HC Deb 06 July 1983 vol 45 cc273-5
12. Mr. Proctor

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has any plans to review his policy towards the inner cities; and if he will make a statement.

14. Mr. Arnold

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the level of funds available for urban aid programme.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

As I told the House on 23 June, the Government will maintain the strong commitment to the inner cities developed over the last four years. This is demonstrated by the doubling of urban programme resources in that period to £348 million in the current year. We shall continue to give priority to the areas most in need and use public money to attract private sector investment and support self-help.

Mr. Proctor

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Prime Minister's comment yesterday about Merseyside —that not all the problems can be solved by spending public money — applies throughout inner city policy? Does he further accept that some strains and stresses in the inner cities are not caused by an absence of resources? Does he also accept that there should be greater help for genuine voluntary effort to help the inner city areas to solve their own problems?

Mr. Jenkin

Not all problems are solved by throwing money at them. That is obvious wisdom. Nevertheless, when dealing with the dereliction and decay caused by many years of almost unbroken Labour administration, as is so often the case, there is no alternative but to help to prime the development with some public money. I hope that my hon. Friend will applaud the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, when he was Secretary of State for the Environment, in developing the urban development grant, which in the inner cities is now attracting £4 of private investment for every £1 of public money.

Mr. Arnold

During the current interdepartmental policy review, will my right hon. Friend seek a larger role for his Department's programmes at the expense of those of the Department of Trade and Industry, which have created serious anomalies as well as distorting competition?

Mr. Jenkin

I note carefully what my hon. Friend says. My Department is closely involved in that review.

Mr. Janner

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that, far from throwing money at local authorities, the Government's meanness in dealing with these desperate problems has helped to exacerbate a dangerous position not only in the inner cities but in some outer areas with great council estates, such as Braunstone in my constituency, where unemployment is more than 60 per cent.?

Mr. Jenkin

I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will take note of the initiatives that have been taken on some of the great council estates, such as on Merseyside, where the private sector has come to the rescue and, through a partnership arrangement with the local authority, has succeeded in transforming the estates to such an extent that people are anxious to buy their houses and flats. When the hon. Gentleman is next in Merseyside, he should visit Cantril Farm estate or Minster Court to see what can be done by way of improvements.

Mr. Wheeler

Looking at the special problems of inner London, does my right hon. Friend agree that the City of London and the city of Westminster between them provide 30 per cent. of the rate base and that the rate equalisation scheme bears heavily on the poor and on the commercial community? Will he undertake to review that scheme at an early opportunity?

Mr. Jenkin

We must consider the way in which the scheme would work in the restructuring of government in London. People on low incomes are substantially protected from high rates through the unified housing benefit and the rate rebate that goes with it. The problem of commercial rates in many inner city areas is one of acute crisis and one of the reasons behind our decision to take action on rate limitation.

Mr. Kaufman

As the Secretary of State has told the House how much he dislikes the 2p rate provision in section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972, how can he laud to the skies the urban development grant system which depends utterly on the section 137 2p rate under the Local Government Act 1972?

Mr. Jenkin

The right hon. Gentleman should not distort what I said. I do not dislike the section; I dislike the way in which some irresponsible Labour authorities are using it.