with some of the worst areas in Britain. Perhaps some Conservative Members do not understand that there are areas of devastation in London that are as bad as any in Britain. Many large and small firms in the capital—household names—are being forced out of business and bankrupted. They are adding to the country's problems because of the ineptitude of the Government and the vindictive nature of their policies towards London.
The Budget will not improve London's position; it will worsen it, as more and more people are driven to seek the assistance of social service departments because of the tremendously high cost of living in London. Those departments are already over-stretched, yet their resources are being slashed to comply with Government instructions. They will not be able to cope—indeed, many are already in that position.
My motion mentions other areas of London that are seriously affected by the Government's programme, but as other hon. Members wish to participate in the debate I shall not take up the time of the House by speaking about them. Nevertheless, they are important. The whole thing adds up to a crisis situation which, if not dealt with urgently, will create massive problems of deprivation, poverty, crime and unrest the like of which we have not yet seen in London.
§ Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)
I echo the warm welcome extended to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard). I welcome you both to the Chair and to our London debates. If you follow today's precedent by calling me at an early stage in our future debates, I shall be even more enthusiastic about your elevation to the Chair.
I congratulate the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North on his success in the ballot and also on initiating a debate on London. I am afraid that I shall be rather less complimentary about the contents of both his motion and his speech. He kept telling us that he had lived in London for 44 years. At one point, some of us thought that he had been speaking for that long.
The hon. Gentleman put forward a number of misstatements and misconceptions, which will no doubt be corrected by my hon. Friends. I hope that the debate will be fully and fairly reported in the press, especially by The New Standard, which only 11 days ago carried a disgraceful attack on London Members of Parliament. It accused them of failing in their duty to the capital because they had not attended an Adjournment debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams). That leading article illustrated the failure not of London Members but of its writer to understand the nature of Adjournment debates. As we all know, they are essentially the prerogative of the individual Members selected to initiate them.
§ Mr. Mellor
Does my hon. Friend think that it would have been helpful if the editorial staff of The New Standard had been present in the early hours of the morning—midnight until 6 am—during our last Consolidated Fund debate, when 20 London Members debated the problems of London? Was not that article a gross abuse of journalistic freedom?
§ Mr. Hunt
I am glad that my hon. Friend made that comment. I am sure that at the time when he spoke in the Consolidated Fund debate the leader writers of The New Standard were safely and securely tucked up in bed. I shall not speculate where they are this morning. I echo my hon. Friend's remarks, which emphasise the resentment felt by Back Benchers on both sides of the House. I am glad of the opportunity to put that on record.
§ Mr. Michael Neubert (Romford)
I understand the acute and well-justified resentment caused by that editorial, but will my hon. Friend not be too harsh on The New Standard, because on 10 February one of its writers said thatif Labour wins the GLC elections we shall have a more or less Marxist state."?The New Standard knows something about politics.
§ Mr. Hunt
I have no quarrel with The New Standard on that count. The motion calls for urgent discussions with various groups and bodies to develop a strategy to save London. The suggestion for joint meetings and discussions is a hobby-horse that has been ridden by the London chamber of commerce and others for some time. That suggestion contains some element of political naivety. On issues such as housing and education there are deep and irreconcilable differences between the two sides of the House, and also between some of the bodies mentioned in the motion We are all in favour of a united front on 1120 London when that can be achieved, but we must acknowledge that the scope for that in current circumstances is both limited and restricted.
One area mentioned in the motion, and referred to by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North, draws a considerable measure of common support from London Back Benchers—namely, London's treatment under this year's rate support grant settlement. I have been critical of the settlement, and I know that my views are widely shared by London Conservative Members, but we must remember that the 1981–82 settlement was the first to be made under the new block grant system and was drawn up on the basis of fairly crude criteria. However, that does not in any way defend or excuse it. I do not dissent from some of the remarks made by the hon. Gentleman on that issue.
I am not that worried about the effect of the settlement on over-spending authorities such as Camden and Lambeth, but I am concerned about its damaging effect on local authorities such as mine in Bromley. Although it has a long record of sound housekeeping for ratepayers, it is still being clobbered this year. I have made representations to the Department of the Environment, both in the House and by letter. A few days ago I was pleased to receive an assurance from the Under-Secretary of State, Lord Bellwin, who said:Once the transitional phase is over, authorities which have always exercised prudence and economy will benefit from the new system.We shall believe that when it happens, but the hope is there.
There is one curious omission from the motion—
§ Mr. Hunt
There is no reference to the Greater London Council. I wonder why that is so. Could it be that the success of Conservative policies at County Hall do not fit in with the message of doom and gloom that has been peddled by the hon. Gentleman? All the talk about irreversible damage to London hardly squares with the fact that the Conservative majority at County Hall has, for example, paid off massive debts of £123 million which were inherited from the Labour administration. It hardly squares with the fact that under Conservative rule nearly 20,000 Londoners have been able to buy their own homes, and that the Conservative administration at County hall has achieved a 16 per cent. reduction in staff, which has led to a net saving of about 5,000 jobs, without any compulsory redundancies.
If every public authority had been as successful as the GLC in bringing about staff reductions over the same period there would have been public expenditure savings of about £3 billion a year, which would have enabled my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to produce a very different Budget from the one that he had to introduce last Tuesday. Such savings would almost certainly have saved us the extra impositions on drink, tobacco and petrol which were a feature of the Budget Statement.
Before we talk in the dramatic terms of the motion about reducing the quality of life of London citizens, it is important to remember, and to remind others, that the GLC has recast its entire investment programme to rebuild the inner city. That does not square with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the Government putting every obstacle that they can in the way of the revitalisation of inner London. In the financial year that is just beginning 1121 the GLC has allocated £1,500 million, 77 per cent. of its total capital programme, to rebuilding and revitalising the rundown areas of inner London. Things are beginning to change in the central part of our city.
The new and imaginative Covent Garden shopping centre has been widely acclaimed and has produced a great blossoming of small commercial enterprises. It is exactly the sort of success story for London that is ignored in the hon. Gentleman's negative and pessimistic motion. We have seen a successful development at St. Katherine's dock—namely, a joint venture between private and public enterprise. It is an example of what can be achieved with flair, foresight and imagination.
We must bring those same qualities to the long-delayed redevelopment of Piccadilly Circus, which is at present such a squalid and shameful eyesore in the centre of our capital. At last, thanks again to the GLC, the plans are beginning to take shape, and again private enterprise and private investment are taking a major share in the redevelopment. In these and in many other ways the G1C has a proud record which totally belies the motion's nagging and niggling tones.
Labour Members often portray Sir Horace Cutler, the leader of the GLC, as some sort of ogre with an evil influence over London. We should salute the work that Sir Horace has done in London. He has master-minded the success that has been achieved in County Hall. No man since Herbert Morrison has more claim to the title of"Mr. London" than Sir Horace.
The real threat to London, and the real risk of irreversible damage to the capital, comes not from the Government or the Budget but from the national and local policies of the Labour Party. Its manifesto for the GLC elections holds out the inevitable prospect of rocketing rates and financial irresponsibility, which is epitomised by the madcap proposal to cut London Transport fares—
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)
Will the hon. Gentleman comment on local authority lets, which have fallen from about 26,000 to 4,000 in London since the Conservatives took over? At the same time rates have rocketed in areas such as Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham—Conservative-controlled areas—by about 50 per cent.
§ Mr. Hunt
I must challenge the hon. Gentleman's figures. I am not prepared to accept them without examining them closely. If he cares to supply me with his figures, I undertake to examine them and let him have my comments.
The financial irresponsibility that epitomises the Labour Party's policies in the forthcoming GLC elections is demonstrated clearly in the madcap proposal to reduce London Transport fares by 25 per cent. and then to freeze them for four years.
§ Mr. Chapman
My hon. Friend is considering perceptively the unlikely event of Labour gaining control of the GLC in May. Why is he looking into the crystal ball when he has only to examine Labour's record? Is he aware that during the previous Labour administration of the GLC the rate precept increased by no less than 235 per cent? Secondly, is he aware that Labour's manifesto promised to make London Transport travel free, and that within two years the fares doubled?
§ Mr. Hunt
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has given the House correct figures. The staggering total of a 235 per cent. rate increase over four years should be engraved on the heart of every London ratepayer. We must ensure that London history does not repeat itself as a result of the elections in May. The proposals to which I have referred for London Transport would result in a loss of revenue of about £130 million a year.
The motion is misconceived and mistaken. Its criticisms are misdirected at the Conservative Government. I hope and believe that it will be rejected.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
It is always a great pleasure to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt). I concur with his views on the reporting of The New Standard; his view is an all-party view. Labour Members took the same exception to the reporting to which he has referred. I spoke to the editor of the The New Standard, who was most concerned, and assured me that he would ensure that the reporting was correct in future.
The hon. Gentleman and I are at one on the rate support grant. I agree that London has been dealt with badly in the RSG negotiations over many years. Only yesterday I had to dispel a myth that for years London has been taking money from the shires. That is not true. For years London has not had any money from the shires while the shires have had money from London. That is the problem that the Under-Secretary of State has never understood.
The needs element in the regression analysis was refused for London. London's needs element was not put in because it was argued that it would be so high that it would scoop the pool. Therefore, it was deliberately left out. When the late Mr. Crosland was persuaded by my colleagues and me to allow it to be put in, it showed that London was entitled to £600 million in that year. But Mr. Crosland said"You cannot possibly take all that out, because you will scoop the pool. Therefore, we shall phase it in over three years." London got £200 million of the £600 million that it should have had in the first year. The following year the then Minister backed off and London received no more.
The hon. Member for Ravensbourne should understand that, compared with what should have been its rightful gain from the analysis, London has lost hundreds of millions of pounds year in and year out. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will stop arguing the case for the shires. In fact, London has been cheated of its resources. It has taken nothing from the shires. For two years London had a fairer share of its entitlement, although it did not get it all. Now not only has London lost that share but the Secretary of State has taken it all back again. Therefore, London is not taking from the shires; the shires are taking from London this year.
The hon. Gentleman went on to talk about Bromley, which is my favourite bete noir. Whenever I am short of a four-letter word, I think of Bromley. My argument is that Bromley has always refused to participate in helping to solve London's housing problems. When I was on the London Boroughs Association and its predecessor, the metropolitan standing joint committee, I argued about the outer London boroughs refusing to help the inner parts of London. Therefore, when the hon. Member for Ravensbourne said that Bromley had been caught by the 1123 block grant system, I thought that it was the best comeuppance that I had ever heard. I chuckled a little, although I was sad that the hon. Gentleman had to argue his case now. Bromley has failed over the years to help to solve many of London's housing problems.
§ Mr. Neubert
When I was the leader of Bromley council, the offer of houses in the London borough of Bromley to people in inner London was not taken up.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Gentleman and I hassled about that matter in those years. We argued because of the properties that were on offer. They were rejected by people in Bromley. Because nobody in Bromley wanted them, not unreasonably the hon. Gentleman tried to offload his problem on to somebody from inner London who he thought was scruffy enough to take it.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
My hon. Friend may be interested in my experience, which is totally contrary to his. I represent a constituency abutting the London borough of Bromley. During the seven years that I have represented Lewisham, West, of the many hundreds of my constituents who have wanted to move into Bromley, not more than half a dozen or so have been able to do so.
§ Mr. Brown
I do not want to take the argument on Bromley too far, but, I commiserate with the hon. Member for Ravensbourne on the fact that Bromley has had its come-uppance this time. Of course, it was not without some glee that I noted that it was happening to Bromley. It has happened to us frequently.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) for raising this matter and congratulate him on the skill with which he did so. Being first in the ballot, he wished to put down another item for discussion—a matter very close to his heart which also ought to be discussed in the House—but, because we have so few debates on London and because hon. Members on both sides of the House wanted such a debate, I prevailed upon my hon. Friend to change his mind. I asked him not to raise the personal issue about which he was concerned but to give the day to a debate on London. I pay public tribute to him for agreeing, under my pressure, to initiate a debate on London instead of on his own issue. We owe him a great debt for so doing.
The apologia for the Greater London Council by the hon. Member for Ravensbourne was interesting. However, it is not in the motion because we do not rate it very highly. As I am currently blocking the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill, I hope that we shall have a debate on the GLC during which we can train our guns on that issue. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not be disappointed. We shall explain why we dissent from his view about the work that the GLC and his hon. Friends have carried out during the past four years.
The hon. Gentleman said that 20,000 people had now bought their homes. That is true, but about 20,000 people in my constituency do not have homes because they have been sold. Whereas we could expect a large number of relets during the year, we now expect none at all. In that sense, the 20,000 who have bought their homes have done so at the expense of others who cannot afford to buy their homes and now cannot move. I would therefore have some care in giving tha subject such approbation.
The hon. Gentleman referred in glowing terms to the GLC's policy of rebuilding and revitalising rundown 1124 areas. He will not know the Broadway Market, a vast rundown area in my constituency, but the Under-Secretary of State does. Indeed, Mr. Richard Brew and Sir Horace Cutler know that. area. The GLC owns the Broadway Market area.
About two years before the Government took office the present Chancellor of the Exchequer made a speech in Bow. He was invited by environmental groups in my area to come and see the Broadway Market. The right hon. and learned Gentleman came to see it and was horrified. Indeed, he urged his political friends at County Hall to support my view that something should be done with that area. That industrial, commercial and residential area was in a disgraceful state. It still is.
I have argued and had meetings at County Hall with all the principal chairmen to try to get them to do something. It is now 1981 and their only major contribution has been to suggest that Hackney should take it over. They want to dump the whole matter, with all its problems, on the London borough of Hackney. The hon. Member for Ravensbourne referred to the GLC's policy of rebuilding and redeveloping run-down areas. I can understand his happiness about Covent Garden, but that does not help people in the Broadway Market area.
§ The Under-Secretary of State For The Environment (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us on how many occasions he made those representations to the GLC when it was controlled by his friends and to the old LCC which was controlled for 30 years by his friends? This did not start when Sir Horace Cutler took over.
§ Mr. Brown
I do not want to be at cross purposes with the Minister. He has been very kind to me recently with regard to my constituency. I should not wish to damage my good standing with him. Therefore, I hope that he will not intervene again, because he will provoke me.
Under the Labour-controlled LCC and GLC the problem was to revitalise the area. Nobody else would do it. Private enterprise was not interested in doing it. Only the local and county authorities could do it. They came together in a sensible way and agreed that one authority should do the work rather than fragment it. Therefore, the GLC undertook to do it and was doing it. The plans were approved, but Sir Horace Cutler and his colleagues have reneged on that project.
As I said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer visited the area. I have his approbation for what I am saying, because he made representations to his friends at County Hall, drawing their attention to it. Today the area is still derelict but worse than it was before. The traders are suffering, the market is suffering, and everybody is suffering because the GLC has vacillated. It is not true, therefore, from my experience, that the GLC has been properly aware of its responsibilities in this field.
Having served for over 20 years in local government, I pay tribute to those who are involved in it, but there are times when I feel that Sir Horace Cutler is less than helpful. But if we can take what has been said as an indication that he may be going to the other place, I can only wish him well. That is apparently the direction in which many people in local government are now going. I shall look forward to seeing him there. He will be out of the GLC by then, and that will be an advantage.
The point made in the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North is a real one. It is an 1125 attempt to state the problems that are facing London. There is too much of an anti-London attitude in this House and outside, so it was right for my hon. Friend to try to crystallise the issues and give hon. Members the opportunity to make their contributions to the debate.
I should like now to mention two basic issues with which I am concerned. I have written to the Secretary of State concerning the statements that he has continually made about the provision of rent and rate rebates. It has been his constant theme in justification for his high rents, that, for the people who could not afford to pay, rent and rate rebates are always available. He has also made the point that he does not want to give help to those who do not need it, that it should be selective. As I have said, I have written to the Secretary of State recently, and I am awaiting his reply.
The point is that the GLC, in an area adjacent to my own constituency, has decided to offer properties for sale and for rent. The properties which are to be offered for rent were built, or started, during the days of the Labour GLC, and they were intended for people rehoused from my area as well as other parts of Hackney. Prospective tenants will be asked to demonstrate that they can afford the rents without having to seek a rent rebate, and their total weekly net income has to be four times the quoted net rent of £32.99.
I believe that to be illegal, and I have written to the Secretary of State about it. Either it is illegal to say that because a person has not sufficient money he cannot have the advantage of a rebate, or the Secretary of State is misleading the House when he continues to maintain that high rents are justified on the basis that any tenant can apply for a rent or rate rebate. The area to which I have been referring is the Sherry's wharf site, Hackney, E.9.
I should like to refer to The New Standard of 11 March, in which there is the headlineGovernment cash boost for London rentpayers".It mentions what was said by the Minister for Housing and Construction in answer to a planted question. The Minister does not come to the House to tell us about these things; he prefers to do it by this other means. The report says that there is now a special allowance for London. It says:Housing Minister Mr. John Stanley will increase the rent rebates and allowances for low-income tenants from £25 to £35 a week in London and from £23 to £30 outside. The aim, said Mr. Stanley in a written Commons Answer, was to 'ensure that tenants with high rents are not denied full benefits from the Rent Rebate and Allowances schemes, particularly in London'.Yet at the same time the Minister's political friends were publishing documents showing that they were precluding people from having those benefits.
I hope that the Government will get away from the practice of making major announcements of this nature by means of planted questions, rather than giving us a chance to debate them in the House.
This is not a one-off case. The same Minister, again by means of a written reply, announced that there was now far greater mortgage hope for the low-paid. The New Standard of 12 March said:In future, local authorities will be allowed to guarantee home loans offered by building societies. If the buyer defaults on his mortgage the local authority will then be liable for the cost incurred.I do not quite know what that means, but how nice it would be if the Minister had made that statement from the Dispatch Box, so that we could question him about it.
1126 For example, if the borough council has to pay £10,000 on default, is that included in the grant-related expenditure, or will it be penalised for having spent the money in that way? Again, what happens to the tenant when he is moved out, after foreclosure? Now that building societies know that they can get the money from the council, they will foreclose immediately and the council will have to pay. But then what happens? Who is to house the family?
I hope that the Minister for Housing and Construction will regard himself as being responsible to this House and not use the system of planted questions as a means of avoiding having to explain to the House some of the principles involved. I am not against what the Minister is doing, but I ask him to give us the chance to debate matters with him and have them explained to us.
I turn now to the proposed transfer of housing. As I have already said, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment has been kind and courteous to me, and I pay public tribute to him for that. But, if he goes ahead with the proposed transfer, it will mean that the House will have only one and a half hours for debate, if we are lucky, as it will be under the negative procedure. If the Government give us the one and a half hours, that will be after 10 o'clock. After a Minister spends 20 minutes introducing the matter and the Opposition Front Bench spokesman has taken half an hour to rebut it, that does not leave much time for hon. Members concerned with the eight London boroughs.
It is fundamentally wrong to try to force Hackney to take over the GLC properties in its area, because they are in an appalling state, and we have never been able to get the truth about the matter. The Under-Secretary of State was kind to me in agreeing that, while he is considering the application of the GLC to transfer the property, he will permit Members of Parliament for the affected areas to enter the consultative procedure with him and give their views. I thank him very much for that opportunity, and we are now engaged in putting our views.
Meanwhile, I have tried to discover whether the 5,000 properties surveyed by the GLC represent a genuine sample. As the Under-Secretary of State will remember, the GLC originally sought his approval simply to force the eight inner London boroughs to take back GLC property. The GLC then had to answer questions about the property. It could not do so, and bit by bit a sorry story unfolded. I am advised that in some cases Sir Horace and his colleagues did not even know that the GLC owned some of the property, which is in the most appalling state. They did not even know that they were getting no rents from some of their properties. Conversely, they were getting rents from properties that they did know were theirs. It was an extraordinary state of affairs.
Towards the end of last year, the Department of the Environment came fully into the picture. Obviously, a political decision had been taken, and it was purely from a doctrinaire party political point of view that the GLC thought it should transfer the housing to the boroughs. However, the Department wanted to be sure that what it was doing was fair and just. Therefore the GLC had to agree, much against its will, to conduct a sample survey of the 2,000 properties which are to be handed back, out of well over 100,000 in the eight boroughs.
The question arose how such a survey should be conducted and who should do it. The object was to assess if possible the financial obligations that would be placed 1127 upon the local authorities when they took over the properties. The aim was to determine the state of the properties and the expected expenditure upon them within a reasonable time. It quickly became obvious that a sample of 2,000 properties was not satisfactory; nor were the issues involved in the survey. It was therefore agreed to extend the survey to 5,000 properties. There was a hassle about that because the GLC did not like the idea, but it was finally forced to accept it.
I pay tribute to the Department for improving the quality of the survey, although I still do not agree that it is satisfactory. It fails to take account of a whole range of factors. Let me explain why. I have been pursuing the issue in such a way as to be able to make a contribution to the consultations. To that end I visited tenants in my constituency who were complaining bitterly about the penetration of water through the roofs of their homes—one of the usual stories about GLC housing. What I saw was a total disgrace. On an estate of 29 two-storey houses which were built in 1963, the GLC had devised a scheme to try to stop the water coming through. It gave a contract to a firm called Gladding Construction Co. Ltd. in May last year. I am told that the contract price was £270,000—something under £10,000 for each of the 29 properties. The work was completed in December and I went to see it two weeks ago. It was appalling I saw the most dreadful workmanship. Not unnaturally the tenants were very angry.
I made representations to the GLC and we had a site meeting last week. I had asked for a representative of the company to be present, but the GLC had failed to issue the invitation. It also failed to bring its clerk of works whom I wanted to ask why the properties had been accepted on completion of contract in December as being satisfactory. The GLC confirmed my view that the state of the place was disgraceful. I told the construction company subsequently that I proposed raising the matter here today. Yesterday I finally had the chance to speak to a director of the company. He had an excuse for what happened. I told him that I would give it here today. He says that he does not believe that the fault is all that of his company, that some of it rests with the clerk of works. Of course, as one would expect, they blame each other. However, the standard of the workmanship is appalling.
I am telling this story as evidence of how these factors are shown up in the sample survey that will be before the Minister when the decision is being taken. These 29 houses have been built only 18 years. Already the GLC has spent £270,000 on them in the past few months. Anyone reading that fact would probably assume that after that expenditure the properties will be satisfactory for another 10 or 15 years without more money having to be spent on them. At the site meeting, however, I pointed out to the GLC the other work that needs to be done—the rotten doors and woodwork, and the appalling state of the structure of the building. The GLC told me that those items had not been included in the roof contract. When I asked how this other work would be done I was told that the GLC would have to go back to its committee to seek approval for repairs to be carried out.
If those properties had been transferred to Hackney as the GLC wanted, if Hackney had not refused to take them on, it would have been responsible for that work which it would have had to carry out without any help from the GLC. I know that the Under-Secretary feels aggrieved that the eight boroughs have continued to argue and hassle, but 1128 that example from Hackney is a classic example of why it is right to refuse to take over these properties. I support Hackney's view. On this relatively modern estate, the survey could not and did not show all the imperfections that would swallow up vast resources, provided not by London ratepayers generally but by the people of Hackney.
That brings me to my favourite subject—why the Minister continues within his Department to argue for Hackney borough council to be penalised. He knows—I have tried to show him regularly—that there is no reason for Hackney to be on his hit list. Without rehearsing all the arguments, I beg the Department to take Hackney off the list. It is penalised not only for what are alleged to be offences against the Minister's rate support grant proposals—I have shown him that those allegations are untrue—but because the Department is stopping the payment of money through the partnership scheme. In addition, it is taking action against Hackney through the urban aid scheme.
All this affects not only the people of Hackney but the voluntary organisations that rely totally on assistance from the borough council. The housing associations are affected. I never adopted a favourable attitude towards them when they were set up in 1968–69. That was when London went Conservative in a moment of aberration. All the Tory-controlled local authorities attempted to offload their properties on to housing associations. If there was no association one was manufactured. Hon. Members who took part in our debates at that time may recall my strong views on the matter. Nevertheless, those associations have prospered, and they have been brought along with help from the Housing Corporation. In my borough housing association work is now virtually at a standstill. When the Minister and other hon. Members talk about properties being boarded up while awaiting repair they should bear in mind that there are hundreds of properties in my constituency that are owned by the housing associations which cannot do anything about them.
Housing in Hackney is desperate, with 16,000 families on the waiting list and people coming there from all parts of the country seeking to be housed. There is no possibility of our being able to meet that need. If the Government persist in their silly attitude of hitting Hackney, which is stopping it helping the voluntary agencies, there is no way in which the situation can improve. The GLC is giving no help. There is no inter-borough nomination scheme. That was a total failure and just does not work. The housing associations are having to stop work. The Peabody Trust, Sutton Dwellings and the Guinness Trust assure me that there is no way that they will be able to help. Housing is therefore near anarchy, and people without homes are without hope.
A man rang me last night to tell me that he was living with his parents and that he and his wife were beginning to get on each other's nerves. He asked whether it was possible for them to get a home. They have no children, and they have tried everywhere."Mr. Childs," I said,"I will tell the House about your case tomorrow so that the Minister will understand." Mr. Childs is living with his family on the Parkside estate and there is a danger that his marriage is breaking up. What should Mr. Childs do? Where are all the properties which are available? Mr. Childs has been to the GLC, and it cannot or will not help.
1129 He has asked about the homesteading scheme. Hackney council cannot help. The housing association cannot help. What advice does the Minister have for Mr. Childs?
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg
Hackney does no homestead-ing. Mr. Childs sounds the sort of case which deserves it. He could be rehoused, instead of Hackney sitting on the properties like a broody hen.
§ Mr. Brown
The Minister is an extraordinary man. The GLC owns many of the properties in my area and it cannot get rid of them. Mr. Childs has been to the GLC for homesteading. There are hundeds of good, empty properties in my constituency, for example, on the Foresten Street estate. Those properties are advertised in The New Standard. Anyone with the money can buy a property in Foreston Street for about £45,000. However, Mr. Childs cannot buy one because he cannot afford it. Yet those properties are standing empty.
I could take the Minister around my constituency and show him hundreds of other properties on estates owned by the GLC which are deliberately kept empty. I have told the Minister about that. I have asked him what he would do about the matter. I told him about people who wanted to be housed in Hammersmith and he was unable to help me. Therefore, an easy political response is not good enough. He is not doing a service to the people of London and to my constituents in Hackney by trying to use them as a political football and pretend that they only have to be kicked around, that they are just checkers on a checkerboard. It is time he forgot that idea. Those people are human beings and need help.
The Minister should stop this nonsense of transferring properties to Hackney. He should stop penalising Hackney for a sin which it did not commit. He should understand that if he does not take his responsibilities seriously in London, London will be cut to ribbons.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
I am sorry that the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) has slipped out of the Chamber, because I was going to congratulate him—as is the tradition—on choosing London as the subject for the debate. I should have done so with greater cheerfulness had his speech not been so uncharacteristically sour. I suddenly realised, while listening to the enlightening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt), that we must forgive Opposition Members for some of their speeches these days, because they are designed for local consumption in connection with re-selection. Unless one appears to be sufficiently nasty on occasions, one might be considered to be too much of a"wet".
The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North did no credit to London in talking it down. That happens with violent and hysterical motions such as this one. I am happy to feel that the verbatim report of the hon. Gentleman's speech probably will not be read in full by many business men, in this country and elsewhere, who are thinking of opening branches of industry and commerce in London. The hon. Gentleman's speech made the city sound potholed, tumbledown and anarchistic, which it is not. I hope that members of the Cyclists Touring Club, of which I was once a junior member, will not have heard his unfair description of the roads and conditions in London.
1130 The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) was all sweetness and light at the beginning of his speech. I though that I must be slow in not getting into the queue to call on my hon. Friend the Minister, who is in a tremendously good mood for giving things away and understanding other people's points of view. He will probably hear from me next week when I look through my files to see whether there are any queries that I should raise with him.
The hon. Member talked about voluntary housing associations. He was right in saying that there was an excessive mushrooming of those associations a few years ago. He and I have taken an interest in them. For many years I have been on the committee of the Bethnal Green and East London housing association, which is one of the oldest and most successful housing associations in London, in a modest way. We are continuing to do our work as a housing association, in conversion, in updating, and in providing new accommodation for families.
In London, we are suffering socially and in housing from the terrible activities in the 1950s of experts in planning architecture. The old squares and back-to-back houses were pulled down to put up tower blocks. With a little sensible conversion, as has been done by housing associations, they have become comfortable family homes. One has only to turn the scullery into a kitchen, and, if necessary by helicopter, pop in a bathroom on the upper floor.
§ Mr. Martin Stevens (Fulham)
Does my hon. Friend recall that when I was a member of the housing and planning joint committee of the London County Council in the 1950s, to which he nostalgically referred, and advanced the case that he is making, I was called a Fascist for so doing?
§ Mr. Page
I study the activities of my hon. Friend, and when I retire, I think that in my leisure time I shall write a biography of a distinguised person, such as himself. I shall then apply to him for some of those details. I can imagine the agony that he must have been through on hearing those accusations, which were probably made by Marxists.
The homesteading scheme of the Greater London Council has been extraordinarily successful. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with some of the criticisms that have been made by the Opposition.
I welcome the record sales of 17,000 or 18,000 council houses to their tenants. It is wrong to say that those houses would have come on the open market. They have been passed from husband to wife and from parents to children. They do not often come on the market. The trouble is that, because people are tied, they are probably living in larger houses or flats than they need after the family has grown up. If only, at a stroke, there could be a complete redistribution of housing accommodation in London, there would be an amazing disappearance of overcrowding and considerable reduction in housing lists.
In a witty paragraph in his speech my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensboume said that of those who, according to the motion, should be consulted, the Greater london Council, above all, is not even mentioned. Opposition Members would not dare to have an open debate with my distinguished constituent and fellow elected representative for Harrow, West, Sir Horace Cutler. The record of the GLC over the years has been 1131 dramatically successful and wise, especially over the reduction of 4,700 bureaucrats, thereby saving London ratepayers £50 million a year. That is something that ratepayers appreciate.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
The last time that Sir Horace came to Newham he assured us confidently that he had so many assets to sell that he was able to promise to do three things. First, he assured us that he would bring the Olympics to the docklands. Secondly, he assured us that he could convince the Government to bring the Jubilee line to the Docklands. When it was suggested that he might have difficulties, he told us that he could convince the Government. Finally, he assured us that he could get the Channel tunnel built. What about that?
§ Mr. Page
I was not in Newham, that day. In a guarded way, I have always been unenthusiastic about holding the Olympic Games in London. They are about as unifying as the atom bomb. If Sir Horace has made a promise about the Jubilee line, I bet that it will be carried out, though perhaps not necessarily as quickly as the hon. Gentleman hopes. On the final point, London seems rather a long way off as a starting point for the Channel tunnel. However, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will realise the great advantages in co-partnership, partnership or handing over such projects to private enterprise. We might have had a new Maplin by now had private enterprise been allowed to get on with it.
I come now to the ILEA. I say, unpertinently and impertinently, that never in the history of education has so much money been spent by so many with so little success. I am thankful that Harrow is outside the ILEA. A constituent of mine, who is an extremely well-qualified and dedicated teacher, has decided that she cannot continue teaching under the ILEA. On her arrival in the classroom, half of her pupils turn their backs on her and play cards and other games, and she can get no support from the headmaster. I am taking the matter up with the Secretary of State.
I return to the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North. In his absence I said some nice and some nasty things about him. If he reads Hansard, I believe that he will find that they were more nice than nasty.
I wish, too, to say some nice and some nasty things to the Home Secretary. I give him not three cheers but one and a half for his action in tackling crime. Since the Government came to office there has been a great improvement in police morale and recruiting. Good police morale and a sufficient number of bobbies are the best ways to combat crime. Metropolitan Police recruiting is good. By about 1985, it might be up to establishment. However, that is the old establishment. Demonstrations and the need to guard hundreds of embassies and other installations day and night mean that we must have more policemen. A policeman in a Panda car driving slowly down the street is not as good as a bobby on the beat. People in central and inner London want more policemen on the beat.
Harrow has a good record in the appointment of special constables. Another ex-constituent of mine, Arthur Hammond, is doing a great job as head of the"Specials". However, I ask my hon. Friend to nudge the Home Office to see whether it can give more help in the recruitment of '"Specials" in other parts of London.
1132 When I was elected, and when my right hon. Friend became Home Secretary, people believed that we should do more to combat crime. The crime figures in London are still rising. The tragedy is that it is young people who are the culprits.
Another constituent of mine, Police Constable Olds, is paralysed from the waist down, I hope not forever. He had previously been commended for gallantry. On the occasion in question he tackled armed gunmen. The feeling among my constituents is that arms are carried too often. At least for the murder of a police or prison officer, the capital penalty should be demanded. We shall not succeed in stamping out violent crimes involving arms unless we so so. We must campaign to that end.
Last year, in broad daylight, two youths knocked down the charming wife of the ex-mayor of Harrow. If they are caught, they should be publicly humiliated. We need to do more than merely operate juvenile courts. I should like us to consider, reintroducing the stocks. [AN HON. MEMBER:"Chairs."] Hooligans, vandals and muggers should be put in a cage on public view on Saturday mornings, with their names and addresses clearly displayed.
When I wrote to you earlier, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you kindly said that you would forgive me if I was not able to stay for the whole of the debate. I have a long-term engagement in my constituency. I shall finish now, and soon go off for my aperitifs.
§ Mr. Bryan Magee (Leyton)
I am appalled to hear the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) calling for public humiliation and the reintroduction of the stocks as forms of punishment in this country. I know him personally. He is kind and compassionate. It is a failure of imagination on his part to advocate such things. I pray to God that we never see a recurrence of those medieval practices.
The first words of the motion before us state that its aim is:To call attention to the effects upon London of the economic, housing and social policies of the Government.I propose to address my remarks to that aspect of the motion. Unlike one or two Conservative Members, I shall not make a GLC electioneering speech.
§ Mr. Mellor
The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. No doubt he would like to do what his colleagues have done, namely, to make abusive references to the Government, without any reference—in an hour and a half of speeches from Labour Benches—to what the Labour Party would do. We are entitled to point out what is in the Labour Party's manifesto lor the GLC elections and what it has in store for us. The public have to make a choice. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell us something positive, and not simply attack the Government.
§ Mr. Magee
Would it not be wiser of the hon. Gentleman to listen to my speech before criticising it? I have not started yet. He may feel that what he has said is true when I have finished, but at present he resembles one of those drama critics who criticise a play without seeing it.
Most of the main problems facing people in my constituency, which is in the typical outer East London borough of Waltham Forest, can be subsumed under the three headings of housing, jobs and transport. In two of 1133 those areas some of the worst and most urgent problems have been directly created, or have been exacerbated, by the Government's policies. In particular I refer to the virtual moratorium on council house building, which is having an appalling effect.
§ Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)
Is it not the fashion among Conservative-controlled councils to blame the Government for the problems?
§ Mr. Magee
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. So far, I have let the House have more intervention than speech. I hope that I shall be allowed to get on with what I have to say, because I do not propose to speak for long, or to let my speech be interrupted much more.
My constituency has as great a proportion as any other London borough of houses that do not have indoor lavatories, bathrooms, hot water or other basic amenities. The Government's policies make it impossible to rectify that situation.
Only a couple of days ago I received an angry letter from a general practitioner in my constituency. He complained in the bitterest terms about the housing conditions of a family that he had had to visit because of a serious illness. He found a young husband and wife and a five-month old baby living in a house which he described asutterly unfit for human habitation".Not only did it have all the drawbacks that I listed as being typical of hundreds of houses in my constituency, but the doctor said that the stairs were positively dangerous to climb, even for a strong healthy adult. He said that no family should be required to live in such circumstances.
I looked into that case, and I discovered that the family was not feckless. The Prime Minister and her kind of Conservative are very fond of implying—if not directly stating—that it is their fault that the poor and the badly housed are in such circumstances. That is not true of this case, nor of thousands of others. I met the family, and I found them decent, responsible and hard-working. They are in that situation through no fault of their own.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg rose—
§ Mr. Finsberg
The hon. Gentleman specifically used the phraseutterly unfit for human habitation".Has the local authority represented it in that way, as it has powers to do?
§ Mr. Magee
I was quoting the words that the doctor used in his letter. Naturally, I immediately got on to the local authority about it. The London borough of Waltham Forest has a waiting list of 8,000 families, and many homeless families. Therefore, the situation is totally different from that depicted by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman). The housing situation is not improving at all. On the contrary, it is becoming worse, and is the fault of the Government's housing policy. People cannot improve their situation, because there are not enough houses. There are not enough houses because, in practice, the local authority is virtually forbidden to build new houses—as a result of the Government's housing policy.
1134 The same situation applies to jobs. The number of bankruptcies among small businesses has been a standard topic of discussion during the past year. In my constituency there are no large-scale employers. I have only small businesses and firms. In the past year scarcely a week has gone by without at least one bankruptcy, which throws even more of my constituents on to the dole queues. All hon. Members know—it is not even a matter of controversy—that the Government's economic policies have led directly to an unprecedented number of bankruptcies in the past year. Literally, I understand, the past year has seen the highest number of bankruptcies in a single year ever.
The third of the three problems is transport. I accept that that is not directly the Government's fault. It comes under the GLC. I promised not to make an electioneering speech, and I shall not. However, in two months' time Londoners will have—and will take—the opportunity to wrest control of the GLC away from the Conservatives and put it into the hands of the Labour Party. But that will not get to the seat of the problem. The seat of London's problems is the Government's Front Bench.
This week's Budget has exacerbated the problems of the poor and low-paid, who are typical of the population of my East London constituency. It placed many price increases on common products. Who did the Government hit most? They hit the low-paid. The Government failed to revise the income tax bands and family allowances upwards in line with inflation. Whom does that hit most? Obviously the lowest paid taxpayers. If the Government had taken the course that a Labour Government would have taken and revised the bands and allowances upwards in line with inflation, and if they had then—if necessary—raised extra revenue by raising tax rates, a higher contribution would have been made by the better-off members of our society. But this Government's way of doing things—which is cunning, and typical of a Conservative Government— ensures that the extra £2.5 billion that has been taken out of the tax take will come predominantely not from the better-off, but from the middle and lower ranges of taxpayer. There are many such people in my constituency. Indeed, many of those who are in the middle and lower tax brackets are amongst the better-off in my constituency.
Large numbers of Londoners are immigrants. About one-fifth of my constituents are coloured immigrants. They, too, face special problems. And some of those problems are the direct result of the Government's policies. The Labour Government were not blameless about immigration policy. I objected to the rules that the Labour Party adopted. They contained an unacknowledged racist element. It is particularly scandalous that those immigration rules have been adopted as the basis of the new British Nationality Bill.
I am perpetually involved in the immigration problems of individuals and families. Under the Labour Government I found that I could constantly get Labour Ministers to bend the rules in favour of individuals who had deserving cases. That almost never happens under the Conservatives. The rules are applied with a harshness that is often inhumane.—[HON. MEMBERS:"Rubbish."] I shall give two common instances to hon. Members who shout"Rubbish". It is contrary to the most elementary humanity to keep families arbitrarily and unnecessarily divided. This happens time and time again in two ways.
1135 The first is when someone here wishes to marry, or has married, someone from the other side of the world, most commonly Pakistan or India. That person naturally wants his or her spouse or fiancee to come here. It is normal for the person on the other side of the world to have to wait anything up to two years before even having an interview at the British high commission prior to being given permission to come to Britain.
That is inhumane and indefensible. The defence most commonly given is staff shortage in our high commissions. But everyone knows that if the will were there it would be comparatively easy to solve that problem. This defence of staff shortage is a thinly disguised attempt to control numbers by bureaucratic means.
The second form, which is common, is when a family—a mother, father and several children—are resident in this country and one child is in the West Indies, Pakistan or India. Over and over again the Home Office decides not to allow that one member of the family, often no more than a teenager, to come here and live with the rest of the family. Such decisions are indefensible in common humanity and natural justice. They emanate over and over again from this Conservative Home Office. They directly affect the lives of my constituents. They are examples of ways in which highly controversial policies, with which even some Government Members disagree, are making life unnecessarily worse for people with the particular problems involved in living in constituencies such as Leyton.
§ Mr. David Mellor (Putney)
I add my welcome to that of other hon. Members to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is the first time that I have had the pleasure of being in the House with you in the Chair. As an hon. Member who has been here only a short time I know well that you enjoy the respect of hon. Members on both sides of the House. We wish you a long and happy tenure of your high office.
I regret that the good-humoured speech by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee) was spoilt at the end by an unfair and, in the context of this debate, inappropriate attack on the Minister of State, Home Office—my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison). My hon. Friend is a man of great decency and sensitivity. I have a file full of cases in which he has personally taken the decision to allow families who are in circumstances described by the hon. Member to be united. To suggest that my hon. Friend has behaved inhumanely is monstrous. I regret that that charge was made when my hon. Friend cannot be here to defend himself and when other hon. Members are left to do it for him.
§ Mr. Mellor
I am saying that any immigration rules inevitably lead to difficulties, because families are divided. The hon. Gentleman was good enough to say that all Governments introduce immigration rules, although some disavow them the moment that they go out of office. When I have taken deserving cases to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, he has dealt with them with compassion, so that even families outside the scope of the rules have 1136 the benefit of his discretion and are united. However, I do not want to turn this into an immigration debate; I want to concentrate on London.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Leyton for intervening so early in his speech. I wanted to give him the opportunity to redress the balance. We were treated to speeches by the hon. Members for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) and Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), which lasted 90 minutes. Throughout that time there was not a hint of what the Government should do to make London better. There was not a hint of the alternative that would be put to the public when the opportunity arose. The effect of what those hon. Members said was undermined by the shabby device of pretending that all the problems suddenly descended on 3 May 1979. That will not do. I do not know how the hon. Members can believe that they can get away with it.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) said, why is it necessary to"rubbish" London in that way. In the last 15 months I have visited three capital cities—Vienna, Paris and Washington. No one walking round those cities would find them in better shape than London. Indeed, they would find them worse in many material respects. Let us stop knocking London for unnecessary political reasons.
If there is a determination to say that everything is wrong in London and that the Government should be blamed, why not blame others with public responsibilities and control over decision-making? That leads me to the role played by some Labour-controlled local authorities and the role previously played by certain Labour Members when they were on the Government Benches, defending the interests of London.
Let us consider the vexed question of unemployment. I bitterly regret the level of unemployment in London. I am confident that in the long run the Government will do something about it. Let us not pretend that the problem of losing jobs in London is caused by the Government. Some Labour Members bear a heavy responsibility. When Labour was in power it supported policies based upon the concept that everything was all right in London and the South-East. The Labour Government believed that all the special help should be channelled to the North-East, Wales and Scotland.
Who supported the transfer of Government jobs from London to the provinces? It is no good the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch laughing. Who made it difficult for office development to take place in London? Who supported the Location of Offices Bureau, which led to 900,000 jobs being dispersed from London in 15 years—most of them when Labour was in power?
How is it that hon. Members who were so ready to say, in 1975,"You cannot blame us for what has happened in the last 18 months. We all know that it takes 18 months for policies to filter through. This is our legacy from the last Conservative Government" now say that everything that has happened—and a number of unpleasant things have happened since 5 May 1979—is down to this Administration?
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
I want to put the hon. Gentleman right. He has chosen to refer to a period when he was not a Member of the House. If he had done me the courtesy of looking at Hansard he would have found that in debates in the House I constantly made the points to which he refers. I have remonstrated with both 1137 Governments. When I was smiling I was thinking how easy it was for the hon. Gentleman to make a statement like that about a time when he was not here. If he reads the debates he will find that he is wrong.
§ Mr. Mellor
I take the point that the hon. Gentleman may well have protested. One can only be acquitted of the charge of supinely supporting it in order to be convicted of the charge of not having any influence on the Government that one supports. That charge has been levelled against some of us, and I hand it back with interest. I am open to being told by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham), who speaks for the Opposition on these matters, that any of the things that I have listed that sold London's interest down the river were not the policies of the Labour Government. If it is said that some of the fiscal policies of the Government have contributed towards unemployment, what about the fiscal policies of so many Labour councils in London?
The London chamber of commerce and industry has pointed out with clarity the link between high rates and job loss. It has said that for this year even rate rises in line with the rate of inflation will lead to further redundancies.
Let us consider the shameful record of Labour councils. The rate rises in London last year were: Lambeth, 49.5 per cent.; Hackney, 48.9 percent.; Lewisham, 48.2 percent.; Southwark, 46.6 per cent.; Waltham Forest, 42.6 per cent.; Newham, 42.2 percent.; Hounslow, 41.4 percent.; and Islington, 40.9 per cent. I could go on. Will they tell us that those rate increases, imposed straight on to the business ratepayers, will have no impact on the job situation in London? What nonsense. In Lambeth that increase of 49.5 per cent. was not enough. It came back for more. That meant, for one business alone in Lambeth, an increase of £625,000 just to help the borough through three months until the end of the financial year.
§ Mr. Chapman
This is the first time that I have had the opportunity of interrupting my own Member of Parliament. He has made a most telling point. Has he noticed the motion that we hope will be debated after this? Does he agree that it is a question not only of an abuse of the rating system by some councils but the fact that the rating system is unfair, illogical, undemocratic, inadequate and out of date? Should we not be addressing our minds to finding a substitute for that local impost?
§ Mr. Mellor
I agree with my hon. Friend. The difficulty is to find an effective alternative. The Government will not be able to stop for much longer taking action to restrict the amounts that Labour councils such as Lambeth can call upon local businesses to pay when those businesses have no say in electing a council. The Government will have to take action.
Given the wide range of the motion proposed by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North let us consider other subjects. I shall happily give way to any hon. Member who wishes to dissociate himself from those parts of his Government's policy. Health has been mentioned briefly. What about the policy pursued by the Labour Government of the reallocation of resources, moving resources out of London and up to the North, destroying or threatening to destroy London institutions?
§ Mr. Stallard
If the hon. Member again looks at the record he will see that my colleagues and I opposed that measure. We hope that we made some dents in it. We were violently opposed to it, and still are.
§ Mr. Mellor
I accept that hon. Gentlemen found themselves in the position in which we sometimes find ourselves, having difficulty in representing London's interests against the Government.
If I have done nothing else in my speech I hope that I have brought some balance back into the discussion. All will not be wonderfully well if the hon. Members for St. Pancras, North and Hackney, South and Shoreditch move themselves on to the Government Benches, because London suffered a great deal at the hands of the Labour Government. The reallocation of resources was one of the least attractive of those measures.
I have the honour to be a special trustee of Westminster hospital. Since I have been in the House I have spent a great deal of time fighting against the proposal of the working party established by the Labour Government to shut down that hospital. The argument advanced by the Labour Government, and I fear—I want to be totally fair—adopted by the present Government, is that London has too many acute beds. I do not mind accepting a share of responsibility for the fact that that is a part of both Governments' policies towards London, although it angers me when I read in my local paper that one of these peripatetic extremists has been brought in from Barnet to fight the GLC elections in Putney and has accused the Conservative Government of being responsible for plans to cut the number of acute beds in London when we all know the genesis of that arrangement.
The motion also mentions crime. I can speak with experience about crime, having practised as a barrister in the courts for a number of years. It was the unique contribution of the Labour Government in London that at a time when crime in the capital had never been higher, the morale of the Metropolitan Police had never been lower. Let us examine the transformation that has taken place in two years. Metropolitan Police recruiting is at a record level. The Metropolitan Police training school has its highest number of students that it has had since 1919. It has broken the previous record as the largest intake in its history. It will not do for Opposition Members to say anything abut the crime problem in relation to the Government when an increasing number of Labourelected representatives seem to take a malicious delight in attacking the police.
There are occasions when the police, like any other body in society, deserve to be criticised. I welcome the support that I received from both sides of the House when I attacked the dreadful press conference in Leeds when a suspect was arrested for the alleged Ripper murders. There are one or two hon. Members, not from London, who go too far in attacks on the police. I am desperately worried about the activities of some Labour politicians who aspire to control the GLC when they attack the special patrol group, and when Lambeth council sets up what one can only call a totally sham inquiry into the activities of the police that is designed to undermine public confidence in a vital institution.
§ Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)
Is my hon. Friend aware that many of the attacks by Lambeth council, for example, are destined in the long term to bring the police within democratic control—in other words, control by the local authority?
§ Mr. Mellor
Indeed. I admit that I have not always been entirely happy about the control of the Metropolitan Police by the Home Office—as that makes it difficult to get the day-to-day control over the police on the occasions that it is required—but I quiver in my shoes to think of some of the people who might be controlling the GLC in May, getting control and taking action that one could only say was designed to hit at the effectiveness of the police to curb crime.
I turn to the problems of education. I should welcome clarification from the hon. Member for Edmonton. A great deal is said about what the Government have done in education, although if the inspectorate's report on education standards in Inner London Education Authority secondary schools has proved one thing it has proved that there is no easy link between the expenditure of money and the standards achieved.
I have come in for attack in my local newspaper from the prospective Labour GLC candidate for distorting Labour party policy on education. Will the hon. Member for Edmonton tell me whether it is really the policy of the Labour group that aspires to take over the GLC that the National Union of School Students should be formally recognised by that authority when that Trotskyite body has been denounced and cut off by the National Union of Students? Is it really its policy compulsorily to end streaming in secondary schools in London and to stop denominational education in London? We have a right to be given the answers.
We are attacked for our education policies, and education is mentioned in the motion. We are entitled at least to know the exact points that we have to meet.
§ Mr. Greenway
The suggestion of the National Union of School Students goes far beyond what my hon. Friend suggested. It is that pupils should have a representative on the governing body of each school. That seems to me particularly fatuous, because there would be a boy or girl from one part of London on the board of a school in a different part. It is difficult enough for pupils of that age to understand their own schools, let alone one in a distant part.
§ Mr. Mellor
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is very well informed on education matters. I hope that he will expand on that point in his own speech.
I turn to a matter that concerns me. The hon. Member for Leyton, who is no longer present, cannot say that we are not dealing with the GLC. Of course, we are not responsible for it, but we cannot put out of our minds the fact that in eight weeks the people of London will have a chance to vote for the GLC and that the council is very important in terms of determining the sort of London in which we live. In many crucial policy areas it has almost the same impact on London as do the Government.
I do not think that I am alone in the House in feeling concern that many reputable Labour Members seem inclined to attack the Government without being in the slightest degree aware of the threat that they represent to the community, to their own party, or, indeed, to their own positions in the House from some of those who may well 1140 be elected under the banner of the allegedly democratic Labour Party in May. If we are concerned about what faces London we should be concerned that the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) has already left the Labour Party, saying that it is the party that has changed, not he. It is clear that there are people dead set on turning away from everything that the Labour Party has believed in. They have taken over control of those likely to be elected to the GLC.
We have reached a position that is almost unprecedented in our democratic politics. A gentleman by the name of Mclntosh apparently speaks for the Labour opposition on the GLC. It has already been said that if the Labour Party wins a certain number of seats on the GLC the first thing that it will do is to get rid of him and put in his place another gentleman called Livingstone. Has anyone ever heard of such a singular situation?
When we look at the problems that London might face, we might also consider the remarkable history of Mr. Livingstone. When I was first involved in politics in London he was standing as his party's candidate for Norwood in the GLC elections. In 1973 he was successful, but come 1977, perhaps realising—with a perception that is not given to him on many other issues with which he deals—that he would not be re-elected, he went to Hackney, where he was elected. Now he is leaving Hackney, presumably not because he thinks that he might lose it—although he probably deserves to do so—for Paddington, where he hopes to win the GLC seat.
We are dealing with a different species of politician from those that we have been used to. Although I do not expect them to acknowledge it publicly, there may be Labour hon. Members who agree, at least privately, with my concept of politics, which is that one goes to a community and represents it in whatever institution one is elected to. One regards oneself not as merely a party manipulator but as a servant of that community.
Whatever the allegedly acceptable face of Labour politics in London, represented by certain hon. Members here, we know who are in control. They are the people who will be putting themselves forward, apparently without regard to the communities that they represent, simply looking for the electoral advantage of the moment, switching around as if they are playing musical chairs with the seats that they represent on the GLC.
The high demands of the public sector—Government, local authorities, the GLC and nationalised industries—are at the root of many of the problems that we face in London. I cannot believe that those problems will be eased merely by making indiscriminate attacks on the Government and using them tacitly to support those who, if they are elected to County Hall in May, will immediately—we know this even out of their own mouths—increase the GLC precept by 25p. That precept, built up over all the years that we have had a GLC, is now only 24.7p
All may not be perfect in London now. My hon. Friend the Minister knows my views about the block grant. He knows that I would not support it. I have told him publicly, and I repeat, that what happened this year cannot be repeated next year. He knows also that I come from an area whose council, notwithstanding the problems put on its plate by the Government, has yet made savings so that it is only passing on to its ratepayers, in the lowest rate increase yet announced in London the effect of the GLC precept.
1141 Having established my credentials by not being afraid to attack my Government, I feel that I can fairly make the point that it is no excuse for Labour authorities simply to blame the Government for their own rapacious designs on the ratepayers. Public expenditure can be curbed at local authority level if the will is there. We shall not ease London's problems if, as a reaction against the Government, we vote into office in May people who will throw around public money like confetti as well as standing for a brand of politics utterly alien to the traditions of Britain.
§ Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich, East)
I wish to add my words of welcome to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in your new-found responsibility. I am sure that your well-known qualities of patience and tolerance will stand you in good stead. I am equally sure that you will need them from time to time. I thank the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) for raising the subject and for the broad way in which he drafted his motion.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) on the skilful way in which he diverted the thrust of the debate. Although he made some fair and telling points I must tell him that it is no part of my case, nor that of other opposition Members, to say that all London's problems began in May 1979. As he pointed out, I no longer have an axe to grind in defending the Labour Party. But it is fair to put on record the fact that Labour Members—some of them in the Chamber today—fought hard and strong against the policies of the Labour Government. They succeeded on one or two important issues, such as industrial development certificates for London and, especially, the rate support grant. They succeeded in altering the direction of the allocation of rate support in a way that has now been wiped out by the decisions of the current Administration.
If the Government are not responsible for the historic problems of London, the hammer blows of Government policy that have rained on Londoners during the past 18 months have desperately aggravated the position.
§ Mr. Stevens
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is as eager as we are not to exaggerate. When he talks about wiping out the benefit of the reorganised rate support grant, he is not quite correct. It has been reduced but not wiped out.
§ Mr. Cartwright
I shall immediately come to that point. The rate support grant system and the way in which it has been changed are matters about which we should be concerned in the debate. Some of us made predictions about the actual effect of the change in the Government's allocation system. They have turned out to be all too true, and are leading to the worst of all possible worlds—cuts in services accompanied by substantial increases in rate demands. Whatever Conservative Members say, there is no question but that London has been hardest hit in the changes made by the Government. Indeed, Ministers have made that point quite clear.
The Department of the Environment assessment is that London has lost £107 million in grant. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities has said that the basis of that calculation is faulty and that the total loss is £211 million—about 13.8 per cent. of the total revenue 1142 available. As the AMA's figures show that £800 million has been wiped off grants nationally, more than one-quarter of that national loss is represented by cuts in London.
Both sides of the House must agree—whether or not we argue about the figures—that inner London has been harder hit than outer London. The average loss of grant for an inner London borough is about £18 million—46 per cent. of grant. In outer London the average loss is nearer 13 per cent.
When we last debated these issues on 17 December 1980 the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment gave his explanation of the change. He said:We believe that the new grant-related expenditure assessments are based on more objective and open judgments of what authorities need to spend than was the previous regression-based formula.I think that hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber will beg leave to doubt that statement. He added:The results have shown the inner London authorities to be spending substantially in excess of their assessed need."— [Official Report, 17 December 1980; Vol. 996, c. 757–8.]The assessment of need is made by civil servants in Marsham Street. That is totally out of keeping with the assessment made by local government officers who are at the sharp end in trying to tackle the problems that exist in inner London.
Whether the test is the number of one-parent families, the incidence of homelessness, the length of housing waiting lists, the amount of sub-standard and overcrowded housing, or the figures of unemployment, especially youth unemployment, we find that inner London has a large and growing collection of social problems. These are problems that can be tackled and solved only by above-average public spending. It seems clear that the Government's politically prejudiced attack on inner London is a recipe for social injustice and worsening urban decay.
It is reckoned that the rate rise in the London borough of Greenwich will be about 55 percent., despite reductions in services. That is a direct result of the Government's reduced support. It is surely not possible for Conservative Members to claim that Greenwich is a profligate spender in the Lambeth mould. It is not an authority that can be held to be composed of a wild bunch of extremists. I do not agree with all the priorities of the borough. However, it is widely recognised as a council that tries to balance the provision of services to meet obvious needs with the need to keep reasonable levels of cost to the ratepayer. There was a 25 per cent. increase in rates in the current financial year. Added to that will be an increase of about 55 per cent. for the coming financial year. It is clear that that will cause hardship.
The impact of the increase on the average ratepayer will be about £2 a week. A mortgage payer will find that this increase will wipe out much of the benefit of the proposed cut in interest rates. For council house tenants the blow will be even harder. In addition to the average £2 a week increase in rates they will have to face the Government's required £3.25 a week increase in council rents. If we add to those increases the increased national insurance contributions that will come into operation in April, which will amount to an extra £1 a week for the average man in work, many of the families in my constituency will find themselves paying out another £6 a week almost overnight. That does not include increased heating costs, 1143 fares, general prices and all the other factors with which our constituents have to contend. All these factors apply before we consider the impact of the Budget.
We all recognise that many families are already hard pressed. Increases of the sort to which I have referred will mean real cuts in living standards and real reductions in spending. It is further encouragement to the cycle that takes us deeper into the mire of recession into which Britain is fast sliding.
We should be especially concerned about the impact on industry. A recent survey of the London chamber of commerce revealed that if rate rises were no larger in London than those of last year, about 44 per cent. of all the firms surveyed would seriously consider leaving London. We know that the rate rises will be larger on average than those that were applied last year. It is a blow to the borough of Greenwich which has made strenuous efforts over the years to attract new firms to fill the gaps left by declining and departing industry. It will be a tragedy if rate rises cause small firms to shut down or to leave the borough. If that were to be the pattern it would increase the spiral of deprivation. It would cut job opportunities while reducing rateable values and increasing the rate burden on those who remain.
I turn briefly to two aspects of the Budget that are of particular concern to Londoners. One concerns the point made by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee), with which I strongly agree, on the Government's decision not to index personal allowances in line with inflation. It would have been fairer and more honest if they had done that and increased the standard rate of income tax. It would have been politically more just and upright to do that, and it would have eased the burdens on low-income families, of which there are many in London.
I want to illustrate this point by referring to widows. There are many widows in London. It is not generally understood that a widow who has only the basic State widow's pension is already above the tax threshold. Her total income from her widow's pension is £1,411. As she gets only the single person's allowance of £1,375, she is £36 over the tax threshold now.
Normally, the Chancellor of the Exchequer grandly takes widows out of taxation by raising the allowances in April, and in November the Secretary of State for Social Services pomptly puts them back in again through the benefit uprating. That performance will not take place this year, because the Chancellor has not raised the tax threshold. Therefore, widows will find that the whole of the £2.45 extra that they are to get—the 9 per cent. increase in the pension in November—will be subject to tax at the standard rate. That is a mean and indefensible way of treating a hard-hit group in our society.
The second issue arising out of the Budget concerns the massive increase in petrol duty. There is a tendency to regard this as a problem for the rural areas alone. I suggest that it is also a problem for many Londoners. Many of my constituents are reluctant commuters. They do not want to have to travel long distances to work. However, they are forced to do so because industry has left the South-East London area. Many are forced to travel to places to which they could not travel easily—in some cases it would be impossible—by public transport. For example, some have to cross to Essex to get to work at Dagenham and other such places. They depend on cars to get to and from work, and the increase in petrol will add to their travelling costs.
1144 I turn now to the Health Service. I accept absolutely what was said by the hon. Member for Putney. The problems of the Resources Allocation Working Party formula were not dreamt up by this Government. The RAWP was the brainchild of Lady Castle. Many in London regard it not so much as a RAWP as a rape of the London Health Service, because it deliberately switches resources from London to other parts of the country. The Government may not have dreamt it up, but they have substantially aggravated the problem by their cuts in the allocation of funds, and particularly by their cash limits policy.
The Greenwich and Bexley area health authority has been a particular casualty. We have had years of rationalisations of services. To call a cut a rationalisation does not make it any more acceptable to the people who have to suffer it. We have had closures of hospitals and wards and shut downs of out-patients' clinics, and all the rest of the process that is becoming so well known throughout London.
When the process began, it was only the Health Service trade unions that said to me"If this goes on, we shall be putting patients at risk. We shall be cutting the standards of patient care." But then the doctors became worried. Consultants started to say"We are impairing the quality of the service through the cuts that are now being made." Now, even Health Service administrators frankly and honestly say that we are making cuts not in extravagant or wasteful spending but in the standards of service available to the sick and the needy.
I have a letter from the chairman of the Greenwich and Bexley area health authority, dated 8 January, in response to a series of problems that I put to him, in which he said:There is no doubt that the cash limits set for the Area Health Authority for this year will be exceeded and that to a certain extent patients' services will suffer. Unfortunately, the position will not, in my view, improve during the next financial year and the level of service is likely to drop still further although we are all doing our best to minimise this.He went on to explain some of the problems that were occurring. For example, he said:in the Greenwich Health District as a whole we have not been able to staff certain wards and it is unlikely that the position will improve in 1981-82. All this has and will continue to result in some specialties in the available beds being taken by emergency admissions only.That means sudden cancellations of operations for elderly people, who get telegrams telling them not to come to the hospital because there is not a bed available for their operations. Accident cases are being sent home because beds are not available for them to be kept in hospital for observation. Staff vacancies are not being filled, with resultant pressure on the remaining staff in the individual hospitals.
I quote again from the administrator of the Greenwich health district. In a letter to me dated 3 February he said:We are all concerned that this District suffered a permanent reduction in its allocation in 1980–81 of £1,043,000, to which must be added the overspending in 1979-80 of over £1 million.That is a cut of £2 million in the next financial year to be recovered. He continued:The cash released by the Government which ultimately came to this district for 1980–81 was short by £100,000 for the doctors' pay award and by about the same for the nurses' pay award.In other words, the Government cheated. They concluded an agreement about increases in pay for doctors and nurses and did not provide the resources necessary to the local health service to meet that demand.
§ Mr. Mellor
The difficulty that I have—leaving on one side for the moment the RAWP point—is to know how any Government, working within the constraints of the existing Health Service, can really be expected to do much more than this Government are doing. Spending on the Health Service overall has been protected and has, in fact, shown a small increase. Will the hon. Gentleman agree that probably the only way in which to resolve the difficulties is to look for a better way of running our Health Service, perhaps by a more imaginative partnership with private contributions? The country may want a National Health Service, but it is not prepared to fund it properly.
§ Mr. Cartwright
I am not sure that I agree with the hon. Gentleman's last point. I accept that there may be a need for a more imaginative running of the Health Service. I should like to see a Health Service that was more immediately responsible to ordinary people, through a better system of direct election. That would prevent some of the worst excesses of Administrations.
Where I part company with the hon. Gentleman and the Government is their belief that we can reduce Health Service spending as the population falls. It is a very attractive idea, but my experience is that demographic changes are not sufficiently recognised in that sort of approach. As we are left with a greater number of elderly people health spending does not—and should not—go down. It may need to go up, because of the particular needs of the elderly. I quarrel, therefore, with the whole approach of RAWP, which seems to be that if the population of London is going down—this is also the general Government attitude—resources can be switched to areas where the population is increasing. That is a mistaken approach.
I should like to quote one last comment from the district administrator in Greenwich because it sums up the sort of problem that I am trying to highlight. He said to me:The truth is, of course, that some reductions of patients' services or at the very least, the quality of them is inevitable".That is the sort of problem that we are facing.
I thought that the Minister for Health ought to hear about all this, because we have administrators in the Health Service saying quite clearly and frankly that the services to my constituents would be worsened as a result of the shortage of finance. I received a reply from the hon. Gentleman that simply said that it was not his problem but the problem of the regional health authority. He said:As you know, it has long been the policy of the South East Thames Regional Health Authority to reduce the proportion of the Region's resources allocated to Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Area Health Authority and Greenwich and Bexley Area Health Authority in order to improve services in the more deprived districts of the Region.The deprived areas that we are talking about are such wellknown deprived areas as Tunbridge Wells, Hastings and Eastbourne.
On occasion, it would be helpful if Ministers would leave the cosy comfort of their offices in Whitehall and visit constituencies such as mine in order to see what is happening to real people on the ground.
The Government's treatment of London shows a total disregard of well-established priorities in public spending. It shows a callous dismissal of all the proven indicators of social need, and it shows, above all, a ruthless determination to put doctrinaire ideology before the real and pressing needs of Londoners.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I certainly do not agree with the conclusions of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright). His comments were extravagant and unworthy of him.
I wish to deal with the threat to London schools clearly posed by what we know of the London Labour Party's proposals. In common with parents across London, I believe that the rights of parents to choose for their children single-sex schools, to have their children streamed in comprehensives, and to choose a denominational school are under the gravest threat. That threat comes from the Labour Party's resolution which says thatno child shall be segregated by virtue of his or her sex, religious, ethnic or socio-economic status.It is possible to close a school by a variety of means. In particular, entry to a school may be so arranged that the school ceases to operate, as has happened in many cases in London and elsewhere in the country. It is necessary only to say that a Church school shall not be allowed to take children of that Church, and the whole ethos and raison d'etre of that school is changed. It does not fulfil its 1944 Act or foundation mandate, and effectively the school goes. The Labour Party must accept that the people in Ealing and in other parts of London feel that they are under threat in their right to choose Church schools in particular and that Labour is responsible for it.
In 1975 the then Labour Secretary of State, Mr. Tony Crosland, had to inform local authorities that"the party's over". He pointed out at that time that local government expenditure had been growing at about 5 per cent. per annum—many times the rate of growth of the industrial sector. Thus, since 1975, the trend of local government expenditure has been more closely controlled in one way or another by the Government. The main measures of control are within the new block grant arrangements, which have been much discussed in the House recently. The needs and general principles behind the grant—the unitary grant—were conceived by the Department of the Environment under the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore).
The local authority associations accept, I believe, that it is the job of central Government to manage the national economy. Everyone has an interest in reducing inflation, and the Government must be concerned about the general level of rate increases in local authorities. I accept that there are certain features of the new block grant arrangements which perhaps bring the Government too much into democratic local decision-making, and that is something to watch.
However, the new grant arrangements and the actions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment have definitely created an atmosphere in which local councillors of both parties can realise that economies can be made and that a new realism can be introduced, particularly on housing.
Over half the cost of local government services is accounted for by salaries and wages. The Government inherited the blank cheque signed by the outgoing Labour Administration in respect of certain sectors of public service pay with the aim of buying themselves out of the winter of discontent. That has resulted in local authorities having to fund the considerable percentage awards granted by the Clegg commission.
The Government are achieving a real reduction in the rate of inflation. That has led to the highly responsible 1147 attitude of teachers, first in Scotland and subsequently in England and Wales, to accept pay increases of 7½ per cent. from April Although that is slightly above the 6 per cent. cash limit, it demonstrates that they at least realise that to pay millions of pounds more for the same level of service puts off even longer the day when real improvements can be afforded. In saying that, I know that some local education authorities very much wanted teachers to accept 6 per cent.
Local government in general has a good record for complying with exhortations from the central Government to keep volumes of expenditure within central Government targets Indeed, it has a better record than the central Government itself and even of private industry. However, I do not see why central Government funds, which means general taxpayers' money, should continue to pump money into the coffers of local authorities which, for one reason or another, deliberately increase expenditure more than the country can afford and, by all accounts, beyond what the ratepayers are prepared to pay for. I could instance the case of Lambeth and many others.
My own authority of Ealing not only has the third lowest rate increase in London; it is within the new grant-related expenditure assessment and able to conform to the volume target of 5 per cent. below the level of expenditure for 1978–79. I welcome the promise of the Secretary of State for the Environment that authorities that keep within the volume target will be exempt from any withholding of grant if the total of local authority budgets for 1981–82 exceeds the national cash limit. That is a useful guarantee. I do not see why the ratepayers of Ealing should suffer as a result of the policies of, say, Lambeth. Indeed, I notice this morning that even Lambeth is finally facing the prospect of reducing expenditure plans by as much as £11 million.
The Government, therefore, are continuing the control of local government expenditure that was begun by the Labour Government. They are using methods of control, through the grant mechanism—again, conceived by the Labour Government, but refined and improved. Most of all, they are creating the right atmosphere to allow local authorities to produce expenditure programmes that are cost-effective, realistic in the circumstances, more in line with what ratepayers can afford, and more in line with national economic policies. [Interruption.] We have to be realistic. Ratepayers can afford only so much; we must remember that.
London has many special problems, but I feel that the new methods of assessing needs are vastly superior to the old method known as the"needs assessment". I shall say why. The new grant arrangements include factors such as the high labour costs in London, the number of deprived families, and immigrants. I see evidence of realism creeping into even the most hardened Labour-controlled London authorities.
My research shows, incidentally, that the average rent increase in Labour-controlled London boroughs will be higher than that imposed by the Conservative boroughs in 1980. The average rent in London was £9.48 per week. Outside London, it was £7.71. Average rate increases will also be higher in London, but particularly in Labourcontrolled boroughs.
I therefore conclude that it is not Government intervention that has caused this situation but the deliberate policies of certain councils that appear to wish to continue spending incrementally without any regard for value for 1148 money, efficiency of operation, or whether services that were relevant five or 10 years ago are still needed. If the average rent in London has been £9.48 and in the rest of the country £7.71, is it right for central Government funds, which means taxpayers' money, to be pumped indiscriminately into local authority housing revenue accounts in order to balance the books?
Action taken by the Government has included encouragement to local authorities to dispose of land held often for many years with no particular plans, to close uneconomic schools and to redevelop the sites—
§ Mr. Dobson rose—
§ Mr. Greenway
I shall give way in a moment. The results in my own borough of Ealing have been dramatic. There has been rapid development of housing on the private market through private funding. Programmes have been started quickly after purchase of the land—as compared with the general series of delays that seem to be built into municipal developments—and attractive starter homes are being built.
§ Mr. Dobson rose—
§ Mr. Greenway
I shall give way in a moment.
The Government, through the building societies' support scheme and the guarantees arrangement are encouraging a number of novel methods of home ownership. The recent drop in the minimum lending rate will assist those wishing to purchase their own homes. We must begin to consider housing across the board rather than assuming that everything can be provided by the State through the continued construction of municipal housing for rent.
When we talk about council housing, I am always reminded of the fact that, so far as I know, almost every hon. Member owns his or her own house. However, large sections of the Labour Party, including Labour Members, seem to be willing to do all that they can to prevent other sections of the community from owning their own homes. That is not understood by people. That attitude goes well beyond what it is reasonable to say with regard to what should be provided for people who are incapable of providing for themselves. Such an attitude is neither fair nor honest.
§ Mr. Dobson
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will pause from reading what seems to be the Minister's speech, which, by mistake, has got into his hands. In some cases, some of the land bank sites in inner London are lying empty simply because the Government have prevented councils from carrying out their long-term planned developments on those sites in order to provide amenities for local people. The hon. Gentleman referred to starter homes provided by the private sector. Will he list the starter homes that have been provided by the private sector in inner London as a result of the Government's policies?
§ Mr. Greenway
I would be pleased to take the hon. Gentleman around his own constituency, in which I worked for 12 years, and show him areas of land for which the local council has had no plans whatever.
§ Mr. Dobson rose—
§ Mr. Greenway
That land has stood vacant. No plans have been produced, and no thought has been given to what should be done with it. That is disgraceful.
In Ealing and other places, some land that was available for housing has been released to the private sector, and that 1149 has led to the building of hundreds of starter homes. That has meant that people have acquired homes who would not otherwise have done so. I welcome that.
§ Mr. Greenway
Not again. The Front Bench spokesmen are waiting to participate and, therefore, I must be brief in order to accommodate them.
The Government have swept away a large number of controls upon local authorities. That has been helpful and important. It has given local authorities greater freedom to decide their own policies. The Government have reviewed subsidy arrangements—for example, for housing—and have created an atmosphere in which subsidies can be redirected to areas of greater need. They have encouraged the sale of council houses, as well as encouraging the private sector to develop starter homes for sale on council land.
Although the new grants system is having teething problems, it is creating an atmosphere in which central Government funds do not continually support the profligate policies of certain councils. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) ought to know about the profligate policies of his own council. If he does not, he should learn about them. At any rate, the Government have introduced a degree of realism into local authority finance.
From my information, the Conservative-controlled London boroughs are levying average rate increases of about 28 per cent., whereas the increase in Labourcontrolled London boroughs has averaged 44 per cent. Those figures speak for themselves. I am amazed that Labour Members have the effrontery to intervene when I am simply putting forward factual points.
Newham is a Labour borough. It received a slightly better grant settlement than Ealing, yet it is still imposing a 50 per cent. rate increase.
The general attitude of Labour parties in control of London boroughs—it was the same when Labour controlled the GLC—is to chuck money about in a totally irresponsible way, without thought or care. Londoners know that, and they will have no more of it.
§ Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)
It is not being trite to say that the debate has been valuable, not least because all hon. Members have made contributions that have been based on experience in the House and in local government.
I pay a warm tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard), who moved the motion so ably. He brings to the House not only his experience in the House over many years but his experience in local government and in working in his community. I congratulate him, not only on his ability to win the ballot but on his choice of subject.
In a long list of errors, the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) was quick to point out the error on our side of not recognising that the problems that we are discussing did not start on 3 May 1979. However, in moving the motion my hon. Friend recognised that these problems were of long standing. More than once in his speech, and subsequently in an intervention, he recognised the frustration of a Back-Bench Opposition Member, because 1150 while we rightly attack the record of the Government since 3 May 1979 in London, we have to recognise that many of the problems are of long standing.
The hon. Member for Putney wanted confirmation of certain aspects of the education policy of the GLC. This week the Government have issued a circular inviting all local authorities to consider ways in which they can widen the representation of the governing bodies in their schools. They are also asked to consider appeals to governing bodies on the question of entry. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to maintain some semblance of respect and authority for local government, I am sure that he will agree that those decisions are best made by local people. They should have the right to determine who will serve on their governing bodies and whether there will be changes in policy—changes that are not national but local. I shall see that he receives a reply to his specific question on education.
The hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) chided my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North because there is no reference in the motion to the GLC. The hon. Member for Ravensbourne then made a speech in which he referred to the GLC, but not to the Tory Government—"You pays your money and you takes your choice." The villain of the piece in this debate is the Tory Government. The Tories are engaged in the desperate job of defending the record of the present Tory GLC. We shall want to sythesise those two aspects in our debate today.
The Minister must set London's crisis against the national record of his Government. That record has had a catastrophic effect on London. The total of national unemployment has now reached a criminal 2½ million. Tory Members are entitled to say that almost 1½ million people were unemployed when they came into office, but when they came to power they did so on the election claim that the Labour Government had failed, by making unemployment reach 1½ million. They have apparently succeeded by making the figure reach 2½ million.
The Minister needs to take into account the punishing cost of mortgages to the owner-occupier in London, even with the announcement that may be made today of a reduction in the mortgage rate. That reduction will perhaps bring the rate down to 13 per cent., which is still more than 1 per cent. higher than it was on 3 May 1979.
The high cost of travel for Londoners is, in the main, a direct consequence of Government policies. The effect on London of the increase of 20p per gallon in the price of petrol has been mentioned. London attracts a greater share of most things. As the Government are a national disaster, we catch a bigger share of that disaster. Nowhere is the catastrophic effect of the Government's policies more apparent than on London's roads. As recently as last August the Secretary of State for the Environment declared that there were two prime objectives for the development of the South-East planning area—to improve the attractions of London for individuals and firms, and to improve transport links in London and in the remainder of the region.
In a letter to the standing conference the right hon. Gentleman said:The region's road network and rail services will continue to be improved.Where is the evidence that that promise has been carried out? We should look at the 1980 White Paper on roads and weep. Excluding the M25, only one major trunk road scheme is in progress—the A13-A117 junction improve- 1151 ment at Newham. The GLC highway programme has fared little better. The 1978 roads for London report proposed spending £425 million between 1978 and 1988. The sum was slashed to £287 million last year. I await with despair even further cuts in the programme once the recent public expenditure White Paper is analysed.
There is a long list of road improvements due to start—the M25, A40, A12, A20, and on the A406, the North Circular, about 12 improvements at junctions are waiting to be started. The only one that will start this year is at Finchley—and we know who may have influenced that.
The Minister may be inclined to ignore evidence from the Opposition, but let him listen to his political colleague, Alan Greengross, the GLC planning and transportation chairman, who recently told the Select Committee on Transport:It would be a futile exercise planning a major road system for the capital because the Council has the money only for piecemeal improvements.That money comes from the Government. The Government are starving London inordinately in comparison with the remainder of the country.
At paragraph 60 the Select Committee states:The general road system in London is, and will remain, a national scandal and underlines the urgent need for a through reappraisal of the total transport requirements of the capital.How can London and Londoners look to the Government even to begin the mammoth task of giving London roads worthy of a capital? We are aghast at the policies and performance of this so-called business man's Government.
The subject of housing was ably dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North. The overriding concern of the Government has been to sell, sell and sell. Let us consider the policy of selling houses in Enfield and Edmonton. Spurred on by their Whitehall masters, the GLC fell over itself in deciding to sell—not rent—the 300 homes built on the Klinger site in Silver Street, Edmonton. It did not think about the 300 families, many of whom were in my constituency, who had been waiting and who had been promised a property on that estate.
When that estate was built the GLC said that it would not rent the properties but sell them. Early in 1980, those homes were completed. For the whole of 1980 the GLC—aided and abetted by Enfield council—tried to sell them. However, by the end of the year, due to inflation and the cost of borrowing, the prospect of sales of those properties was so abysmal that the GLC had to abandon its plans.
The hapless Tory-controlled Enfield council, which was a willing accomplice in this disgraceful scandal, has the task of sorting out the mess. Three hundred newly built homes were deliberately left empty for more than a year. What a monument to the Goverment and to the GLC, and to their mismanagement of something upon which they pride themselves as experts!
At the heart of a better life for London there must be better housing. On no other subject do the Government deserve greater condemnation. Their record for London and for the nation is a scandal and a disgrace. The housing investment programme allocations tell the extent to which Londoners suffer under the Government. Permission to raise money to build and repair houses and to lend money to buy houses has been cut this year in London from £854 million to £548 million. That £548 million is less than half the sum requested.
1152 In total, London requested £1,192 million. The councillors of Barnet asked for £8,939,000, but they received £3,207,000. Bromley asked for £15,410,000 and received £6,505,000. Richmond asked for £9,784,000 and received £4,721,000. How did the Minister view their knowledge of what their constituents needed? During Question Time last week he told the House that:it would be unrealistic to allocate the limited housing capital available on the basis of bids. The greediest would make the biggest bids.'—[Official Report, 4 March 1981; Vol. 1,000, c. 264.]So much for the greedy councillors of Bromley, Richmond and so on.
We have tried to relate housing to need. This measure is not only an insult to all councillors who submit bids based on their desire to help their people but it confirms the fact that the Minister shares the contempt for local government and councillors shown by all other Ministers at the Department of the Environment, led by the Secretary of State. It underlines their arrogant assertion that the man in Marsham Street knows best. Their contempt for the desperate men and women—councillors and officers in London's local government of all political hues—has led to London receiving far less than it needs or deserves.
Not for a moment shall I apologise for returning to a theme that I have raised before, namely, the effect of Government policies on London in relation to the provision of adequate fire protection. Let us consider fire cover. Both in government and in opposition we have raised with the Home Office our deep and continuing concern over this matter. In its mad, crazy search for economy the GLC has lowered fire cover in London to an unacceptable level. I fear that efforts will continue to be made to lower manning levels and to stretch the equipment that is needed to still more dangerous levels. Those efforts must be resisted before London experiences a terrible tragedy.
Only this morning, I noticed in my local press that the leader of Conservative-controlled Enfield council, Councillor Young, is very concerned about the GLC's policy. The policy involves areas being zoned on the basis of whether a call needs to be answered in 4, 6, 8, or 10 minutes. Enfield is zone"C", which means that an emergency has to be answered in 10 minutes. Councillor Young rightly says that that is nonsense when there are so many roads with heavy traffic, so much industry and so many tower blocks. The level is unrealistic.
Labour and Conservative politicians and the Fire Brigades Union are alarmed. The Home Office published a Green Paper"A Review of Fire Policy". It brought a unique response from the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association. That association represents the 63 chief fire officers in the United Kingdom. In a letter sent to all hon. Members the association said:You will be aware of the deteriorating situation which has obtained in the British fire service over the last four years. It is an understatement to say that morale has never been lower and for a service whose objective is the saving of life and property that is a very serious situation indeed.Does the Minister agree with that statement? On behalf of 10 million Londoners I ask him what he intends to do about it.
In the document that landed on our desks today from Sir Horace Cutler, the leader of the GLC, he said:The pace of development will be governed by financial and other constraints.What special arrangement is the Minister making to ensure that London receives adequate money?
1153 My hon. Friends and I do not fail to recognise that in many areas of Government responsibility it is wrong to assume that London's problems and crisis started with the election of the Government on 3 May 1979. They did not. Many of them are of long-standing, and some were aggravated by Labour Governments. Our charge is that under this Government they have been made worse, not accidentally, but deliberately. Our charge is that the Government have abandoned Londoners and London, not only to fend for themselves but to contribute disproportionately to the well-being of the rest of the country. By their legislation, particularly the Local Government, Planning and Land Act, the Government have sought to cut London down to size. We make an attack on a Government who have spurned London's claims for a fair deal.
London needs a unity and a cohesion if we are to earn the money and prestige to serve our people and the nation. We have suffered disastrously from the Government's divisive and partisan policies. It is left to London Labour Members to speak up and out for London. The debate has demonstrated that we shall not hesitate to do that, in the vain hope that even this Minister will respond.
§ 1.9 pm
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg)
One notable feature today is the absence of Liberal Members, yet they will have the effrontery to pretend to have an interest in London when they put up candidates for the GLC in a few weeks' time. The people of London know that the Liberal Party is a hypocritical sham. The fact that its members do not even bother to turn up indicates that they are not interested in London's problems.
It was fascinating to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt), who brought to the debate a refreshing breath of fresh air and an idea of London as it really is. He paid a tribute to Sir Horace Cutler and his team. I endorse that tribute and include in it George Tremlett, who has done more to assist London housing than have many other people.
My honourable sparring partner, the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), worried me slightly, because he thanked me so often that I wondered whether I had been too helpful, and what some of my hon. Friends might think. It certainly encouraged my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) to inquire whether I could assist him. The hon. Gentleman is a dedicated Londoner, but he occasionally tends to exaggerate and become confused, as he did today. Perhaps that was proved out of his own mouth when he said that when he was short of a four-letter word he thought of Bromley. That is a 75 per cent. exaggeration, to start with.
May I give the hon. Gentleman the facts? They really are the facts, and not a figment of my imagination. The rate support grant gain to London under Labour was £300 million. On our expenditure predictions, only £107 million will be removed from London by the settlement. Therefore, London is still roughly £200 million better off than when the hon. Gentleman's party started the handouts for London. I am not arguing whether that is too much or too little. All that I am saying is that those are the facts.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
I accept the general principle of what the hon. Gentleman says, but the Association of 1154 Metropolitan Authorities challenges the figure of £107 million. I was drawing attention to the fact that before that change London had never received the amount of money that it was entitled to each year, so over all those years we have been losing. The hon. Gentleman is starting from a convenient point, when we persuaded the Government of the day to change.
§ Mr. Finsberg
I shall say a little more about the position of London and the rates later. I shall not make too much reference to the power of the North-East Mafia, although it is fairly well known to many of us.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the problems of people moving. I hope that he will join me in welcoming the establishment of the National Mobility Scheme, which is due to come into operation in April and which will make it easier for people who wish to come from other parts of the country to London, and vice versa. The inter-borough nomination scheme has not been the total failure that the hon. Gentleman said it was. It and the Greater London mobility scheme facilitate mobility within London. The problem is that there are often many people wishing to move to various places. I endorse from my own experience what one of my hon. Friends said, that there were many cases of properties being offered by outer London boroughs to inner London which were not taken up. We cannot get away from that. It is a fact of life.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the transfer of housing. I am sure that he will forgive me if I do not respond, because the consultation period is still open, as we extended it for a few days at the boroughs' request. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman acknowledged that we were prepared to do that. It would be wrong for me to say anything about that.
It is, however, right for me to remind the hon. Gentleman, who gently skated over this matter, that, however many empty, boarded-up dwellings the GLC may have in Hackney, Hackney has had 1,000 properties vacant for more than 12 months. I do not believe that if it had been interested in rehousing Mr. Childs it could not have found one of those properties that he could have homesteaded. The hon. Gentleman is gallant in the way in which he defends Hackney, but occasionally it requires rather more than defence from him. It requires to do its job as a housing authority.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West always entrances the House with his speeches, producing a gem every time. We did not hear today about his nearly having been born on a London Transport omnibus, but we heard some interesting suggestions. I shall comment on one in a moment. My hon. Friend showed clearly that housing associations were getting on with their job. Despite what we hear in some speeches, and read in the press, the housing association movement is doing a first-class job. I hope that we shall all continue to give it our full support.
My hon. Friend did us a good service by reminding us that the vast majority of flats or houses sold to council tenants would have remained those tenants' homes for decades, and would not have been available for reletting—unless the Socialist Party intends compulsorily to move people from under-occupied homes. It has many ideas, and that may be the latest. It is nonsense to say that the bulk of council houses sold to tenants would have become available for relets.
I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary my hon. Friend's paeans of praise for the 1155 Metropolitan Police. The House will be interested to know that that force has had a net gain in manpower of 1,300 since the beginning of 1980. I shall also pass on his views on making the punishment fit the crime. I thought that he was going to develop his views on the stocks, but he was interrupted by an Opposition Member who shouted"chairs". I am not sure whether he meant the ducking chairs. My hon Friend thought that his idea would reduce the prison population. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will consider his views and decide how best to deal with them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) was helpful in making it plain that the attack on my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office was wholly unjustified. I can testify from my constituency mail that he has been as helpful with constituency cases dealing with immigration as has any other Minister that I have known in 10 years. There is no difference between the practice now and that adopted two, four, six or eight years ago. It was a monstrous attack, and I found it difficult to accept that it came from the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Magee), who is usually a moderate, sensible, calm and honourable person.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) made a courageous speech. It is courageous to speak for the first time in a major London debate, having seen one's party move away from one. I have been tied up with London politics for 35 years. Those who now run the London Labour Party would not be fit to clean the boots of Herbert Morrison, Ike Hayward or Bill Fiske. They would not. have allowed some of those now in the London Labour Party even to pay a contribution, because they are in it only to break it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Baling, North (Mr. Greenway) is distinguished in the education profession. He made it clear that parents in London should realise that their chance to send their children to voluntary religious schools may be in peril if the control of County Hall changes in May. I expected the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) to deny that. I did not expect to hear him say that he would get someone to write to my hon. Friend on the matter. The question was put to him. I can only assume that that is the official policy of the London Labour Party. Parents have been warned well in advance.
The hon. Member of Edmonton had a hard task skating around the real issue, namely, the danger to London of Marxist domination—no more and no less. He attacked the Government for being a national disaster. He accused us of failing to do certain things. I remind him that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, whom I am proud to back, not 100 per cent., but 200 per cent., made it plain that our policies were for the lifetime of a Parliament. We did not offer short-term solutions. We did not say that we could cure any of the ills left to us by the Opposition Party in one or two years. We are content to be judged on our record at the end of a Parliament. I hold to that line, because it is the correct one.
§ Mr. Graham
Is the Minister saying that when the people of London give their verdict on the past four years of Conservative rule at County Hall the result will in no way reflect their attitude towards the Government? Is it not a fact that when, as I believe and hope, a Labour council 1156 is returned on 7 May, that will be a condemnation not only of the Tories at County Hall, but of the Government that they represent?
§ Mr. Finsberg
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view. I should be less uneasy if I thought that there would be a Labour council after 7 May. What scares me to death is that it will be not the Labour council that the hon. Gentleman wants to support, but a Marxist council. That is a terrible contemplation, which we should all consider.
The hon. Gentleman made a passionate speech about roads. Has he had a chance to read the 164-page document that is the GLC Labour manifesto? The hon. Gentleman wants money spent on roads. The manifesto says in column 141:We recommend that immediately upon taking office the Labour Group should critically review the Tory 15-year road programme to ensure that London's financial resources for transport cease to be directed to roads instead of public transport.The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He knows that whatever he may say in the Chamber will be treated with contempt by those who are now running the GLC Labour Party. I regret that, and he regrets it, but he knows that it is a fact.
§ Mr. Mellor
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Labour Party's manifesto was printed at the expense of GLC ratepayers, as it was printed into the agenda of the most recent GLC meeting? Does not that demonstrate the contempt of Labour GLC members for public money and its proper uses?
§ Mr. Finsberg
I shall say something about that. It is perhaps as well that the public have had a chance to read what they are being promised. All too often these things sneak up and take them unawares. I am not sure that that is particularly helpful.
The hon. Member for Edmonton spoke about the fire service. I am tired of these alarmist statements, from whatever quarter they may come. The hon. Gentleman does no good to say to the people of London that the fire cover is inadequate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave approval in January for a reduction in the number of fire appliances proposed in the London Fire Brigade's establishment scheme. This reduction has been effected by the GLC as a means of coping with the reduction in the working week for firemen, which was introduced early in 1979. The council's proposals were examined fully by Her Majesty's Inspectors of Fire Services and were approved by the Home Secretary only after he was satisfied that fire cover would continue to be maintained in accordance with the minimum standards recommended by the Home Office. That is a fact. I am content to rest upon the judgment of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Fire Services and that of my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Graham
The fire cover that Londoners have enjoyed for the past 30 years has always been marginally above the minimum standard laid down by the Home Office. Does the hon. Gentleman recall that when the recent settlements were made the GLC led the pack in the negotiations? Does he agree that, if the awards that were requested were made, it would be necessary to examine manning levels? Is he not aware that, regardless of the standards that are laid down, there is Government pressure on the GLC to economise? It will be only human nature 1157 for a Tory GLC, or perhaps even a Labour GLC, to have due regard to the pressure being exerted by the Government. It is a matter of not what it should do, but of what it is being forced to do by the Government and their financial policies.
§ Mr. Finsberg
The running of the fire service is the responsibility at ministerial level of my right hon. Friend, and at local level that of the GLC. I am not in a position to answer the hon. Gentleman's specific questions. I merely say that the Green paper that the Government have issued and the statements that I have heard my right hon. Friend make are to the effect that the standards being offered to London under the GLC's proposals are acceptable to those who know. They are acceptable to Her Majesty's Inspectors of Fire Services, if not to politicians. I am prepared to accept the Inspectors' judgment.
The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North has given us the chance to discuss London once again. The present debate has been made considerably more pointed than is usually the nature of these debates. Labour Members usually indulge in their talent for criticism, but on this occasion we have been offered an up-to-date version of the sort of London that they would like to see. As my hon. Friend made clear, those who front the Labour Party in the GLC will be swept away if the GLC is lost by the Conservatives next May. The sort of people about whom my hon. Friends spoke—whose names I shall not give as it would merely give them publicity, but we know precisely who they are—will push out the mild moderate people and London will face a real disaster. At least we have had the choice.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Putney said, this 164-page document has been printed at public expense. It adds to the hoard of material being churned out at ratepayers' expense by the Labour Party at Lambeth and Hackney town halls.
The hon. Member for Edmonton was in local government, as I was. He knows full well that in the days when he and I were in local government in our respective parties we would not have allowed that sort of muck to be printed at the ratepayers' expense. We would have paid for it out of our own party funds. He was honourable enough to know that, so was I and so was the Labour Party in those days.
§ Mr. Graham
The hon. Gentleman castigates the printing of such documents such as that by Lambeth and Camden. Who is in control of the Tory GLC?
§ Mr. Finsberg
The hon. Gentleman knows the rules and standing orders of the GLC. I am sure that my friends there could have changed them overnight to prevent that. Then the howls would have gone up. It is the sense of responsibility that counts. The minority party at County Hall clearly had no sense of responsibility.
Some of us who have read the 164 pages of recipes for bureaucracy and reckless extravagence, tinged with Luddism and the old British disease of putting money into revenue subsidy rather than into capital investment, and into transport subsidy rather than into new roads—the opposite of what the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but his friends at County Hall do not share his view—condemn the whole idea. However, I make no apology for referring 1158 frequently during my speech to what is in that document, although I shall resist the temptation to spend all my time on it.
One point for which I give the Labour Party credit is that it has made attempts to estimate the cost of parts of its programme in order to demonstrate that the costs are horrifying. Many of its proposals are not costed, and it has not estimated the costs that would be imposed and the benefits forgone as a result of its restrictive ideas. However, I do not think that it would suggest that these could possibly be less than a 50 per cent. increase in the GLC precept—an extra £35 per annum for the average domestic ratepayer. Sir Horace Cutler things that it could be three times as much, and he is a pretty good judge of these affairs.
We are in the middle of a world-wide recession. The Government are determined to get the country's economy back on to a sound footing. Local government cannot be isolated from that. Rates are now 12 per cent. of direct business costs. High rates, as all my hon. Friends who have spoken have said, threaten recovery, employment and prosperity. That is why we have made a tough rate support grant settlement which is designed to make every authority undertake the most searching scrutiny of its spending. We do not deny that the settlement for London has been particularly difficult because we have had to reverse in part—I emphasise in part—the unjustified shift of grant—over £300 million in total—which took place from the shires to London under the previous Government. Even so, London stood to receive a larger proportion of the total grant next year than at any time since 1978–79 had London authorities planned to meet the Government's expenditure guidelines.
The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North described the rate support grant settlement as politically motivated. However, he chose to overlook the politically motivated switch year after year under the Labour Government. That was perhaps a slight bit of Homer nodding. The hon. Gentleman is usually fair and reasonable.
The hon. Gentleman attacked the reorganisation of London local government. I shall not go into that now, but I got one benefit from it. It gave me a chance to serve with the hon. Gentleman on the London borough of Camden. I pay him the tribute that he was a much respected Member when he was on that local authority, and is a much respected Member of the House.
The RSG has been tough for everybody, but I suggest that the block grant is fairer than the old system. It incorporates needs assessments which are spelt out clearly for the first time. People can now see exactly how these are worked out. I confirm that homelessness is given much greater weight in the general needs index for the 1981–82 allocation than it was given in the 1980–81 allocation. We recognised that homelessness was a factor at which we had to look.
The hon. Gentleman was less than fair on two other matters. It is not true that cuts in capital allocations have been made on the same scale for housing associations as for local authorities. The Housing Corporation allocation for 1981–82 is the same in real terms as it was for 1980–81.
§ Mr. Stallard
I was not making that allegation. I was quoting from the LBA report on housing. It is the LBA's allegation, not mine, and no one can say that the LBA is Labour-dominated.
§ Mr. Finsberg
The LBA said that there had been a cut in real terms in allocations to the Housing Corporation.
The other matter that the hon. Gentleman has probably overlooked is that we have made a special allocation to the Housing Corporation for hostel provision next year. It is the first time that any Government have done that. We recognise that there is a particular problem for single homeless people.
Until now, Governments of all political colours have paid less attention than they should have done to the real needs index in housing. Housing waiting lists are not, and never have been, a genuine mark of real housing need. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North knows as well as I do, having had experience in local government, that each borough has its own criteria for putting people on the waiting list. Some put people on the waiting list on receipt of a letter. Others have a waiting time. Indeed, some make a very careful examination. That is not the best way of doing it. That is why we are doing this with more emphasis on real need.
Most local authorities have recognised the need, in the present financial climate, to try to make ends meet within their budgets. That includes many of the London boroughs. However, within London there are authorities controlled by the Labour Party—such as Camden, Lambeth and Hackney—which have so far deliberately refused to make the necessary economies, and indeed, have made a virtue of recklessly spending their ratepayers' money. They are destroying jobs to satisfy their crazy dogma. There can be no doubt that their ratepayers are now very angry, and who can blame them?
Council tenants received direct demands for the first time in Lambeth and Camden as a result of the supplementary rate. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) will probably agree that that is the main reason why Lambeth has belatedly tried to make a cut in its estimates for next year. The real cost of Marxism in Lambeth came back to the protected council tenant. That is the reason for the cut. It was not done in the interests of the business community, which provides jobs in Lambeth. It was sheer scare tactics, which suddenly came home to those who lead Lambeth council. They realised that council tenants still have votes and that they might be resentful next year because of this kind of supplementary levy.
§ Mr. Soley
If the Minister believes that people are as angry as he makes out, how much angrier will they be in Conservative-controlled boroughs which have not only cut services dramatically but have put up the rates by as much as 50 per cent? Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham and Wandsworth have been cutting services and putting up the rates.
§ Mr. Finsberg
As my hon. Friend says, Wandsworth has not done that. The electors and ratepayers of the boroughs mentioned by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) have enough common sense to understand that the position is not as he has put it. The Government's rate support grant settlement will, apart from the transitional year, prove to be helpful to those boroughs that have practised sound housekeeping.
I have to say again, and will go on saying, that the people of London should be warned that it is the very people who have been so actively promoting financial 1160 profligacy in those boroughs who are among those now offering themselves for election to the GLC. As I have said, Camden and Lambeth have both had a supplementary rate, and that can only be called a sign of gross financial incompetence. The same fate will befall London if County Hall falls under the control of these people next May.
London's electors will have a chance in May to decide whether they want a GLC of the same character as Lambeth and Camden, or to continue with the one that has the record of increasing its rate precept by only 45 per cent. in a period when the level of rates in the rest of the country has increased by nearly 65 per cent. and general inflation by more than 50 per cent. The GLC has made significant manpower savings over recent years, as have many of the London boroughs. The opposite is true of boroughs such as Lambeth.
The GLC announced recently that it had reduced its staff by 18 per cent., apart from staff transferred to other councils. In the past year alone the reduction was 1,800. In four years there has been a saving of 5,200 staff, at an annual saving to the ratepayer of £50 million.
Concerned as I am about the effect of outrageous rate increases on domestic ratepayers, the effect on businesses, which pay 65 per cent. of London's rates, is even more worrying. Businesses do not move overnight, but the economic climate is creating a highly competitive environment for them and severely squeezing profit margins. In these circumstances, huge differences in rates are bound to have a real effect on competitiveness and drive away the industry and commerce on which the revival of these areas depends.
I noted the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Putney on the inequity of the position of the business ratepayer, who funds 65 per cent. of the bill and has no say in its spending. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that, in the general review of the rating system, we are examining ways in which it might be possible to give a voice to the business ratepayer.
§ Mr. Chapman
Does my hon. Friend think that the Government could go a little further and begin to consider whether the rating system could be abolished and some substitute tax put in its place? Surely this is crucial. If we are talking about fair local government, there should be a fair local tax.
§ Mr. Finsberg
I know that my right hon. Friend would welcome the most carefully drafted and reasoned document that my hon. Friend might care to submit to him for consideration on the subject. I look forward to having a copy to read for myself as well.
The hypocrisy of the Socialists in attacking the Government for increasing unemployment, when their own colleagues in the town halls are deliberately milking the business ratepayer and driving jobs away, is sickening and crazy. I commend the Camden Commercial Ratepayers Group for taking the initiative of commissioning an in-depth independent study entitled"The Cost of Camden". I need hardly say that such a study ought not to be necessary. It is a prime responsibility of a local authority to ensure that it is providing value for money, and it should obviously compare its performance with that of neighbouring authorities. Yet this study appears to demonstrate waste, inefficiency, over-manning and overspending at almost every turn. As a Government, we 1161 welcome this initiative from the private sector to become involved in these crucial local arguments. I hope that the example will be followed elsewhere.
I refer the House to The Economist of last week for a thoughtful article drawing out some of the main threads of this report and offering some interesting reflections on how this shocking situation has come about. Rightly, people in Camden may gnash their teeth, but fewer than 200 votes cast differently in 1978 would have thrown Labour out of power at Camden town hall.
Particularly disgraceful perhaps is Camden's performance on housing, which, as the report points out, consumes 37 per cent. of the rates paid. The council has lavished money on expensive and complex newbuild schemes, without devoting proper attention to ensuring that they are adequately supervised. Branch Hill, which ought never to have been built, has become almost synonymous with local authority extravagance. The council's only answer to poor housing conditions in the private sector has been to buy the properties concerned, even if it has lacked both the financial and manpower resources to do anything with them.
Some of these municipalised properties have been patched up so that they can be put to short-term housing use, but the council's HIP submission made to my Department last summer showed that a staggering 1,080 local authority owned dwellings had been empty in Camden for more than a year. Instead of ensuring that the best value for money is obtained on its housing schemes, the council has maintained its support for its inefficient and expensive direct labour organisation. And rents have been kept artificially low for years. Camden makes a higher contribution from its rate fund to its housing revenue account to subsidise rents than any other London borough.
Alas, Camden is not the only borough where one can find examples of profligacy in housing. Lambeth, not surprisingly, runs Camden a close second on most counts. Of the seven local authorities whose HIP returns showed that they have had more than 1,000 dwellings empty for over a year, no fewer than five were in London: Southwark, Hackney, and Islington, as well as, inevitably, Camden and Lambeth. Many of those properties have been empty for far more than a year. They were empty when the last Government were in power, and there were no financial restrictions for Labour Members to bleat about then.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
Is my hon. Friend aware that in the London borough of Islington 5,000 houses are empty? Will he confirm that that is correct?
§ Mr. Finsberg
I cannot confirm or deny that figure. I can say only that that is not the figure that I have. I should be pleased to have the information, however, and to have it checked.
Some of these paternalistic reactionary Labour councils are so convinced that they know better than their tenants what is good for those tenants that they have tried to persuade them not to buy their homes.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
Since the hon. Gentleman was being pressed by his hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) to suggest that 5,000 properties are empty in Islington, may I remind him that I keep 1162 drawing his attention to the vast number of empty properties in Hackney owned by friends of the Secretary of State—Fairview Estates, and others. These properties remain empty for year after year. Will he do something about them?
§ Mr. Finsberg
The hon. Gentleman fails to understand that, however reprehensible it may be to keep property empty, if a private person is keeping it empty he is doing so at his expense. If Hackney keeps over 1,000 houses empty, that is at the expense of ratepayers and taxpayers, and that is unforgivable.
Give-away rents prevail in Lambeth and Camden, for example, yet many of the public sector tenants there are anxious to escape from the council's clutches into the freedom and responsibility of owner-occupation.
Unfortunately, these councils have been so slow to resolve disagreements with their staff that unacceptable delays have built up for those tenants who wish to exercise the right to buy. In Lambeth, moreover, recent reports of the scandalous behaviour of some of the staff in impounding correspondence addressed to the council have rightly caused an outcry. I hope we have made it very clear that we are prepared if necessary to use our statutory powers to ensure that tenants can enjoy the rights which Parliament has given them.
While the attitudes of both Camden and Lambeth councils towards housing and their tenants seem as outdated as the stereotyped Victorian concept of the"deserving poor", the GLC's minority party manifesto promises a radical change of direction in housing policies for London. I had hoped that a period in opposition would have given the Labour members on the GLC an opportunity to see what the more progressive boroughs of both political persuasions and the present administration at County Hall had actually achieved in recent years. But from closer examination of the minority party's manifesto, it is clear that it has instead been sleeping in a little cocoon at County Hall, waiting, like some sleeping princess, to be awakened by a beautiful prince on 7 May. I believe that the beautiful princes will pass by the minority party at County Hall and will instead be content to watch the existing party retain power.
The minority party at County Hall is still proposing exactly the same mixture as proved so disastrous when Labour was last in power there and that is still being inflicted on Camden, Lambeth and Hackney. What are the predictable ingredients? They are a large GLC house building programme, extensive municipalisation, which is claimed as essential to improve conditions in the private sector, and a large direct labour organisation.
Who is to pay for these expensive notions? It is certainly not the GLC's tenants, who, we learn, would pay only sufficient rent to cover the costs of day-to-day management and maintenance of their homes. The taxpayer and the ratepayer would have to foot all the bills for providing new housing and for major repairs to the existing stock. Even I cannot reconcile how the GLC minority party can fit this in with one of its avowed three main aims in housing, namely, to tacklethe gross inequities in housing finance which so favour those who are wealthy and well housed".If the minority party had its way, it seems that council tenants would be the only favoured group, with the rest of the community paying the great bulk of their housing costs.
1163 Even then, I doubt whether many people would be envious of the GLC tenants' lot, as a Labour administration would do all that it could to deprive tenants of the benefits of owner-occupation by resisting sales of council houses and by putting an end to the admirable homesteading scheme. I remind the House that homesteading assists people to make habitable derelict properties which they either find for themselves or which the council already owns. The minority party's arrogant"We know what is best for you" attitude extends even to the GLC's instant lettings schemes, whereby 2,500 properties which had previously been rejected by applicants have been let on a first-come, first-served basis. The minority party would prefer these properties to be left empty until someone that they had selected was prepared to take them on, however long that might take, rather than allow people, in effect, to select themselves.
In exactly the same way, Opposition Members would rather see flats and houses rot and remain empty than allow shorthold to operate. If the figures for shorthold lettings are low and people are left on the streets, it is the direct responsibility of Labour Members who sabotaged the concept of shorthold before it even got off the ground. When homeless people telephone them, they should reflect that they bear the direct responsibility for people remaining on the streets instead of having homes.
I wonder what the London boroughs think of this manifesto. The minority party seems totally out of touch with the developments that have taken place in many boroughs. Indeed, it attempts to take credit for some of the ideas that have been part of conventional wisdom for years, for example, that children should not live in high-rise flats and that waiting lists should reflect housing need rather than length of residence in a particular area.
The manifesto threatens that, if buyers do not achieve arbitrary targets set for them by the GLC, the GLC will invade their areas to implement the programme itself. Boroughs would be expected to surrender 40 per cent. of their lettings to be allocated centrally, presumably by the GLC. So much for local democracy in the eyes of the London Labour Party. The minority party at County Hall should take a long, hard look at what Government policy and local authorities' practices actually are and rid themselves of the mythology in which they have cocooned themselves for far too long.
It is certainly not true, as the minority party claims, that we think that local authorities should be concerned only with home ownership. We recognise that many people both want and need rented accommodation and that local authorities play an essential part in providing it. London local authorities have been allocated £548 million for capital expenditure on housing in the next financial year, most of which will be spent on the public rented sector. This is equivalent to £200 for every household in the capital, and takes into account the high costs and acute housing needs in parts of London. The rest of the country was allocated a sum representing only £85 per household.
Let me remind the House of what we have done in two other sectors in housing, which are important. In the Housing Act 1980, we introduced important new rights for long leaseholders and private renting tenants living in flats which are of particular benefit to those living in London's mansion blocks. Tenants whose service charge is fixed as part of their fair rent now have the right to see and challenge the landlord's evidence on service costs before the rent officer fixes the rent. All tenants of private flats 1164 whose service charge is variable, and all long leaseholders of flats, now have the right to challenge costs which are unreasonable; to have a summary of the landlord's expenditure; to inspect the accounts on which the summary is based; and to be consulted on plans for substantial repair work.
We have also increased the rent allowance maxima twice in less than a year. Last year, we raised the maxima in London to £25 a week, and as from 1 April it will be £35 a week.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch yet again got his facts wrong. The changes in the maxima for rent rebates are normally done by statutory instrument and are announced at the same time in the form of a written answer. That practice was followed in the past. For example, in 1977 the Labour Party laid a statutory instrument. However, Labour Members forgot to table a question, so there was not one.
I therefore suggest that the hon. Gentleman does not always attack this Government when they give information by way of a private notice question—planted, arranged, or whatever it may be. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is the practice of all Governments. When a matter is of sufficient importance, it is dealt with either in response to an oral private notice question or by way of an oral statement. The Labour Government did not think that changes in maxima needed that, nor do this Government.—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) was not here when his ex-hon. Friend made the statement, and I am merely answering his ex-hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Neville Sandelson (Hayes and Harlington)
I was, but I cannot guarantee that I shall stay much longer.
§ Mr. Finsberg
In that case, he did not hear what the hon. Gentleman said.
Another thing that the hon. Gentleman said was totally wrong. He overlooks the fact that 33 per cent. of families have household incomes in excess of £140 a week and that more than 45 per cent. are on rebate or supplementary benefit. Therefore, they will not be affected in the way in which the hon. Gentleman spoke when he talked about increases in rents.
It is perfectly clear that councils throughout the country have demonstrated that they have the skills to be involved not just in the public rented sector but in all aspects of housing in their areas. They have recognised that many of their ratepayers would prefer to be owner-occupiers rather than council tenants, and have seen it as part of their duty to assist them.
We have done all that we can to encourage and extend the various initiatives that the present GLC administration has put to us. For example, by offering subsidies on improvement for sale schemes, by making provision in the Housing Act for interest waivers on homesteading mortgages to be permissible—I am sure that the House will be glad to know that the building societies have today reduced the mortgage rate by 1 per cent.—and, perhaps more important, by enabling local authorities to supplement their allocations for capital expenditure on account of the capital receipts which such initiatives can generate.
I remind hon. Members who sit for boroughs such as Camden, Lambeth, Newham and Hackney that if there is a shortage of housing capital, by selling council houses to 1165 their tenants they can increase the amount of money available. If they do not do so, it is by sheer political dogma. They are preventing people from having the opportunity to have a home.
I do not have time to make specific mention of all the London low-cost home ownership success stories. The GLC scheme is probably the most shining example, with over 1,000 properties homesteaded to date and 800 people queuing for the last batch of 60 properties. Ealing is now hard on the GLC's heels. Merton, Sutton and Southwark have found that people on their waiting lists are anxious to buy the product of their build-for-sale schemes. Improvement-for-sale schemes are still in their infancy, since they became possible only at the end of last year, but Merton and Newham councils are already making use of the £3 million separate capital allocation that we set aside for this purpose in the current financial year.
Some London authorities have recognised the need to attract private sector finance for their initiatives, instead of relying on the taxpayer and the ratepayer. The Abbey National and Nationwide Building Societies are already lending money for improvements in some London housing action areas, while the Greater London Council has sold sites in Tower Hamlets to the Abbey National Housing Association, which will provide dwellings both for sale and for letting as assured tenancies.
I could talk about so much more, but I shall resist the temptation. The proposals for municipal bus factories are sheer nonsense. We are trying to recognise that the regeneration of London will spring from the natural skill, inventiveness and capacity of its citizens, if only that potential can be freed to develop itself. That is part of the approach of the various policy innovations that we have put forward to the House for the rest of the country.
As well as freeing private enterprise to do its proper job, we want to try to involve firms in their local communities. In London, we warmly welcome the work done by the London Enterprise Agency in helping small firms and those interested in setting up small firms and generally supporting inner city renewal. I know that Labour-controlled boroughs have collaborated closely and successfully with LENTA. However, the Labour manifesto for the GLC dismisses the agency aslittle more than a propaganda front for large firms".The hon. Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) is chairman of Lambeth Industries, a Lambeth partnership project that we warmly support and that has received enormous help from the London Enterprise Agency. I wonder what he thinks of that cheap jibe.
Having started the debate with a speech of more than an hour and then having tried to put up such a smokescreen that we were to be deflected from what it is trying to offer the people of London in a few weeks' time, the Labour Party do not like the facts coming out. The policies advocated by the London Labour Party would increase the pressures on businesses to move away from the centre and would thus contribute to a further decline in the capital's economy.
For more than one reason, I have not been able to comment on all the points made by hon. Members, particularly those that are the responsibility of Departments other than mine. However, I will have them drawn to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends who, I am sure, will study them with interest.
1166 Do hon. Members want a London in which the public sector operates in the realms of financial reality to undertake the work that is its proper province, while enabling the private sector to generate the wealth that is needed to restore the prosperity of its rundown areas, or do they want a financial fantasy world with rate demands and bureaucracy expanding to drive out or kill the people and businesses on which the capital depends? Londoners, not the Labour Party, must decide on 7 May. If they study the facts and not the rhetoric and smokescreen of the Marxist manifesto, I have no doubt that they will choose to continue with an administration that is sane, caring and progressive, and that has our support and admiration.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
It has been an interesting debate, but speeches have been somewhat long. Six hon. Members have indicated then-wish to speak. I can call them all if each speaks for only five minutes.
§ 2 pm
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
It is a great pleasure to follow the brief, crisp and incisive, if not entirely persuasive, oration of the Under-Secretary of State. I do not seek to emulate some Conservative Members who appear to be making GLC electioneering speeches. I shall address myself to the effects of Government policy on London.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) on giving us the opportunity to focus attention on the appalling consequences of Government policy on London. The Government almost seem to have a vendetta against London. London has been robbed to aid the Tory shires, which are quite well provided for already. There is no justification for that. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been taken from London this year. Mr. Andrew McIntosh has been commended by hon. Members on the Government Benches. I read in The Times today that he estimates that London will lose about £500 million.
Labour rightly switched resources to London. Whether one considers homelessness, one-parent families, children whose mother tongue is not English or high unemployment, London heads the list. The Government are criminally wrong in switching resources away from London. They are creating an impossible situation. Not one London Member has tried to justify the policy of the Government, particularly in regard to the rate support grant.
Even local authorities that are—to adapt the expression"more Catholic than the Pope"—more Thatcherite than the Prime Minister, such as Wandsworth, have had large rate increases. In the borough of Kensington and Chelsea rates have been increased by 52 per cent. No one would suggest that Kensington and Chelsea is controlled by militants or is profligate or extremist. I can only conclude that the stupidity, recklessness and incompetence of the Government have forced up the rates. London, as well as the North, Scotland and Wales, has a great interest in getting rid of the Government. We have been singled out by them.
We have heard a lot about Lambeth, but I have heard no criticism of Newham. Conservative Members do not say that that borough council is run by extremists; but it has been victimised. It is a deprived area. Unemployment is above average. The housing situation is appalling. It is 1167 the third worst borough in London. Gwyneth Salmon attended my surgery last Saturday. She has a 14-year-old boy and a 12-year-old daughter. The family live at 100 Shrewsbury Road in one room. They share a kitchen and bathroom. I said that I would see what I could do to help, but I do not know what I can do. We are more than 5,000 dwellings short. We have a waiting list of almost 9,000. Of the houses, 12,000 are unfit. That is 18 per cent. of the total. Again, 10,000 houses—another 12 per cent.—lack a basic amenity. In addition 7,000 are in need of substantial repair. Indeed, 36 per cent. of the total number of houses are defective. The council is doing its best in a heart-breaking situation. However, the Government are attacking it and its efforts are being sabotaged.
In 1980–81, there was a cut of 14 per cent. in the housing capital allocation and that is 40 per cent. less than its bid. That meant that last year there were only 100 new build starts compared with 1,100 in the original programme. It also meant drastic cuts in modernisation and improvements, which will store up more problems for the future. The prospects for 1981–82 are even more depressing and catastrophic.
At November 1981 prices, the HIP allocation has been cut by 40 per cent. compared with the previous year. That means that after carrying out statutory obligations there is no money left for new work. That is a tragedy. Planning and design work has been disrupted. The opportunities to acquire land will be lost. In addition, the land itself will probably be lost. The design teams that have been built up will go. If a Labour Government were in office—should such happy circumstances arise—and if money should become available, it would be more difficult to start again.
I wonder whether the Minister understands what the Government's policies mean in terms of the break-up of families, mental stress, and the misery and despair that I find every fortnight in my surgeries. Given the cuts and the moratorium, housing stocks are deteriorating. The environment is becoming more seedy. The area is decaying. This year there will be a 40 per cent. increase in rents solely in order to compensate for the loss of subsidy. There will be a 52 per cent. increase in rates. It would have needed a 70 per cent. increase in rates to maintain the existing level of services.
What does all this mean for my borough? Despite the rent and rates increases, there will be cuts in services. Jokes have been made about the bad state of the roads. I should like the Minister to come to Newham to see the potholes. This year, the council has had to cut expenditure on the maintenance and improvement of roads by £121,000. Road cleaning has been slashed by £42,000. The collection of salvage—not of refuse, which has also been cut—has been slashed by £96,000. There are no votes in sewers, so sewers will be cut. There will be trouble in future. Public conveniences and baths are being closed to save another £69,000.
I continually receive complaints about lifts in high-rise blocks. I shall get more complaints. We are going to cut £30,000 off the lift programme. I also receive complaints about the lighting of staircases. The amount of money spent on lighting staircases is to be cut by £10,000. This year, the repair and maintenance of our decaying housing stock is to be slashed by £615,000. The opening of the Holden Point day centre for the elderly will be delayed. That will save another £37,500. The meals-on-wheels service will be cut to save £55,000. Home helps will be reassessed. That is another way of saying that fewer people 1168 will have home helps and that will save £38,000. Expenditure on luncheon clubs will be cut by £49,000. Holiday grants for the elderly will be ended completely to save £10,000.
Reducing services to voluntary social clubs for the physically and mentally handicapped will save £7,500. Is not a play leadership scheme important in the concrete jungle of East London? That has to go to save £19,000. We cannot afford parks under a Tory Government. A total of £274,000 is to be slashed off expenditure on parks. Even environmental health is to be cut by £19,000. Nursery schools are to be deferred to save £72,000. All this in one year, in spite of putting up rates by 52 per cent. and rents by 40 per cent.
We have problems with youth unemployment, although expenditure on youth service centres is to be reduced to save £35,000. Primary school children will no longer learn to swim in the London borough of Newham. That will save £30,000. The library in Silvertown will be closed altogether to save £25,000. Fewer newspapers and periodicals will be available in the remaining libraries to save £3,500. So the dreary catalogue continues.
Life in the London borough of Newham under this Government's policies will become worse. Life will become more pinched, more restricted and more deprived. The attempts by local authorities to improve the area are being smashed by the Secretary of State. The attempts of the council are being foiled. The engines are being put into reverse. We are going full speed but we are going backwards. I am not prepared to accept and acquiesce. We shall redouble our efforts in the East End of London to work against the Government and put them out of office at the earliest opportunity.
The Government tell us that there is no money. However, they have spent £1 ¼ billion on the British Army of the Rhine. The Common Market food policy means that our food costs £2 billion more: than it would. Trident costs £5,000 million. Yet there is no money for the basic services for ordinary working people in the London borough of Newham. The Government's policies are incompetent and wicked.
§ Mr. Vivian Bendall (Ilford, North)
The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) accused me of saying that the unemployment figures were too low in certain London boroughs. He named Camden and referred to Lambeth. I do not retract what I said.
Let us examine some of the actions taken by the London boroughs of Camden and Lambeth recently. A magazine called Opportunist contains advertisements from local authorities which are looking for workers in local authority departments. In an issue published just before Christmas the London borough of Lambeth advertised for a poet who would earn £8,000 a year. Camden has advertised for an artist to paint murals on fly-overs. Another Socialist-controlled borough has advertised for a community arts officer to co-ordinate ethnic art.
§ Mr. William Shelton
Does my hon. Friend know that the London borough of Lambeth also has on its payroll a tree sculptor, who sculpts trees with a chainsaw?
§ Mr. Bendall
I was not aware of that, but I am not surprised. I have been monitoring a number of these matters over the past five or six months, and I know that my hon. Friend is equally concerned about some of them.
1169 We are talking about public expenditure in difficult times. It is unnecessary for local authorities to have such people on their payrolls. That is why I said that Camden unemployment was too low—because the authority should not be employing people to do such jobs. It cannot even argue that they are extra employees to deal with social services, housing or any other service to help people. The employment is being provided in shameful and wasteful ways. It is time the House understood something of what is going on outside in some of the London boroughs.
When we examine rates generally in London, we see that there is one matter that people have misunderstood for many years. If rates are continually increased, whether in inner or outer London boroughs, that will push away any new industry, whether small businesses or other firms. That is particularly serious when unemployment is tending to escalate more in our inner cities than in our outer suburban areas. The unemployment figures in London are lower in the outer suburban areas, and higher in inner London, for obvious reasons: the rates have risen much more in those inner London authorities. That has frightened people away instead of bringing in new industry and new employment.
Office development has always been a shameful matter in the eyes of the Labour Party, but it can create jobs, if it is of the right, controlled sort. It can do so in many areas where there has been a vacuum for the past decade or so. Therefore, I urge that we try to encourage the inner London boroughs to take a sensible look at their rate base and to encourage redevelopment of much of the land that is readily availble for development, development that can be done equally well by private enterprise, if not better than by local authorities. It is no good arguing that we must create more housing, if we do not create the balance of jobs, factories and offices for people to work in to go with that housing. They must go together.
There is an extreme danger that if the GLC changes hands in the coming election it will have the sort of rate base that we have seen in certain inner London boroughs. It will continue to rise, because the programme planned by the Labour Party for the GLC will mean a vast increase in rates year after year through the precept. If there is to be a continuing rate rise in the inner London boroughs as well the problems that I have described will escalate and become much more serious for people in inner London.
It is imperative for the future of London that there be a realisation of the problem of rates. Unless there is, unemployment and the other problems affecting the populace will become infinitely worse as time goes on.
§ Mr. Neville Sandelson (Hayes and Harlington)
I shall be as brief as possible, because time is so short.
It has been painfully obvious that the position in London has been deteriorating for several years. It has certainly grown worse over the past two years. The responsibility lies with successive Labour and Conservative Governments. It is hypocrisy for either of the two main parties to claim a monopoly of virtue or to attribute a totality of blame to the other for a decline over which they have both presided.
Industrial decline has been progressive for a number of years, and the political complexion of the Government has made little significant difference. The problems were 1170 apparent, but the policies remained unchanged. Only the faces of Front Bench spokesmen changed from one Government to the next, and all displayed a remarkable complacency towards what has now developed into a critical economic position in the London area.
In my constituency the recession is beginning to bite deep and hurt hard. A series of redundancies was announced recently by two of our major employers, Nestles and Thorn EMI, with the latter company only last week informing the work force—without prior warning or consultation—of the closure of its tape operation.
For several years I have spoken repeatedly about the industrial blight creeping through the Greater London area, the decaying infrastructure, the desperate housing shortage, the declining public services—buses and transport generally, for which the Government ultimately must bear responsibility—and the effect of all that on job prospects and public amenities. As industrial activity has fallen throughout the country, producing unparalleled post-war unemployment, the erosion has spread to London.
Regional policies, properly directed and applied, are a vital Government responsibility, but each Government in turn have treated London as a milch cow for every other region. Industrial decline in Scotland, Wales and the North cannot be remedied—and has not been remedied to any serious extent—by creating dereliction in the London area. It has been nonsense to suppose that by denuding London of its productive industry there would be an amelioration of the problems in even worse off areas. The economic problems that we face, and the general decay of our industrial base, can be resolved only by an entirely new political approach and by localised regeneration in each region.
The economic blizzard has come later to Hayes than to other parts of London. That Hayes should now feel the bite of recession is a matter of some significance because, traditionally, it has been sheltered by the concentration of profitable manufacturing industry manned by a largely skilled work force. For more than half a century Hayes enjoyed a high measure of economic stability, but for the past 10 years there have been ominous signs of deterioration. I do not pretend that its level of unemployment compares with the appalling unemployment in other parts of Britain, although it is becoming worse and job opportunities are more and more scarce.
The Budget this week dismayed the whole nation, not least the Government's own supporters. I shall remind the House of what the Secretary of State for Employment—the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior)—said nearly five years ago, when he was the Conservative Opposition spokesman on employment. As reported in The Times on 25 August 1976, he said:There can be no revival of employment prospects until the Government takes the necessary steps with its own spending to restore incentives for investment.That was his advice to the then Labour Government. He knows that the same advice is even more urgent today. He must be feeling some discomfiture about the policies with which his Government are so stubbornly persisting.
For too long Britain has turned a blind eye to the essentials for economic success—new technology, new investment and greater productivity. The most hopeful political development for the whole nation, and especially for industry, comes from the advent of a new progressive and radical force in Britain. I speak in the debate as a 1171 Social Democrat, and I condemn both the Government and their Labour predecessors for the deterioration of the economy and industry both in London and throughout the country as a whole.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
I am pleased to be able to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson). We both represent constituencies that are situated in the London borough of Hillingdon, which is a well-managed authority. When I considered the motion I had to ask myself where in London was the real crisis to which it refers. I believe that the crisis is in the badly managed boroughs.
Hillingdon's housing capital expenditure is continuing intact despite a £5 million reduction in the HIP allocation because capital receipts have enabled the borough to top it up by an equivalent amount. That is the answer to the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), who would not give way to me during his remarks. If he has problems of the sort that he described in Newham, he should talk to his council about the sale of council houses. If it were selling council houses at the rate at which Hillingdon is selling them, it would have enough capital receipts to top up the HIP allocation.
Hillingdon has sold 2,300 houses to sitting tenants. It has sold 600 new properties to existing tenants or waiting list applicants, including 100 through the equity sharing scheme. It has sold a large amount of surplus land. All that activity has generated substantial capital receipts that have enabled it to make up for the loss in its housing investment programme allocation.
In the eight years that I have represented Uxbridge in Parliament. I have, like every other hon. Member, seen thousands of young people who have needed accommodation. During the past three years or so the equity sharing scheme has proved a lifeline to home ownership for many young people who otherwise would never have contemplated home ownership. Young couples have attended my constituency surgery who have never even thought of buying a home. I have sent them to the Hillingdon council to discuss the equity sharing scheme. It has been a great pleasure to me to receive letters from those youngsters to tell me that they are occupying their own homes, something that they thought would never be possible. Equity sharing is a scheme that should be used widely by local authorities throughout London. It is a first-class method of relieving the housing crisis. It helps people into home ownership for the first time.
The need that the Government have identified to redress the balance between the counties and London has hit 1172 London generally, including well-managed authorities such as Hillingdon. It is not good enough to cast all the blame on the Government. The answer is for authorities to generate capital receipts.
We have heard much about social services today, especially from the hon. Member for Newham, North-East. Hillingdon is starting on a new old persons' home at a cost of £1.3 million. Another one is to be opened shortly. The possibility of building these homes has come about because of the sale of surplus land by the borough council. How many other borough councils in London, of whatever party, are sitting on surplus land?
§ Mr. Shersby
I am sure that there are some such authorities in inner London.
We have continued to expand our home help services and our meals-on-wheels service. We have done so by reallocating resources, especially by saving £2 million a year on staff costs. There has been a further £1 million reduction without any compulsory redundancies. These are the benefits of saving on unnecessary staff employment in local government. Two splendid homes for the elderly have been generated entirely by that form of saving.
I am proud to say that my local authority is one of a limited number which are supporting the excellent crossroads scheme, which was started by one of the major television companies. This is a way in which everyone in the community can play his or her part to help those who are severely disabled by giving their time throughout the day and night to help those who cannot get out of bed and who cannot bath or wash themselves. By supporting this wonderful scheme, by giving their time and by backing up the efforts of the local authority, real help is being offered to those in the greatest need.
Hillingdon—this again is an answer to those hon. Members who have this kind of problem—has begun a scheme called"Partnership in the 1980s". That enables local companies, which are invited to provide cash for special projects, to do so. In my borough Rank Xerox has already given £25,000.—
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.