§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.7.16 pm
§ Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)
We are asking the House to give unanimous support to the Bill. Like its predecessors, it is the only Bill that the Greater London Council is required by statute to promote. The Bill regulates the capital spending of the council and the London Transport Executive and also the lending to other persons by the Greater London Council.
All London Members will have received an explanatory statement from County Hall. It is an extremely useful document. Paragraph 4 outlines the statutory requirements under which the Greater London Council must promote the Bill and gives the appropriate statute.
There are some advantages to this procedure, but I do not need to outline them to hon. Members present tonight. I know that most of them have spent many years in local government at either borough or county level and have taken part in many debates on Bills such as this. There are also some disadvantages. The most obvious is that delays can occur in the legislative process. That does not apply to other local authorities.
Paragraph 8 elaborates on the need for the Bill to make provision for a financial year ending 31 March and the following six months. Parliamentary Standing Orders require the Bill to be deposited in the Private Bill Office on or before 14 April or the first day on which the House sits after Easter, whichever is the later. That time factor may have caused some consternation.
Some of us would consider that to be insufficient time to discuss the documentation. The Standing Orders reflect that it is not a practical proposition for the Greater London Council to deposit the Bill earlier because of the time needed to prepare proper estimates for the 18 months from 1 April and and to approve the estimates following financial consultations with the Treasury and other Government Departments. A lengthy process of consultation must of necessity take place between the officers and members of the Greater London Council and the Government Departments involved. Those consultations are crucial and are invariably aimed at the universal desire to ensure that the Bill has the support of the Government party. I pay tribute to the officers and members of the GLC as well as Government Departments who have ensured that the Bill meets all those requirements.
Because of circumstances with which we are all familiar, this year's Bill has been particularly difficult to assemble. The budget forms the basis of the Bill, and as Councillor Tony Hart, then chairman of the finance and general purposes committee, said when presenting his budget:I venture to suggest that none of my predecessors has had such a turbulent year upon which to report, none can have had to prepare the next year's budget in such an uncertain atmosphere. I believe that there is general agreement that the process of budget-making in local government is now far too 1144 complex for good decision making. The uncertainty of law., the astonishing farce of the block grant system, the annual promotion of new legislation to control local government have all created a climate in which no one concerned with electorally responsible government can take pride. Only those openly or secretly wishing to see established a form of corporate state in this country can take any satisfaction from the developments of arbitrary central control which have reached such a crescendo in recent months.Many Labour Members echo those sentiments. There has never been a more difficult year or time to produce this budget and a money Bill linked to it.
Paragraph 3 of the explanatory document clarifies why the Bill must have Royal Assent before the Summer Recess. That is an important part of the timetable, and is the first point that I want to stress. I hope that the House will co-operate to achieve that target.
I mentioned earlier the discussions that have taken place between council officers and Government Departments. We know from reports that through their officers the Government indicated a wish that the expenditure authorised in parts I and II of the schedule should be reduced by £39.6 million. Although the council was inclined to contest the Government's reasons for that reduction, it was nevertheless conscious that added uncertainty and delay to essential investment programmes and employment on those programmes could arise. Therefore, the required amount of £39.6 million was deducted, and the figures in the Bill reflect that fact.
I again stress the importance that those connected with the Bill attach to the discussion process between Government and council and its agreed result. I pray that in aid in asking for unanimous support for the Bill tonight.
My next point concerns the consequences of the council meeting the Government requirements to reduce the budget by £39.6 million. I know that discussions are still going on, but I have not had a chance to catch up on the latest position. Will the Minister underwrite the assurance for which the council has asked about its ability to make use of the 1981–82 underspendings both to support its 1982–83 capital programme and to protect the position in respect of 1983–84, in the same way to all other local authorities?
This Second Reading debate, as with the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act, gives London Members an opportunity to discuss London topics. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House will avail themselves of that opportunity, but I do not believe that this is the best way to deal with London's problems or to discuss the important issues that affect London.
I have never accepted that London, with a population probably greater than the combined populations of Scotland and Wales, should have to scratch about for devices and excuses on which to hang discussions on the capital's problems. It could be argued that London is entitled to a Question Time, in view of its large population and the importance of the capital. I certainly feel that we are entitled to a more structured and ordered place on the Order Paper so that we can discuss the many and varied problems that affect London as well as other parts of the country.
I know that hon. Members will take this opportunity to discuss many aspects not only of the Bill but of problems that go much wider. I confine myself to only a couple of points on the Bill.
Probably the two main priorities in the council's expenditure plans are, first, the financing of the Thames 1145 barrier and other public safety costs and, secondly, the planned expenditure on assistance and encouragement to industry and commerce to promote employment and development. All the other issues are important, but I view those as the two main priorities.
The council is estimating expenditure on the Thames barrier of £117,549,000. That is a colossal sum, but all of us who have been involved with the project know how vital and crucial it is and that we make steady progress. I have heard that, in spite of the hiccups, the project is due for completion at the end of this year. No doubt we shall hear more about that as the months go by.
The £117,549,000 also provides for the complementary works both downstream and upstream of the barrier and for protection works on the Thames tributaries. The other public safety costs include improvement works at a number of refuse transfer stations, replacement plant and vehicles and development of civic amenity sites.
Expenditure on the fire services, which is necessary to continue major work at more than a dozen fire stations as well as computer developments for fire service mobilisation and replacement of fire appliances and plant, amounts to about £8¼ million. About £5 million is required for refuse disposal and so on. That is money well spent and is long overdue.
Many of us believe that expenditure on the fire services is necessary because of the ravages of cuts and neglect by previous GLC administrations, particularly the Conservative one. Labour Members well remember the long debates that took place with the then administration at County Hall on the problems of the fire services arising from the council's attempts to cut the fire services and to run down both the supply of appliances and the improvement of the stations.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) played a leading role in those discussions. Sometimes our discussions on the fire brigade were acrimonious. It falls to the new administration to put matters right. It is necessary—no one has dissented from this view—so we support that expenditure.
I hope that no one will dissent from the view that we need to spend money on planning and development of industry, as is suggested by the Bill. It represents a major development for the GLC in 1982–83. No one needs reminding of the prolonged and deep decline of industry and employment in London, as well as in the rest of the country. Some of us here, who are not being wise after the event, opposed the early plans of previous administrations to move industry from London to all sorts of places. We argued then that this would create distressed areas in parts of the capital. We have been proved right, and now there is a move to bring industry and commerce back, which I support.
If I had time I should like to go much more deeply into that aspect of London's life because it affects my constituency as well as other constituencies, but I hope that we shall have other opportunities to discuss these aspects of the problems affecting London. Suffice it to say that it is the council's intention to develop a wide range of new build and refurbishment schemes, in many cases in conjunction with the local boroughs and the private sector.
Other major developments will take place under the auspices of the Greater London Enterprise Board. The 1146 Labour Party and the people that it represents welcome the positive steps being taken to reduce the colossal figure of 340,000 unemployed people and to try to alleviate the indignity, hardship and suffering arising from it in the poorest parts of the capital city.
Schemes are now being worked out in detail with the aim of giving a significant boost to industry and employment in London, and I know that many of my hon. Friends will be able to give examples of the initiative that is being taken.
Under planning powers, the council will be spending money on bringing vacant sites into use and putting resources into London action areas.
I hope that I have said enough to convince the House that the Bill should be given unanimous support and be passed to the appropriate Committee.
§ Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)
The hon. Gentleman says that he hopes that he has said enough to convince us of the need to pass the Bill. However, I have not heard him deal specifically with the item in the schedule dealing with recreation and the arts. Can he expand on that a little and at least give an assurance that none of the money is earmarked for the kind of fringe radical theatre that is so beloved of Mr. Livingstone?
§ Mr. Stallard
I defend spending on theatres. I am not anti-theatre and I hope that the House will accept that we do not spend enough on the arts and theatre, either at local or national level. It is necessary for the capital city to spend money on the arts and the theatre. It is one of our greatest attractions. I should defend any expenditure that increased the resources available to the arts and to the theatre in London. I shall be glad, if necessary, to go into further detail later.
I said that I hoped that I had said enough. I could go into the whole list of the revenue estimates, but I have not done so. I have dealt rather with the global sums in the capital estimates. I accept that there are arguments for taking them in pieces, but we would all pick our particular piece. That was not a road that I wanted to go down. We would all pick on one bit and thrash that to death. I could touch on many aspects, but that is not the way to approach this money Bill. We ought rather to look at it as a constructive attempt to improve the situation of London and Londoners generally.
If hon. Members raise points either on the Bill or on any wider aspects affecting the council's functions, I shall try at the end of the debate to reply to them either directly or later in correspondence.
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) asked for unanimous support for the Bill, but I am afraid that he will not get it from me. We are being asked to authorise the raising of massive sums by local taxation, amounting to about £1,000 million. That is equivalent to about £170 taxation from every individual in London, or about £500 from each household in London. I am not inclined to vote for the Bill.
The GLC has outlived its usefulness. It was in the past most useful. It has rendered valuable service to the public in London both under its 10 years of Conservative rule, and its eight years of Labour rule, since it was set up in 1964 under the London Government Act 1963. However, its functions have been declining dramatically, and its days should now be numbered.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
If my memory is correct, both the hon. Gentleman and I served on a committee of the Greater London council, both with some responsibilities. Is he saying that those responsibilities that we discharged have now been transferred? Does he think that they should not be with the GLC? Can he say to which body he would transfer them? Does he not think that his labours, and mine, were useful and proper on that occasion?
§ Mr. Jessel
Yes, they were, and I shall come to nearly all the points raised by the hon. Member. I believe that he gave useful service, and I hope that I did. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary who will reply was also a full member of the GLC and gave useful service.
However, the functions that we performed have been eroded by the changes that have taken place. I shall give the hon. Member some examples. First, the vast heritage of London housing estates that were inherited by the GLC from the old London County Council in 1964 and 1965 has now been almost entirely handed over to the 32 London boroughs. The sewerage has been handed over to the Thames water authority. In 1973 the ambulances were handed over to the National Health Service. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North referred to the Thames flood barrier. That will be completed before long. The local flood walls, which are important to us in Twickenham, are now virtually complete.
There is not much more scope for traffic management schemes such as one-way schemes and no right turns. The insertion of new yellow lines and double yellow lines is discouraged by the Metropolitan Police because they are so difficult to enforce. There are few, if any, big new main roads proposed.
London buses and tubes are run by London Transport. However, the Secretary of State is expected, after the debates that we have had on this during the winter, to propose that the GLC cease to control London Transport finances. That is right, because it seems to me unjust that ratepayers and householders in an area such as Twickenham should be expected to subsidise that one-quarter of London Transport users who come from outside London and who do not pay GLC rates. Therefore, under the present set-up, the base for any subsidy is wrong and unfair.
As to the remaining functions of the GLC, the fire brigade could easily be put under the Home Secretary, like the Metropolitan Police, or under the London Boroughs Association. The Royal Festival Hall and the other parts of the South Bank arts complex could be put under the Minister for the Arts or the Arts Council, as could the other art functions.
The few remaining Greater London council parks, such as Marble Hill in Twickenham, could easily be transferred to the appropriate borough council, in that case the Richmond upon Thames council. The remaining licensing, road traffic and planning functions again could go mainly to the 32 London boroughs which largely duplicate the work of the GLC in planning and traffic control.
Those functions are important. I do not under-estimate the importance of the GLC's work in those matters even today. However, they are not sufficient to justify the continuing existence of a vast, elected regional authority spending a colossal sum of public money annually.
1148 I say all that with some sadness. As the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) mentioned a few minutes ago, I was a member of the GLC for six years from 1967 until 1973, although for the last three years I was unable to make much contribution because I arrived in the House in 1970 and thereafter concentrated most of my efforts here.
It made sound sense at the time of the London Government Act 1963 to set up the 20 new outer London boroughs, large enough to run their own education services which, in the case of the Kent suburbs, had been administered from Maidstone, the Essex suburbs from Chelmsford, the Surrey suburbs from Kingston and the Middlesex suburbs from the Middlesex Guildhall. Parliament clearly intended at that time that the London boroughs were to be the main units of local government in Greater London. If any services had to be run over a wider area, such as sewage disposal or new motorway construction, they were to be put under the new GLC which was to be a strategic authority.
There were ambitious plans to construct three ringways in the late 1960s and early 1970s, although they never fully materialised. The inner London motorway box was partly constructed. The east cross route was completed to the north and south of the Blackwall tunnel. The west cross route was only completed for half a mile or so from Shepherds Bush to White City. The second ringway was to comprise the existing North Circular in the north and a new South Circular in the south. That was never started because of the strong feeling that prevailed about the amount of housing that would have to be destroyed to make way for it. The third ringway, the outer London one, was replaced by the M25 motorway, which is now under construction further out.
The role as the prime unit of local government that Parliament intended for the 32 London boroughs was eroded in the eyes of the public because the GLC was able to obtain publicity wholly disproportionate to its real functions. That publicity was enhanced because the wide area that it covered—the whole of Greater London with a population of nearly 7 million—happened largely to overlap the areas covered by certain media, particularly the London evening newspapers and London and South-East television and radio programmes.
From quite early on the GLC built up a corresponding publicity machine. It also attracted some members and officers of a high calibre, for many of whom I have had and still have a great respect. That conglomeration of talent and ability, coupled with a powerful publicity machine, combined to conceal from the public the real erosion of the GLC's functions through the 1970s. It is not surprising that the public are hazy about what those functions are. The public are right to be hazy.
The abolition of the GLC would put a question mark over the future of the Inner London education authority which, I believe, is composed of 42 Greater London councillors from 42 inner London constituencies, coinciding with the 12 London boroughs, and one member from each of the 12 London boroughs, making a total of 54.
There would have to be a choice concerning the future of the Inner London education authority. The 12 inner London boroughs could each become a separate education authority like the 20 outer London boroughs, or they could combine to continue under an association such as the London Boroughs Association. Or the Inner London 1149 education authority could conceivably be directly elected, although I have not come across anyone seriously canvassing that alternative.
The future of the Inner London education authority, and of education in inner London, is an extremely serious and important matter for the young people of inner London. It must be given careful thought. However, there is no reason why it should prevent the abolition of the GLC which covers two and a half times the population.
The abolition of the GLC would now be both right and popular. I hope that it will be in the Conservative Party's manifesto at the next general election.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
I congratulate the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) on the moderate and clear way in which he has put to the House his interpretation of the contents of the Bill. He reads a brief beautifully and he has a great future at the Dispatch Box as a Minister.
It is not my intention, in tabling a blocking motion against the Bill, to do so lightly or frivolously. It is an important Bill and it should be fully discussed. If the House is so minded, it should be voted upon.
The hon. Gentleman referred to delays being a possible disadvantage to the GLC. Under recent changes in the provisions applying to the relationship between the GLC and the House, the Bill now relates to the first half of the following financial year. Last year's money Bill provided for the finances of the GLC to carry it forward for a few more months without any great disadvantage should the House of Commons, in its wisdom, decide that the Bill deserved thorough examination.
The hon. Gentleman quoted Mr. Tony Hart, the chairman of the finance committee of the GLC, who had responsibility for the preparation of the money Bill. The hon. Gentleman said that the Bill was prepared in an uncertain atmosphere. It must have been a very uncertain atmosphere for Mr. Tony Hart because, having prepared it, he was given the sack as the chairman and someone else took over. Therefore, I appreciate and sympathise with his uncertainty.
The hon. Gentleman paid some considerable attention to that vital subject, the Thames flood barrier. I join wholeheartedly with him in saying that that is a project that must be completed at the earliest possible moment. I am sure that I echo the hopes of all London Members, of whatever party, when I say that I hope that there will be no delays and no further industrial disputes—necessary or unnecessary—in the provision of this essential protection for London's people. It would be a tragedy if that scheme, which has now run many years over its projected completion date, should suffer any further delays, either through lack of finance, industrial dispute or any other reason.
I particularly welcome the hon. Gentleman's sentiments concerning the raising of the banks on the downstream side of the barrier, because that is where my constituency lies. While I am delighted that the barrier will provide protection for the upstream boroughs of London, I am also pleased that the hon. Gentleman was able to reassure the House that finance is available for the 1150 continued provision and extension of raising the river bank and other associated works for those areas downstream of the barrier.
The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North spoke with deep feeling about unemployment in London. I join wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman in expressing that sentiment. As a former member of the party to which he belongs I join him in accepting part of the responsibility which we all share for the regional development policies of previous Governments. They played a great part in draining industry and jobs away from London.
The same could be said of successive Greater London Councils under varying political control. They also contributed to the relocation of London's industry outside London. The tragedy now is that Londoners are having to pay a heavy price in unemployment—although there are other reasons—for the policies of successive Governments and successive Greater London Councils. I hope that those parts of the GLC's policy to deal with unemployment which might be effective will have some success, but I have some serious reservations about the likely outcome of some of the propositions.
In an intervention the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) asked about grants to various organisations. The hon. Gentleman made a good point because the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North carefully avoided any reference to the grants by the GLC to a vast range of organisations. I have a document in my hand which gives the details. However, I shall not bore the House by giving all of them—I shall pick out one or two as an illustration of the type of organisations on which the GLC is spending money.
I would ask the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North, if he is given leave to speak again, to explain the benefits to London ratepayers of some of the grants. East London News received £10,000. The London Film and Screen Industry received £20,000. City Limits received £100,000 as a loan. In fairness to the House, the hon. Gentleman should say a few words about the grants in the document. Some people might consider that the document—I do not necessarily refer to the grants that I have read out—is a "Trots charter" for subsidy by the ratepayers of London to organisations to which, if they knew the facts about their activities and composition, they would not give a penny, let alone the thousands of pounds set out in the document.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)
Whatever the hon. Gentleman's judgment about the individual organisations to which money is being lent or given, will he give the total amounts involved, first, in terms of loans and, secondly, in terms of grants, in relation to the total budget of the Greater London Council? Furthermore, is it his intention to prevent the Bill receiving its Second Reading because of his particular views about a matter that is almost, in financial terms at least, de minimis?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
If the hon. Gentleman is patient he will find that I shall come to more substantial points in terms overall volumes of moneys. He has put a perfectly fair point to me about the total cost of the grants and loans and their relationship to the budget. However, distinguished lawyer though he may be, the hon. Gentleman put the question to the wrong hon. Member. His hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North did not mention these matters, but I hope, if he is given leave to speak again, he will give details that his hon. Friend has so rightly asked for.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
When an hon. Member advances an argument it is incumbent on him to justify it. As he has rightly said, the point that I have put to him cannot be other than a reasonable one in determining the validity of his argument. I repeat the question. Either he has not done his homework and will not be able to answer it—that is fair enough and I would accept that—or, if he has done his homework, may we have the particulars?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
The hon. Gentleman has tempted me to give details that I had not intended to inflict on the House. However, with that invitation, I have little option. If the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues would like to get their pens and papers out I will read the details. The hon Gentleman can then do his own arithmetic as he goes through them. I shall start on page 1 of the document.
Services for the Unemployed received a grant of £5,000. The Trade Union Resource Centre received a grant of £60,000 in the current financial year and £140,000 for premises. I hope the hon. Gentleman is taking a full note. The Greenwich Employment Resources Unit received a grant of £37,000. The Haringey Women's Employment Project received £7,000 grant for research.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
If the hon. Member for Vauxhall will restrain himself he will have an opportunity of catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the House would be delighted to hear from such a stalwart defender of the Marxist-Bennite clique on the GLC.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I shall give way in a moment when I have read out the list to the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis). I am able to deal with only one hon. Gentleman at a time.
Operation Springboard received £19,000 as a grant for employing employment liaison officers. The Tower Hamlets Training Forum received the slightly more significant sum of £20,000 on a loan. The Lambeth Centre for the Unemployed received the relatively small sum of £5,100. The Job Sharing Project received £7,700 plus another £7,700 making a total of £15,400 in grant. The Wandsworth Enterprise Development Agency received £35,000.
It might be for the convenience of the House if I were to nip through and mention some of the larger times, unless the hon. Member for Hackney, Central wants me to read them all out so that he can do his homework in the absence of his hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I shall not give way again just at the moment. I shall list some of the larger items. There is Capital Job Mate, with a grant of £10,000 and another £40,000 next year. There is the National Child Care Campaign. That may be an entirely desirable body.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I must treat the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) in the same way as I treated the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland). I promise him that I shall come to him, after I have given way to the hon. Member for Vauxhall. Then there is the Apex Trust, 1152 London region. Again, that may be a highly desirable-body, because it is getting £20,000 grant. The Waterloo Employment Project, which again may be highly desirable, is getting about £20,000. The Elephant Jobs at Southwark—I do not know what that is. I hope that the Minister knows. The Minister shakes his head. His Government have agreed this Bill with the GLC, and I assume that they have looked carefully at its provisions.
Then there is the Capital Job Mate, with a grant amounting to £50,000 in total. There is the Newham Cooperative Development Agency. I am entirely in favour of that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) knows. As a member of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society political purposes committee, I seek to encourage, almost monthly, that body to give greater emphasis to the development of co-operative enterprises. So that is probably a good item.
There are other items for £50,000, and so on. I could go on. There is a loan for £100,000 for City Limits. I hope that I have given enough information to whet the appetite of the hon. Member for Hackney, Central. Now 1 gladly give way to the hon. Member for Vauxhall.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. In fact, he completely missed the point of my hon. Friend's question, which was the ratio of these resources to greater London resources as a whole. The matter can be put into perspective if we take into account the fact that, instead of the £10,000 here and £5,000 there that he talks about. about £10 million a day is given in tax rebates to British business—tax which is not claimed. Those are the orders of magnitude to which the House should address itself. The hon. Gentleman has wrung his hands about unemployment in London. Will he now address himself to what he will do to create employment in London?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
No doubt, when the House of Commons is considering taxation matters, as it is now doing in the Finance Bill Committee upstairs, and again later on the Floor of the House, the hon. Gentleman can deploy his arguments about tax handouts, as he describes them, to business. At the moment we are dealing with the narrow but none the less expensive matter of the GLC's finances. The hon. Gentleman, in his generous way with public money, says that these grants, ranging from?£5,000 to well over £100,000, are of little magnitude. It is a matter of his judgment, but I am bound to say that it is not mine. These sums may represent a relatively low proportion of the GLC's total expenditure, but at some stage it is right for Parliament to examine what the people in County Hall are spending—not their money, but public money—allegedly in the name of the people of London. I promised to give way to the hon. Member for Nor-wood.
§ Mr. John Fraser
The hon. Gentleman, who represents southern outflow sewer, mentioned Capital Job Mate, and spoke in disparaging terms about its grants. I hope that he realises that Capital Job Mate is where Capital Radio harnesses its own resources to help young people, particularly those in difficulty, to find employment. There the GLC is spending a very small amount of money to help the least advantaged to find employment through the medium of Capital Radio. I am sorry to hear him speak in disparaging terms of such a magnificent project.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I am delighted that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, because his intervention allows me 1153 to repeat an observation which I made earlier which unfortunately he did not hear correctly. I said that one could not judge the particular bodies in the document, nor did I necessarily want to accuse those that I read out of being improper bodies.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
If the hon. Gentleman seeks to put that interpretation on my words, let me make it quite clear that although I believe that there are a significant number of highly undesirable organisations in that list, there are also many desirable organisations. It may well be that the organisation which the hon. Member for Norwood mentioned is one of them, and from what he said that would appear to be so. However, I know that other hon. Gentlemen, particularly on the Opposition Benches, in the months ahead will seek to make all sorts of accusations about the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford making blanket condemnations. So let me put on record precisely what I am saying. It is incumbent on the GLC, and particularly on the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North—[Interruption] . The hon. Member for Vauxhall, with all his public school education, criticises a working class person like me about my pronunciation.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman when I have finished my few remarks about him. He criticised me from a sedentary position. I know that he will not consider this unfair, because I think it is generally known that he has had a superb education. It is such a tragedy that it has been wasted. I shall now give way to him.
§ Mr. Holland
I wanted to know—as, I am sure, do other Members on these Benches—exactly what the hon. Gentleman means. I shall put on one side some of the more florid adjectives to which he is suited. If he wishes to make a case in the House—and granted that it is not supported by the list of details of individual expenditures—will he tell us what measures he and his party advocate for creating the unemployment in London about which he wrings his hands?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I hate to draw attention to the hon. Gentleman's slip about creating unemployment. I assure him that, unlike him and his party, the Social Democratic Party is determined to reduce unemployment, not only in London but throughout Britain. However, I shall not go into that matter, because it is outside the scope of the Bill, although I would be delighted to describe to the House the excellent programme which my party has prepared and made public to deal with the serious economic problems of the country.
I come back to the clarification I was seeking to make before all those interruptions. In my view, it is the responsibility of the hon. Member who introduces a Bill of this importance to spell out clearly what is happening to public money, whether it is £24 million to the enterprise board or a much smaller sum, as in the case of the bodies that I have read out. It is not my responsibility. It is the responsibility of the sponsors to justify their Bill.
Having dealt with the introductory speech of the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North I shall deal with the main provisions of the Bill.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I have no idea whether I have taken that time. If the hon. Gentleman checks the record tomorrow he will find that most of that time was taken up with interruptions, both proper ones and mutterings.
The House is called upon to consider the Bill under difficult circumstances. It is difficult to deal with its ramifications. Vast sums of money are involved. I have no complaint against the officers of the GLC who have readily responded to the requests that I have made for information. My complaint is about another matter. I have been unable to give the Bill the detailed study that I should have liked. There has not been sufficient time between receiving information from the GLC and today's debate. I regret that the Bill has been discussed far too early. I have already registered my strong feelings of that to the Chairman of Ways and Means. I understand his problems but I hope that in future, when Bills of this magnitude come before the House, there will be more time to study the voluminous documents that are connected with the size of the sums involved. In the limited time that has been available to me I have had to concentrate on only a few issues. I shall return to them.
We must consider the Bill in the light of the current political climate in London. In my opinion, and that of growing numbers of Londoners, the present GLC, since it took office, has brought that council into disrepute. Many people may question, as did the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), whether the GLC is required any longer and whether the London borough councils could do a better job if the functions of the GLC were transferred to them. They could form a joint London voluntary co-operative committee—a joint metropolitan standing committee as it were—that would be able to deal with many of the problems.
It would be a tragedy if the Inner London Education Authority were destroyed. If there is one gem left in the crown of the GLC, it is the ILEA. I may not agree with all of its policies or expenditures, but I am convinced that it has developed a system of education in London that is proving to be immensely beneficial to London's children. Nothing that I say should be taken in any way as detracting from my admiration for and support of the ILEA. There is, however, one proviso. If the ILEA starts to follow the irresponsible attitude of the GLC, my support and praise will fade away.
§ Mr. Jessel
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he accept the line of argument that I developed just before he started to speak about three-quarters of an hour ago that it would be possible to find some way of abolishing the GLC without necessarily abolishing the ILEA, although the latter body would have to be slightly differently constituted?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I was not a Member of Parliament when the local government reorganisation took place but I took part in many of the discussions against it. I said that the formation of the GLC and 32 London boroughs would not benefit Londoners. It is with no joy that I claim that that judgment has proved correct. If it is possible—I hope that it will be—to phase out the GLC and to develop co-operation among the London borough councils, I should 1155 be favourably disposed to consider that proposition provided that the ILEA continues—provided also that it remains under responsible control.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Is the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) aware that the annunciator says that my hon. Friend started to speak at 7.45 pm and that he therefore cannot have been speaking for three-quarters of an hour? Secondly, the hon. Member for Twickenham, one of the great proponents of the 1963 Act, will remember having arguments with me in Camberwell when he wanted the whole fracas to take place—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)
Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) will resist the temptation to widen the debate to that extent. The debate concerns the expenditure of the Greater London Council and the London Transport Executive. He should confine his speech to those subjects.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I have no intention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of being tempted into those avenues by my hon. Friend, as I know that conversion comes to many people in Parliament and outside and I am delighted that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) has been converted from his earlier fallacious opinion.
It is my assertion today that the people of London are sick and tired of the party political battle between Whitehall and County Hall and particularly of the propaganda war being waged by the GLC through the publication at considerable expense to ratepayers of all kinds of documents designed not so much to inform Londoners as to propagate the party views of those now in control of the GLC.
No doubt, as I develop the main threads of my argument, certain hon. Members will prattle on that the GLC, after all, has a mandate to do all these diabolical things. I see the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) on the Labour Front Bench nodding his head. [HoN. MEMBERS: "He is nodding off."] I do not accept that suggestion. The hon. Member for Edmonton is a diligent Member and I have never known him to nod off in a debate, so he must have been nodding in agreement with my assertion that some will say that the Labour GLC has a mandate to do all the diabolical things that it is doing to the people of London. I, however, dispute that view. The poll was very low and I doubt whether the London Labour Party distributed many copies of its full manifesto to the people of London. The document put out in my constituency was certainly very short. Incidentally, in its references to finance, the manifesto suggested to the electors of Bexley that the cost of London Transport to the average householder would be 45p per week, whereas it turned out to be £1.89 per week until—thank God—the law intervened and brought back a little reality to the activities of the GLC.
In any event, I am sure that I shall receive some support from Conservative Members when I say this. Even if the full manifesto of the party now in control of the GLC had been made available to a wide range of Londoners before they cast their votes, what would they have made of it? They might well have seen, as many of them did, the then leader of the Labour group, Mr. McIntosh, on the television and decided that he was not a bad lad and clearly a moderate and thus have voted Labour all the same. The 1156 tragedy was that Mr. McIntosh did not last 24 hours before being ousted by the present gentleman, to whom I need not refer as his action.; and words have spoken for themselves. I merely add that the tactic used in the GLC of putting on a moderate face and ditching it the day after the election would be repeated here if the electors were so misguided as to elect a Labour Government—it would not be the moderates but the Bennite-Marxist faction who would quickly take control of their destiny here.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that it is a convention of the House in discussing Bills of this nature to allow a certain freedom of expression to range over a wide subject area. Nevertheless, would it not be more appropriate for the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) to address himself to arguments concerning the Bill than to continue making merely speculative statements?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I was again becoming a little anxious about the recent remarks of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). He must restrict his remarks to the work of the GLC and the London Transport Executive and its capital expenditure aspect.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I had noticed the glint in your eye and I intended to make a purely passing reference and then to return to precisely the items to which you advise me to address myself.
The Bill seeks parliamentary approval for a very substantial sum—more than £1,000 million. That is no trifling sum. For that reason, the House has a duty to examine its contents most carefully. I hope that the Government and their supporters will bear in mind that. they cannot allow a Bill of this magnitude requiring such a sum of money to pass without proper scrutiny and perhaps a vote, and then later indulge in the luxury of criticism when the GLC begins to spend, to loan and to use the money that an acquiescent House has allowed to pass without proper scrutiny.
The objects of the Bill that are clearly set out on page 3, in line 15, cannot be obtained without the authority of Parliament. Once it is enacted, none of us can escape responsibility for all that flows from it. That is why I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will wish to take a positive interest in the Bill and consider their position carefully when the time comes to vote.
Part I of the schedule concerns the prescribed expenditure of the GLC. Part II is about loans to people and organisations. to which we have already referred briefly.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I must protest, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman says "rubbish" but he has only just entered the Chamber and cannot know whether we are talking rubbish. It is a bit of a cheek for someone to wander in and to make such remarks.
Part III of the schedule concerns finances that will enable more flexible budgeting between years. Page 8 of the document with which the GLC supplied me draws attention to the fact that, having attained parliamentary approval, the GLC can exercise virement between the headings without reference back to Parliament.
I say to the Minister that we are not talking about pennies in the Bill. As he is probably well aware, part I 1157 of the schedule refers to about £728 million, part II to about £144 million and part III to £39 million. We must have some assurance that if we vote tonight in favour of the £728 million provision in part I and the GLC, having obtained our approval, wishes to switch half of that money to loans to organisations, it can not do it under the procedure of virement. I am amazed that the Minister and his colleagues have allowed this possibility to occur and I beg him at this late stage to consider the principle of virement, expecially in the light of the GLC's recent performance. That is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs and there is little confidence that the GLC will act responsibly. I hope the Minister will give an assurance that he will try to ensure that some control is exercised over the GLC.
One of the things that the Bill does not make clear—nor did the hon. Member for St. Pancras North—is that the Bill contains a contingency balance provision, not for a few paltry pounds but for £30 million. I quote the comptroller of GLC finance, Mr. Stonefrost, who describes the special contingency balance asonly to be used if extensive and unavoidable eventswould otherwise require borrowing. With the sort of madcap schemes that we have seen put forward by the GLC, we know that there will be extensive undertakings. They will be unavoidable because nothing is avoidable under the irresponsible leadership that London must now endure.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene, I shall be happy to give way. I do not seek your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I hope that we shall at least have some decorum from the hon. Gentleman while he is in the Chamber.
Several sums of money mentioned in the Bill relate to Thamesmead in my constituency. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East is here. I know that he will have something to say on the subject. I pay tribute to the residents of Thamesmead because I do not wish anything that I say to be misunderstood there. I have the greatest admiration for the community spirit that they have developed.
However, many of my constituents are in a serious position. I refer to the scandal of residents in areas such as Greenmead, Moat Gardens, Windrush and Fieldfare, who have been trying to purchase their homes. There is substantial provision in the Bill for home loans. I appeal to the GLC to use some of the money to help my constituents, who have suffered long delays, frustration and cost. It must have seemed as though the GLC has a vendetta against them.
To give the House an idea of that victimisation, many of my constituents moved into their homes on the basis that they could buy them under an arrangement with the GLC. They pay a higher rent on that basis. Some claim that they were told that a portion of the higher rent would be credited to them when they bought the house. They were also told that they would have the benefit of a sliding scale of discount.
I know that some Opposition Members are not in favour of the sale of council houses. They may be right, but where residents have moved in on a clear understanding and 1158 promise, it is disgraceful that they should now be victimised. It is not a minor victimisation. The rents for equivalent property are about £28 a week, but those people must pay as much as £44 a week. They are the victims of spite and have been forced to pay higher rents for months and in some cases for more than a year. The GLC has turned a blind eye to their plight and a deaf ear to the representations on their behalf.
I am tired of hearing members of the GLC mouthing platitudes about working people and their plight. What sort of people do they believe the residents of Thamesmead are? They are plumbers, carpenters, office workers and hospital workers. They are decent, ordinary, working men and women struggling to bring up their families. I plead with the GLC to end its callous disregard of their plight and to use some of the money allocated in the Bill to discharge its responsibilities to my constituents.
§ Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich, East)
I have closely followed my hon. Friend's arguments. Is he aware that similar problems affect some parts of my constituency? In one road occupants of similar property are in some cases owner-occupiers, in some cases paying high rent and in others the traditional rent. How can that be fair, reasonable or just?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
It is neither fair, reasonable nor just. The Greater London Council should deal with that immediately. I challenge the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North to say whether the Greater London Council will discharge its responsibilities towards my constituents and those of my hon. Friend. If it does not, I should be surprised if hon. Members allow the Bill to pass while that disgraceful business still hovers in the background. I am pleading for fair play for my constituents and those of my hon. Friend. Let an end be put to this unfortunate story. I hope that as a result of these debates the Greater London Council will act with humanity towards those innocent people.
§ Mr. Dobson
Will the hon. Gentleman, who has been talking about the problems of his constituents and those of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright), confirm that there is some inadequacy in the provisions which the Government pushed through, as his constituents cannot exercise their rights under the law?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I wish that I could say that all the problems arose out of the right-to-buy provisions, but that is not the case. Most of the people moved into the houses long before the Government took office. They are the victims of both the previous Conservative-controlled GLC and the present Labour-controlled GLC. To be as fair as the circumstances warrant, the previous GLC had some problems about the legal ownership of the land. It made a cock-up. It built houses on land to which it did not have proper title. Whoever was responsible—I am speaking to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson)—for the creation of the mess and whatever excuses there are for its continuation, I hope that all hon. Members will say that it is now time that the GLC ended its callous disregard for the people to whom I have referred.
There are good community facilities in Thamesmead. As that area continues to develop there is a desperate need for the proper provision of community accommodation. Greenmead is a thriving community with a good residents 1159 association. It urgently needs community accommodation for the old, the young and all other members of the community. There are some empty shops near the Greenmead development built by the GLC, that it has not yet been able to let. I hope that it will use some of the capital provided in the Bill to allow the use of those shops or to provide a community hall for Greenmead. Provision is made in the Bill for the mobility of tenants and the transfer scheme that is operated by the GLC. I believe that there is inadequate provision for the transfer of those who want to move throughout the length and breadth of London. There is a great deal more that the GLC could do and it would be rendering a better service to Londoners if it concentrated on these issues rather than on some of the programmes upon which it has embarked.
I shall give an example of the vital nature of mobility. There is a couple in my constituency who have an adult mentally handicapped son. The lad attends a residential hospital during the weekdays to work and to be trained. He returns to mum and dad for the weekends. The parents want to move from their present flat, which is in a high rise block, because it is inadequate in the light of the serious domestic circumstances that confront them. They want to move to a small home with two bedrooms and a patch of garden so that their son, with all the disabilities that he suffers, can be properly cared for and have some relaxation when he comes home at weekends.
A council of the size of the GLC could surely find it within its capacity and heart to do something for this family. I regret to have to tell the House that so far I have not been able to persuade it to act. The money that is being sought following parliamentary approval could provide the basis for dealing with the family to whom I have referred and with others in similar circumstances in many other constituencies.
§ Mr. Dobson
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the GLC's capacity to assist the tenant in question, or any other tenant, has been undermined considerably because the Government have compulsorily transferred virtually the whole of its housing stock to the boroughs, which means that it does not have the letting capacity that it once had?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
That argument might apply to the hon. Gentleman's constituency but it does not apply to mine.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
With great respect, it does not. Thamesmead, which provides the bulk of the GLC's housing accommodation in my constituency has not—to the best of my knowledge this will not happen—had that accommodation transferred to the London borough of Bexley.
§ Mr. Jay
Surely the hon. Gentleman understands that as the total accommodation available to the GLC throughout London has been cut enormously, possible mobility has been virtually destroyed. That is what I have found when dealing with many cases similar to the one that he has mentioned. His constituents cannot move out of Thamesmead to Roehampton, for example, because the rented accommodation in Roehampton is no longer the property of the GLC.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I accept that. However, that does not detract from my argument. If the GLC is providing an 1160 overall strategic direction for London, surely it could develop an effective mobility scheme with the cooperation of the London borough councils.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
The Under-Secretary of State sits on the Treasury Bench in his languid form having said repeatedly that the mobility scheme is working. He has sent me letter after letter to tell me that and I continue to explain to him why the scheme is not working. He sits on the Treasury Bench and he still believes that it is working. Will my hon. Friend repeat what he has just said for the benefit of the Minister?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I agree with my hon. Friend that the Minister is adopting a languid attitude. However, I know that he is an effective Minister. If it were within his power, I have no doubt that he would do something about it. However, he is constrained by those in higher authority in Government circles who may seek to restrain him. I very much hope, knowing the hon. Gentleman as I do, that he will take seriously the point that I have made about' my own constituents—and the points that have been made in interventions by other Members—in trying to ensure that there is a more adequate mobility scheme for London so that the very human problems, that I know he is concerned about, can be dealt with.
I want now to turn away from my constituency and deal with some of the more costly factors in this Bill. Of course, I am bound to turn to the Greater London Enterprise Board. There is provision in the schedule to the Bill for some £24 million in the estimates. On what sort of enterprise will the GLC use this huge sum of money? I have little faith in the Greater London Council. I fear that neither it nor these whom it appoints. to the enterprise board will exercise the prudence and wisdom that Londoners deserve. This £24 million will not end up creating all the jobs that we require; a great deal of it will be squandered on very fancy schemes indeed.
Only yesterday, The Standard, that excellent evening paper that serves .London, referred to the Greater London Enterprise Board and the appointment of its chief executive, who is to be paid £45,000.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
The hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) says no, and if the press has got it right—
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I know that there is reference to some dispute in the controlling group of the GLC, so let us hope that better sense has prevailed and that it will not pay £25,000 plus the perks which are set out in this article, amounting to £45,000.
It seems to many people in London that what the GLC is doing in this case is finding a job for one of its pals. In my view, the Greater London Council would make a greater contribution to London's unemployment problems and to the encouragement of industry in London if it dropped some of Is outrageous schemes and reduced the rates on Londoners and businesses. [Interruption.] An hon. Member behind me groans, but the London Chamber of Commerce in an excellent document, produced after a great deal of research, clearly showed that the burden of rates, although not entirely responsible, contributes to the disincentive of business to expand, prosper and provide employment for Londoners
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I will not give way for a moment; I would like to finish one little bit at a time.
There is no doubt that although rates are not the overriding or—I would not even pray this in aid—the most significant factor, they are a significant factor in this matter. The GLC could make its contribution towards improving employment by reducing the rates.
The House should think carefully before giving approval to money in this Bill that will be used by the GLC for the Greater London Enterprise Board. We ought to have firm and precise details before the House tonight. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North should produce them, setting out just what we are consenting to if we agree to the provision of this £24 million. If we do not have precise details, the money could be spent on any old fancy scheme that it dreamt up. It would be a sure recipe for squandering this money provided by Londoners.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
There is no doubt in my mind: if we could have faith that the Greater London Council would act responsibly and would make efforts to deal with unemployment, it would go some way to mitigating the effects of the policies of the national Government. I have no confidence in the national Government, but I have even less confidence in the Greater London Council to be able to do anything.
There is very little capital provision in the Bill for home defence. I hope that the Minister will say something about civil defence and about the provision by the GLC for these essential services. I am aware of the view of the GLC on civil defence and I disagree with it absolutely. It is acting not in the interests of London but through doctrinaire political dogma. The Government should take firm steps to ensure that there is adequate home defence for London if the GLC fails to deliver the goods. Some provision has been made, but in its own estimate projections it does not make any provision for future years.
Under environment, some provision is made for home defence but, knowing the policy of the GLC, I fear that, although it has got approval for this modest sum, it will immediately use it for something else. Again I ask the Minister to watch carefully what the people in County Hall are up to and to make certain that they do not come here even for a modest provision for home defence and then use it for something else. They have the responsibility to perform an essential civil and home defence role for London, and the Minister has responsibility to ensure that they do so.
In regard to the community relations programme that the GLC has embarked on—
§ Mr. Dobson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is my understanding that the Bill refers to capital expenditure. I seek your guidance. Will the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) confirm that this aspect is covered in the Bill, of is he just shuffling off into another of his mazy references to GLC policies that he does not like?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
This is a fairly wide debate, as I said earlier. What the hon. Gentleman is now referring to is in order.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
What is dimly apparent to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras is blindingly obvious to me. I took the trouble of relating all my remarks to capital provision. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the GLC's own budget projections at page 195, he will see there a substantial sum for the provision of office equipment and support services. It would be a bold Member who took the view that none of that provision was to be applied to the establishment of the two new committees set up by the GLC, the ethnic minorities committee and the police committee. I fear that the hon. Gentleman's point was not a good one, but it enabled me to explain the details to him, and I am grateful for that.
I was saying that the GLC has entered areas that are clearly outside its legitimate responsibility, particularly in respect of the police. Many Londoners deeply resent the expenditure of money on a propaganda campaign aimed at undermining the Metropolitan Police. A vast number of Londoners believe, as I do, that it is scandalous. Despite the many problems in policing London, Londoners have a thousand times more confidence in the Metropolitan Police than they have in the Greater London Council. The GLC could save millions of pounds by ceasing this extravaganza of moving into areas where it has no legitimate standing. The guardians of the Metropolitan Police are the Home Secretary and the House. Setting up a police committee is a complete waste of money, but it is part and parcel of the Left-wing campaign that has more to do with the perverted politics of the GLC than with the safety and well-being of Londoners.
I turn now to the question of road expenditure. One of my hon. Friends has a detailed speech to make on this subject, so I shall confine my remarks to a small issue that concerns my constituency. A considerable amount of money is being spent on a subway in the town centre of Erith. It is not wanted by the local people and a delegation from all parties has been to see GLC officials. It made no headway. The GLC is determined to press on and force this wretched little subway on to a community that does not want it. It is a terrible waste of money. If the GLC wants to save money and contribute to the success of London, it should take a little more interest in the affairs of local people.
That leads me to another local issue that squarely falls within the responsibility of the GLC and its capital provisions in the Bill. I shall be delighted to give way if the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South wishes to take up this point. It relates to the provision of proper and safe means of crossing main roads. I make no apology for time and again referring to the effect of the GLC's activities on my constituents.
The purpose of Members of Parliament is to bring these important matters to Parliament's attention.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
In a moment, when I have finished this point.
A pedestrian crossing in North End Road has proved to be inadequate for the speed of traffic and the number of people who cross the road at that point. A pelican crossing 1163 is necessary. There is provision in the Bill for funds to be used for such crossings, and I can give chapter and verse if required.
Local residents in favour of a pelican crossing have organised a massive petition. I have contacted the Metropolitan Police and received a letter—I shall not quote from it in view of the shortage of time—stating that a pelican crossing is clearly the responsibility of the Greater London Council. If the GLC wanted to discharge its responsibilities on public health and safety to my constituents it has the power under the Bill to find the capital to provide that simple facility in North End Road. I hope that it will act quickly before more of my constituents are injured.
I notice that the GLC is spending thousands of pounds on propaganda about the bomb. Let it spend just a few pounds to provide safety for the constituents of Erith and Crayford. I again refer to the list of outside bodies that are receiving grants. I should be grateful for just a few of those thousands of pounds to provide safety and security for my constituents.
§ Mr. Dobson
The hon. Gentleman justifies his extraordinarily long speech in a three-hour debate on the ground that he is representing the interests of his constituents. Does he accept that, by the grossly discourteous way in which he has hogged the debate, he has prevented a substantial number of other hon. Members from drawing attention to matters that are close to the hearts of their constituents? If this represents the SDP breaking the mould of British politics, it is a pretty stinking design that the SDP intends to introduce.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I take the hon. Gentleman's strictures seriously. I only wish that he had been in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate to demonstrate his responsibilities more positively. As I glance at the few assembled Members who are present, I think that the people of London would be horrified to discover how Members for the London area are discharging their responsibilities. I would have been delighted had 90 London Members wanted to take part. I would have made an extremely short speech. Unfortunately, one does not have to be in the House very long before one becomes aware of the ploys and procedural devices that can be used to avoid a vote on a particular issue.
I have no doubt that discussions have taken place in the normal conspiracy between extreme Left wingers in the Labour Party and extreme Right wingers in the Conservative Party to combine to thwart this fledgling political party which, although outside the confines of the Bill, poses such a threat to them.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I am reluctant to give way because the hon. Gentleman has already had two or three goes. Giving way would not be fair to other hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South. If I again give way to the hon. Gentleman, I shall be blamed for prolonging the debate. I wanted to make a short speech to bring the problems of my constituency to the attention of the House, but if the hon. Gentleman insists on intervening, I shall give him a few seconds.
§ Mr. Holland
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the merits of his own case and his party. If he is so confident 1164 that London wants in office his party rather than the Labour Party, will he follow the example of the former Member for Mitcham and Morden and put his belief to the test?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not go down that road. It would be quite out of order.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it would be wrong to go down that road because we are discussing the Greater London Council (Money) Bill. The Labour Party manifesto does not fall for discussion within this debate. That is a pity, because had it done so I could have told the hon. Gentleman that I still support almost everything in that manifesto, which he has betrayed. I would give him the details if that were in order. Labour Members have rejected, repudiated and thrown away most of the solemn promises on which they were elected, but I must not be deflected along those lines.
I end as I began. The present GLC leadership has brought the council into disrepute. There is a growing lack of confidence in London in the present GLC. More and more people are beginning to question its future. If the people who are new in control carry on in the way that they have in recent months, there is no doubt that they will create such a wave of revulsion among Londoners that they and the GLC will be swept away.
The passage of the Bill is no mere formality. There is over £1,000 million of capital, let alone the revenue, involved in expenditure for the GLC in the Bill. The Bill, the money provided for in it and the policy of the GLC should be given careful scrutiny. Parliament has a duty to try to protect Londoners from the excesses of the incompetent, doctrinaire, Bennite-Marxists who for the time being hold sway in County Hall.
§ 9.6 pm
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
The Bill involves expenditure of about £1 billion and I wish to ask whether a number of items of expenditure, of great importance to my constituents or to my fellow citizens in Lambeth, are included in the Bill, and if they are not, to give the reasons why I think that they should be.
I come first to a subject mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard), refuse transfer stations. 'The GLC has declared Greater London to be a nuclear-free zone. Some people in my constituency would like to see their roads made rubbish-free zones. I am referring in particular to a road called Shakespeare Road, which is a residential area.
In 1977 a Tory GLC decided that a residential road should be the site for what is called a refuse transfer station. The station is run by a private enterprise that is not contracted to do the work of local authorities. Lorries arrive with mostly builders' rubble, which is dumped opposite residential accommodation, and rather larger lorries come and collect it and take it to infill sites. It is licensed by the GLC under the Control of Pollution Act.
The trouble for residents is that there are lorries corning in and out of the site from about 7.30 in the morning to about 5.30 at night. Ther is a great deal of traffic noise, dust and inconvenience. My constituents want something done about it. Yesterday I met a number of residents, led 1165 by their local councillor, Joan Walley, and some of the contractors. To my amazement, I learned that the GLC—a refuse disposal authority for Greater London, a strategic planning authority for the whole of London, the authority that has the task of licensing refuse transfer stations, an authority of that magnitude and with resources that in this Bill alone involve £1 billion—appears to have identified not one site throughout the whole of Greater London as a suitable refuse transfer station. We need more than one refuse station for Greater London—probably one for each borough.
It is wrong that an authority cannot identify the right kind of site in the right kind of area. That is its duty as a strategic planning authority. Is some of the money under the Bill to be allocated for that purpose? Can the GLC identify a site that would be suitable and would not lead to disadvantage and a reduction in the quality of life for the many who have to suffer the flow of lorries and rubbish in that part of my constituency?
In the Bill, £30 million is set aside for planning and industry. I wish to raise a problem that only illustrates a problem faced by many hon. Members. In my constituency is a street called Rothschild Street which is in the middle of an industrial development area, the plan for which will be confirmed after a public inquiry that takes place shortly.
I am not against industrial development. The time has long passed when we were opposed to industrial development in a mainly residential area. We have learnt that one of the things that can beggar our cities, particularly our inner cities, is the loss of employment, particularly from small firms. I have no objection to development at all, nor have the occupants of that area.
I do not want to spend a lot of time on an individual constituency case, but there is one that illustrates the problem. I went to the house of a family in my constituency of Sunday morning. At the end of their garden—which is only about three or four yards long—is a huge storage tank of bituminous liquid, on top of which is a pump which works up to 24 hours a day. On top of that, almost on a level with the bedroom windows, is an inspection gantry, and rising above that is a large black pipe carrying hot bituminous liquid to a process in another part of the factory. That is all perfectly lawful, although it may be dangerous. However, the family and the other people who own houses in that road do not want to look out of their windows each day on such a development.
That area is zoned for industrial redevelopment. Because their homes are blighted by industry on their doorstep and by planning proposals, all that those people want to do is to be able to sell their homes. It is wrong that they should have to wait for a planning proposal to be confirmed after a public inquiry. The GLC, with its powers to provide money for industrial redevelopment and planning, should provide money to buy people out of such blighted homes. If the GLC is not willing to do that, the Government should be willing to authorise the provision of funds in such cases of hardship. I hope that I shall have a favourable response, either from my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North who is presenting the GLC's case, or from the Minister.
I turn to what I believe to be an abuse of the powers of the House by the London Transport Executive. Some years ago a London Transport Bill was brought to the House 1166 asking for powers to redevelop a bus garage in my constituency at the bottom of Knights Hill. I was opposed to that Bill. However, I was able to negotiate with the Bill's sponsor so that those people who were adversely affected by that London Transport redevelopment—perhaps their homes were likely to be acquired—would be rehoused in the same area and that if their homes were blighted by the development they would be purchased. The London Transport Executive which presented the Bill gave me adequate undertakings and I was satisfied.
Now, some years later, it transpires that in the exercise of the statutory powers that Parliament conferred, the London Transport Executive must acquire parking spaces for about 60 cars for members of its staff. Apparently, it is all right for members of the public to travel on buses, but not for members of London Transport's staff.
It is wrong that the site being chosen for parking space for West Norwood bus garage is a site of about 30 garages used by residential occupiers of the immediate neighbourhood.
When the Bill to provide powers of compulsory acquisition for a garage development was presented to Parliament, none of those points was mentioned. It is wrong that a statutory authority should come to the House asking for powers for a specified purpose, deposit plans in the House, seek undertakings and understandings from hon. Members, and then, when the development takes place, proceed in a different way. It wants to do that because of the planning requirements of the local authority.
It is wrong that those who suffer from the enterprise are those who had little part to play in the original proposals, who were not aware what would happen to their residential garages, and who are gravely disadvantaged by what will take place.
I hope that I will be told that at least concern about the London Transport development will be conveyed to it and that it will seek other ways to obtain parking space for its workers.
Lastly, I want to turn to the vexed question in Lambeth of the sports and recreation centre. There is a vote in the Bill for recreation and the arts of £6.4 million. In the past few days we have heard a great deal about Versailles. In the 17th and 18th centuries Versailles almost bankrupted the French nation. The sports and recreation centre is likely, if not to bankrupt, severely to impoverish the citizens of Lambeth. Indeed, if Louis XIV had been born not in France but in Lambeth and had had to choose an alternative to Versailles, I think he would have chosen Lambeth's sports and recreation centre. I am reliably informed that it will cost more than Versailles to build and most certainly more than Versailles to maintain.
In case anyone believes that I am being critical of a Labour council, the decision to set about this expensive enterprise was taken by a Conservative council in Lambeth. We hear a great deal about knights in Lambeth. At the council meeting that decided on the enterprise Ted Knight was not present. The only knight present was a baronet known as Sir George Young.
The enterprise is a matter of regal extravagance. The designers employed by the Conservative council of which the Minister was a member at the time decided that they would build a sports and recreation centre with a massive swimming bath not on the ground floor but on the second or the third floor. One can imagine the increase in construction costs that occurred as a result of that. Rumour 1167 has it that the swimming bath may now be unsafe even before it has been filled with water as a result of being put so high.
The Conservative local authority at the time negotiated with a firm called Tarmac. The firm told the local authority that it would carry out the scheme without profit. It was a cost-plus scheme, placed to tender. The original estimate for the centre to be privately constructed by Tarmac was £2.7 million. Tarmac's work was catastrophic in terms of industrial relations, speed and cost. Eventually, the local authority had to negotiate its way out of the scheme, having spent between £2.7 million and £3 million.
The scheme was then placed to contract with the Lambeth direct works department at a new tender figure of £7.1 million—that is a good deal higher than the original estimate. The figure is now climbing towards £10 million cost. I have examined some of the recent estimates and I find that another £2 million or £3 million is likely to be added so that the total cost of the sports and recreation centre will he about £14 million in actual expenditure together with capital costs running from 1971, when the hon. Gentleman's council had something to do with it, up to 1983 when the scheme will be finished.
When the scheme is finished we will have spent about £14 million. The annual interest charges will be about £2 million a year. I understand that the running costs will be about £2 million a year. So when I say the scheme was more expensive than Versailles I hope no one will accuse me of exaggeration. The cost to ratepayers before subsidy to maintain the centre will be a rate of 7p in the pound. That will impoverish Lambeth.
The owner of a property with a rateable value of £300 will pay £21 a year for the maintenance of the sports centre. The terrible impoverishment and burden that the centre places on Lambeth was recognised by the former leader of the council in Lambeth, Mr. Ted Knight. He discussed with Mr. Ken Livingstone, the leader of the GLC, the possibility of the sports centre, which is 'likely to bankrupt Lambeth, being taken over by the GLC. I should like to have an assurance that the GLC will consider taking over the sports centre. I should like to see it partly taken over by the GLC because of the massive financial burden that is imposed on the ratepayers of Lambeth. I make no secret of that.
However, there is a second principle. The sports and recreation centre will provide about 39 different types of activity, ranging from acrobatics to yoga. The centre will be so massive that it could provide a regional sports centre for South London. If central Government and the Greater London Council are prepared to devote large sums of money to complexes such as Covent Garden, the Royal Festival Hall or the National Theatre—I have not yet been to the National Theatre but it strikes me that one would need to go to a course at Morley College to learn how to even book the tickets there—I do not see any reason why equally large sums of money should not be devoted to projects such as Lambeth sports and recreation centre which provides, at the other end of the scale, activities and recreation for ordinary working-class people. I make a plea to the Greater London Council to continue those discussions which were started by Councillor Knight to get out of the most gigantic financial mess which was created by this expenditure so improvidently embarked upon in the first place by the Minister.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)
There has been a notable lack of address by hon. Members to the issues raised by the Bill, and I shall briefly seek to remedy at]east part of that.
Criticisms have been made by some hon. Members, for example, of the expenditure of moneys for the creation of industrial employment. Criticisms have also been made by them of post-war regional and urban development policies on the ground that those have been against the interests of London. It is quite important to set the record straight on the matter. If we take, for example, the industrial development certificates which have been highly criticised in recent years a:; shifting jobs out of London, studies of the effects of those IDCs showed that, in fact, only about 5 per cent. of applications made for such certificates in the South-East of England over a given test period were refused. So we are talking about refusals involving only about one-twentieth of the projects concerned.
By contrast, the Canning Town study showed that more than half of the jobs lost in industry in that area over more than 10 years have been through the outflow of only half a dozen large companies, and that migration from London had been either to new towns or to development areas or abroad. This is one of the main issues which London faces in employment terms, because one of the biggest problems posed for medium-sized firms in inner city areas is the size and market share of big business. It is critically difficult, for infant enterprises as for infant industries, to be assured that they can get through adolescence to gain the stength to survive into adulthood. It is widely recognised not only throughout Europe but in the United States and, not least, in Japan that firms at this critical size need external assistance and support if they are to survive, quite apart from flourish.
It is very much in the spirit of that kind of assistance and intervention that this Bill is proposing powers for spending on industrial employment creation. I strongly recommend it to the House, since some hon. Members have spoken in this debate about getting jobs back to London. Those big businesses which have moved out will not come back to London, partly because of constraints on location and sites, and partly because their more recent investment has been elsewhere.
So we have to talk about two main dimensions to an industry and employment policy. One must be the defence of those firms which are threatened with failure under an acidly severe economic climate, with falling sales in a period of depression. Secondly, we must seek to promote and reinforce success in those small and medium-sized firms which otherwise would not have much chance of success in this hostile climate. It is in precisely those areas that the proposals for the Greater London Enterprise Board and the proposals recommended by the employment committee of the GLC are admirable, are supported by international experience, and offer some promise both for the protection of jobs and job creation in the London area.
Not only will the council be contributing to the funding of the local corporation development agencies, it will also be ready to give financial assistance and joint venture assistance to firms in the private sector that could otherwise have been faced with difficulty. That is to avoid the euthanasia of the small-time entrepreneur in major inner city areas. It is paralleled by interesting and positive new developments in such areas as the West Midlands, 1169 where the West Midlands Enterprise Board is trying to do the same thing. It is in the same spirit as the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies, only more so, in that progress here is focused on enterprise rather than simply on environmental, recreation or land improvements. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) is leaving the Chamber.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
My hon. Friend has had to answer a call of nature. He asked me to tell the hon. Gentleman that as he thought that he would make that very point.
§ Mr. Holland
I have other comments in store for the hon. Gentleman when he returns. My regret in this context is that he claimed that he stood by and defended the manifesto of the Labour Party at the last elections. It was for both national and regional enterprise boards. That is precisely what is being advanced by the GLC now. The joint venture formula and the co-operative development formula is matched by an extremely important proposal, which is that the marketing of such firms, especially their overseas marketing, should be assisted by a London agency rather than many small firms being left on their own.
There are small and medium-sized firms that do not have the capacity to send a specialised export representative either to Scandinavia or to Latin America, or to other world markets.
I trust and hope that the Greater London Enterprise Board will be able to build on the possibility of providing export representation in key foreign markets for small and medium-sized firms in the London area, not least as, under the free working of the market, we have seen from the British Export Trade Research Organisation's study that, whereas between them the Germans and the Japanese have between 10 and 11 permanent export representatives in key markets, British firms on average have either one person or no one. To pursue a cricketing metaphor, the organisation said that it was strange to hope to win in world markets against a German or Japanese 11 when we could field no one or only one person. It is in that capacity that the Greater London Enterprise Board could be significant, even with a minimal team, if it represented London enterprises in world markets.
I trust that the sums concerned in the Bill will not be considered inordinate or out of scale to the task, granted the extent to which London and particularly inner London are suffering from major unemployment levels.
Transport and housing have also been referred to. It is of great interest that the main, clearest and dominant issue in the GLC election campaign was that of transport—the policy of "Fares Fair". While many people may previously have thought that the Labour Party was exaggerating by recommending either a reduction or the abolition of the powers of the House of Lords, the British public have had no better example than the fate of the "Fares Fair" policy of why the powers of the second Chamber or that of certain Law Lords, in relation to this House, should be restricted. We have geriatric judges deciding how London's transport should be run, rather than the relationship between electors and local councillors being recognised in the way that the Secretary of State for Transport, in a statement to this House, interpreted the Transport (London) Act in 1969. 1170 On housing, the tragic disbandment of the GLC's strategic housing capability means that any real policy of mobility from centre to periphery is now impossible. There used to be 2,500 or more transfers from Lambeth each year. The fact that that movement has now virtually ground to a halt is a prime reason why my constituents face real problems.
Finally, I suggest that the part of the speech of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford in which he tried to excite himself with visions of the flames of Marxist revolution should be addressed, if not consigned, to item 4(b) of the schedule dealing with refuse disposal.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) did not address his speech to the Bill, as every item with which my hon. Friend dealt related to the proposals contained in the Bill. While I am content to hear criticism in the House I believe that it should be generously and accurately made. The hon. Member for Vauxhall may disagree about the length of my hon. Friend's speech, but he will see from Hansard that it cannot be argued that my hon. Friend did not address himself to the Bill, as every topic with which he dealt was an item of expenditure covered by the Bill. Over the years, Members of the House have tried to be generous to one another even when they disagree. I therefore wished to put on record the inaccuracy of the hon. Gentleman's accusation.
The hon. Member for Vauxhall touched briefly on a part of the Bill that I regard as scandalous and on which I shall concentrate as it is a vital subject. On many occasions, I have raised in the House the problems of housing in my constituency. When the transfer of housing was being dealt with, I tried to persuade the Government that their move was mistaken. Schedule 1 gives a figure for housing of £91 million for a full year and some £56.7 million for the next six months. That sounds a great deal of money until one recalls the time when we argued against the transfer of GLC properties. In those days, of course, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) was at the Department of Health and Social Security, but his predecessor most courteously discussed and listened to my arguments against that policy.
It was decided to take a sample of 2,000 GLC properties that were to be transferred in order to ascertain how much money would be needed by the boroughs to bring those properties up to a reasonable standard. Before that period, which must have been August or September 1980, it had been argued that no money would be required, that previous transfers had been undertaken voluntarily, and that there was therefore no need for any special treatment for the seven boroughs which were to have properties thrust upon them.
At that time, I drew attention to the problems of Hackney and to the fact that my borough was expected to take 17,000 transferred properties. I highlighted the condition of estates such as the Provost and Haggerston estates. I pointed out that the properties were in an appalling condition and that for Hackney borough council to take full responsibility for repairing them and bringing them up to the required standard of fitness would be too expensive. Finally, the Minister took heed and a sample of 2,000 properties was taken. 1171 The discoveries that emerged were alarming. To his credit, the Minister responsible—the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg)—decided that the sample was insufficient and that a sample of 5,000 should be taken. By January 1981, analysis of that larger sample had shown conclusively that the properties were in a desperate state and that it would cost a great deal for the boroughs to take them over and bring them up to a fit state.
During the discussions, there were arguments as to what was a fit state. Finally, it was decided that £50 million over 10 years would be required to allow the boroughs that were the receivers of those properties to spend £1,250 a unit each year to bring them up to the fit standard. The Minister will recall that I objected strongly that it could not conceivably be right in relation to the 17,000 properties that would be affected in my part of Hackney.
I provided examples of estate after estate, both old and new, including properties that had been converted. I said that it was nonsense to believe that it would only take £1,250 each to bring the properties to a fit state. Moreover, that reckoning excluded the communal parts of the estates such as the lifts and the roofs where, every week, people discover that their goods are destroyed by the amount of water that comes through. I said that three or four times the amount of money that had been estimated would be required if we were to put those properties into decent repair.
I went further and pointed out to the Government that not only did the amount of money appear to be insufficient but that the GLC did not even know what its property was. Not only was it ignorant of the condition of the properties but it did not even know whether it owned them. I gave the Government many examples of that. I said that it was quite wrong to try to make 1 April of this year the date for transfer and that the council could not conceivably do the things that needed to be done to achieve a smooth transfer. I pleaded with the Government not to allow the transfer on that date.
With hindsight, we see only too well the chaos that has resulted in Hackney from the transfer of GLC property, because now no transfers of tenants are taking place. One keeps petitioning the council to permit the transfer of tenants of constituents who are requesting transfers for the most desperate reasons. The council replies that it has stopped the transfers because the housing department is in chaos and the council is unable to cope. I said in the House in March that Hackney borough council had enough housing problems of its own with many properties that fall below standard. I said that it would be impossible for the council to assimilate a further 17,000 properties that are in an appalling state, especially with the lack of knowledge that surrounds them.
Now the council writes to me, but it is a bit late in the day. No doubt the constituents of the hon. Members for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) and Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Roberts) are suffering the same problems because we must all deal with the same housing department.
The Minister will also recall that I complained bitterly to him about the mobility scheme. I intervened earlier when my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) said—I commend his words—that the Minister is extremely likeable and that we feel he does a good job. I do not dissent from that opinion but I disagree with the Minister when he tells me that the mobility 1172 scheme is working. I send him letter after letter and case after case and now finally he tells me that he is sorry, but that the scheme does not seem to be working in Hackney. That is what I told him in the first place.
No doubt the Minister will tell me that Hackney has only 1 per cent. of the total lettings in any one place and that they are over-subscribed. That is what I say. Had we had the 250,000 homes available through the GLC for letting, we would have done much better. I do not argue that matters used to be better, but there would have been a much better chance of our constituents being rehoused. Now the Minister says that Hackney seems to get the short end of the stick but that is because so many Hackney people wish to move to Loughton, Debden or Ongar. That is what I predicted. It is not for the Minister to tell me that the mobility scheme is working, because I know that my hon. Friends are in the same position. If it is working well, I wish to know where.
The Minister Kindly sent me some booklets and said that I should tell my constituents to read them. They say that the tenant should apply to his council to be nominated to another area. If he is nominated, that borough council will be responsible for inviting him to see a property. That sounds good, except that the first obstacle, if one asks to be nominated to Hackney council, is that it is oversubscribed. In the end, tenants are not being nominated.
The lucky people in my constituency who were nominated to the GLC before 1 April and who were patiently waiting for their transfer, have now been told by Hackney council that all bets are off because of the chaos caused by the transfer of GLC properties. The council has decided that there: will be no more nominations pending a resolution of the chaos. Now we have the position that someone who has waited patiently for two to three years, who has been nominated to somewhere in Essex and who has been moving up the priority list has suddenly had his nomination withdrawn. The nomination will be reassessed in Hackney and not in the other borough. Someone who was formerly high on the list will now find his case reassessed on a different basis and may be further down the list because Hackney borough council has decided that homeless people take priority.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
Does the hon. Gentleman also agree that the two principal arguments upon which he has embarked are closely enmeshed? It would cost millions of pounds to refurbish, for example, the Trowbridge estate, where people are driven to desperation because of fungus, dampness and other miseries that seem incapable of solution. Does not one thing build upon the other?
§ Mr. Brown
That is correct. A group of Hackney tenants passed a resolution condemning the GLC for what has happened. It is the Minister's responsibility.
In a joint report of the housing, finance and general purposes and staff committees of the GLC published on 15 February 1982, the Minister will find postulated the position that we now face as a result of his activities. It states:The detailed effects of this very low allocation can be summarized in the following proposals which give priority to the renovation programmes: (1) The Council can only start new building schemes (beyond those in contract) on a handful of sites, totalling perhaps only 300 dwellings instead of the 1,500 proposed; (2) There will be no more new seaside and country homes schemes".I saw two constituents this evening, whom I referred to the Minister and his predecessor. They wished to leave 1173 their mobile homes in my constituency and to move to other mobile homes in Hammersmith. Hammersmith Council cannot help them because it has said that it would rather demolish them than let them. The man is in his eighties and his sister is in her seventies. They are capable people and they now want to go to a seaside home if they cannot go to Hammersmith. I asked the right hon. Gentleman what I could tell Mr. Hutchinson and Mrs. Bracey. The right hon. Gentleman replied saying "I cannot help you. I do not know." Due to the Government's activities that have been imposed upon it, the GLC is saying that there will be no more new seaside and country homes schemes. Did the Minister agree that with the GLC? He has seen the proposal in the Bill and it is clear that he knew that these schemes would be stopped.
It continues:No new home loans will be made.Does the Minister support that? Are the Conservative Government supporting that concept? One of my constituents saw me again this evening because he wants to buy his home in Stoke Newington. I had to tell him that I would be raising the matter tonight with the Minister. Has the Minister agreed that statement, that no new home loans will be made?
The document carries on:Further aid to housing associations will stop.Has the Minister agreed that with the GLC? I understand that the Minister supports the Bill, and I understand the collusion between the two Front Benches. They are as one on this. Does the Minister confirm that he is approving the money knowing that further aid to housing associations in London will stop?
Then:The homesteading programme will cease.Does he now agree to that after all we heard last year about homesteading and its value and virtues? He has now agreed with the GLC and the Opposition Front Bench to accept the Bill knowing that the result will be that the homesteading programme will cease.
It continues:No new housing action areas will be declared.The Minister continually writes to me pointing out the importance of the housing action areas. He has told me that that is the one area where there will be no cutback. He knows the problems of Hackney. There are 15,000 families on the waiting list. Tonight he is saying that no new housing action areas in London will be declared by the GLC.
The next point is:There will have to be a cut-back in the intended rate of spend on renovation, improvement and major technical problems.That sounds technical unless one knows what it means. Further down the page it is explained:It was planned to carry out £73 million of work in this area"—that is renovations, improvements and major technical programmes—which is badly needed and is a commitment in transfer of estate terms.That was the figure the Minister gave me as the figure that would be spent on the properties that were transferred foolishly on 1 April. The hon. Gentleman persuaded the House to accept the order that enabled the transfer to take place on the basis that the necessary money would be 1174 available. The Bill states specifically that it is impossible to allocate more than £60 million. That is £13 million short of the agreed programme.
The GLC acknowledges that the London borough councils will feel some sense of disappointment. Undoubtedly they will, and their sense of disappointment will be the keener because they will realise that the Government have deliberately walked away from an undertaking. The Minister will be in breach of the undertaking that he gave me. I am becoming used to such things happening to me, but what is more serious is that he gave a commitment to the House.
How can he justify walking away from that commitment? It seems that the sum of £91 million was arrived at because the Minister agreed and conspired with the GLC to make it impossible to do the work that is necessary—[Interruption.] I see that the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry), the Government Whip, is tapping his watch. If he attended my surgeries and heard of the misery that my constituents are suffering, he would understand why I wish to draw these matters to the attention of the House. The hon. Gentleman will support the Bill in the knowledge that the Minister has defrauded me and the House. He promised that the money would be spent—it would have been the minimum amount—and now it will not be spent.
It is no good the Minister smiling about this. This is a serious matter. The Minister gave me an undertaking following the one given by his predecessor. He introduced an order to enable the transfer to take place. It is outrageous that he should now—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Southgate continues to make interjections from a sedentary position. I do not know whether he wishes to intervene. I have not been speaking for very long and I wish to address the House on a matter of great urgency for my constituents. Once this opportunity has passed I shall never be able to take up this issue again.
I wish to draw the attention of the House, my constituents and the world at large to the fact that the Minister gave me and the House an undertaking. When a Minister gives an undertaking we expect it to be honoured. When I was told that a sum had been provided to enable Hackney borough council to carry out repairs to its GLC transferred property, I expected that undertaking to be honoured. The Minister is privy to the relevant documentation and he is responsible for the decision not to spend the money as he promised he would.
I had no intention of dividing the House but I now intend to do so because I wish to see how the Minister will respond. It is outrageous that he has agreed to allow the Bill to be enacted in the full knowledge that he has cheated my constituency. I have much more to say but suffice it to say I want an answer from the Minister.
§ Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)
The House will understand my inability to make the valid contribution that London deserves from the official Opposition on a major Bill for London. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) and his hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) have taken up more than half the time that was made available for the debate. They have had the effrontery to ask question after question of the Minister and of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard), the sponsor of the Bill, and to expect the answers to be 1175 produced in the remaining few minutes. They have treated the House with contempt and I intend to treat their contributions with the contempt that they deserve.
The Opposition welcome the Bill. It is needed and London will take a lesson from the behaviour of the two hon. Members. They have been a thorough disgrace to the Social Democratic Party and to the House.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)
I intervene briefly to give the House the Government's view of the Bill. Unlike most London debates in which I have taken part, this has been less of a debate and more of a monologue. As the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) has said, it was extremely selfish of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) to appropriate to himself roughly half the time that was available.
The Government in no way wish to hold up this Bill. The GLC, like any other local authority, is subject to the controls on capital expenditure in the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. The Council is unique in that, since the time of the London Government Act 1933, both it and its predecessors have presented to Parliament for approval an annual money Bill specifying the amount of prescribed expenditure and expenditure it can undertake during the current financial year and the following six months. This arrangement has been modified but not superseded by the controls in the 1980 Act. The GLC does not escape the overall control of local authority expenditure exercised by central Government. The provisions of the Bill are scrutinised and agreed before the Bill is deposited.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) for a specific assurance, and that is all that I would like to deal with in my intervention. I will try to deal with the other questions by correspondence. The hon. Member asked for an assurance that there would be no adverse effect on the GLC's capital spending power next year as a result of its enforced lending to London Transport last year. Approval of next year's Bill will rest with the House, but I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will not oppose the council depositing next year's Bill in the form that protects it from suffering a penalty on capital expenditure as a result of last year's lending to London Transport.
I reject the allegation made by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) that I or my predecessor misled the House. I regret that I cannot answer all the detailed questions that he posed for the reason that he has not left me the time in which to do so.
I commend the Bill to the House and say that it is consistent with the Government's overall strategy towards local government.
§ Mr. Stallard
May I try to reply to some of the points raised by one or two hon. Members who have spoken. I regret that insufficient time is left to reply to the large number of questions that were put to me by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) and by his hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). I should like to have had more time to discuss the matter in detail with the hon. Member 1176 for Erith and Crayford and to explain to him what are the real reasons for the money Bill rather than those he seemed to think existed For this kind of debate.
The House has listened to an extremely enlightening, if that is the right word, and, in part, interesting debate. There were parts of it that were absolutely the province of the local authority chamber or the GLC at best. Certainly they related not to the money Bill but to a wide variety of other aspects of the Greater London Council's general work as well as the London Transport Executive. In no way could we pass off a debate on the revenue estimates as a debate on the money Bill. It is a complete travesty of the reasons for the debate on the money Bill. Discussion on capital estimates should not be used in that way.
As I said, many points were raised in the course of the debate to which I would dearly love to reply, but it is obvious that time will rule that out. All I can say to hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel)—who raised the first question on arts and recreation—is that I would dearly have loved to give him a detailed reply. He took the trouble to find the statistics, but because of the time taken by members of the SDP in making their speeches it appears that I shall not he able to give the hon. Member for Twickenham the reply that his question so rightly deserved.
All I can say to the hon. Member and to all those other hon. Members who raised extremely important, interesting and relevant points is that I have taken note of them I will take them away and will try to reply directly in conversation with those hon. Members; or, if that is not possible, I will try to make sure that in conjunction with the officers at the Greater London Council a reply is sent to those hon. Members who have shown a genuine interest in the affairs of Greater London Council and who are trying to take part in a constructive debate on the Greater London Council Money Bill.
I hope that the House will allow the Bill to proceed to its next stage and that eventually we shall get the Royal Assent before the time has expired.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 113,Noes 5
|Division No.228]||[10 pm|
|Amery,Rt Hon Julian||Davis,Terry(B'ham,Stechf'd)|
|Berry, HonAnthony||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Evans,John(Newton)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Fisher, SirNigel|
|Brittan,Rt. Hon. Leon||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Foster, Derek|
|Budgen,Nick||Fraser, Peter(South Angus)|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Garel-Jones,Tristan|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Cocks,Rt Hon M.(B'stol S)||Gray,Hamish|
|Cook,Robin F.||Greenway, Harry|
|Cryer,Bob||Harrison,Rt Hon Walter|
|Davis, Clinton(HackneyC)||Haynes, Frank|
|Ogden,Eric||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Mr. Ron Brown and|
|Sandelson, Neville||Mr. James Wellbeloved.|
|Homewood,William||Page, Richard (SW Herts)|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Pendry,Tom|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Prescott,John|
|Lang, Ian||Price, C.(Lewisham W)|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Proctor, K.Harvey|
|Leighton, Ronald||Rhys Williams,SirBrandon|
|McWilliam,John||Sheldon,Rt Hon R.|
|Marland,Paul||Silkin, Rt Hon J.(Deptford)|
|Marlow,Antony||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C.(Dulwich)|
|Tinn,James||White, Frank R.|
|van Straubenzee, Sir W.||Young, SirGeorge(Acton)|
|Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Viggers, Peter||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Wainwright,E.(Dearne v)||Mr. Alfred Dubs and|
|Wakeham,John||Mr. Frank Dobson.|
|Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed