§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I beg to move,That this House is of the opinion that the Government's proposals to cancel the 1985 elections to the Greater London Council and the Inner London Education Authority are an affront to democracy and a fundamental attack upon the liberties of the people; notes that unemployment has risen in Greater London by 241,507, since May 1979 and that the number of persons claiming supplementary allowance in Greater London has increased by 240,800 since May 1979; notes the likely devastating effects upon the education service of Inner London of the proposals incorporated in the Rates Bill; further notes that hospitals, wards and units are under threat of closure in London as a direct consequence of the Government's public expenditure policies; and calls upon the Government completely to withdraw all the legislative proposals it has made to dismantle the structure and destroy the direct accountability of the Greater London Council and the Inner London Education Authority, and to bring forward policies designed to end the scandals of mass unemployment, poverty and reductions in the quality of public services in the capital city.
The Benches resemble the enclosure at Hartlepool United football ground on a bad Saturday afternoon, but I expect that hon. Members will drift in as the morning continues.
The primary purpose of my motion is to bring to the attention of the House what amounts to a deliberate and systematic attack by the Government on the democratic rights and living standards of Londoners. Everyone is affected by the former, and a growing number are affected by the latter. Although London is often regarded as the cornucopia of the country, it is a region in which great extremes of wealth and poverty exist side by side. In London, as elsewhere, we live in a divided society—a society where the Government are effectively at war with the people.
London, like nowhere else in the United Kingdom, can demonstrate enormous disparities of wealth, opportunity and circumstances. To the well-heeled visitor or the privileged resident, London can truly be a magic city where all needs and desires can be satisfied, but at a price. However, if our visitor cares to wander from the luxury hotels, restaurants and night clubs of Mayfair to the Charing Cross Embankment, Vauxhall or Spitalfields, he will see the army of the ragged and dispossessed who nightly wrap themselves up in cardboard and newspapers and sleep rough on London's streets. Our visitor might be shocked to see how many of those people are young, who are unable to find jobs or who, if they have been lucky enough to find jobs, cannot find a home in the city. Our visitor might also notice that many of the dispossessed clearly suffer from mental disorders. That is what happens 1072 when hospitals close and the non-critical long-term disabled are forced back into communities that simply cannot care for them.
It is estimated that 50,000 people are homeless in London every night. Not all, of them sleep on the streets. The lucky ones manage to get a place in a hostel, a reception centre or a bed-and-breakfast establishment. There are 200,000 people on London's housing waiting list, yet we have the scandal of 32,000 unemployed building workers in London alone. Government policies have resulted in the lowest level of housing starts in London since 1924, yet office blocks continue to be built despite the millions of square feet of unlet office space that we see all round us in the city.
Where is the sense in all this? What humanity is it that condemns thousands of Londoners to sleep rough, and thousands of people to remain on housing waiting lists, yet keeps those building workers on the dole? There are needs to be satisfied, and there are workers who have the skill to satisfy those needs, but the system prevents the demand from being met.
Since 1979 unemployment in London has increased by more than 240,000 and is now about 370,000. It must be remembered that that represents the largest concentration of unemployed people in the country. We hear, rightly, about the problems of other regions but, despite the fact that the House is located in London, we do not hear enough about the real problems of London, which equal and surpass the problems of most other areas.
The increase in unemployment since 1979 has been a result of the policies of a Government who, in the 1979 general election, used the slogan, "Labour isn't working." By that con trick on the people of London and of the country, the Government have, since 1979, reintroduced mass unemployment as a deliberate economic policy. Its purpose is to prop up an ailing capitalist system that cannot survive unless the welfare state is steadily dismantled, the wages of those in work are forced down and the living standards of the majority are steadily eroded.
In 1983, for the first time in 200 years, Britain ran a balance of payments deficit on its manufactured trade, a fact that was not widely reported in the Tory press. In 1983, we also recorded historically high figures for bankruptcies and unemployment. What a record — a treble of truly titanic proportions; and in economic terms Britain is daily looking more and more like the Titanic, with the Prime Minister standing on the quayside still trying to sell us tickets for the maiden voyage.
The right hon. Lady says that she bats for Britain. Apart from putting up the occasional dolly catch for her son Mark, all the signs are that her innings will end in a rather dramatic run-out for the British economy. It is the once-for-all bonus of North sea oil that is effectively preventing Britain from going bankrupt, but when the oil runs out the true extent of the capitalist crisis will become apparent and the impact in economic and social terms will not be pleasant to experience. The Prime Minister is effectively destroying the country's economy, and if she is still in power when the oil revenues stop Britain will have been transformed into a banana monarchy beset by massive social tensions that will affect London far more critically that any other region.
Perhaps the Government have already worked out the likely social consequences of their kamikaze economic policies, which is perhaps why they are so busily pumping resources into the armed services and the police. Perhaps 1073 the Government need them to suppress the civil population later this decade. Who knows? We can only observe the facts and interpret them. I am rather disturbed to see that Conservative Members seem to think that this is funny. Earlier in my speech I left our well-heeled visitor to London contemplating the sleepers on the Embankment and I suggest that some hon. Members, at an appropriate moment, should stroll out from the House and down to the Embankment to see what goes on in the city every night. Some of them would then realise just how serious London's problems are becoming.
I shall now take our visitor to the east end where, away from the centre, he can see the miseries that are caused or exacerbated by Government policies, and they may be seen in depressing abundance. The borough of Newham is ranked by the Department of the Environment as the second worst off of all the local authority areas in England. The worst-off area is Hackney and the third worst-off is Tower Hamlets; all three stand close together and present a depressing picture of the east end in 1984.
It is an area characterised by much poverty, few jobs and no hope. In Newham, since the Tory victory of 1979, unemployment has increased by 242 per cent. and now stands at 19.4 per cent. of the working population, which is much higher than the national average. Large numbers of Newham residents work in the low income socioeconomic groups — 13 per cent., compared with less than 9 per cent. in London as a whole. Less than 1 per cent. of residents are qualified professional workers and the figure for London as a whole is five times greater. Some 65 per cent. of Newham's housing tenants receive income support towards their housing costs and over 27,000 people receive supplementary benefit from the three DHSS offices in Newham.
Most depressing of all in this litany of depression is the way that the problems of Newham are clearly being passed on to the next generation. Some 61 per cent. of Newham's children live in overcrowded accommodation and 15 per cent. live in households containing at least one unemployed adult.
Newham is one of the foremost deprived local education authority areas in the country. Of the 104 local authority areas in England, Newham has the highest percentage of children in low socio-economic groups and the highest percentage of children living in poor housing. What a miserable prospect for the children of the east end, when they see the conditions under which they and their parents live and the way that the whole of the east end is getting more depressing.
Housing in Newham is appalling. In the private sector in the borough, well over half the dwellings are unsatisfactory through unfitness, serious disrepair or lack of basic amenities such a fixed bath. Some 15 per cent. of Newham's households do not have their own bath or inside WC, the second highest percentage in the country. Homelessness in Newham is now higher than ever before, despite the efforts of the council, which in 1982–83 rehoused the third largest number of families in London.
Nearly a quarter of Newham's council accommodation is in the 107 tower blocks in the borough. Many people whose only wish is to get out of the tower blocks come to my surgery.
§ Mr. Banks
They were built by a Labour authority because of the cost yardsticks, the encouragement that was given to build in that way, and the pressure on land and the high cost of land in London. It was wrong of Newham to build them, but the pressures were on it. We are now living with the problems today. We cannot just ask, "Who built them?" The problem is how we will solve the problems created by the building of those tower blocks and the living accommodation that people now have. Let us address ourselves to solving those problems.
Few hon. Members will have had the experience of living in a tower block. It is not to be recommended, particularly when trying to bring up a young family, yet in Newham there are 800 young families still seeking rehousing in these blocks. In the 107 tower blocks, there are more people living above the tenth floor than in any other area in the country. It puts great pressures on people, and I am sure that hon. Members will be able to decide from their own experience the great social and psychological problems put on people when they have to live so high in the air.
The elderly in Newham are, if anything, in a worse position than the young, and that is saying something. For example, 20 per cent. of pensioners over 75 are without a plumbed-in bath. The 1982 standardised mortality rate for Newham is 15 per cent. higher than in the country as a whole and 20 per cent. higher than the average for southeast England. The perinatal mortality rate for Newham is 55 per cent. higher than the national average and 70 per cent. greater than the regional average. The high level of stress resulting from low incomes, unemployment, poor housing conditions and poor environment has resulted in unbearable demands being made on the borough's social services. As a borough, it simply cannot cope.
I recognise the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment as the acceptable face of Tory extremism today. He is known to have some social concern left. It has not yet been beaten out of him by his experience on the Government Front Bench. However, I must ask him why the borough of Newham was refused partnership status by the Government, which would at least have enabled it to face up to some of its problems.
Clearly one cannot blame all Newham's problems on the Government, and I do not seek to do so. However, all the problems that I have mentioned have become worse since 1979, and look likely to become even worse under present Government policies. London boroughs such as Newham simply cannot solve their problems with their own inadequate resources. There is only one way that the problems of Newham, which obtain in so many other boroughs — no doubt my hon. Friends will tell the House about those problems later—can be solved, and that is by the Government giving the financial support that is obviously necessary
However, instead of doing that, the Government have been systematically taking money away from the London boroughs. It is estimated that since 1979 London has lost more than £2,700 million of Government grants in real terms. In 1982 the Prime Minister sent a task force to the Falklands. Why is she apparently more concerned about the problems 8,000 miles away than about the massive problems on her own doorstep, which she does not have to travel 8,000 miles to see? I only wish that the right hon. 1075 Lady would send a task force to the east end of London and pursue it with the relentless vigour that she is so proud of boasting about when it comes to looking after British people 8,000 miles away. There are many British people in London, very near the right hon. Lady and the House, who would like to see her apply herself with the same vigour to solving their problems.
Hon. Members should remember that £1 billion per year is being spent on the Fortress Falklands policy. It could be far better spent on liberating London from the oppression of its many and varied problems. People in London and throughout the country are living off an inheritance. For example, the Victorians largely built London's sewerage system. Fortunately, they had the foresight to construct excellent sewerage systems, but London's system is cracking and breaking up and needs replacing. That can be done only by massive public investment on the part of the Government. Such work would benefit successive generations, would generate a lot of work in London and would do something for the appalling unemployment rate.
It has been estimated that £7,500 million is needed to bring London's housing stock up to a reasonable standard. That would bring immediate relief to many hundreds of thousands of Londoners and would also bring thousands of jobs to London. In that way, the Government would be meeting some socially desirable needs. However, they show no willingness whatever even to contemplate such a spending programme.
Perhaps the well-heeled visitor that I described earlier, who is still trying to recover from the misery of the social and economic decay of the east end, will recommend that Londoners should use the ballot box to make their feelings known to the Government. Here I come to the second part of my motion. Not content with denying Londoners the necessary economic support to enable them to confront their problems, the Government are now poised to take away an important element of their democratic rights in London. There will be ample opportunity to debate the detailed arguments surrounding the Government's proposals for the GLC and ILEA in the coming months, so I shall deal only with the principles today.
In the Tory party manifesto of June 1983 there appeared, much to the surprise of the electorate and most of the Tory Cabinet, an undertaking to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. Informed opinion leads us to believe that the GLC's extermination order came directly from the chief dalek herself, who, no doubt influenced by the balanced reporting about the GLC in the Daily Mail, The Sun and the Daily Express, had reached the conclusion that the advent of a radical Labour administration in County Hall signified the end of civilisation as she knows it. Oh, were that to be so.
It is well known in the House that the right hon. Lady hates opposition, whether it be from inside or outside her party. To her, opposition amounts to treason and must be dealt with accordingly. I find myself among those who are worried by the petty personal element so often introduced by the Prime Minister into her political decision making. In the case of the GLC, she has clearly developed a dislike for my very good friend Ken Livingstone to a point where it appears to have unhinged her judgment. Of course, the ministerial poodles will troop loyally behind. Personal antipathy is not a proper basis on which to predicate a major restructuring of local government in England. To paraphrase a well known jingle that is used to sell 1076 chocolates, it is all because the lady loathes red Ken. Because she does so, and takes such a personal view of politics and of opposition to her, the House is about to turn itself inside out to give legislative reality to a piece of party political vindictiveness.
I should remind the House that the GLC was created by a Conservative Government in 1963, after the detailed studies of a Royal Commission on local government in London, which was set up in 1957 under Sir Edwin Herbert and which reported in 1960. The Herbert commission recommended devolution to the boroughs of as many of London's services as possible. I encourage Conservative Members to read paragraphs 701 to 740 of its report. In those paragraphs, in the summary of findings, the commission specifically rejected the very sort of proposals that the Government have made 24 years later in their White Paper "Streamlining the Cities".
To talk, as Ministers do, of giving back GLC powers to the boroughs which they never had in the first place reveals an ignorance about London's local government that is quite breathtaking. In 1978, the Conservative GLC under Sir Horace Cutler — incidentally, I should just mention to the Government that he is still a bit miffed that he has not been given a peerage—set up an inquiry under Sir Frank Marshall, now Lord Marshall. It reasserted that a metropolitan authority was necessary to enable London government to function properly. Indeed, the present Secretary of State, who is now busily trying to make some sort of reality of his leader's vindictiveness, gave evidence to the Marshall inquiry. In his letter, dated 1 August 1977, he wrote:I therefore believe we have got progressively to return to the concept that the GLC is a strategic authority. It should not be a housing authority and the intention of the London Government Act that housing should be progressively handed over to the Boroughs should now be firmly implemented. The GLC's planning powers should be essentially strategic and provide the framework within which the Boroughs should operate the day-to-day planning controls. The GLC should remain responsible for London Transport"—ha, ha—and its transport planning should be progressively integrated with its strategic land use planning.The present Secretary of State for the Environment appears to have changed his mind radically since 1977. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman is also in favour of the measure to take the control of London Transport away from the GLC and give it to an unelected quango comprised of people appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport. That seems strange, for in 1977 he believed that the GLC should remain responsible for London transport.
How many more principles and apparently thought-out positions will Conservative Members sacrifice, turn inside out and reverse at a stroke merely because they are led by a Prime Minister who does not understand local government, who does not appreciate the structure of local government in London and who cannot have any realisation of the damage that her policies are doing to local democracy and efficiency in London?
From what the Government say in their White Paper, they are proposing machinery which was dismantled in 1888, when the Local Government Act of that year set up the directly elected London County Council. The Government are proposing now to take London back to the days of the Metropolitan Board of Works, which was set up in 1855. We have heard of the Prime Minister's great love for Victorian values. She clearly has a love for 1077 Victorian local government because we are about to be taken back by her to the local government structures of the last century.
An editorial in The Times in 1859 said of the Metropolitan Board of Works, as it then was:The system of double elections has never yet produced anything but cliques and jobbing. Unhappily, the Board spends our money and rates our property and we cannot afford to let them alone to their own devices.In 1984 the Government are apparently seriously suggesting that joint boards should compromise the future structure of local government in London.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
The real criticism of the Metropolitan Board of Works was the extent to which a double tier of that variety, particularly in respect of civil engineering contracts and other large items of patronage, gave scope for financial irregularities which all too often we are beginning to see as a result of some of the policies of the Conservative Administration.
§ Mr. Banks
I accept that, and the pressures which built up after 1855, following the setting up of that board, led to its being scrapped. Unless accountability is direct, the control cannot be sufficient. One need only consider what has happened with bodies set up subsequently, such as the Thames water authority. I am not suggesting that that is a corrupt body, but it is not subject to direct scrutiny and is not accountable. That means that discipline cannot be exerted on its day-to-day management.
§ Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)
Coming down to basics, will the hon. Gentleman say whether the metropolitan board which he has been criticising built the sewers and drains which he was praising earlier?
§ Mr. Banks
Yes, and I would not detract from the good works that the board did. Eventually, however, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) pointed out, because of a lack of scrutiny, that good work, if not brought to naught, was greatly diminished by the corruption and ineffeciencies that crept in.
When we have an opportunity to discuss the proposals which, no doubt, the Government will lay before the House for the abolition of the GLC, we shall be able to deal in detail with the way in which local government structures have developed, and on that occasion I shall hope for an interesting contribution from the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) on the activities of the Metropolitan Board of Works in Victorian London. It is a tale worth telling.
The Government intend to set up any number of joint boards which, together with unelected unaccountable quangos, will run the GLC services, and that means, in local government terms, taking us backwards in time. It may be a modicum of comfort to Conservative Members who share the Prime Minister's belief that the GLC is some sort of political monster, to note that the following was said of the LCC not long after its creation in 1889:Its notable feature was its radical aggressiveness. The violence of its denunciation of the City by some of its members and its persistence in indulging in attacks upon privilege and vested interests were uncompromising, almost ruthless.It appears that little changes when it comes to the attitude of people in authority to the running of London through County Hall, but the record speaks for itself. The GLC and LCC together have a record of achievement in London that is second to none.
§ Mr. Greenway
As one who formerly worked for the LCC, I subscribe to the hon. Gentleman's tribute to it, at least in education, where it had a good record. However, in housing, to which the hon. Gentleman referred extensively earlier, the LCC was principally responsible for establishing the high-rise blocks to which he took strong exception — [Interruption.] It was done in conjunction with local authorities, and while the GLC gave some support, it was a matter for local decision. The hon. Gentleman's borough of Newham, like Tower Hamlets and some others, has had a Labour council for over 50 years, so who has been responsible in that case?
§ Mr. Banks
I thought that I had made it clear why we had finished up with tower blocks. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) did not refer to the pressures imposed by successive Departments of the Environment on the LCC, the GLC and individual boroughs to build in the way that they did. I am not an apologist for the planners and architects of tower blocks. Indeed, I should like to see far more planners and architects living in their creations. They usually choose to live in very low-rise and luxurious accommodation as far from the centre of London as they can get. Some of them should come back years later to see just how much damage they have done in various parts of London.
I am not seeking to attribute blame. When I speak of the problems and the need to deal with them, I am not interested in recriminating but in bringing pressure on the Government to solve the problems in Newham, Tower Hamlets and many other inner boroughs.
§ Mr. Greenway
The hon. Gentleman has been arguing strongly for the preservation of the status quo which, by his own acknowledgement, has been responsible for creating those very problems.
§ Mr. Banks
No. It is the policies that are at fault, not the structures. However, it is the structures that the Government are proposing to change. It has gone about changing them in a superficial and almost flippant manner.
Two consistent features of London's government since 1855 are worth emphasising. First, there has always been a London-wide multi-purpose body. Secondly, each of the main changes to that body has been the subject of a commission or inquiry. However, changes to local government structures in London and in other parts of the country are now being based on what appears to be personal vindictiveness. It appears also that the proposals have been worked out on the back of an envelope. One can well imagine the horror and frustration of the civil servants who had the job of writing the White Paper. The glaring omissions and inaccuracies reveal its superficiality and its failure to address itself to London's problems.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
I ask the hon. Gentleman to give two explanations. First, what was meant by the passage that appeared in the Labour party's manifesto that referred to local government and its possible reorganisation? Secondly, why was it that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) never once during the election campaign said publicly that the GLC should continue?
§ Mr. Banks
I cannot be responsible for my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). In fact, I should like to know who is. The Labour party's manifesto addressed itself to the structures 1079 of local government and was a clear admission that we need to examine those structures. That should cause no great surprise. It should not be forgotten that the major reorganisations that were carried out in 1963 and 1972 were the results of Tory Government policies. If Conservative Members contend that the structures are all wrong now, they must take the blame, for they created them.
The Government are setting about making changes in an inadequate manner. Conservative Members must know in their hearts that the Government's proposals are no way to go about restructuring local government. We have a chuck-away sentence in an election manfesto that no one really thought very much about at the time. It was a good populist gesture that was rather like the Government's approach to the Falkland Islands. They probably had the idea that it would win a few votes. They decided to latch on to the campaign that was being waged by Fleet street against the GLC. They did so to get a few more votes.
When we examine the implications of the proposals in the Conservative party's manifesto and the White Paper, it is clear that the Government's proposals are inadequate. Indeed, they are intellectually insulting, and I am surprised that Conservative Members are not prepared to express some doubt, some feelings of trepidation, about the proposals for London and the metropolitan areas.
There are no costings in the White Paper. The Secretary of State for the Environment has plucked some figures out of the air. Despite close and intense questioning by my Front Bench colleagues, he has still failed to explain how he has reached his figures. I tabled a question which was answered by the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who embodies the other acceptable face of Tory extremism. Members such as the hon. Gentleman are always given the task of undertaking the nasty work. I asked the hon. Gentleman toestimate the costs of change and how they will be met in the event of the Greater London Council being abolished.He replied:It is not possible to give detailed estimates of savings or transitional costs at this stage. Much will depend on decisions to be made by the London borough councils."—[Official Report, 22 February 1984; Vol 54, c. 523.]That reply was given on 22 February and the consultative period ended on 31 January. The Government still do not know, or are still not telling us—I believe that they do not know—how much the reorganisation or butchering of local government will cost. There is no doubt that there will be a cost because no restructuring of local government in recent years has not led to higher costs and deteriorations in certain services.
We must always keep the structure of local government under close review, but the way that we go about doing that is perhaps the most important feature. Some hon. Members may be aware that I am still a serving member of the GLC. I do not come to this place as an apologist for the GLC. I accept that the GLC has its faults — [Interruption.] I shall try to think of one if I am given a chance to do so. However, abolition of the GLC is no way to get rid of its faults. If someone goes to his doctor and complains of a headache and the doctor chops his head off, the headache will disappear, but that treatment will not do much good for the rest of the body politic. The way in which the White Paper has been formulated and presented is an insult to London.
The Government have completed their consultative process on the proposals that are set out in the White 1080 Paper. I understand that they have received about 1.500 submissions. I am having a running battle with the Department of the Environment to get information out of it, for I should like to know far more about the contents of the submissions. Getting information out of the Department is rather like getting blood out of a stone.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
The hon. Gentleman should consult his friends on the Greater London council, who wrote most of the submissions. Many of the submissions have come from bodies that are funded by the GLC. The hon. Gentleman knows that.
§ Mr. Banks
The hon. Gentleman makes a wholly unwarranted point. Conservative Members can sit back and have a cheap snigger, but I suggest that the hon. Gentleman asks the Under-Secretary of State whether what he has said is true. If he cares to leave the Chamber—if he does so, I shall not be offended — to go to the Library, he will find a list of all the organisations that have made representations to the Government. That list is available only because I fought like crazy to force the Department's Ministers to put it there. If the hon. Gentleman reads the list, he will realise that his intervention was fatuous. If he thinks that all the national organisations that appear on the list are funded by the GLC, he must be off his rocker, or whatever the colloquial expression is that is used by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition these days. If he really thinks that they are so funded, that suggests a certain amount of mental derangement.
The Government have received 1,500 submissions and we are not getting information about them because most of them are opposed to what the Government are recommending. The overwhelming majority express opposition, and that goes for Conservative associations of local authorities, employers' organisations and stockbrokers. I have seen some of these pieces of evidence but not the whole 1,500. Eventually I shall see them all because I shall force the Department to give way. If it does not, I shall flood the Order Paper with questions.
When Conservative Members read the submissions, they will realise the extent to which the Government's proposals have found disfavour with most responsible bodies and have been rejected as unworkable.
§ Mr. Bottomley
Which associations of Conservative local authorities oppose the abolition of the GLC?
§ Mr. Banks
I think that the Association of Metropolitan Authorities has done so. I think that it opposes the GLC's abolition. The Association of County Councils rejects its abolition. These questions should be directed to Ministers of the Department of the Environment.
The Minister is sitting on much of the information. The idea that all submissions have been written by hacks and stooges of the GLC does not bear examination. There is cross-party opposition to the Government's proposals. If the hon. Gentleman wants another example, he only needs to walk over the bridge to County Hall. There is an interesting vista as one walks over there. Life gets more pleasant, the air becomes richer and cleaner, and the company improves radically. He should go over and talk to Conservative Members of the GLC—for example, Alan Greengross, the Tory leader of the GLC, and see whether he agrees with the Government's proposals. Conservative Members know very well that he does not.
1081 The Government are bing arrogant. They sit on their 140 majority. No doubt, if the right hon. Lady wanted to add an eighth day to the week, Conservative Members would all troop through the Lobbies to give her the eighth day. In London, however, opinion is very much against the Government's proposals. The recent Harris opinion poll, commissioned not by the GLC but by Thames Television, showed that 59 per cent. of Londoners thought that the GLC was doing a good or fairly good job, and an even larger proportion were opposed to the Government's suggestions.
§ Mr. Banks
In view of the time, I shall not give way. I know that Conservative Members are fascinated by what I am saying, but I detect a certain enthusiasm on the Opposition Benches to join the debate.
The Government do not propose to abolish the GLC services, but rather to abolish the GLC elections for those who have the responsibility for running those services. Probably some time next month — who knows, the Minister might let it slip out during his speech—the House will be asked to vote to abolish the 1985 GLC and metropolitan county council elections. The House will be asked to do that before it knows in any detail what successor bodies will be set up to take over the services of the GLC and the metropolitan authorities. We shall be asked to abolish the elections to a body that is still in existence and functioning, and the people of London will no longer be allowed to vote for it. I detect that opposition is growing among the people of London to the Government's proposals, as I think hon. Members on both sides will agree, and they will soon see how ruthless and arrogant the Tory Government have become. I maintain that the abolition of the GLC elections will create a shock wave of public reaction in London. Public opinion in London is already unhappy about the proposals, but when Londoners see the Bill to abolish the elections they will get really angry.
We come down to the fundamental issue: why not let the people of London decide? Why not allow elections to go ahead in 1985? If I am wrong—on rare occasions I am—Londoners will boot out the Labour party and put in Mr. Greengross and all his Tory supporters. I would prefer to see the election of a Conservative GLC through the ballot box than a Conservative Government attempting to neuter and emasculate the democratic process in London, because that is what they are doing. If the Government have any courage, they will let the people of London decide at the ballot box in 1985.
I do not expect Conservative Members to support my motion in the Lobby today. I do not expect the Government to change their policies, which are having such a destructive effect on our great city. In the final analysis, we can solve our problems in London and elsewhere only if we sweep away this uncaring and arrogant Government, and with them the wasteful and corrupting capitalist system. That will be our task as Socialists in the House.
§ Sir Anthony Berry (Enfield, Southgate)
It is an old custom of the House, and a nice one, to congratulate the hon. Member who comes first in the ballot. It has never 1082 happened to me, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and thank him for initiating a London debate. We all enjoy London debates. London Members enjoy them, and non-London Members enjoy them for other reasons. When the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill went through the House on the nod the other day, I thought that something had gone wrong. We missed the chance to have a debate on the subject, but now the hon. Gentleman has made it posible.
I wanted to find out whether the hon. Gentleman was my constituent. I do not think that he is. That may sound a rather odd thing to say, but his predecessor was my constituent, and I always think of him at this time of the year because my car licence comes up for renewal on the last day of February. Woe betide any hon. Member of any party who did not have an up-to-date car licence when Arthur Lewis was around.
I shall not take up all the hon. Gentleman's arguments. He spoke with great experience as a member of the GLC, and for that reason we listened to him intently. He knows that London Members are being bombarded with a great many coupons. One of them, which causes pensioners many worries about their concessionary fares, is quite disgusting. I shall come back to it in a moment.
I want to mention one coupon in particular, because it relates very much to what the hon. Gentleman was saying about democratic rights. It says:I demand my democratic right to vote in the 1985 GLC Election and urge you to vote against the Bill.It is interesting to see how far Londoners used those democratic rights when they had the opportunity to do so in voting for the GLC. I looked up the figures. I found that in 1964, 44 per cent. voted, the following time it was 41 per cent., in 1970 it was down to 35 per cent., in 1973 it was 37 per cent., in 1977 it was 43 per cent., and in 1981 it was at an all-time peak of 44.4 per cent. That does not show any great enthusiasm for voting at the GLC elections.
To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, I thought it only right to get the figures for Newham, the borough of which he represents a part. In 1964 as many as 30 per cent. of the Newham electors voted at the GLC elections. By 1967 the number had gone down to 25.3 per cent., and in 1970 it was 18.7 per cent. It has gone up a bit since then. The figures for the hon. Gentleman's constituency in 1973 were 18.9 per cent., in 1977 they were 29.7 per cent. and in 1981 they were an all-time peak of 33.1 per cent. In other words, less than one third of the voters in his constituency bothered to vote at the last GLC election. Indeed, it is not only at the GLC elections, because the figures for the borough elections in Newham are no better. They are 38, 35, 35, 31 and 31. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that when he talks about democratic rights in GLC elections, he should remember that the public have not shown any great enthusiasm for using those rights.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that if there is a relatively low turnout at the election, the election itself should be abolished and the democracy that goes with it swept away?
§ Sir Anthony Berry
No. I was saying that the bogus enthusiasm for the GLC elections claimed by this coupon is not borne out by the figures, which clearly show that the majority of Londoners do not bother to vote at GLC elections.
§ Mr. Tracey
Does my hon. Friend agree that we should set against that the general election figures in June 1983, when in many areas well over 70 per cent. of people turned out to vote, faced with a clear statement in the Conservative manifesto that the GLC would be abolished by a Conservative Government in power, and that in that election the Conservative party returned Conservative Members in London and received more votes than ever before?
§ Sir Anthony Berry
My hon. Friend is correct. The fact that London has twice as many Conservative Members as all the other parties put together is a clear sign of the voters' wishes.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey
The hon. Gentleman will accept that that is despite the fact that the Tory vote in London and nationally went down at the general election. There is no sign that support for the GLC's policy had any effect on improving the Tory Party's support in London. The Tory vote went down at the general election in London as it did everywhere else.
§ Sir Anthony Berry
Support for the Liberal Party and its representation in the House went down from two to one.
The Conservative manifesto clearly showed that we would abolish the GLC.
§ Mr. Corbyn
What proportion of Conservative candidates for London knew that their party was about to try to abolish the GLC? How many supported that policy, and how many included it in their election addresses? Did the right hon. member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) make any relevant remark on the matter during the election?
§ Sir Anthony Berry
That is a bit of a questionnaire, but I think that the answer is yes in every case. Certainly all the candidates knew that the abolition of the GLC was part of their policy. I cannot be certain that every candidate put it in his election address, because I have not seen them all, but I imagine that a large number did. I am sure that they made it clear to the electorate in their speeches.
§ Mr. Greenway
The third paragraph of my election address, as the Conservative candidate subsequently and handsomely elected the Member for Ealing, North, said:The GLC duplicates borough powers and is unnecessary and a massive waste of money. The present GLC has also prevented new jobs by holding up planning applications. New arrangements for London Government will be made by Conservatives; holders of GLC mortgages and other contracts will be safeguarded. The GLC has abused ratepayers' money for funding way-out organisations.There is plenty that I could say about that.
§ Sir Anthony Berry
I think that perhaps, to use lain Macleod's famous phrase, I should now intervene in my own speech.
§ Mr. Bottomley
More important than what Conservative candidates put in their election addresses is what the Labour candidates said. My Labour opponent said that he wanted to keep the GLC and he discovered that 3,000 fewer people voted for him. That should be put in the balance with the letters that go to the Secretary of State.
§ Sir Anthony Berry
That is very interesting and I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful contribution.
The important thing about the general election was that we made it clear that the GLC would be abolished, and that 1084 policy was endorsed by the London electorate. It was different in 1966 when the then Labour Government, two years after the first borough elections for the new, larger London boroughs, suddenly decided for their own good reasons—most boroughs being Labour controlled at that time, because the election had taken place in May 1964—that they would postpone borough elections for a year until 1968. There was no mention of that in the Labour party's manifesto in 1966. No Labour candidate in London in 1966 said that a Labour Government would postpone borough elections. The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) was Home Secretary at the time and he introduced the London Government Act 1967 which postponed those elections.
I do not often refer to my earlier speeches, because they were probably not particularly interesting even at the time, but on 15 November 1966 I said:If we do carry the Bill in due course, I think the electors of London will remember it for a long time. In particular, they will think of it when they vote."—[Official Report, 15 November 1966; Vol. 736, c. 295.]Well, they did, at the borough elections a year later, by which time untold damage had been done in many boroughs. All the secondary schools in Enfield were turned into comprehensives during that stolen year, against the wishes of the electorate. The Conservatives won Camden by 42 to 18; Haringey by 53 to seven; Lambeth by 57 to three; Islington by 47 to 10; and we even won Hackney. That just shows what Londoners thought about not having been told beforehand what would happen. That is the result of gerrymandering.
The abolition of the GLC is desperately needed. A great argument is going on about whether London needs a voice. It has never had one in the sense that the phrase is used, nor does it need one. Comparisons are made with other countries. The mayor of Paris is of no great standing as such. He is often a leading member of the Cabinet, arid not a mayor in the sense that ours are. The mayor of Bordeaux was Prime Minister. One hears about the mayor of New York mainly because New York went bankrupt a year or two ago. As for the leader of the Greater Moscow council, we do not hear a great deal. about him and I am not sure how he is elected.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West made considerable play of education. I am not entirely happy with the new arrangements for ILEA. I should not mind seeing some directly elected councillors on it, not merely representatives of borough councils in inner London. However, we can still consider that. Certainly all the figures show that the costs of ILEA are out of all proportion to the services that it provides and compared with the rest of the country. One only has to look at the nursery schools, whose rolls have dropped 16 per cent., while over the same period costs have risen by 76 per cent. Secondary school rolls are down 21 per cent. and their costs are up by 71 per cent.
§ Ms. Harriet Harman (Peckham)
Is it not the case that Britain has an appalling record on nursery school provision and pre-school education compared with most other EC countries and that ILEA is one of the few which Her Majesty's inspectors of education have said provides an adequate service? In fact, much more needs to be done to provide nursery education. Is the hon. Gentleman committed to nursery education, or would he like to see it abolished? If the Rates Bill goes through, nursery education will suffer enormously.
§ Sir Anthony Berry
I do not want to see nursery education abolished. I want to see it improved. My figures suggest that there is room for improvement. I want to see that in schools at all levels, and that is why reorganisation is needed.
The same is true in the colleges. London has the highest ratio of non-teaching staff to pupils in the country. I expect that the hon. Lady would like to see that improved. Expenditure goes up and up. In adult education, income covers only 9.3 per cent. of costs compared with a national average of 25.8 per cent. I should hate to see literacy, numeracy and help for the young unemployed suffer. I believe that the opportunity to take such subjects should be free for those who want to take advantage of them. But when wine tasting and bridge, in which I am interested, are free, the matter needs to be reconsidered. A considerable amount of unnecessary land is owned by ILEA which could be sold for the benefit of education in London.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) will refer to the police if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I shall not say much about that. However, the GLC gives two impressions. First, it suggests that it has some responsibility for the police, which is nonsense, and, secondly, that it is against the police. That is at a moment when law and order is such an important issue in our capital. I begin to wonder on which side the GLC is, and that is a strong reason for the Government's policy.
I want to know one thing from the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, who represents the GLC. Quite understandably, the GLC—
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
If the hon. Gentleman believes that London government should not have a structure, why does he think the London police force should have a structure?
§ Sir Anthony Berry
The police are doing an excellent job. The force is structured in the best possible way and has an excellent Commissioner. New schemes such as the neighbourhood schemes are proving of tremendous benefit.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West will know that a great deal of our constituents' money is being spent on propaganda — on the lush brochures, leaflets and magazines pouring out of County Hall. It would be interesting to know how much they cost. Obviously it is possible to do a costing on an individual magazine, but we do not know how many of them are being printed.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I am not here as a representative of the GLC. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman made a slip of the tongue. The GLC is probably spending about £1.5 million on the campaign to defend itself. The hon. Gentleman spoke about propaganda, but propaganda streams endlessly out of Government Departments, abusing and opposing the policies of the GLC. How much does that cost the taxpayers? Conservative Members always ask, "What about the taxpayers?", but how much is that propaganda exercise costing the Tory party?
§ Sir Anthony Berry
I simply said that the hon. Gentleman was a representative of the GLC, which he is. I must say that I find £1.5 million an interesting figure and would like to know more about it. I suspect that that figure is rising.
1086 My borough, which is Conservative-controlled, is strongly in favour of the Government's proposals, as are all other Conservative-controlled London boroughs.
§ Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)
Does that include the borough's representative on the Greater London council?
§ Sir Anthony Berry
Yes, it does. The great majority of Conservative councillors are in favour of the Government's proposals. I wish to cite two examples to show why I say that the GLC is so distant from my borough. It plans to establish a bus contra-flow lane in Enfield town. That plan is opposed, even by the Labour GLC member. Everyone is opposed to it. Nevertheless, the GLC intends to go ahead with it. It is completely out of touch with the local community.
Another example is the GLC's plan to deal with the problem of lorry routes. I am not advocating a ban on heavy lorries in London as a whole, but heavy lorries trundle down roads in my constituency night and day, despite the building of the M25, because the GLC reneged on the plans of the previous Conservative-controlled GLC to impose a ban on heavy lorries using those roads unless they had business in the area. We shall continue to press for such a ban.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am mystified by the hon. Gentleman's argument. He has every right to criticise the GLC's policies of administration, but there is a great distinction to be drawn between criticising its policies and its distance from his constituents, and saying that the GLC should not exist. I could say—although I am not accusing the hon. Gentleman — that he has the wrong policies and is distanced from his constituents, but I would fight to the death for their right to elect him as their Member of Parliament. Surely that is a comparable point. He should not say that the GLC should be abolished simply because he does not like some of its policies or the present administration.
§ Sir Anthony Berry
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for offering to fight to the death for me, although I hope that he will not have to do so. I understand his argument.
The GLC is so far removed from parts of London that it does not understand the problems. That is why transferring many of its powers to the boroughs will provide a local awareness of what is happening. Councils will know of the problems and be answerable to the electorate for them.
Other local problems include the fact that we do not yet know who will administer the grounds of Trent park, which is a famous and lovely park in my constituency. Similarly, we must know what is to happen to the Lea valley regional park authority, much of which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn), who is sitting next to me. The GLC owns a great deal of land in London which it has acquired over the years, and which must be distributed properly—back to the boroughs, I hope.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West referred to unemployment. I am surprised that he did not say anything about the youth training scheme, which is proving so successful in my area.
It is time that Labour Members and their friends at County Hall stopped frightening pensioners into believing that they will lose their concessionary fares.
§ Mr. John Fraser
The hon. Gentleman claims that pensioners are being frightened. At the moment they have free fares—
§ Mr. Fraser
They get free bus passes. Has the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Sir A. Berry) received an unconditional assurance that the free travel facilities currently enjoyed by pensioners will continue?
§ Sir Anthony Berry
The best thing for me to do is to quote the answer to a parliamentary question by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who said:As we made clear in our White Paper 'Public Transport in London' … the Government have always recognised the concern of London's pensioners that a joint scheme for concessionary travel should be available to them. The London Boroughs Association has agreed the principle of such a joint scheme and discussions on the detailed arrangements are progressing.We propose to safeguard this agreement by providing in the London Regional Transport Bill for the continuation of a uniform scheme should any of the London local authorities refuse to participate. London Regional Transport would offer free off-peak travel to London's pensioners and disabled people and free travel at all times for the blind. The cost would be recouped from London authorities who would issue the necessary permits."—[Official Report, 15 February 1984; Vol. 54, c. 210.]
§ Mr. Greenway
Does my hon. Friend accept that free travel passes were first introduced for Londoners under the Conservative Government in the early 1970s? No Labour Government have ever guaranteed those passes, but this Conservative Government will do so.
§ Sir Anthony Berry
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for adding to my argument.
I must draw to a conclusion. My speech has been rather longer than I intended, but I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will agree that it has not been entirely my own speech. We all make mistakes—even the hon. Member for Newham, North-West. One major mistake was the setting up of the GLC. Now, we are putting that right.
The hon. Gentleman made great play of the Government's White Paper. The Government have not had time to study the 1,500 reports that he mentioned. I remind him that the Secretary of State described the White Paper as having green edges. It is much more of a consultation paper than most White Papers. It gives us time to examine all the important matters and get them right.
The hon. Gentleman referred to Sir Horace Cutler. I have a photograph which was taken on the terrace of County Hall on the day after the Conservative party won control of the GLC. The present Prime Minister was there, together with many GLC members, and we were toasting Horace Cutler on his great victory. But, of course, the Labour party could not take a similar photograph on the day after it won control of the GLC because Lord McIntosh, who led it to victory, had already been sacked—and in his place we have Mr. Livingstone.
I never thought I would ever praise Mr. Livingstone, but having discovered that a few years ago he was in favour of abolishing the GLC, I can only say to him, "Good for you."
The debate is important. It reaffirms my belief—despite having listened to the hon. Gentleman—that it is right for the GLC to go, and the sooner it goes the better for all the citizens of London.
§ Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)
I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) on winning a place in the ballot and on the typically robust and entertaining way in which he introduced the subject. It will be no surprise to him that I did not agree with everything that he said. The prospect of a cunning Government meeting police pay claims in order to be able to put down popular uprisings in London was not a picture which I found altogether possible to believe. Nevertheless, I congratulate him on raising some important problems.
I entirely agree that one of the difficulties facing London Members is trying to persuade successive Governments, and some of our colleagues, that not every London street is paved with gold. I shall give a few examples of policies or areas of activity where that problem emerges. The first is the National Health Service.
The main problem for Londoners with the NHS is the impact of the resource allocation working party philosophy. I should say at once that RAWP does not date from 1979. It was the redoubtable Barbara Castle who introduced the concept. At the time it seemed extremely fair, that there should be discrimination in the allocation of resources against parts of the country, including London, which were reasonably well endowed with Health Service provision. It might have made sense during growth in Health Service investment, but it is much more difficult to justify against a background of stagnation in investment in the Health Service or, as is more likely, falling investment in the Health Service.
The problem for Londoners is that the RAWP philosophy hits them twice. The Thames regions are discriminated against in the allocation of national resources and when resources are allocated within the regions the London health districts are again discriminated against. It is hard for us in the south-east Thames region to accept that some inner London areas must accept a reduction in services to provide resources for what seem to us unlikely deprived areas such as Hastings, Tunbridge Wells and Eastbourne.
The impact of manpower cuts has fallen disproportionately harshly on the London area. The national net loss in manpower in the most recently imposed cuts was 4,837 of which 4,218 were lost to London. In other words 87 per cent. of the manpower cuts fell on the Thames regions. That and the application of the RAWP formula are having a major impact on the Health Service in London. Some 39 London hospitals are threatened with closure in the immediate future. I have a special problem in Greenwich where no fewer than three hospitals face the axe. The first is the British Hospital for Mothers and Babies which was sentenced by a Labour Secretary of State in 1978 and it is finally to close its doors some time this year. The other two are the Dreadnought Seamen's hospital and the St. Nicholas hospital.
It is no longer possible for Health Service administrators to say that, although they are suffering from cuts, these can be absorbed by greater efficiency, that they can rationalise services and continue to provide the same level of care by being more efficient. Those days are long gone. They are now saying that there is no way in which they can evade a substantial fall in the standard of health care which people in many inner London areas have traditionally enjoyed. We should put it clearly on the 1089 record that that is one of the results of blindly applying a formula without examining the real problem, especially in inner London boroughs.
The picture in housing is also one of London carrying a disproportionate share of the burden. Homelessness, which many of us know about from our surgeries, is once again a growing problem, especially in inner London. The most recent figures that I have seen show that, of the 71,000 families who are accepted as homeless in England, 21,000 are in London. Moreover, of the more than 1 million people on housing waiting lists in England, about 250,000 are in Greater London.
There is a special problem with the single homeless. Such cases are one of the most frustrating experiences of my surgeries. It is almost impossible to offer young people any hope if they are homeless and looking for somewhere reasonable to live in London. The saddest cases are those of people who have jobs in the London area but have to give them up to find somewhere to live outside London. The most recent available figures on the single homeless in London show that some 14,000 are in hostels, night shelters and similar accommodation and that some 2,000 are trapped in the bed-and-breakfast arrangement. Against that background of proven need, it is hard to justify the cut in investment in housing in London and the fall in public sector starts.
I accept that the private sector is picking up some of the burden and that starter homes for first-time buyers and shared ownership schemes have a contribution to make. I welcome what they do but, for as long as most of us can envisage, there will be a continuing need, in inner London especially, for rented housing. I do not believe that the Government's policy is attempting to meet that need, whether the provision is made by local authorities or housing associations.
§ Mr. Tracey
The hon. Gentleman probably knows more about these matters than many of us, as he is a former long-standing member of the Labour party who has partially seen the light. Is it not true that the principal areas of housing deprivation are in Labour-controlled boroughs? Does he agree that if money were applied better, and if there was more value for money, that housing deprivation could be put right?
§ Mr. Cartwright
That is the circular argument which we constantly hear from Conservative Members. They argue that cause and effect in regard to political control and poverty is the reverse of what many of us see. Many of us regard the political control of traditionally poor areas as flowing from the poverty. The hon. Gentleman seems to argue that it is the political control that has produced the poverty. I find his argument difficult to accept.
The problem of inner city areas in Britain is similar to those in many other countries. We can see the same pattern in the United States of America, for example, where there is no Left-wing control to blame. I should like us to learn from our mistakes. We probably made a mistake by creating far too many municipal ghettos. We need more choice in housing, especially in rented housing. It is wrong for local authorities to have a monopoly of it. However, we need the resources to provide that rented housing.
§ Mr. Ernie Roberts (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
There is some truth in what the hon. Member 1090 for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) said. We face enormous problems such as the large number of unemployed, the 1 million homeless and many other social problems. Our basic industries have been devastated. We have a Tory Government pursuing Tory policies. The hon. Member for Surbiton is right. Such policies create the problems that I have outlined, for local authorities as well as the country.
§ Mr. Cartwright
The Government, for good or ill, have not begun to grasp some of the difficulties of inner London areas. The purpose of the debate is to draw attention to the fact that the policies that the Government are pursuing do not help the difficulties to which the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Roberts) referred.
The hon. Member for Newham North-West mentioned another aspect of the housing problem—the condition of the housing stock in Greater London. One of the most frightening statistics to emerge from the Greater London house condition survey of 1979 was that about 25 per cent. of the stock—roughly one home in four—was unfit, lacked basic amenities or needed substantial repairs. Within those statistics there were perhaps two areas which were comparatively new to us. One was the condition of public sector housing; the other was the problem of the elderly owner-occupier.
The problem in the public sector in London is twofold. Property built in the 1920s is very soundly constructed but lacks modern basic amenities. There is also the much more worrying problem of the stock built in the 1960s. Unfortunately, it was not so soundly built and needs substantial investment of public funds to bring it up sometimes to standards of safety and certainly to standards acceptable to tenants.
I have already referred to the fairly new problem of the elderly owner-occupier locked up in a house which he or she cannot afford to maintain, and without the mobility, in the Greater London area, to give it up and go into something a good deal more convenient and pleasant.
A programme to tackle the problems associated with the housing stock in Greater London would be a very sensible investment. It would provide jobs in labour-intensive areas for people engaged in housing repair, maintenance, improvement and refurbishment. It would also provide many training opportunities for the young unemployed in Greater London. It is work that must be done at some time. The longer we leave it, the more expensive it will be, and the more distress and poor social conditions we produce. Our children will not thank us for neglecting important work of that sort simply on the grounds of an economic theory that is very difficult to justify.
With regard to education, the pincer movement of rate-capping on the one side and the restructuring of the Inner London education authority on the other threatens some of the services on which our constituents have traditionally depended. On this question there seems to be a total difference of view between the two sides of the House. Conservative Members—and certainly the Secretary of State for Education and Science — have firmly stated their belief that it is possible to cut the spending of the Inner London education authority by about 13 per cent.—a cut of £1 in £8 in money now being spent—without impairing the basic quality of the education provided. I find that statement extremely hard to believe.
1091 I do not hold a brief for the political attitudes of those who now lead ILEA—some savings must be possible in any organisation of that size—but I cannot believe that a cut of 13 per cent. can be imposed without doing real harm to the quality of the education. When Conservative Members point to the very much higher level of spending by ILEA as compared with other areas, it is reasonable for us to say that ILEA has much more difficult problems to face than any other education authority in Britain. There are the overcrowding problems and the fact that so many more people in inner London are crowded in their homes, living in high-rise blocks, or homeless. The population density in inner London is double that of many other British cities.
There is the problem of single-parent families. Over a quarter of ILEA's pupils come from one-parent families. That is two thirds higher than the national average. There is the problem of old schools. Half ILEA's secondary schools and a quarter of the primary schools are in buildings put up before the turn of the century—a much higher proportion than elsewhere. Land and building costs are a third higher than in other parts of the country.
There is the problem of children with special needs. Over 8,000 inner London children need special help with their education, and that is a third higher than the national average.
There is the general problem of deprivation. On the Department of the Environment's own system of scoring deprivation, based on economic, social and housing indices, seven of the most deprived local authorities are in ILEA's area. Against that background it is even more important to recall the oft-quoted but worth quoting again comment in 1980 by Her Majesty's inspectorate in reporting on the services in ILEA:The Authority is faced with problems of a type, range and complexity unmatched in other LEAs and any assessment of its performance should take account of the circumstances in which it operates.Conservative Members who make very grand but unsubstantiated claims about the savings which are possible in ILEA simply do not take account of those problems and difficulties.
With regard to the organisational changes — the abolition of the GLC and the restructuring of ILEA—I do not take the view that the GLC is a perfect piece of machinery. Like many other Opposition Members, I was totally opposed to the concept in the beginning. It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that the Labour party, which was opposed then, has been opposed to the concept of the GLC over most of the years since 1963. In abolishing the GLC, or going to something different, we have to examine not just an abstract idea but proposals which have been made. The Government's proposals should be examined in relation to four important tests.
First, will the proposals save money for the ratepayer? I cannot believe that they will. The patchwork quilt of bodies and authorities will have to have staff and headquarters, the different parts will have to talk to each other and they will have to talk to the boroughs. I cannot see how it can lead to a major reduction in the burden on London ratepayers.
Secondly, and more importantly, will the proposals really decentralise power? I do not believe that they will. The Secretary of State for the Environment will retain the power to control the spending levels of joint boards and their manpower levels, we are told, for three years. I find 1092 it very hard to believe that at the end of three years that power will be given up. Our experience is that when Ministers get their hands on power it is very difficult to prise their sticky fingers off it.
Thirdly, will the new system be simpler and easier for Londoners to understand? Again, I have to say that it will not; it will be much more complicated. The patchwork quilt of the joint boards and bodies will be much more difficult for Londoners to understand, and it will be much more difficult to decide to which board or authority to go.
Fourthly, will the new system introduce a greater level of accountability of councillors back to their electorates? No, it will not, because councillors elected to a borough council will be elected in relation to a wide range of borough activities and policies, but the electors, voting in a borough council election, will not be deciding who goes, for example, on to the joint board for education. That will be decided when the election is over. It will be the sort of smoke-filled-room decision which produced Mr. Livingstone as leader of the GLC, and to which such strong objection is taken on the Conservative Benches.
My experience of local government was that councillors elected for one thing and then pushed off sideways to do something else did not give a very high priority to the sideways move which gave them a place on another authority. But the basic objection is that concillors serving on the joint boards will not be directly accountable to the electorate for what they do on those bodies.
There was a tendency earlier in the debate for Conservative Members to suggest that the very strongly sceptical reaction—to put it no higher than that—to the proposals was entirely engineered by the GLC and the many bodies which it finances throughout greater London. I would not dispute the fact that some of the reactions to the proposals may well be somewhat coloured by that sort of background, but it is almost impossible to open one's post these days without finding a submission from some learned body, some academic group, some professional group, in no way connected with the GLC, pointing out flaws in the Government's proposals, demonstrating that the ideas were not thought through, and that there are gaping holes in the proposals for the arts, recreation, housing, planning, transport and many other areas.
There is a powerful case for the Government to say, "We shall drop the proposals for the moment and make a proper, impartial survey of the situation." It is reasonable to say that, after 20 years of operation, the system needs to be reviewed and ought to be re-examined. However, both reorganisations of local government in recent years—the 1963 reorganisation in Greater London and the 1972 reorganisation outside — followed a Royal Commission or a similar inquiry. The Government of the day did not follow the recommendations of either inquiry, but at least there was an impartial examination against which to judge the Government's actions.
It is monstrous to introduce a major local government reorganisation on the basis of a throwaway line in an election manifesto. If the Government want to retain credibility on this issue, they should drop their proposals and set up a proper impartial inquiry to re-examine the government of London.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
The motion calls attention to the effects of the Government's policies on the democratic rights and living standards of 1093 Londoners. Many of the local government institutions for London—the ILEA, the borough councils and the GLC—are in the hands of the Labour party and I suspect that, in drafting the motion, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was attempting to divert attention from his party's disastrous record in London by making the Government the scapegoat.
For example, blaming increased unemployment in London on the Government is, at best, hopelessly naive. Since taking power at County Hall, the present Labour administration has more than doubled the GLC's rates precept. Well over half its rates revenue is paid by the commercial and industrial sectors, and companies have had to make staff redundant to pay the rates bill. Out of 505 replies to a survey by the London chamber of commerce and industry, 38 per cent. of the companies stated that they had reduced staff numbers as a result of rate increases.
As a rule of thumb, one job stands the risk of being destroyed for every extra £10,000 paid in GLC rates.
§ Ms. Harman
Is it not the case that there is no evidence that rate increases result in job losses? When rates are low, as in enterprise zones, the owners of land put up the rents, which more than outweighs the lower rates.
When money goes to land owners in increased rents, as opposed to local authorities in increased rates, the money is not spent in that area to create jobs. If rates were lower, more corporation tax would be paid. The relationship between rates of job losses, which the chambers of commerce and industry are keen to claim, is not proven.
§ Mr. Wheeler
I must allow the hon. Lady to make her own speech. I have just given the evidence from the London chamber of commerce and industry. I could go on giving evidence from the London region CBI, the City of Westminster chamber of commerce and industry and so on, but if I did so we could be here all day. The evidence is overwhelming and I have more to say on this aspect.
The sign outside Couny Hall recording the number of London's unemployed would be more informative if it also specified the number of jobs lost directly as a result of the GLC's policies. Mr. Livingstone appears at last to have grasped this point.
§ Mr. Wheeler
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should listen to what Mr. Livingstone said. When he announced this year's rate reduction he was at pains to illustrate its benefit for offices and businesses in the capital. However, the official Labour line, as propounded by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), is that rates are irrelevant to business. If the hon. Gentleman really cares about unemployment, he should get out and talk to a few business men. I suggest that some London Labour Members ought also to do that.
The GLC's rate precept remains staggeringly high. Between 1981 and 1983 it rose by 118 per cent., compared with an increase in the general rate poundage for all local authorities in England of 20 per cent. and an annual increase in the retail price index of 14 per cent.
§ Mr. Wheeler
No. I shall press on for a while.
It is particularly disturbing to see the total unscrupulousness with which some of the money is spent. The GLC has become a sort of a charity, not so much for those in real need as for the Labour party's extremists who could not hope to be employed anywhere else. For example, Mr. Reg Race, a former Member of the House, has become the GLC's head programme officer at £21,000 a year. Mr. Alan McGarvey, deputy leader of Wandsworth council, has become chief executive of the Greater London enterprise board at a salary of £35,000, plus benefits estimated at another £10,000. There is a host of similar appointments.
§ Mr. Wheeler
No. The hon. Lady can make her own speech.
Perhaps those other appointments illustrate the arrant hypocrisy of Socialist dogma. The Left preaches equal pay, yet seems happy to pay itself several times the national average. It is reminiscent of all the fringe benefits that come with membership of the Soviet Communist party. Perhaps George Orwell can help the Labour Left to justify the salaries that it pays itself:All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
§ Mr. Tracey
My hon. Friend has mentioned some of the big fish in the succulent GLC tank, but does he agree that more than 1,000 positions have been created by the GLC, all of which seem to have gone to Labour activists in London?
§ Mr. Wheeler
My hon. Friend is right. It is generally understood that a person has to be a Socialist before getting on to the short list for a job at County Hall.
The House should also be aware of the scandalous way in which London's Labour party exploits schools and schoolchildren. For example, cases have been brought to my notice where Labour school governors have used children's Christmas parties to distribute propaganda. One of my constituents has complained that his seven-year-old infant was being made to distribute leaflets for the Labour party which, incidentally, were printed on school notepaper.
The case for the abolition of the GLC was put clearly in a debate at County Hall on the Marshall inquiry in 1979. One speaker said:I feel a degree of regret that Marshall did not push on and say 'Abolish the GLC' because I think it would have been a major saving and would have released massive resources for more productive use.And I think there would have been a lot of support on the Labour side for that, provided that adequate powers were devolved down to the boroughs and not absorbed upwards by central Government.I do not believe you need two tiers of local government and I very much regret that Horace Cutler has not been the really ruthless Tory he likes to project and come forward with the biggest axe of all, and axed the whole appalling show.The speaker was not a Conservative, but today's leader of the GLC, Mr. Ken Livingstone.
Indeed, Mr. Livingstone was right. There is virtually no role for the GLC, so it has constructed responsibilities for itself. One example is its police committee. Last week, the GLC approved an increase in that committee's budget from £1.25 million to £1.80 million, an increase of over £500,000 in real terms. Yet the GLC has no statutory responsibility for the police. Despite that, it intends to 1095 distribute £990,000 in grants next year to groups calling themselves monitoring committees. These groups collect information that is essentially hostile to the police. This would appear to be exactly what the GLC police committee seeks.
Scarcely a word of support for the police is heard. The GLC claims that this is done in the interests of the majority of Londoners, yet it bears no relation at all to what Londoners really want. They want the prevention and reduction of crime. They want to be able to walk safely through the streets and to feel secure in their homes. To undermine public confidence in the police will not go one step towards achieving this, nor will refusal to co-operate with the police community consultative groups and the production of a constant stream of inaccurate propaganda at the ratepayers' expense.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the success of the police in the last year—for the first time — of reducing crime in London is at last attributable to the slightly more intelligent policies of the Commissioner—community policing—rather than to the hard, Tory dogmatic, "hammer of the Scots" type policies which, under previous commissioners, saw crime increase for many years? Does not the improvement in the crime figures and the safety of Londoners most effectively stem from a changed community policing style?
§ Mr. Wheeler
I am grateful to the hon. Member. I was about to come to that very point, if he will allow me to continue.
Two years ago, Mr. Ken Livingstone said:Five years of Newman could leave the working class areas of our city in much the same state as the Catholic areas of Northern Ireland.It is worth looking at what one year of Sir Kenneth Newman's work has actually meant to London — an overall drop of 4 per cent. in recorded crime; a 5 per cent. drop in recorded robbery and other violent theft; a 4 per cent. drop in recorded burglaries; a 9 per cent. drop in recorded auto crime; and a 25 per cent. improvement in the clear-ups for robbery and other violent thefts.
These statistics represent a welcome move in the right direction. The reduction in crime has happened not as a result of the ill-considered nonsense of the London Labour party but rather as a result of clear thinking by Sir Kenneth Newman and the Metropolitan police, backed by solid support from the Government.
The 18 per cent. increase in Metropolitan police manpower since 1979 has allowed the commissioner to develop a series of strategies to mobilise public support and improve the effectiveness of his force. The importance of public consent to good policing—the point made by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)—is underlined by the setting up of 19 police-community consultative groups, backed up by regular meetings between London Members of Parliament, the London Boroughs Association, the Outer London Districts Association, the commissioner and the Home Secretary. These groups help to keep the police aware of local concern, and to make operational decisions accordingly.
Nor have the lessons of the Policy Studies Institute report been ignored. While the report identified those areas of crime that most concern the public — incidentally, findings confirmed by the British crime survey—it also illustrated that there have been occasions when some police officers have behaved in a way which may damage 1096 public support for the police. I welcome the commissioner's proposal to introduce a code of professional ethics for the Metropolitan police—I am surprised that the House is so silent; we should welcome this development—which emphasises citizens' rights; and for the same reason I welcome the steps taken in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill to clarify the law and the rights of suspects.
These are all important, sensible developments. They reflect the reasoned approach of the commissioner, in marked contrast to the blinkered thought of the so called GLC police committee.
Other ideas have been implemented. Sixty-nine neighbourhood watch schemes have been formed, and a further 223 are in an advanced stage of preparation. The usefulness of neighbourhood watch is already apparent. In the Hurlingham area of Fulham, a scheme began in September of last year. In the first two months of operation, there was a 50 per cent. reduction in burglaries and a 52 per cent. fall in all major crime, compared with 21 per cent. for the division as a whole.
The use of manpower has been carefully examined. Officers have been transferred to divisional strengths from Scotland Yard and the traffic police, and the deployment of detectives has been improved to increase the detection of offences such as street robbery and burglary. The system of screening of cases of burglary has improved detection rates. The police obviously face great difficulty in this area—in many cases, there is simply no evidence to pursue — but it is already clear that Sir Kenneth Newman will not accept that as a reason for complacency.
Many of the problems reflected in the low detection rate for crime stemmed from the management structure and use of resources in the force. The continuing review of the functions of the police by the commissioner has already led to improvements, and his recent report to the Home Secretary outlined others still to be implemented.
§ Mr. Ernie Roberts
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the costs of the solution of crime in London? A recent comparison showed that the cost of solving a crime is about £1,400 in other parts of the country, whereas in London it is more than £5,000. In view of the fact that there is concern about closing down the GLC because of its costs, should not the same be done with regard to the Metropolitan police?
§ Mr. Wheeler
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Is the implication of his question that the Metropolitan police should be closed down?
To listen to Labour spokesmen, especially those on the GLC, one could be forgiven for thinking that none of these advances had been made. Hardly a word of support for the police has been heard from them, and they have made few realistic contributions to the task of reducing crime. Their activities show only too clearly how far the Left wing of the London Labour party has distanced itself from the hopes and aspirations of ordinary Londoners.
Many of the activities of the GLC support this view. Londoners are already overgoverned and overtaxed. In the interests of its pursuit of an ideology which pays little heed to what Londoners feel, the GLC is contributing little to tackling London's problems. Most of its functions can be performed far more effectively by the boroughs—for example, housing, which has already been transferred, and transport, which is soon to go. There is simply no longer 1097 a role for the GLC, and I eagerly await the date when the Conservative party manifesto commitment to abolish it arrives.
§ Mr. Deakins
—the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), and I cannot claim his disadvantage of reading a Central Office propaganda brief. However, I wish to comment on two of his points.
Most Londoners want to see democratic accountability of the police in London—a right which Londoners are denied but which citizens in the rest of the country have. If the hon. Gentleman feels that the police system in London is perfect, why does he not advocate it for the rest of the United Kingdom? I doubt whether he would do so.
The hon. Gentleman's main point was the big rises—and there have been big rises—in GLC rates. He should be reminded—obviously Central Office did not tell him—that GLC rates have risen because of Government cuts in rate support grant to local authorities. Those cuts were made as part of a pattern of public expenditure cuts to pay for increased expenditure on defence and unemployment. London ratepayers have had to pick up the tab.
§ Mr. Tracey
The hon. Gentleman talks about the loss of rate support grant, but is it not true that in 1982–83 the GLC collected £200 million more in rates than it needed? As a result of that revelation it will receive £100 million of rate support grant which it lost because of its excessive budget. Why is that £300 million not being returned to ratepayers?
§ Mr. Deakins
The ratepayers of London have suffered greatly as a result of the point that I just put to the House. They have lost nearly £3 billion in rate support grant under this and previous Conservative Administrations. To talk about a footling £300 million against that £3,000 million explains why rates in London have increased so much. It is the Government's fault.
The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) mentioned health care, and I shall discuss the health requirements of inner cities. My area, which is typical of many other areas in London, some of which are represented by Conservative as well as SDP and Liberal Members, suffers from great social deprivation. As the Black report on health care in inner cities showed, there is great inequality in patterns of ill health, based almost entirely on differences in social class. The Government tried to strangle that report at birth, and it is still difficult for the ordinary citizen to obtain a copy of that masterly report on health care needs, which are not being met fully under present Government policies.
My urban area needs more facilities for community health care, shorter waiting lists in hospitals and more health centres. It needs better facilities in general practice and better preventive medicine, but is not getting them. There is a large Asian population in my area, together with other ethnic minorities — I am sure that other hon. 1098 Members have such ethnic minorities in their constituencies — who have special health needs. There is a cultural problem because of the lack of female doctors for Moslem women, who are reluctant to be examined by male doctors. There are also linguistic problems, and I am not satisfied that the DHSS is fully aware of what must be done to inform Asians especially, many of whom cannot read or write and who understand only Urdu or Gujerati, of the facilities available to them. The communications problem will not be resolved until more attention is paid to it and more money spent on it.
We must spend more money efficiently on health care in the inner urban areas of London. However, a great deterioration in services has been forced on health authorities by the policies of the Government and especially those of the DHSS. There have been hospital closures from time to time as new hospitals have opened, and no one opposes that improvement in facilities. But now we have hospital closures without new hospitals being built. In my area, Harts hospital and Lugano nursing home have closed, and another two major hospitals will close in the next couple of years. There will soon be only two hospitals serving the entire district, which covers slightly more than the London borough of Waltham Forest.
Those cuts are being made not to improve health facilities in my area — I am sure that the same is happening in other parts of London — but because authorities must juggle with financial resources to try to meet the health needs of the population. The result will be longer waiting lists and fewer preventive medicine facilities, especially for women. In my area the waiting list for screening for cervical cancer is becoming longer all the time, but I doubt whether that is happening in the leafy suburbs represented by some Conservative Members.
This is happening because the Government do not like the National Health Service. However, because the NHS is so popular in London and elsewhere, the Government's attitude of the past few years could be summed up by the couplet:Thou shalt not kill; but need'st not strive Officiously to keep alive.I ask the six Conservative Members in the Chamber how many of of them do not use private health facilities and medicine. [Interruption.] There would appear to be three in this group, which is not an unrepresentative sample of the Conservative party in Parliament. We find that 50 per cent. of Conservative Members do not use private medicine.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)
Since when have we conducted opinion polls in the House of Commons? Perhaps those hon. Members listening to the hon. Gentleman's speech are assumed, by putting up their hands or in some other way, to have indicated a response to his questionnaire. I do not know what he assumed about me. I use the National Health Service. I understand from his remarks that he assumed that I do not, and he may have made a similar mistake with some of my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Deakins
Conservative Members need not have answered my question, but those who did showed a lack of enthusiasm for the Health Service. That lack of enthusiasm is repeated by Cabinet Ministers who, with the Prime Minister, do not use the NHS. The same is true of many members of district health authorities, who are appointed by Ministers.
1099 Although the Government are not trying to kill the National Health Service outright, they are introducing a series of measures, such as privatisation, which mean that private profit is put before the interests of patients. Only a couple of weeks ago the Minister for Health boasted to the House about what the Government had done to bolster and encourage private medicine. That will not help my constituents or the bulk of Londoners when it comes to improving health provision. The Government are working towards a two-tier health service in which there will be poor care for those who cannot afford to pay, and the best quality care for those who can afford to pay. I thought that we had got rid of that concept in 1948, but it seems to be returning. There is still time to save health services in London, and I hope that all hon. Members, including Conservative Members, who may or may not feel strongly about saving the NHS, will join the all-party campaigns in their constituencies to ensure that health facilities are preserved and, where necessary, improved.
The motion mentions the Government's attack on local democracy. One example of that is their rate-capping Bill. There is a move towards central control by Secretaries of State, especially the Secretary of State for the Environment, and by a vast bureaucracy composed not only of civil servants but of quangos. That bureaucracy and the Secretary of State may technically be accountable to the House and, through it, to the British people, but the Secretary of State does not have facilities to examine the details of everything that local councils must do on behalf of the population. He will act with a broad brush and make decisions for local authorities on their rate expenditure which will not necessarily be in the interests of local people.
The Government argue that we are a unitary state, and that is true if by that they mean that we are not a federal state. However, if by a unitary state the Prime Minister and her cronies in the Cabinet mean the exclusion of the concept of pluralist democracy, with countervailing centres of democratic power in society to balance each other and an elected Government at the head, that is a devastating blow to democracy and a sign that the Government regard themselves more and more as an elected dictatorship. The best example of a unitary state is a dictatorship. It is only democracies that have the courage to be pluralist and have countervailing centres of democratic powers.
Under the Rates Bill electors will no longer have power to determine rate levels, and this will make a mockery of local elections. This is without the problem of the abolition of the GLC and the election next year. Increasingly, councillors will be elected to carry out the Government's orders on the level of services and rates. How many worthwhile people will continue to want to be councillors? After all, unless one has some control over one's finances, one is a puppet, because one has no real power. The Government's arbitrary target for local authorities, the grant-related expenditure assessment, has failed to prevent local authorities from going their own way and saying what they need to do to provide services for their local people and asking them to pay the appropriate amount of rates, bearing in mind the cuts in the rate support grant. If local people vote for those councillors in those circumstances, what right have the Government, even a democratically elected Government, to say them nay? What right have the Government to put-their own interests before those of local people?
1100 We are seeing a major constitutional change, possibly the biggest one in Britain in this century. That constitutional change masks the failure of the Government to live up to the Prime Minister's promise, given some years ago, to abolish rates. To quote a paper which is by no means a supporter of the GLC, the Labour party or myself, The Standard, if the Rates Bill goes through it will mean the end ofany vestige of true local council independence.Increasingly, there will be dictatorship by Whitehall.
I invite Conservative Members to think back, if they have been in the Tory party for 25 years or more, as I think some them have, to the slogan that used to be thrown at the Labour party by the Tories. We were accused of being the party that said, "The person from Whitehall knows best." Now it is the Tories who are saying the same thing. That is a change of which the electorate should be aware.
When the GLC is abolished, a large number of quangos will be set up under Government patronage, and I wonder how much democratic accountability there will be with those quangos, which will cover a wide variety of topics on a London-wide basis. How much democratic accountability is there in water authorities, such as the Thames water authority? I suspect that there is very little, or perhaps none, but there will be more and more of such bodies, and less and less and less democratic accountability. There will be far more bureaucracy, subject to less democratic control under these quangos.
What is more, unlike the GLC, which, whatever its faults, has always consulted Londoners on its policies and on what it proposes to do, these quangos will be under no such obligation, and neither will the Secretary of State. For London-wide services we need a democratic local government in London. I shall quote from Hansard of some years ago. It said:these great strategic tasks of planning, traffic, roads, overspill housing and all other needs affecting the whole of Greater London should be made the responsibility of a directly elected Greater London Council. One would have thought that this proposal that Londoners should have an effective say in the shaping of their own environment would have an obvious appeal. Those who find it unpalatable must face up to the question of what they would have instead." — [Official Report, 10 December 1962; Vol. 669, c. 53.]That was the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) speaking as Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs. Those words are as true today as they were then, but I imagine that the right hon. Gentleman, who is not here, may have changed his mind for reasons which are not apparent.
The Government's attack on democratic rights in London could be said to be motivated out of spite and a dislike of the policies of the GLC, but I reject that, because even that motivation does not justify the length to which the Government are going in their attack on local democracy. Almost overnight we are seeing something frightening—particularly as we have another three or four years of this Government, with their large majority in Parliament—an attack on any opposition, whether from trade unions, the local people, the Greater London council or metropolitan authorities, or even from Conservative authorities which happen to feel that they have a right to determine how much should he spent locally. There are a number of such Conservative local authorities—good luck to them—which take that view.
The Government want to remove local obstacles to any aspect of their policies, not merely because they are 1101 defending the rights of local people to determine the level of services and therefore the level of rates, but, much more important in London, because the GLC and some local authorities are showing what can be done, even with inadequate financial resources, once one starts to tap the human resources of the people of an area and consulting them. This is true in the areas of social and economic depression over much of London. The GLC has made a small-scale start on showing what can be done, with the Greater London enterprise board and other schemes. There is a great potential that will be choked off if the GLC is abolished.
I regret to say this, and I do not think that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment necessarily shares these views, but we have a Government who, at the top level, basically dislike every democratic process except that of a general election. They are trying to get rid of the substance of local democracy, while retaining the shell. That cannot be good for local democracy, for Parliament or for the people.
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
I make no apology for contributing to this debate on London as a non-London Member. I hope that the reasons for my presence will quickly become clear. It is a great shame that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is not present at the moment to listen to what I have to say. However, I join other hon. Members in congratulating him on his good fortune in winning the ballot and allowing us to debate the motion.
I wish that I could praise the hon. Gentleman for his speech, but I cannot. I did not agree with one word of it, and I regret the bitter tones in which it was delivered. Until June of last year I was somewhat envious of the hon. Member's fortunes in representing Newham, North-West, as he represents the area in which I was born and where I lived for most of my life. However, I now represent Basildon, which contains many of my former friends and neighbours from Newham, some of whom were driven out by the policies of the Labour party.
Some Labour Members believe that we in the Conservative party were born with silver spoons in our mouths. I, for a start, was not. My mother was one of 11 children. I was born in Plaistow, within the sound of Bow bells, and I grew up in a little terraced house in Forest Gate, where my parents still live today. We had no bathroom and only an outside toilet, as did thousands of other people. We did not have much money, but we had our dignity, pride, self-respect and, above all else, Newham was a decent place in which to live. If only that were the case today.
I am a Conservative and a Member of Parliament partly because of my experiences in Newham. I have spent most of my political life fighting the Labour party in Newham. It is priceless that a motion about living standards and democratic rights should be moved by a Member of Parliament who represents Newham. What an area in which to talk about democracy! If my right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice)—who used to be a member of the Labour party—were here today, I am sure that he could make a very useful contribution to our discussion on democracy.
1102 If there is any validity in the arguments of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West about living standards being low in his area, much of the blame must be laid at the feet of the Labour party. The Conservative party has not had one person elected to that authority since 1968. For as long as people can remember, Newham has elected Labour members of the GLC and Labour Members of Parliament, and it has had a Labour-controlled council. It is, of course, the area for which the Labour party had its first Member of Parliament returned, Keir Hardie. He would turn in his grave if he could see what the present Labour party stands for.
It is distressing to see an area dear to so many destroyed out of all recognition, and completely run down. The local authority that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West waxed so lyrical about is one of the most inefficient in the country that it has been my misfortune to come across. Not so very long ago, a lady came to see me looking for a job through my employment agency. She had been dismissed from the authority's employment because she had had the audacity to complain about inefficiency in the authority, the wasting of ratepayers' money and other matters that she saw and disapproved of. In the course of my four election campaigns in Newham for council seats, the GLC and Parliament I found myself morning, noon and night trying to deal with housing problems of every description. Old dwellings were bulldozed and families were split apart, so breaking up the good old east end tradition and spirit. A concrete jungle was developed, with so-called slums being replaced by far worse ones, instead of dwellings being systematically restored.
From 1964 onwards, tower blocks were erected, with disastrous consequences. I am sure that people will remember, in particular, Ronan Point. I know my father does, as he was working on it at the time. Not so very long ago, the authority decided to vacate one of those tower blocks because its structure was declared to be unsafe. A business man from a neighbouring borough put in a bid for the property. He would have restored it and turned it into luxury dwellings. The authority dismissed the proposals, and spent £500,000 on blowing it up. The list of housing disasters is endless. The authority has created a monster that it can no longer control from its pyramid in Stratford.
Newham employs the greatest number of staff of all London local authorities. The latest figures for September 1983 are 8,835 full-time employees—an increase of 3.6 per cent. over 1982—and 2,555 part-time employees. One would think that an authority employing so many people would be a paragon of virtue when it came to efficiency. However, my parents have been corresponding with the authority for more than a year about renovation grants. Most of their letters were ignored, so I decided to step in. I have in my possession a letter from the chief executive, which begins:I refer to your letter dated the 29th November 1983.The date of his reply to me was 12 January 1984. That is a scandal and a real attack on the democratic rights and living standards of Londoners. As for the renovation grant, the letter states:I would mention that due to the heavy burden now placed upon this Authority to deal with such applications, without the necessary staff resources, applications received in 1982 are still waiting to be dealt with.
There we are—the authority with the highest number of employees cannot reply to letters efficiently or process 1103 grants. What absolute poppycock. There is something very wrong with democracy in the London borough of Newham.
It is well known that Newham has been most reluctant to comply with the Housing Act and to sell council houses to those who wish to purchase them. The authority has continually gone out of its way to fight that law and to slow down sales. I have the latest statistics. So far, the London borough of Newham has the disgraceful record of having sold only 1,715 properties. At present, it still owns 33,965 properties.
§ Mr. Amess
I shall not give way. If Opposition Members wish to make speeches, they must wait.
I well remember holding an extremely well attended public meeting on that issue at East Ham town hall, and then starting our own list of people who wished to purchase those houses. I also wrote to my hon. Friend the present Under-Secretary of State on the matter.
§ Mr. Amess
The Rates Bill, which is now going through the House, is welcomed by Londoners generally.
§ Mr. Amess
I am not joking. That Bill will add to rather than detract from the democratic process. The statutory obligations on authorities to consult businesses before setting the rates are long overdue and are warmly welcomed. Last year, Newham set the third highest rates of all the outer London boroughs, whereas the London borough of Redbridge—where I still serve today as a councillor—set the fourth lowest rates. The authorities are next door to each other. In one, the residents obtain very poor value for money, while in the other there is excellent value for money.
I also well remember the introduction of comprehensive education in Newham. I was at school at the time. It was instigated by the then Labour Secretary of State for Education and Science who is now the president of the SDP. The way in which the system was introduced had disastrous consequences for Newham, and today Newham is still suffering from it. I believe that that is why Newham is at the bottom of the educational league.
I look forward eagerly to the abolition of the GLC. It is a superfluous tier of Government. We always said that we would abolish it, and the Conservative party was returned with a thumping big majority. Indeed, in London we increased the number of our seats to 56 out of 84, so we do not want to hear any nonsense from the SDP and the Liberal party about their representation.
There are many aspects of the GLC's activities in recent years that Conservative Members deplore. One is the outrageous rate increases. They are hardly acceptable when one considers how some of the money is spent. The mind boggles at some of the grants that have been handed out by the GLC. Two in particular should be of great interest to the House, as they have been awarded to groups in Newham. More than £16,508 has been awarded to the Abyssinian Society. As far as I am aware, that society does not even have a settled base in Newham at present. A sum of £7,654 has been awarded to the Jewish Socialist Group. Community advice bureaux receive substantial funding.
§ Mr. Amess
I shall not give way. I did not interrupt the hon. Gentleman when he was speaking. Now that I am in full flow, I shall continue.
To continue, £29,000 was given to the Newham Welfare Society, £33,600 to Newham Rights Centre, and the Newham Voluntary Agencies Council got £10,750 for women's projects. The police committee has given the Newham monitoring project over £38,000.
On the subject of the police, we appreciate, I am sure, how supportive the GLC is of the custodians of the law. That is being augmented in Newham with leaflets and meetings trying to undermine the confidence of the police force, with a concerted campaign against the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill that is currently going through Parliament.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West is a great patron of the arts and I admire some of his efforts in that direction. He is fortunate to have in his constituency the Theatre Royal, Stratford—an extremely famous stage on which many of today's leading actors and actresses have performed. I have enjoyed a number of shows there over the years. It is with great regret, therefore, that I have learnt about some of the shows that are being put on in that august theatre. I understand that a play called "A Mad World, My Masters" by Barry Keeffe is shortly to be staged there and that part of that play will include a striptease of our Prime Minister. I hope that the supporters of the feminist movement on the Opposition Benches, who once condemned the phrase "Ditch the Bitch", will do likewise with this disgraceful play.
The Government's policies will result in more, not less, democracy for Londoners. The number of London Members of Parliament give the capital a large say in how the nation, and itself, should be governed. On many occasions London's problems are national problems, and this House ensures that they are dealt with at national level. The Opposition point out that London is so important that it must have a voice of its own. In my view, London is so important that more often than not its views are expressed here, rather than on that giant Monopoly board on which the GLC rests. By giving local government a clearly-defined role, by eliminating the blurred edges of the GLC writ and by encouraging privatisation and localised cost centres, we are giving back democracy and accountability to the people of London and adding to the motivation of people to take part in the democratic process.
We are constantly chided by Labour Members about our treatment of pensioners. It is fascinating to remember that a Conservative Government rectified the gap in legislation and provided pensions for the over-80s. Labour Members fought tooth and nail against those measures, which are particularly important today, considering the aging population. A great deal of valuable social legislation has been introduced by the Conservatives, rather than by Labour Members when they were in government.
Each day as we come to the House we have a clear view of County Hall. I deplore the fact that the GLC's response to the problem of human tragedy, in the form of the unemployed, is to display the numbers of people without jobs on a board as if money were being raised for charity. If only that were the case.
§ Mr. Amess
We have the same insulting display for those without jobs in Basildon. Conservatives believe in sound financial control—that every penny counts—and while Labour Members share our view with their own money, that maxim does not apply to the money that comes from the ratepayers of London.
In Newham, whenever there has been a Conservative Government, the local Labour party does not accept responsibility for its actions and blames everything that goes wrong on the Conservatives. But whenever there is a Labour Government, whatever goes wrong is the fault of the wicked capitalist system and the multinational companies. The truth is that Labour has done precious little to improve the lot of the people of Newham. I suggest to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West that he should put his own house in order before attacking the Government for what they are trying to do in London.
§ 12.6 pm
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
The tradition of the House is for free speech, and I can understand how the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), knowing that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was to introduce today's motion, decided that his target should be Newham borough council. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that the basis of his logic was narrow, but more of that later.
I shall confine myself to dealing with two of the points with which the hon. Member for Basildon dealt. First, he referred to the vexed question of improvement grants. I wish that all those who put in for improvement grants could get them as soon as possible. However, the Conservative Government opened the coffers in the latter part of 1982 — I wonder why? — shortly before the general election, and it was not possible for the municipal machine to deal with the flood of applications—over 6,000 in Newham — to be divided from the several million pounds available to ensure that that public money was spent properly and responsibly in maintaining and retaining good standards of housing in Newham. We wanted to do it, but the Conservatives decided that local government should not have the staff to deal with the number of applications.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman spoke of tower blocks, and his basis was very narrow, like his reference to Ronan Point, which is in my constituency. He knows well that the pressure to adopt that type of building started not with the town hall but in Whitehall, and it was pressed by centralised financial authority on local authorities throughout the country.
West Ham council, when it was Labour controlled, had great debates about whether to go in for such developments and was persuaded to do so. East Ham borough council, also Labour controlled, stood out, at some financial disadvantage to that authority, and said, "We will not have them." That, too, is in Newham. It is a good example of the danger of centralised power making such judgments in exercising financial control over local government. That is what we have been discussing. Therefore, when the hon. Member for Basildon talks about tower blocks in Newham, let him remember that central Government imposed that pattern of building on us and that it was not the free choice of the local authority.
I continue with the Newham theme—which the hon. Member for Basildon introduced — in dealing with transport. I have received many hundreds of the dockets 1106 that I hold in my hand from old-age pensioners concerned about their future as travellers. The London Transport Act 1969—it was supported by the Conservatives at that time—provided in section 5 thatit shall be the general duty of the Executive to exercise and perform their functions, in accordance with principles from time to time laid down or approved by the Council"—the GLC—… with due regard to efficiency, economy and safety of operation, to provide or secure the provision of such public passenger transport services as best meet the needs for the time being of Greater London.
In other words, the needs of Greater London as interpreted by the GLC.
The Bill that is now before the House has the equivalent in clause 2:It shall be the general duty of London Regional Transport, in accordance with principles from time to time approved by the Secretary of State…In other words, we are transferring judgment of the needs of the people from the locally elected authority—in this instance the GLC—to the Secretary of State. But we all know that it is not the Secretary of State personally who will be responsible. Secretaries of State change from year to year irrespective of the Administration that is in power. This means that decisions will be taken at lower levels. Decision taking will be taken into the womb of Whitehall and away from the offices of County Hall, whatever one may think of individual administration.
When the Secretary of State for Transport says that there will be a scheme for old-age pensioners' travel, he does not say with equal force that the costs will fall upon the finances of local authorities. The financing of the scheme will fall directly upon the ratepayers of Newham, Redbridge and every borough in London. It will not be spread equally over the rateable value of the GLC, including the Cities of London and Westminster.
The scheme that the right hon. Gentleman will introduce will differ from the present scheme. He will be able to give permission for charges to be made. In other words, it will be a pale substitute for the present scheme. It will be merely a shadow of the scheme that now operates. I say to Conservative Members, especially the hon. Member for Basildon, that the Secretary of State's scheme will not benefit pensioners in Redbridge.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is appalling that Conservative Members who are considering the Regional Transport Bill in Committee voted down an Opposition amendment that would have guaranteed the continuance of the existing system, and that the Secretary of State for Transport said that the Government would introduce a new clause to provide for a new scheme without revealing the details of it but suggesting that it would be a return to what we considered to be the patchwork system of pre-1973 days?
§ Mr. Spearing
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for emphasising the argument that I was advancing. These matters can be discussed in Committee and the Secretary of State for Transport has had ample opportunity to damp down the fears and rumours about the travel arrangements for old-age pensioners, but he has not taken the opportunity to do so. This is a clear example of the drift to centralisation. In their activities the Government are purveying a movement to undemocratic centralism.
An example of undemocratic centralism in Newham is the docklands development corporation. Vast sums of 1107 public money are going into the corporation but the powers of that organisation have displaced those of local government. Decisions on how the money should be spent and the merits of those decisions are matters that are considered behind closed doors. We are to exchange the skills and background of Trafalgar House for the skills and background of the Metropolitan Estates Property Corporation.
The hon. Member for Basildon may not like the Newham council and his relatives may not like it either, but they have the opportunity to vote it out if they will. Keir Hardie came to this House in 1893. He was a man of great Victorian virtue. The first Labour administration in the corporation of West Ham was founded in 1889. The men who were members of that administration were men of Victorian virtues. The 20th-century Tories are taking away the democratic rights of the people of Greater London, especially within the ex-LCC area, to vote. The hon. Gentleman had better be very careful when he talks about these matters because the Government he supports are denying a right which is currently possessed by those in Newham and which they have used to ensure that no Conservatives become members of their authority.
§ Mr. Spearing
No, I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He did not give way to Newham Members during his speech and I regret that I do not feel that I can give way to him.
I proceed to another area of undemocratic centralism to which the Government are heading, and that is education. I shall continue with the Newham and Redbridge theme. The hon. Member for Basildon may know that many people from Newham surround him in his residential area in Redbridge. I accept that he knows many people from Newham. He will be aware that some of them attend evening classes in London.
Since 1902 facilities have been provided for adult education. The provision was introduced by the ex-London county council, and is often based on professional employment that is backed by the industries that are well represented by the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler).
The Westminster chamber of commerce and the other London chambers of commerce, in co-operation with the LCC, set up institutions of professional and vocational learning, which still abound in the central area. It is one of the facilities that London must have. The chambers of commerce and others encouraged the establishment of the institutions. At one time, City firms had to bring people from Germany to provide skilled labour in their offices. The time came when they realised that there must be an education system in London to produce the home-grown product.
The ex-LCC education system is not confined to the LCC area. It was designed to perform a function for the whole of London, whether one lived in Redbridge, Ilford, Newham or Islington. That was well recognised throughout the area. Unfortunately, it has not been so easy for that system to be retained. Following the introduction of the new regulations, there has been a change in the number of adults from outer London attending the ex-LCC classes that are now run by ILEA. In 1979, 32,000 students enrolled for ILEA evening classes. In 1983, only 12,000 enrolled. I do not think that the difference of about 1108 20,000 is made up by an increase in the numbers attending equivalent institutions in outer London. I do not believe that that has happened.
I suggest to Conservative Members, especially the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), that the facilities provided by the former Middlesex, Essex, Kent and Surrey county councils for further education in those outer London areas were based on the excellent facilities that were provided by the LCC. I suspect that they were not easily capable of providing equivalent facilities" and it was not suggested that they should do so. In Newham, we have the North-East London polytechnic, which has been subjected to Government cuts and a reduction in staff of 40. That is not in a very good shape to do very much either.
§ Mr. Greenway
The hon. Gentleman and I were colleagues in the ILEA service and we both think highly of it. I am sure that he is not suggesting that ILEA's services are in danger from the Government's proposals or that the services will not continue. Provision for adult education is one of ILEA's best features. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that the high profile of adult education, which costs so much less per capita to provide than many other activities, should continue? Will he accept that since his days and mine in that service there has been a tremendous and unacceptable expansion of bureaucracy, notably within the inspectorate, each member of which has a secretary, an office, a personal assistant and all that goes with that provision? There are other areas in which this has happened and there should be a tightening up of provision, which would be in the interests of the education service in London.
§ Mr. Spearing
The hon. Gentleman has reminded me of something which I should have said at the outset of my remarks. A good many years ago I was an employee of the LCC and later of ILEA. I have family connections with ILEA, for three of my children have attended ILEA schools and I have relatives who teach in them. I do not think that that is an interest that will worry Conservative Members too much, although some of their interests worry my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself quite a lot.
The hon. Gentleman has claimed that the Government's proposals will not have an effect on the services that ILEA provides. Perhaps he has not realised the sequence of events which, if the Government have their way, especially the Prime Minister, will certainly have an effect on the ILEA education machine of which he speaks highly. Because of the changes in the grant system over the past few years, ILEA has not had any central finance. It has had to rely entirely on the rate-funded system, instead of having an injection of centralised finance. So it has borne a much greater proportion of its costs than it should have done.
§ Mr. Greenway
I know that, because I have worked in the ILEA and the LCC, and I have had three children at ILEA schools. What is not in question is the structure of ILEA, and it is quite wrong of the hon. Gentleman to attempt to say that it is. However, ILEA should tighten up its administration. It has become very flabby over the years. My wife has waited three months for an answer to a simple letter. In my view, that is quite inexcusable, when one realises how many people are employed by the authority and the importance of the question that she has raised in her letter.
§ Mr. Spearing
I shall be glad to answer the hon. Gentleman's question. However, before I do, may I say that one of the unfortunate features of this debate has been a complete confusion of efficiency, policy and constitutional and financial structure. One can dislike intensely the policy of a body or criticise its efficiency — as we might do in the case of the Government machine and Whitehall—but we do not say, "Let's do away with it."
§ Mr. Spearing
The hon. Gentleman knows very well that there have been two attempts to do away with the LCC education service, the ILEA education service. I shall go back further. It really started with the London school board in 1870, for which, I remind the hon. Gentleman, there were direct elections, in which ladies could be candidates and in which ladies could vote. I shall come back to that later.
Let us look ahead to what will happen to the ILEA service, which there have been two attempts to destroy. The initial attempts in 1962–63 and the attempt two years back were to give responsibility for education to the boroughs. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is not the current proposition, but the current proposition will inevitably change the nature of ILEA. although it may be legally similar, in practice it will not be similar, and I shall explain why.
§ Mr. Dobson
Does my hon. Friend agree that, if the Secretary of State for Education and Science is to take power for three years to determine the ILEA budget, in effect ILEA will be destroyed?
§ Mr. Spearing
My hon. Friend has taken the words out of my mouth. What one can do is constrained by financial policy. As my hon. Friend says, the Secretary of State — I am not sure whether for the Environment, Education and Science, or Treasury or perhaps the Prime Minister — said that shortly the complete financial control of ILEA will be determined not by County Hall, not by London ratepayers or their elected representatives, but by some financial or governmental mechanism in Whitehall. The hon. Gentleman, as a professional man, knows that those decisions will be taken not in Queen Elizabeth house, but in the Treasury or in a Cabinet sub-committee, or even in No. 10 itself. That is where the power will be to control ILEA, and I challenge the hon. Gentleman to say that ILEA will remain the same. It cannot be the same, whoever is appointed to the board. If the financial control goes to Whitehall, all the policies will go with it, too.
The Government have said that ILEA is overspending—13 per cent., 66 per cent., I do not know. I asked a question on 25 October of the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science about the cost per head. I asked whether the Minister recalled claiming that ILEA was overspending by 66 per cent., and whether that meant that Government spending on each pupil should be reduced by a similar figure. I shall not read out the answer, because it is off the point.
Does the 13 per cent. recently quoted mean that there will be a 13 per cent. drop in expenditure on each pupil? If it is not on each pupil, in secondary and primary schools or in nursery schools, where is it coming from? Is it coming from the diagnostic and remedial service? Where 1110 is it coming from? It cannot come from administration, however efficient or otherwise that might be, because that is only a small part of the cost. Is it coming from teachers' salaries, which are nationally negotiated? It is the Government's responsibility to tell us, not just that there will be a cut, but where it is coming from. So far they have not done so. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that, because of governmental control, there will be a change in the nature of ILEA.
On top of that, of course, there is a change in the nature of those representing ILEA at its top level. In April 1985–86, there will be joint representatives, I understand, appointed by the existing councils for a year. Then there will be local government elections. So there will be a different set of representatives in 1986–89. So we shall have three different administrations, even in whatever remains of County Hall, in the next few years, together with complete centralised control of finance. Not even the most optimistic Government supporter could claim that ILEA would be the same after that.
Finally, I want to say a word about the democratic rights of Londoners to control some of their major London services. Education has always taken probably half the cost of the old LCC area. Since 1870, and beginning well before that, a number of integrated services have arisen. I shall not catalogue them, but the Government are just finding out about them. They have been integrated, and they have been working with relative administrative efficiency. One cannot suddenly separate them and expect the same value for money. The cost of administering any other system would be even greater for the ratepayers of Westminster, North, and they will be much less efficient. The point is that the control will not be in the direct hands of the electors, as it has been for education since 187[...]
The hon. Member for Basildon mentioned West Ha[...] corporation, and I referred to its Victorian virtues. The problem with the present Government is that they t[...]k about Victorian times, but they know nothing of [...]e Victorian virtues which gave rise not only to this party [...] to some of our greatest civic and municipal institution. If the Government bring in a Bill to dissolve the GLC, t[...] Prime Minister will constantly be asked, when she go round the world, why London alone, of all the western capitals, cannot have a proper city administration. I do no believe that the right hon. Lady will be able to answer that question, because she and the Government know nothing of Victorian virtues; they are only expressing Victoria vice.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)
The majority of contributions so fa[...] have come from east London, and it might make sense and give a fairer geographical distribution, to have a contribution at this stage from west London where, fortunately, the picture is not as grim as in some of the parts of east London about which we have heard. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has a nodding acquaintance with my constituency, but of course he spoke from his new political base of Newham, South.
I join in the commendations to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who introduced the motion. He painted a moving picture of some of the real problems that exist in London. No one would wish to deny what he said, but when he said that it was all due to the failure of capitalism, I feel that he began to lose part of 1111 his audience, and not only on the Conservative Benches. When he illustrated the failure of capitalism by pointing to tower blocks, he had gone complete circle. Tower blocks are a monument to Socialism, and in a capitalist society one will not find difficulty in letting tower blocks, whatever one may say about a capitalist society. The hon. Gentleman did not sustain his case when it came to the root causes of some of the problems. If we are to put the problems right, we must get the analysis correct.
There are two legs to the proposition which the hon. Gentleman put to the House when he opened the debate, one dealing with democracy and the other with living standards. I want to address myself to each and to show that the hon. Gentleman's conclusions simply cannot be sustained.
I begin with the most important—democracy. I want to advance the argument that Government action is subject to the checks and balances of our democratic constitution and that our constitution faces threats, but threats that come almost exclusively from the Left rather than the Right or the centre of our political spectrum.
The Government put an unequivocal commitment in their election manifesto last May on all the metropolitan counties and the GLC. They said:We shall abolish them and return most of the functions to the boroughs and the districts.No hon. Member, and few people who are interested in the issues that we are debating, can be unaware of that commitment. Not only were we returned with an increased majority nationally, but we won more seats in London than the Opposition—56 out of 84 in Greater London—and half as many votes again in London as the Labour party. On a purely subjective note, the Government's policy on abolition was well received on the doorsteps of Ealing and Acton.
I make no major claims about the doctrine of the manifesto. I do not want to be drawn into the debate, but I do say that the supporters of democracy would have much more to grumble about if we did not proceed than if we did.
§ Mr. Dobson
Has any Conservative candidate said that the powers of the GLC over London Transport would be taken over by a quango or a board appointed by the Minister which would be able to levy rates on London?
§ Sir George Young
I hope that none of my hon. Friends said that, because it would not be true.
Having been elected, we set out our proposals in the White Paper and consulted on them. We shall table the appropriate legislation for approval by both Houses and we shall then defend what we have done at the next general election, by which time Londoners will be able to judge exactly what substance there is in some of the scare stories being put out by the Labour party at County Hall, some of which are beginning to look pretty threadbare.
What we have done, and what we propose to do, is subject to all the snakes and ladders of the British constitution.
§ Sir George Young
The idea that the abolition of the GLC is a threat to democracy was never advanced by the Labour party at the general election. I well recall one "Newsnight", when the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was asked what his party would do about the GLC. He refused categorically 1112 to give any commitment whatever that it would defend the GLC. In any case, it would have been difficult for Labour Members to pursue the constitutional argument that the removal of a tier of local government was undemocratic in the light of the Labour party's commitment, given by the right hon. Gentleman at the Labour party's local government conference on 11 February last year, when he said:The time has come, once and for all, to introduce what most people devoted to local government now recognise as the most democratic as well as the most efficient form of authority. We shall therefore legislate to create unitary district authorities which will be responsible for all the functions in their area that they can sensibly undertake.
If the election had gone the other way, Labour Members would probably be standing on this side of the House defending proposals to remove a tier of local government. The tier which they wanted to remove—the county councils—provides far more services to the public than does the GLC, and that change would have meant far more disruption.
As we have discovered i n our debate this morning, Ken Livingstone is a supporter of one tier of local government in London. In his speech at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy conference as recently as 3 June 1982, he said:To be really effective that means we have to have unitary local government in this country, and clearly people would be better served if it was provided by the borough councils in the metropolitan areas. I have always at heart been committed to the borough council rather than to regional government.The Opposition's posture on local government was summed up by one of their delegates to their recent local government conference in Nottingham, when he said:A year ago our Party's local government policy was in chaos —and it is still in chaos.He went on to say:A year ago we were in favour of the mets, now we seem to have no positive policies of our own at all; our only policy is opposition to Tory policies. We need an alternative.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I am delighted to know that the Minister spends so much time listening to the Labour party's local government conference. If the Conservative party had a similar conference, we could all listen to it. Our complaint is not about the reorganisation of government, but about the way in which it is being done and the way in which the GLC will be replaced by a series of joint boards and unelected quangos. Why will the Minister not establish a Royal Commission, or, if he wants to test the strength of his case, hold a referendum? Our objection is to the style of his approach.
§ Sir George Young
I wonder whether we have been listening to the same debate. The arguments were not as the hon. Gentleman has interpreted them. Of course, he has not been in the Chamber all the time. The Opposition's argument has been that it is wrong to abolish the GLC per se. They did not develop the consequential arguments put forward by the hon. Gentleman, as he will see if he reads Hansard.
I agree with Opposition Members that the democracy of London is threatened. It is certainly threatened when councillors in Brent are prevented by a mob from discharging their obligations. The Caribbean Times said — [Interruption.] It is a good newspaper, which I read every week. It said: 1113The Labour group in Brent as we predicted last week finally came crashing down. Their behaviour and that of their supporters were a disgrace to the Labour Party that so many of our people have supported over the years.The disgraceful scenes in the Willesden High School hall showed quite clearly why a spell in the opposition would do them a world of good.
Democracy in Lambeth is not assisted by attempts by the Labour party to hold on to power by bringing forward by two months the traditional date of the mayor-making ceremony. Democracy in Lambeth was disgraced when a Social Democratic party councillor, who had left the Labour party, returned to it after an indefensible campaign of violence and intimidation — [HON. MEMBERS: "Smear."] I understand why Opposition Members feel so sensitive about these issues. We are debating democracy in London. The issues that I have described are a fundamental threat to democracy in our capital city.
Democracy in local government in London is also threatened by the breaking down of the distinction between elected politicians and neutral officers. The integrity of public service is undermined by a whole series of appointments at County Hall—the appointment of Mr. Reg Race, a former Labour Member of Parliament, as head programme officer; the appointment of Robin Murray, the former Tribune group economic adviser, as chief economic adviser; the appointment of Mr. Alan McGarvey, and those of Mr. Arthur Latham and Miss Merle Amory to the London Transport Board.
Democracy is also threatened by the issuing of party political propaganda funded by the ratepayer. There has been a never-ending paper chain in London in recent weeks. Londoners have had countless sheets of purple prose, masquerading as news, pushed through their letter boxes, and have seen hoardings covered with expensive anti-Government posters.
Of course those who oppose the Government have a right to make their voices heard, but what we are seeing in London is quite different from that. We are talking about campaigns costing millions of pounds, as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West conceded. Such campaigns are highly party political. They are funded out of the public purse at the expense of the wretched ratepayer.
I understand the concern of our supporters who wonder why we do not respond in similar terms. The Government are not prepared to enter into irresponsible action, using public funds. We will explain our policies, defend them in the House, on the doorstep and in the media—but we reject the expensive gimmicks, the mass rallies, the organised write-in campaigns and the lapel badge politics as weapons of democracy.
Londoners should know exactly what is the scale of the campaign. The GLC has spent more than £750,000 this year, and plans to have spent a further £1 million before the end of March. It has engaged professional advertising agencies whose contracts, according to press reports, are worth £300,000 a year in commission alone. Moreover, about 20 authorities are reported to be contributing to the so-called local government campaign which already has a bureaucracy of nine. It would be less appalling if there were some concern for factual accuracy in some of the documents. However, much of the material is aimed to alarm rather than to inform. For example, the GLC said 1114 in a recent edition of The Londoner that more people in London would die in fires after abolition of the GLC. That is utter nonsense.
§ Ms. Harman
With regard to factual accuracy about the GLC and the ILEA, is the Minister not worried about the factual inaccuracies given to the House by the Secretary of State for Education and Science? On 7 February 1984 he said that there were 6,073 more non-teaching staff than teachers in the authority's employment. That is completely wrong. There are 2,544 more teachers than non-teachers. When we are talking about facts, why do the Government not look at their own returns before telling us that we are being inaccurate?
§ Sir George Young
I am not sure whether the hon. Lady has seen a copy of the letter which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science sent to the leader of the ILEA. It deals with precisely the points that she mentions.
§ Sir George Young
If she has not seen it, its text is further on in my speech and, if she can contain herself, I might get to it in a few minutes.
Democracy in London is not served by attempts in some London schools to use the school system for party political purposes.
§ Sir George Young
I am about to do so. A leaflet on the future of the Greater London development plan quotes the examples of someone asking children in a school what the GLC stood for. "Working for London," they all chorused. Democracy is not served by Camden council, for example, imposing restrictions on the freedom of the individual. I saw in yesterday's paper that it is banning a pianist from appearing in one of its festivals unless he agrees never to appear in South Africa again. Nor is democracy in London served by a continuous attack on the police, whose job it is to preserve the law and order on which our freedoms depend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) made a powerful speech about the police. The House ought to know that Paul Boateng, the chairman of the GLC's police committee, speaking at a fringe meeting of the Labour party conference in 1982, proclaimed that Britain's police were "Mrs. Thatcher's storm troopers". Nor are the police helped by funding, at the ratepayers" expense, so-called police support units, the purpose of which is not to support the police but to criticise them.
We have heard the argument about whether there should be a voice for London. The GLC has never supplied an articulate London-wide representative voice. I do not think that Londoners thought that Sir Horace Cutler spoke for them, and I am pretty sure that they do not think that Ken Livingstone speaks for them, especially if he holds the following view about our democratic system, which he expressed in an article in Town and Country Planning.The conflict between labour and capital is still to come in his country … The Government knows a conflict is coining. That is why it is necessary to abolish those power centres which argue in a small way that there is an alternative.That view is not shared by many Londoners.
The inevitable result of the activity that I have described has been less support for the Labour party. In Brent a few weeks ago a safe Labour ward was lost to the 1115 Conservatives and with it went control of that council. The activities that I have described are not typical of all Labour parties in London, but sadly it is a growing trend, which receives little support from Londoners. Before the Labour party initiates a debate on democracy in London and starts to criticise the Government, it should have a long hard look at itself and put its house in order.
The second proposition advanced by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West concerned living standards. The prosperity of London and of Londoners is linked inexorably to the health of the national economy. The extent to which the GLC, under whichever party, can shield London from the ebb and flow of the national economy is marginal. It is ultimately the success of the Government in creating the right climate, encouraging investment, providing jobs and increasing earnings that is the key to living standards of Londoners.
I am sure that the House will take comfort from the series of encouraging economic indicators of the past few months. House building starts in Greater London for 1982 were 46 per cent. up on the previous year and 65 per cent. up on 1980. Public sector starts in Greater London for 1982 were also up on the two previous years. Private sector starts in Greater London for 1982 were the highest for nine years and 30 per cent. up on the previous year.
The outlook for the construction industry, which is so vital to the London economy, continues to brighten. Nationally, output in the first three quarters of 1983 was 4 per cent. higher than for the same period of 1982, and recently released figures show that new orders in 1983 were at the highest level since 1978, and 13 per cent. higher than 1982. Public non-housing orders were the highest since 1976.
§ Mr. Dobson
What were the building starts in 1979 compared with 1982? Will the Minister confirm that one of the major reasons why so many people, particularly in inner London, can no longer get rehoused by borough councils is the collapse of the borough council's housing programmes as a result of Government restrictions?
§ Sir George Young
I think the hon. Member knows that the dramatic reduction in public investment in housing in London began in 1976, after the IMF visited us, and fell for six or seven years. Happily, under this Government that decline has been reversed.
The retail price index fell by 0.1 per cent. in January —only the third monthly fall in 14 years. The inflation rate is down from 5.3 per cent. in December to 5.1 per cent. now.
The proposals to abolish the GLC and the six metropolitan county councils will have no effect on local government capital spending or on the capacity of local government to invest in construction. We recognise the need to ensure that projects under way are continued by the appropriate successor authority.
§ Sir George Young
I must make progress, because there are a large number of London Members who wish to make their contributions. I note that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) is being restrained by his hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman).
I said that the ability of the GLC to help was limited, but unfortunately the GLC has a capacity to obstruct, slow 1116 down, foil or complicate, which can delay and lose investment opportunities and jobs in London. Its belief is that people who work in offices, as opposed to factories, are somehow not contributing to the nation's prosperity. That prejudice has led to a series of planning inquiries which have delayed badly needed investment in the rundown parts of inner London. The GLC has a negative approach—
§ Sir George Young
It is in the hon. Lady's interest that I complete my remarks, so that the House may have an opportunity to listen to what she may have to say.
The GLC has a somewhat negative approach to the London Docklands development corporation, which is now breathing fresh life into a neglected part of London. It is estimated that, in the docklands as a whole, 1,964 new permanent jobs have been created since the LDDC's inception, and that 1,528 temporary jobs have been created in the construction industry.
By January 1984, on sites released by the LDDC, 800 housing units had been completed. In addition, 1,700 are under construction and 2,000 are firmly programmed. The LDDC gives priority to local people, council tenants, and those on the waiting list. People in those groups secured about 30 per cent. in the Beckton schemes and have reserved 42 out of 47 homes on one of the first sites to be developed in Southwark. With this, the tenure of households in docklands is changing, so that 9 per cent. of households in docklands are now owner-occupied, as compared with 5.3 per cent. in 1981. It is hoped that the rate in docklands will be 30 per cent. by 1986.
Private investment worth over £100 million is under way or committed, providing over 1 million sq ft of commercial and industrial floorspace.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
The Minister will no doubt accept that the LDDC is a Government-created body; it is certainly not a democratic body. Of the jobs created, what proportion went to local people in the boroughs? He mentioned figures for local occupants of housing, but clearly the jobs that have been created have gone to people coming in from outside the area. Indeed, there has been a net job loss for the people who live and work in the community.
§ Sir George Young
The hon. Member tempts me into a rather complicated debate about travel-to-work areas in London. I shall inquire whether the information can be obtained in the form that he wishes. I should be misleading him if I said that I carry the figures in my head.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West asked why Newham had been refused partnership status. That 'was a legitimate question and I know that there are strong feelings in his part of London about the consequences of not having partnership or programme status. Newham narrowly missed that status when we promoted a number of authorities recently.
Newham already receives money under the urban programme, as one of the designated districts, and account will be taken this year of its needs under the traditional urban programme. Part of the answer is that LDDC investment benefits Newham. The corporation is spending £3.3 million in the borough on environmental improvements and £4.2 million on roads. It gives £165,000 to voluntary organisations and £290,000 to 31 firms in the 1117 borough under the Inner Urban Areas Act. To that extent, the borough is compensated for the absence of partnership status.
§ Mr. Chris Smith
If the Under-Secretary is concerned about the needs of Newham, will he explain why the grant-related expenditure assessment of the borough's spending needs in the present financial year is down by 1.5 per cent. compared with the previous year, whereas in the rest of England and Wales the GREAs are up by an average of 3 per cent.?
§ Sir George Young
I am sure that that is due to interest rates. Fortunately, my fellow Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who understands these matters, is at my elbow. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have done little else in the past three or four days than debate with him in Committee the implications of grant-related expenditure. I am reluctant to weary the rest of the House with that upmarket debate, which is proceeding rather slowly in Committee.
The GLC also has the capacity to deter investment in London by increasing the rates disproportionately and encouraging potential entrepreneurs who would like to invest in London to go elsewhere. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North menioned the London chamber of commerce and industry's trends survey of March to June 1983, in which 23 per cent. of companies surveyed said that rate increases in the past two years had caused them to cut their work force and another 15 per cent. said that they had curtailed recruitment. One in six companies said that they had relocated in the past five years because of high rate increases or the promise of low rates elsewhere.
§ Sir George Young
If they were asked, they would have welcomed the Government's success in reducing interest rates by five points over the past two years.
More than 40 per cent. of companies said that the level of rates was a decisive factor in determining where to locate new plant. If Labour Members and members of the GLC think that high rates are such a good idea, I wonder why they cut them this year.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The hon. Gentleman will not find many defenders of the rating system on the Labour Benches or in County Hall. Indeed, we were waiting with great interest for the Conservative party to bring out another of its 1979 manifesto undertakings—the promise to do something about the domestic rating system. In the event, the Government have done nothing except introduce the rate-capping Bill.
Would the Under-Secretary be prepared to commission a proper, independent, respected inquiry so that we can see, once and for all, the relationship between unemployment, job losses and rates?
§ Sir George Young
The hon. Gentleman's argument is destroyed by his friend at County Hall who boasted of 1118 the rates reduction and said that it would have a beneficial impact on the London economy. We do not need an inquiry. The hon. Member for Peckham said during the hon. Gentleman's intervention that she already has all the answers to his questions about the impact of rates on location decisions. If the hon. Gentleman will develop the dialogue, he will get all the information that he needs.
A number of exaggerated claims have been made about what will happen to London when the GLC is abolished. For example, the chairman of the GLC, Tony McBrearty, has been reported as speculating that the abolition of the GLC will mean a halt to the development of Thamesmead. He said thatno private developer would be prepared to take on a scheme of this scale".Yet we have already had approaches from two firms which are interested in taking over responsibility for seeing the development through to completion.
A GLC official is quoted in a recent edition of "Roof' magazine as saying,If we are abolished, you might as well abandon any idea of improving stock.—" That is, housing stockAll the expertise would be lost, boroughs would take longer to work up to it, the deprived areas would stay that way.That is nonsense. Such talk is alarmist and misleading. There is no reason why improvement works cannot be carried out at borough level, as a substantial number are already.
Some remarks have been made about London Transport, and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Sir A. Berry) read the reply of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport which gave pensioners the assurances that they need. I hope that the GLC will now call off the expensive campaign on London Transport.
§ Sir George Young
I am reluctant to give way on this point, because, as I mentioned, there will, I think, be a Committee amendment to the London Regional Transport Bill, and that will provide a full opportunity to have a proper debate on London Transport. I would rather that that were the forum in which to pursue this matter, especially as there are several other questions that I wish to try to answer.
This has also been a debate about ILEA, the possibility of savings and the impact on the standard of education. There is plenty of opportunity for making savings in ILEA, and its leaders have been at particular pains to create a wholly misleading impression and to arouse unnecessary concern about our proposals. I want to make sure that hon. Members understand the true position, because the education of the children of inner London is far too important to be subjected to scaremongering.
Nationally, expenditure per pupil is at record levels in real terms—5 per cent. up in secondary schools and 10 per cent. up in primary schools since 1979 — and the pupil-teacher ratio is at its best-ever level. I must make it absolutely clear that ILEA is not to be dismembered, broken-up or abolished. In abolishing the GLC, of which the present ILEA is a part, we propose to replace ILEA by another single education authority to perform the same functions of looking after education for inner London. This new authority will be a joint board composed of 1119 councillors chosen by the inner London borough councils, the Common Council of the City. Some members of ILEA are already chosen in that way.
§ Sir George Young
I must make progress. ILEA has spent excessively for many years, and next year's budget of £920 million is nearly £400 million in excess of its grant-related expenditure. GRE takes full account of social needs and special factors, such as London weighting, for the purposes of distributing Government block grant.
If ILEA were to be rate-capped in 1985–86, it would not be possible in a single year to undo the effects of ILEA's over-expenditure. That is the answer to some of the figures that Opposition Members have bandied around. The Government would have to judge what could realistically be achieved in a single year. We happen to believe that substantial sums could be saved—for example, on school meals, administration, non-teaching costs and so on—without detriment to the quality of education.
§ Sir George Young
Let me give the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) a few telling comparisons. In the three years to 1982–83, ILEA's spending on school meals went up by 25 per cent., whereas nationally it went down by 2.5 per cent. ILEA spent 60 per cent. more per pupil than the national average.
Of course ILEA has its problems, but so do other areas. ILEA spends 37 per cent. more per secondary pupil than Ealing, which has the same range of problems, in that it must also look after Southall. ILEA spent 40 per cent. more than Manchester, 46 per cent. more than Newcastle and 76 per cent. more than Birmingham. This year, ILEA spending is up 11 per cent. on last year's—far more than any other authority — yet the number of inner London children is falling faster than the national average.
§ Sir George Young
I must draw my remarks to a conclusion.
I have read most of the important submissions that have come in as a result of our consultation exercise. I have seen nothing there, and have heard nothing today, which leads me to alter my view that abolition of the GLC is right. Indeed, much has reinforced it, not least the positive response from the London Boroughs Association, whose members will assume most of the powers that are devolved.
As someone who has served as a London borough councillor, a GLC member, a London Member of Parliament and a Minister at the Department of the Environment, I hope that I am in a good position to look at this issue in a broad perspective. I must tell the House that there is life after the GLC. Not only is it not the case that London will collapse like a pack of cards when the GLC is abolished, but there are positive benefits and advantages to be secured from abolition. It will lift a burden of unnecessary bureaucracy off the shoulders of Londoners and they will feel the benefits in their pockets when the result is rates lower than would otherwise have been the case. They will be better able to exercise close 1120 democratic control over the services that will be run by their local, accessible town halls, and not from the remoteness of County Hall.
I refute entirely the hon. Gentleman's motion. Our policies are designed to improve the democratic rights of Londoners in asserting control over local government. Our broader policies are designed to improve the education and health services in London, and our economic policies are the best way forward to prosperity for Londoners. We will bring forward legislation, as we promised, and we shall secure a healthy and wealthy capital city.
§ 1 pm
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
I begin, as did many hon. Members, by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) on coming first in the ballot. I hope to emulate his example next week, in a debate on housing.
We are debating the Government's vindictive attack on the GLC and on London as a whole. The Conservative party proposes to do to London with a parliamentary sledgehammer what it failed to do at the ballot box. I do not deny that it is obvious that the Conservative party has more Members of Parliament in London than the Labour party, and that it gained more votes than the Labour party. However, that is not the issue. The issue is the way in which Londoners determine, in municipal elections, how London should be run. Arguments about the GLC spending its money on propaganda and other matters, and judgments on how much ILEA spends on school meals and books, are irrelevant. Perhaps Conservative Members are right about expenditure in some areas, but in other areas the SDP and the Labour party are right.
The argument that the Government have a majority carries no weight. If that argument were pursued in a federal state, the moment a federal Government had a majority it could abolish democracy in those states where there was no political agreement. But that has never been the argument. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Sir A. Berry) arguing that one reason for the abolition of the GLC was that not many people voted in the local elections, and he mentioned a high point of 45 per cent. However, the figure for voting in the American presidential election is not substantially higher than that. If he had to choose between votes of about 40 per cent. in the American presidential elections and votes of about 99 per cent. in presidential elections in the USSR, I am sure that he would regard the lower percentage in the United States as being more democratic.
§ Sir Anthony Berry
The point that I was trying to make was that the coupon that we have received showing that Londoners are keen to exercise their rights in GLC elections is nonsense, since most people do not use their democratic rights.
§ Mr. Fraser
It is not helpful to take the figure for London as a whole. In the last GLC election in my constituency, where Mr. Knight was a candidate, there was a high turn-out of voters because there was considerable interest in the campaign.
§ Mr. Fraser
We all know what happened. When there is a narrow margin in a constituency, the vote tends to 1121 increase. The hon. Gentleman's argument that a poll of about 45 per cent. is a reason for abolishing a democratic institution holds no water.
I am proud to represent part of one of the great cities of the world. When I say city, I do not mean the commercial square mile, which by 227 per cent. has gone above its grant-related expenditure, but is not in any danger of abolition. There is one thing that one can say about the Tory party: it knows how to look after its friends. When I use the word "city" in my speech, I am talking about the city conurbation which I am proud to represent. London as a whole, compared with other conurbations in Britain, is relatively prosperous. I say "relatively prosperous" and "as a whole" because London suffers from pockets of massive poverty, despair and alienation. London's prosperity as a whole should make us even more aware and ashamed of the pockets of poverty.
London is also a great commercial city, but if the Government persist in their obsessive fixation about doing nothing to regulate the commercial activities of the City of London it could suffer. The Government have yet to learn the lessons of Lloyds. They seem to believe in a policy of doing nothing or as little as possible, as evidenced by their capitulation to the stock exchange. The City could do with streamlining — streamlining of investors, of regulation of insurance and of the commodity markets. The Government can take the square mile and streamline there. Their aversion to legislation and interference there is beginning to do some harm to our commercial reputation and integrity.
London is a great artistic centre, one of the greatest in the world, with its range of music from punk to opera. It is a great dramatic centre and a great centre of artistic endeavour. All those things are at risk from the Government's proposals to abolish the GLC and to delegate these matters to local authorities.
§ Mr. Fraser
The Under-Secretary says, "Nonsense," but there has been masses of responsible, non-party criticism of the Government's artistic policy in London which make it clear that London needs support for the arts as a whole. There is bound to be failure and inter-borough jealousies the moment that the Government try to delegate support for the arts into boroughs rather than into the GLC.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. William Waldegrave)
As the hon. Member knows, when I wear another hat I have to answer questions on the arts. One of the things that I have learnt about is the considerable fear for the arts after the election of Mr. Livingstone's GLC. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has now left the Chamber, but the first thing that he did on the election of the Labour GLC was to threaten the opera house grant, and to sell the pictures from Kenwood, and the GLC is now discriminating against the performers who may or may not appear at the south bank. That is not a very strong line for the hon. Member to take.
§ Mr. Fraser
I do not pretend to be an expert on the arts, but I am reflecting the opinions expressed by many people who know more about these matters than I do. However, when it comes to support for theatres, orchestras or 1122 institutions that go beyond borough boundaries, the idea that boroughs will voluntarily come together and be unselfish in their support of artistic institutions will not hold water.
London is also a tourist centre, but this is bound to suffer as against other cities, once the Government interfere with the London transport system, and fares are inevitably increased and services reduced. One of the great attractions of many cities as tourist centres is the ability of people to travel freely and cheaply from one part of the city to another. I have had discussions with the tourist industry, in which one thing became clear about the decline of tourism to this country —the the effect of the very high level of fares as between one city and another. The same argument would obtain in London when services are curtailed and fares increased. There will be an adverse effect on tourism, which is a valuable earner of foreign currency.
London is a generous city which has not guarded its prosperity much. It has been quite tolerant in seeing thousands of its jobs go to other parts of the country, to development areas and to new towns. Since the end of the war, London must have lost hundreds and thousands of jobs in that way. London's citizens do not complain too much that motor car taxation is dealt with in Swansea, or in Bell street, Dundee, or that their personal taxation is dealt with not in London but in Cardiff or Edinburgh. Londoners have been pretty tolerant about the way in which London has lost some of its jobs and about the fact that the Mint and many of our industries have moved away. Recently, for example, Companies house moved to Cardiff.
London is not crying out for privilege or patronage. Londoners demand one thing, and that is equitable and fair treatment from central Government and a recognition of the fact that neglect of parts of London, particularly some of the poorer inner city boroughs, could — if Government policy and the present trend in deprivation continue—turn segments of London into the hell holes found in many American cities.
When I first went to New York and saw some of its more awful aspects — modern versions of Dante's Inferno— I was struck by the thought that if we got policy wrong in London there would be similar hell holes and areas of deprivation, alienation and violence in London. Our capital has a reputation for being relatively peaceful. However, I am afraid that some of my fears are beginning to come true. Indeed, they came true in the riots of 1981.
The Government have done nothing in terms of diminishing unemployment, increasing the supply of housing, or diminishing homelessness to give us any more hope now than we had in 1981. Lord Scarman reported on the social aspect of the riots and said:There are, however, three areas of disadvantage which emerge from the evidence I have received.He highlights housing, education and employment. The Government have done nothing about any of them on their own initiative that has done anything to improve the prospects for London since those riots in 1981. Indeed, unemployment has increased much more since that inquiry.
I welcome the diminution in crime in some parts of London. I hope that I have personally played a helpful part in my borough by obtaining new forms of policing and working in co-operation with the police and the 1123 community. The two must work together. However, recently the number of murders in London has increased to one a day. One can hardly open the South London Press without seeing reports of not one murder, but two or three a week. That murder rate is an indication of the deeply disturbed state of parts of our capital. The hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) shakes his head, but such murders are quite distinct from the more professional crimes, and are a sign of the deeply disturbed nature of some of the deprived areas in our city.
§ Mr. Wheeler
Surely the hon. Gentleman appreciates that nearly all cases of homicide in London—whether or not they are murders is a decision that rests finally on the court's verdict—involve parties who are related to each other in one way or another. They do not involve the killing of innocent members of the public.
§ Mr. Fraser
Even if the murder is domestic, it is a sign of a deep disturbance in the pattern of family life. Furthermore, we are beginning to see incidents of mindless violence between total strangers. I hope that such incidents are simply a flash in the pan, and will diminish in number, but the present state of serious crime in London shows just how disturbed our capital is becoming.
It used to be said of certain Labour party candidates that if a donkey were put up for election it would be elected. I never believed that, but it used to be said in criticism of our party. While I do not accuse Conservative Members of being donkeys, I accuse them of being Trojan horses. They have been elected to represent London, but they are prepared to play a part in its abolition and impoverishment. There has been little defence for the interests of London from them in today's debate.
Greater London does not have a patron saint, unlike Paris, which has the martyr, St. Denis. If Greater London had to choose a patron saint, it would probably choose St. Sebastian because of the number of attacks from different sources which are being inflicted on it, and I will deal with some of the arrow shots at the body of London.
First, let us consider unemployment, which is a measure of the neglect, indeed the malevolence, of the present Government. In 1979, the total number unemployed in Greater London was 126,000. By the end of 1983, it had reached 366,000, an increase of 240,000 since the Conservatives took office. When the Minister talks about things getting better, with economic turn-ups and the rest, he should look across the river from the Library at the figure displayed on County Hall, showing 375,000 unemployed in Greater London. That is an absolute record for the number of unemployed in our capital city. There is no sign of an upturn taking place. Indeed, if there were an upturn one would expect to detect it in the capital city. In other words, there is nothing in the unemployment figures showing an increase in the prosperity of London.
Looked at in percentage terms, the rate of unemployment in London since the Conservatives came to office has risen from 3.4 per cent. to almost 12 per cent., an increase of more than 300 per cent. overall. Looking at the figures for some of the individual employment exchanges—we have been provided with a list—we see that in my constituency overall unemployment has gone up by about 300 per cent., and in Hackney, one of the poorest areas not just in London but in the country, it has risen by 253 per cent.
1124 The outer London areas are not exempt either. In Hayes —I do not think that an hon. Member who represents that constituency has been present during the debate—the rate is up by 338 per cent. In Mitcham—nor is that area represented here today—unemployment has risen by 527 per cent. since the Conservatives were elected. In other words, unemployment is one of the attacks that has taken place on London and has led to the impoverishment not just of individuals who find themselves on the dole but of society as a whole.
The second attack on London—this was mentioned by the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) —has been the attack on the Health Service; 87 per cent. of all manpower cuts have taken place in the Thames region, and the figures inside London are staggering. There have been compulsory job cuts totalling 3,753, and they must be added to the figures of unemployment which I gave. Those cuts have been imposed on a city in which the standards of primary health care and family practitioner service are much worse than in other parts of the country. In other words, the second attack has been on the Health Service.
The third attack has been on housing in London. Nobody would deny that one of the biggest problems of London is the lack of decent, secure housing. One of the main causes of the break-up of family life is inadequate housing—indeed, perhaps it is sometimes the cause of murder — with people living cheek by jowl, with insufficient insulation between, so preventing them from living a private and secure life.
In the public sector in 1979—it is the only sector for which the Government are directly responsible and that being the last complete year in which we had a Labour Government — 17,461 homes were completed and 10,994 were started. In 1983 —I have annualised the figures for the first nine months — completions were running at an annual rate of only 6,400, one third of the level of completions achieved in 1979. The figure for starts, also 6,400, was two thirds of the total inherited by the Conservatives in 1979, and the figures have dipped even lower in the four or five years while they have been in office. The combination of local authorities and housing associations produced 6,400 starts on new dwellings. That must be compared with the scale of London's problems. About 250,000 Londoners are on housing waiting lists, but the numbers on the lists are not usually a very good indication of housing need, which is often greater than the lists suggest. A recent citizens advice bureaux summary on homelessness in London revealed that 447,000 families or households are overcrowded or are living in circumstances in which more than one household is sharing. There are 16,000 homeless families and 14,000 of them are in short-stay hostel accommodation.
I gained some idea of the problem when I visited Rowton house, which Lambeth borough council has been able to acquire with Government help. My visit gave me an idea of the depths of housing problems in London. In Rowton house, many men have lived in cubicles of about 8 ft by 3 ft. The cubicles looked rather worse than prison cells. Borough council officials and I discovered to our horror that some of the men had been living in this accommodation for 30 or 40 years. They had not been there for short periods while they were temporarily unemployed or in poverty. They were living in conditions which were worse in terms of space and general accommodation than those provided in a prison cell.
1125 All London Members will be aware from their advice bureau sessions of the despair and frustration expressed by those who are denied a full and happy life as a result of inadequate housing. What is the right measure? Is it the 250,000 who are on housing waiting lists, or the almost 500,000 who have inadequate accommodation or overcrowding? Against those massive totals, we have 6,500 public sector starts a year. That provision is well down on the figures that the Government inherited. This represents an unconscionable attack upon the rights and ability of Londoners to lead a decent life.
The Government are also mounting an attack on transport. I shall not go into the issue in great detail because transport matters are currently being debated in Committee. I do not understand how anyone can doubt that taking away London Transport from any form of democratic control and reducing subsidy is bound to provide London with a transport system that is less efficient, that will cause more pollution, that will be involved in more accidents, that will be more expensive and, as a result, will interfere with people's freedom.
I represent a poor constituency and I know that one of the things that is relevant to unemployment and the ability to get a job is cheap transport. When fares are forced up and transport services are curtailed, passengers generally are hit, but those who are hit especially hard are those who are looking for work, whose share of the labour market will be in the lower paid sector. There is a close relationship between the ability to travel cheaply on public transport and the ability to obtain a job. The attack on public transport in London will have a much wider effect than that which can be measured in services and fares.
The Government are also mounting an attack upon the Inner London education authority. It is said by some that the Government propose to decimate expenditure on education in London. I believe that they intend to do rather more than that. They are proposing a cut of 13 per cent. They plan to reduce the budget of ILEA by a figure that is equal to about five times the amount that we spend on nursery schools. It is equivalent to about two thirds of the total expenditure on primary and secondary education. That will be about the scale of the cut.
§ Mr. Fraser
I note that the Under-Secretary shakes his head, but from recollection we spend about £125 million on primary education in inner London and the Government propose to cut ILEA expenditure by £125 million. We have been given figures to show the amount of overspending that there has been by ILEA, and we have heard proposals by the Government to take over and control ILEA expenditure for three years. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to conclude that it is the Government's aim to decimate expenditure in London and to cut from its budget a sum equivalent to the total amount spent on primary education in London and five times the amount spent on nursery school education in inner London.
§ Mr. Tracey
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me on this important matter, because the Labour party constantly homes in on it, trying to make out that a Conservative Administration will cut the front end, that it has done that in the Health Service, and that it is doing it here with education. Surely the point is that in 1126 ILEA there are vast numbers of unused or underused buildings, and there is a vast administrative tail that could be cut, but there is no reason to suggest that the teaching of children needs to be cut in any way.
§ Mr. Fraser
We disagree. There is a place to settle the matter, and it is called the ballot box. I, like many of my Labour colleagues, have been to parents' meetings in and around my constituency, where there is a great interest in the matter. There was great interest when the Government were considering the abolition of the ILEA a few years ago, when Baroness Young carried out an inquiry into the matter.
All of us, as Members of Parliament, have to attend parents' meetings. I always give parents the facts. I tell them that in inner London we spend more on books and equipment than almost any other education authority in the country, that we have a better pupil-teacher ratio than almost any other part of the country, that we have a better scholarship and grant record than almost any other part of the country, that we have a better record in adult education than almost any other part of the country, and that it costs more than in almost any other part of the country. I tell them that they have the choice. On the one hand, they can elect a Tory ILEA, which will spend less and have fewer nurseries, less adult education, fewer classes, and less spent on meals. On the other hand, they have the choice of a Labour ILEA which will spend more.
In my experience, the middle classes, above all the rest, come to the meetings and say, "Yes. We have the freedom to spend our money as we wish, and we intend to vote for more expenditure, not less." In the last resort, the choice is not that of the Under-Secretary, and it should not be the choice of the mad monk, the Secretary of State for Education and Science; it should be the choice of the electors and the parents in London, voting at the ballot box. Does the hon. Gentleman disagree with that?
§ Mr. Tracey
With respect, on the subject of democracy, I asked the Labour party whether it consulted the local authorities when it wanted to impose comprehensive education throughout the country. That is point 1.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will stick at point 1 for the time being. I note that he is seeking to catch my eye to speak in the debate. He cannot have it both ways.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman can pursue the point about comprehensive education in his own speech.
I want to say one more thing before I put a challange to the Under-Secretary. Of course we spend more. I believe that people should have a choice. However, there is no case whatever for the Government to interfere because, unlike any other education authority in the United Kingdom, ILEA does not get a penny of assistance from the Government. It is completely a London domestic matter. The Under-Secretary of State says that it is public expenditure. So what? Why should not the people of London choose collectively whether they wish to spend their money on the education of their children, on foreign holidays or on stereos? It is monetary madness to suggest that the parents of children in London should not have that clear democratic choice.
As I was talking, the Under-Secretary mumbled about the decimation of expenditure by ILEA on London's 1127 children. Perhaps he will now tell us whether the Government propose to cut ILEA's expenditure by at least 10 per cent. Can we have an assurance that there will be no interference with its spending and democratic judgment of what is best for London's children and education?
§ Sir George Young
I am reluctant to take up the time of the House, particularly to repeat what I have already said. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman listened. If ILEA were to be rate-capped in 1985–86, it would not be possible to undo in one year the effect of its over-expenditure. The Government would have to judge what could realistically be achieved in a year. That is what I said and that is the position. Labour Members' figures have no substance whatever.
§ Mr. Fraser
I interpret that as meaning that the Government will not be able to perform the amputation in one year, but that they will be able to do so in three years.
The Government do not have a good record. They are proud of the reputation of London's police force. They say that the Metropolitan police are now more effective in reducing crime. The hon. Member for Westminster, North said so. How have the Government done that? Have they done it by cutting expenditure on the Metropolitan police or by reducing staff? Have they cut out administrators or canteen meals — the equivalent of school meals in ILEA? Of course not. The Government have done it by employing more policemen and spending more money.
Incidentally, the Metropolitan police force is not very efficient. The Minister of State, Home Office, in a written answer to me, said that expenditure on the Metropolitan police, expressed in terms of the cost of crime cleared up in London, was £5,578 compared with £1,461 in the metropolitan counties. That is almost four times the cost of clearing up crime in the metropolitan counties, yet the Under-Secretary of State is complaining about figures 37 per cent. above the cost of the comparative education authority. That is bogus. At the end of the day it must be for Londoners to decide on the quality and standard of their services.
Of course, the Government bemoan the fact that there have been rate increases by the Greater London council. As a ratepayer and representative of many poor people, I hold no brief for high rate demands, and the sooner we can change the system the better. It impinges not just upon business but upon some of the worst paid people in the community. It is a regressive form of taxation and no hon. Members like it. However, a large part of the increase in the expenditure of metropolitan boroughs in London, the GLC and ILEA, has come not just from their proposals but from the fact that the Government have penalised them. Half the GLC's rate increase is attributable not to its policies and plans, but to the policies of the Treasury and the Department of the Environment. The same is true of ILEA and boroughs such as Lambeth, which, at the time of the riots was fined £6 million and on current proposals may be fined £30 million. A large part of the rate increases is due to Government action.
If ILEA is abolished, further expense of about £150 million will fall upon the boroughs—13 of which are among the 20 poorest boroughs in the country. The Government's proposals, which have been published in the White Paper "Steamrollering" — "Streamlining the Cities" —have not yet been debated. Our most serious 1128 charge against them is that they are malicious, spiteful and partisan. It is crazy to propose abolishing the structure of London government.
The Government intend to solve their argument with the GLC not by democratic decision, argument or debate, but by assassination. They have taken the example from 1381, when there was a revolt by poor people in England. When those people reached one side of London bridge, Wat Tyler was invited to go across the bridge to discuss the differences of opinion between the establishment and the poor people. When he reached the other side, there was no debate—the master of the Fishmongers Company assassinated him with a dagger, which it still keeps in its hall. The Government propose to deal with the GLC and ILEA with the same honour and delicacy.
Since 1889, we have had a system of government that recognised the practical unity of London as a whole. It has represented the unity of its road and transport systems and its flood prevention system. It has recognised, although not fully enough, the need for a strategic housing authority. One reason for the tower blocks and the acute housing problems in some boroughs, but not in others, is that there is no strategic housing policy for London. We need one.
London is a unity of artistic centres, planning units and the lesser matters, such as the collection and disposal of refuse and the provision of recreation facilities. It is only blind dogma that has made the Government produce their White Paper without any deep examination of the problems of governing London and how change might be brought about. No one disputes that there is a constant need to examine the way in which London is governed and the relationship between the boroughs and the GLC.
In the past, such matters have been examined responsibly and in depth. That happened in the Victorian era. It happened through the Herbert commission that proposed the establishment of the GLC. Even the Conservative party at County Hall recognised it through the Marshall inquiry. The Government should abandon their plan. If they felt that there was a genuine problem about the government of London, they could establish another Royal Commission that could report speedily on the relationship between the GLC, the boroughs and the Government. The Government should not treat London with contumely to override the wishes of the majority of Londoners. They should not legislate without proper consultation or without a detailed examination of the problem.
I wish to quote from not a Labour but a Conservative source, which sums up the position rather well:The Government has invited a response to its White Paper `Streamlining The Cities'. Central to that White Paper is the remarkable suggestion that the democratically elected Greater London Council should be abolished, and the functions that the GLC presently performs transferred largely to non-elected statutory boards and quangos with only its minor functions being allocated to elected local authorities.Little evidence is produced to justify this extraordinary proposal other than mention of a commitment to abolish the GLC contained in the Conservative Party's General Election manifesto in June 1983. That commitment was a brief statement only two lines in length. It was personally written into the manifesto by the Prime Minister without the knowledge of many of her Ministers and without discussion with Conservative members of the GLC. No cogent argument has been advanced since, either my Ministers in Parliament or within the White Paper, to justify the proposal even though it runs wholly contrary to the 1129 Conservative Government's 1963 London Government Act, to the recommendations of the Herbert Commission (1960) and the Marshall Report (1978).In the past all reorganisations of local government have been preceded by a Royal Commission; but not this time. Apparently our system of government has become so refined that Ministers may now tinker with the Constitution without having to submit their proposals to any form of independent enquiry.Such little explanation as there has been from the Government was perhaps most eloquently expressed by Lord Bellwin when he told the Conservative Party Conference in October 1983:"Gratitude", says George Tremlett.The GLC is being measured for its concrete overshoes and in 1986 over the parapet into the Thames it will go".
§ Mr. Fraser
Yes, George Tremlett, who is a respected Conservative member of the GLC.Gratitude should be expressed to Lord Bellwin for expressing the Government's case with such clarity and depth of analysis".
The Government are acting spitefully and malevolently against London because they feel that they cannot win at the ballot box. They are trying to treat a city county which has giant problems and giant achievements with a pigmy administration which is to be supervised by bigots. Johnson once said that the man who is tired of London is tired of life. I am not saying that the Government and the Prime Minister are tired of London or that they are tired of life, but they are tired of democracy. We shall fight them tooth and nail against that proposition.
§ Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)
Perhaps I might start on a non-acrimonious note. This is the first opportunity that I have had to congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on the recent happy news of your engagement.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is to be congratulated on presenting the motion. I suppose we must expect him, as a former chairman of arts, recreation, entertainment and so on, to present his case with the overstatement for which he is becoming quite renowned. He mentioned such things as the Government being at war with the people of London. That is a massive overstatement. It is possible that the GLC is at war with the Government. We should expect that, as we were promised that in the Labour party's manifesto for the GLC elections in 1981. I recollect that it said that a Labour GLC would become the hub of the wheel of protest against the Tory Government. We should remember that the Labour GLC is spending millions of London ratepayers' money on being the hub of the wheel of protest.
It surprised me to discover that the hon. Gentleman had a box office manager or ringmaster working for him in the shape of the new director-general of the GLC, Mr. Stonefrost. He wrote a letter to various groups in London, presumably those in receipt of GLC grants, informing them of today's debate. The letter tells them to come here, and even tells them how to find their way to the House and how to apply for tickets.
§ Mr. Tracey
I do not object to their being given information, but it is an extraordinary way in which to use the director-general of the GLC. Millions of pounds are being spent in that building on public relations and a public relations office. Why did it not write?
§ Mr. Tracey
I reiterate that I find it a most extraordinary use of the director-general of the GLC that this should be done. It is a classic example of the way in which his office is being turned into a poodle of Red Ken and his friends on the other side of the river.
We have heard from the hon. Member for Newham, North-West and some of his hon. Friends about deprivation in London. The GLC allows that deprivation to continue, while it has been distributing £30 million in the past nine or 10 months to an extraordinary collection of groups. I do not think that the demands of those groups are in any way equal to those of some of the deprived areas which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West mentioned.
The sum of £1,600 was given to the now infamous organisation Babies against the Bomb, and £29,750 to Camden Policing the Police. There was an interesting £9,060 to the Marx memorial library. I wonder of what interest that is to the people of London. I note that £6,902 was given to a very interesting organisation, Chile Democratico GB; £9,170 to the Liberation Movement for Colonial Freedom; £10,823 to See Red Women's Workshop; over £6,000 to South East London Women for Life on Earth; and £38,077 to the Campaign Against the Police Bill.
There is another contribution I consider to be very questionable; the amount is not specified in the figures from the GLC that I have here, but a contribution was made to the Labour Research Department. I wonder why that was.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The hon. Member has privilege in this House, but he should have a care, for the simple reason that the GLC had all those grants legally checked. The GLC has done nothing illegal in making any of those grants. Is the hon. Gentleman intending to continue to read out the rest of the 2,000 grants which the GLC has given to community groups looking after the interests of the old, the sick and the handicapped throughout all the boroughs of London, and perhaps even in his own borough?
§ Mr. Tracey
I am not questioning the legality of the grants; I am questioning the taste and the propriety of giving grants to some of those organisations. I suspect that I know what is going on.
It has been suggested to me, from an analysis of the figures, that about two thirds of the £30 million went to groups in boroughs controlled by the Labour party, whereas only one third went to boroughs controlled by the Conservative party. One begins to see only too clearly how the ratepayers' money is being used across the river to facilitate a political cause and not to help London, about which we have heard so much today.
The campaign of which we have heard in the speeches from the Opposition Benches is, of course, an orchestrated campaign. It was well publicised in the Morning Star in the middle of January. It reported that in early January 150 of London's leading Communists met in conference. They were addressed by the chairman of the transport committee of the GLC, Mr. Wetzel. It was apparently agreed, after they had heard his speech and the deliberations which 1131 followed, that the Government's policy to abolish the GLC, and the Government's Rates Bill, were areas on which a lot of political point-scoring could be made, and that they should be pushed as hard as possible. The motion and Labour members' speeches in the debate are part of what is obviously a scaremongering campaign.
Much has been said about democracy, but I cannot accept that the Government are doing anything unusual in proposing that the GLC should be abolished. There is no reason why we should not do that. I pray in aid the words of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who used to be the Opposition spokesman on local government. He said in a book called "Renewal", published by Penguin Books in 1983:Local government, as we have known it in Britain for a century, is literally the creation of Parliament. Local Government Acts decide what kinds of local authorities we should have … Parliament and local government cannot be regarded as equal, simply because both are elected. I reject the concept of conflicting mandates; the mandate of Parliament, the fountain of all authority, must prevail. Local government has no power over Parliament; Parliament, if it wishes, can exert whatever power it wants over local government, even to the extent of abolishing it.The hon. Member for Newham, North-West said that he does not understand what the right hon. Member for Gorton is getting at in many of their party's policies. However, I believe that the right hon. Gentleman expressed a sensible and accurate view in that book.
The GLC is the secondary local authority in London. The boroughs have always been the primary authorities. Unlike the shire counties, they control social services, and in outer London they run the education service. The GLC has become superfluous. It has lost responsibility for the ambulance service, for water and drainage and, as a result of the actions of the 1977 Conservative administration at County Hall, it has lost its housing responsibilities. The GLC is now no more than a propaganda unit for Labour party policies attacking the Government.
The GLC has not carried out the strategic powers about which we have heard so much. The problem of docklands was not tackled properly by the council, though it had the opportunity to tackle that task for many years. Eventually, the problem had to be dealt with by a corporation created by the Government.
We also hear a lot about the GLC's strategic powers over roads. In reply to that, I would merely cite the south circular road, which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West probably knows as well as I do, because we both live close to it. That road is a disgrace. It is a collection of signposts and a memorial to the GLC's strategic powers on roads.
Let me cite two important quotations that are relevant to the debate. The first is that this Houseconsiders that the proposals in the White Paper … provide no adequate answer to the problems of planning and transport, would wreck the humane and efficient performance of several local government functions, notably education, housing and the children's service, in central London and elsewhere". —[Official Report, 19 February 1962; Vol. 654, c. 56.]
The second quotation is:the scheme hardly meets one single basic requirement for good or effective local government … the wanton destruction of effective services and effective local government … To us, this scheme is an abortion, ill-conceived, and malformed. — [Official Report, 20 February 1962; Vol. 654, c. 313–23.]
Those comments were not made about the Government's present plans. The first was made by the then Mr. Michael Stewart, the Labour Member for Fulham 1132 until fairly recent years. The second was a comment by the then Mr. George Brown, the Labour Member for Belper. Both those gentlemen are now in another place, but they made those comments at the time of the creation of the GLC.
It is significant that Labour Members criticised the creation of the GLC, just as they are now criticising its proposed abolition. That illustrates only too graphically the whole nature of the arguments which we have heard today, which we heard throughout the general election campaign, and which we shall no doubt continue to hear until the GLC is well and truly dead.
§ Ms. Harriet Harman (Peckham)
Throughout London there is a rising tide of anxiety and anger at the Government's planned interference in our education service. The various Secretaries of State know that. They know full well that more than 100,000 people have signed petitions opposing their proposals. There have been hundreds of school meetings to protest at what the Government are planning, and 1,300 organisations and individuals have written to Ministers and their Departments complaining about what is planned.
Even the Tory councillors on the ILEA unanimously object to the Government's plans to have three administrations for London's education in as many years.
As well as dismantling the structures for democratic accountability for London's education, the Government also plan drastically to reduce spending on our education services—first, through the Rates Bill and, secondly, by direct Government control over the budget of the new joint board that they intend to create. This will inevitably lead to a drastic deterioration of educational standards in London. It cannot be otherwise. It is simply nonsense for Conservative Members and Ministers to say that the education service in London can withstand cuts totalling £130 million and that services to adult education and primary, secondary and nursery schools will not be affected. Of course they will—and drastically.
I am not saying that we can solve all of London's education problems simply by financial resources, but one thing is certain: we cannot solve them without adequate resources. Londoners know that their education service will drastically deteriorate, which is why they are desperately worried.
How have the Government responded to this genuine concern and fear about the future of London's children and their education? They have responded with a cynical and disgraceful campaign which has misled not only the public about what will happen but also Members of the House.
Earlier, I asked the Minister about the completely wrong information given to the House by the Secretary of State for Education and Science on the balance between non-teaching and teaching staff, and the Minister replied that his right hon. Friend had not done so. Therefore, Ministers have not only sought to mislead the public, but have misled hon. Members.
The Government and Conservative Members often cite standards in their accusation against the ILEA. The Government's own inspectors have said that the ILEA is one of only six authorities—out of 96 in the country—which are providing adequate resources under all the main headings of education spending. That is based on the Government's own figures. Why does not the Minister turn his attention to the 90 authorities which failed to 1133 provide adequate resources for their expenditure requirements on education, to encourage them to achieve the provision that ILEA has managed to achieve?
What are the Government's priorities? Instead of attacking the other 90 authorities, they are attacking one of the six authorities that managed to provide reasonable standards. For each of the past six years examination results in ILEA have improved—there is steady and necessary progress — and the authority aims to consolidate that by setting up two major independent committees to advise it on the curricula of primary and secondary schools. It is the Government, not ILEA, who are casually unconcerned about education in London.
ILEA has pioneered curriculum reform in mathematics, modern languages, special education, graded assessments, and profiles on all pupils. Some of those pioneering ventures have been picked up by the Secretary of State for Education and Science, without acknowledging the authority's part in developing those schemes. ILEA also leads the way in adult education. Hon. Members have talked about the effect of the Government's proposals on commerce in London. Many firms depend upon ILEA to train their staff in adult education institutions, so the Government will do no favours to commerce and industry by attacking adult education.
People from the outer London boroughs flock to ILEA's evening classes. Those who live in the Prime Minister's borough, which spends nothing on adult education and can, therefore, claim to be a low spender, cross the border to take advantage of adult education classes in inner London. We do not begrudge them the service, but it is cheek to praise boroughs which spend little or nothing on adult education and then condemn ILEA for providing what those boroughs need and for being a high spender.
The Government obviously believe that adult education is expendable, because local education authorities are not statutorily required to provide it. They also clearly believe that nursery education is expendable. That is worrying, because compared with most EC countries, Britain's record of pre-school education is atrocious. ILEA is struggling to meet the enormous need for pre-school education, but it cannot manage. The Education Act 1944 said that the education service should base itself on, the needs of an area. In that case, we need more nursery schools and classes to give children a decent pre-school education. This is all the more vital at a time when the alternative is to be cooped up in pokey high-rise flats.
It is a pity that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), is no longer in the Chamber, because I wished to raise with him something that he said in the Rates Bill Committee. He said that if local authorities are worried about failing to meet their statutory responsibilities because of rate capping, they could always cut their non-statutory provisions, and gave the Committee the example of nursery education. I challenge the Minister on this point: because nursery education is not statutory, is he prepared to see it cut?
The Government also ignore special needs, and all the indicators show that London has special needs that place special demands on its education services. ILEA must provide services for seven out of the 10 most deprived boroughs in the country. There are also higher costs in 1134 London, and, although the Government fall over backwards to recognise those costs when it comes to financing the police force, they do not recognise them when it comes to financing the education of London's children.
§ Sir George Young
The hon. Lady invited me to respond to her accusation that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science misled the House. It is clear from Hansard that the figures about which the hon. Lady complained were not quoted by my right hon. Friend.
§ Ms. Harman
They were quoted by a Conservative Member of Parliament, and the response of the Secretary of State for Education and Science was to say that he agreed with them. He did not take the opportunity to put them right and they remain on the record. Would the hon. Gentleman care to correct them now?
§ Sir George Young
I suggest that the hon. Lady looks up what my right hon. Friend said. She said that he agreed with the figures, but he did not.
§ Ms. Harman
The right hon. Gentleman said:ILEA spends more than twice as much … as the outer London boroughs on support staffing".That is simply not true.
§ Sir George Young
The figures which the hon. Lady mentions were mentioned not by my right hon. Friend, but by my hon. Friend who was asking the question. When my right hon. Friend replied, he said, not that he agreed with the figures, but:I agree with my hon. Friend's general thesis." — [Official Report, 7 February 1984; vol. 53, c. 748.]The hon. Lady is misleading the House if she says that my right hon. Friend gave those figures to the House, because he did not.
§ Ms. Harman
I shall not apologise.
Instead of recognising the considerable achievements of ILEA in working with parents to improve education services in worsening circumstances, the Government heap more propaganda on ILEA's head. How dare the Government attack ILEA on school meals? The increase in the cost to ILEA of school meals next year is 4.1 per cent., and that is largely as a result of the increase in free meals, which in itself is a direct consequence of unemployment. The national decrease in school meal spending is as a direct result of pressures by Government on local authorities to cut the school meals service. Therefore, the increase in spending on school meals in ILEA should shame the Government rather than lead to the Government criticising ILEA.
§ Mr. Dobson
Will my hon. Friend confirm that, as a result of the Government's policies nationally, the percentage of children outside London taking school meals has fallen from over 66 to less than 50 at a time when the poverty of many parents and the level of child nutrition have been getting worse?
§ Ms. Harman
That is an important point.
The Government have also accused ILEA of overspending. Their accusations are selective. The Government will contemplate a huge increase in spending on the staff of the police, but spending on the education of children in London schools is overspending. In some 1135 areas of London, spending in education authority budgets has been reduced. Spending has increased on some things and we should be proud of that. Administration and inspection have been mentioned. The survey on asbestos, which remains a real danger in London's schools, accounts for as much as 3 per cent. of that increase, but should there not have been that increase? It is vital that there should be proper inspections of asbestos in schools and maintenance programmes to take it out.
There has been an increase in spending on nursery education, which is right as we still have a long way to go and need more spending there. I hope that Conservative Members will realise the effects of the spending cuts on their constituents. Does the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), understand that the long-awaited nursery classes now being built in Sheringdale, Huntingfield and Riverdale could not be opened if the spending cuts were to go ahead? If he does not recognise that, I hope that his constituents do.
Does the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) appreciate that the special arrangements for admitting young children early at various schools would have to be abandoned in his constituency? If he does not, I hope that his constituents do. I hope that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) is ready to defend the inevitable consequences of the cuts on the new nurseries at Fleet, New End, FitzJohns and kingsgate for which parents have been campaigning for years and for which there is an enormous need. Do the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, the hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler)—who was here earlier—and the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) appreciate the damage which will be done to the small voluntary schools in their constituencies if those cuts are made? Londoners have much to be proud of in their education service. Instead of threatening it, the Government should recognise the achievements and support those efforts by restoring the grant that has wrongly been withheld. They should express confidence in Londoners by allowing them to continue to do what they have done for more than 100 years —to elect their own education authority to run London's education, and to leave it to decide how much it wants to spend, and on what.
§ Mr. Christopher Chope (Southampton, Itchen)
I realise that I shall be unable to move my motion on Southampton freeport, but it is some consolation to be called to participate in such an important debate on London. I shall confine my remarks to my experience as a member of the finance committee of the Inner London education authority until less than a year ago.
I am, and have been for about eight years a governor of a mixed comprehensive school in south London. There is no doubt that the present administration of ILEA at County Hall is systematically wrecking education in inner London. The hysterical reactions to the Government's proposals to control ILEA's expenditure are a smokescreen for the Leftist takeover in London's schools.
There is no doubt that ILEA is overspending massively. Next year's budget is nearly £400 million in excess of the grant-related expenditure. If it were spending at GRE, it would be receiving £100 million in block grant. The 1136 ratepayers of London would have about £500 million in their pockets if ILEA spent close to its GRE, so we are talking about very large sums. It is important that we should have regard to the reality of what is happening in the education authority rather than to the mythology that has been propagated by Opposition Members today.
Mention has been made of school meals. In the three years to 1982–83, ILEA's spending on school meals rose by 25 per cent. The premises cost of school meals last year went up by 35 per cent., and the cost of food went up by 25 per cent. When I served on the authority's finance committee, the only thing it seemed concerned about was whether it could legally reduce the cost of school meals to those who contribute towards them. Of course, those who are badly off received free school meals. Thus, the authority was trying to sail as close as possible to the law in having excessively subsidised school meals which had to be paid for by the ratepayers.
§ Mr. Chope
I shall not give way, as other hon. Members wish to speak.
I shall cite a few examples of ILEA's gross inefficiency. It has twice as many teaching staff per pupil as the average for the rest of the country. Yet, earlier this week, when I asked for a copy of the annual report for ILEA for 1982–83, I was told that it had not been published and that the only report available was for 1981–82. That means that, despite such massive administrative expenditure, the authority is not able now—10 months after the end of the last financial year—to produce its annual report.
§ Mr. Chope
When I was on ILEA's finance committee, I asked the education authority to consider engaging some management consultants to look at its expenditure. If the education authority had had the will to find genuine cost-effective savings, it would have been a good idea to engage independent consultants to help it in that task. My proposal was voted down out of hand by the Socialists on the authority, which meant that there was no prospect of having an independent report on the cost-effectiveness of ILEA's services.
Bearing in mind that the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) quoted selectively from the 1980 report of Her Majesty's inspectorate, the House should be reminded that that report referred repeatedly to clear instances of inefficient management of finance and said that it was common to find under-use or neglect of resources. Since the publication of that report, matters have got worse rather than better.
The principal change since the publication of that report has been the change in control of ILEA at the last elections. In that connection I shall quote from a recently published analysis of ILEA which gives an insight into the true nature of what is taking place in County Hall. It shows that the scares about cuts are a cover for some very sinister developments. The article stated that there had been a complete change in the authority after the elections, and commented:Prior to the election there occurred a 'takeover of the executive of the London region of the Labour Party by a majority of people who, though claiming the designation socialist, can only be accurately described as leftist." [Interruption.]
1137 The article continues:Not surprisingly the new ILEA and GLC reflected this change. People like the previous Leader of the ILEA, Sir Ashley Brammall, were elbowed unceremoniously out of the way and London's schools were in the hands of Authority members whose contact, if any, with London's schools and their children and parents could be measured at best in months and whose understanding and knowledge of education is minimal.
The article went on to say—[Interruption.]—that the new people in charge hada determination to intervene forcefully in the running of London's schools, no matter what, backed by an attitude that said `we are going to make you do your job our way, and if you don't like it you know what you can do'. Examples of what this attitude might portend for London's schools were not long in manifesting themselves. Candidates for headship, as well as for 'adviser' and inspector and other posts soon discovered that those who could trot out the cliches of the pseudo-educational jargon of the new regime had a definite edge over people with mere experience of responsibility, a record of sustained expertise in the classroom and commitment to tried and tested effective methods of organisation and teaching.
§ Mr. Chope
I shall not give way.
Some examples were then given by the author of the article about certain other things that had been going on. Commenting on the takeover of the National Union of Teachers in London by Trotskyists, he wrote that nine of the 11 NUT associations in London had been taken over by the Trotskyists. He said:By a sustained process over recent years of malevolent personal abuse, manipulation and outright intimidation, all but the hardiest, most committed, experienced and clear-headed of opponents have been driven out of general meetings by varied groupings of teachers hooked on the 'policies' of Rank and File (Socialist Workers' Party, formerly International Socialism), Socialist Teachers' Alliance (International Marxist Group), many of whom now have 'entered' the Labour Party and even masquerade as Labour Party local councillors, together with a number of members of the Communist Party of Great Britain —Marxist-Leninist." [Interruption.]
I conclude my quotation with this comment by the author:In the 'general' meetings of these associations, consisting on average of three per cent. of the membership, the various trotskyite groups vie with their Godzilla 'resolutions', united only in one thing—their hatred of the Union nationally and their contempt for the general membership.The ILEA and its unions have been taken over by the extreme Left— [Interruption.] The noises off made by Labour Members interest me, because they will wish to know that that article from which I quoted was published in the winter edition of Education Today and Tomorrow, which is the education publication of the Communist party of Great Britain. The author of the article has the same name as the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), but I do not think that they are one and the same person.
The author is claiming that from the Communist point of view, the members of ILEA, who are even further to the Left than those in the Communist party, have taken over and are running the show. Articles of this sort disclose what is really happening in London schools. I hasten to say that I do not agree with the author's conclusion that spending must be increased even more if we are to save London education. However, I accept his analysis of what is happening and the need to take immediate measures to do something about the Leftist takeover. I hope that those who send their children to schools in London, those who teach in London schools and 1138 London ratepayers will realise that the Trotskyists have taken over control of their schools and that they are being aided and abetted by those in County Hall.
§ Mr. Dobson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I seek your guidance? It seems that a number of Labour Members who represent London constituencies will be excluded from the debate, but, because of the paucity of attendance on the Government Benches, no fewer than two Members not representing London constituencies have been called to contribute to the debate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but the occupant of the Chair has a discretion when calling hon. Members who seek to catch his eye.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
We are meant to be discussing the democratic rights and living standards of Londoners. Those listening to the debate may have come to two conclusions. First, they may understand that the policy that belonged to the Tory party of creating and supporting the GLC is now being reneged on by the Government and turned back to front, and that the Labour party, which opposed the establishment of the GLC, is now fighting to defend it. Secondly, they may have come to the conclusion that a good show is to be put on at the Theatre Royal, Stratford, in which someone representing the Prime Minister is to do a striptease. I have no doubt that that will do wonders at the box office of the Theatre Royal, which deserves to be fully supported. I hope that that will secure its existence for a little longer.
The Government have proposed to abolish the Greater London council. That idea is supported, so they claim, by the great mass of Conservative supporters thoughout the land. The Conservative vote throughout the United Kingdom declined from 44 per cent, in 1979 to 42 per cent. in 1984. Over the same period it declined in England from 47 to 46 per cent. Although we had the ludicrous result that the number of Conservative seats in this place has increased from 339 to 397, the Conservatives' London vote decreased from 46 per cent in 1979 to 44 per cent. at the 1983 general election.
The Conservative majority will be used to steamroller legislation through the House against the wishes of the people and, unfortunately, that majority does not reflect the fact that the Conservative party has been losing support. The Government continue to have minority support, whether at the GLC elections last time round or at the London borough council elections in 1982. As they have announced their proposals in my borough, they may care also to reflect on the fact that at the past four elections in my constituency the Conservative vote has been 5.5 per cent., 3 per cent., 13 per cent. and yesterday, in a by-election in which the Liberal candidate took a Labour seat, 5 per cent. The Conservative party is hardly enjoying phenomenal support south of the Thames.
§ Sir George Young
The hon. Gentleman referred to the by-election at Southwark borough yesterday. I think that he referred more specifically to the Burgess ward. Perhaps he will give also the result in the Ruskin ward
§ Mr. Hughes
The Conservative party held the seat in the Ruskin ward. In the Burgess ward the Liberal party trounced the Labour party to win the seat.
§ Sir George Young
What happened to the alliance in Ruskin ward between the previous result and last night? Is it not true that originally it came second and that last night it came third?
§ Mr. Hughes
I did not stay at the town hall for the results, so I do not know the figures. However, perhaps the Minister would like to reflect on these figures.
§ Mr. Hughes
Since May 1982, in all the seats which Liberals supported in London, the total number of votes up to the end of last year were as follows: Liberals, 22,962 votes, gained seven seats, held four and lost none; Tories, 17,546 votes, no gains, five losses and six holds; Labour, 12,427 votes, gained 1, lost 2 and held 2. Thus if the Minister does an equalisation—he likes to do it on rating matters—on election matters, he will see that his party is not doing particularly well.
The Government's proposals to reform the GLC are based on three premises. The first is that it will cost the ratepayer less. There are no figures to support that. All the reports, including the Coopers and Lybrand report, suggest that that is fallacious, and that it is misleading of the Government to suggest that it will cost less to have no GLC and instead to have a myriad of joint boards, all with their own civil servants.
The second premise is that there is no need for strategic authorities. One does not need to go far above London in an aeroplane to realise that there is a homogeneity or unity about London and that there is a metropolitan urban area where people live, surrounded at the moment by the green belt, although whether that survives will depend on whether the Government change their mind on that policy. Anyone would say that to have the largest city conglomeration in western Europe without a council running it in a co-ordinated fashion is nothing short of crackers. Indeed, it does not happen in any other city of equal or smaller size. It is ludicrous to imagine that one does not need strategic decisions in health, transport, planning, water supply, housing, education, and so on, by such a body. The Government's proposals mean that Brent will have to advertise for its own tourists—"Come to beautiful Brent"—and no doubt we will have to do the same in Southwark.
§ Mr. Hughes
No doubt it is, but I have not been there recently to check.
The third premise is the Government's new-found argument—no doubt the civil servants have been working hard to discover it—that this is a unitary state and the fount of everything is Parliament. The Government might care to reflect that Parliament gained its rights at the beginning from people allowing Parliament to be an assemblage of local representatives coming here to debate matters of mutual concern to the nation. It should also be remembered that when we debate the public expenditure White Paper each year, even when, as happened twice in the 1970s, the Government are defeated in the debate, the money that is set down for the block grant and rate support grant is none the less paid. Therefore, the Government are not correct in saying that they provide from Votes here for local government expenditure.
The proposals on rate-capping, the proposals which mean that the Health Service has no democratic input, the proposals which mean that the water board is controlled by appointees, that the Metropolitan police have only the Home Secretary running the service—
§ Mr. Ernie Roberts
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it possible to have an extension under the Standing Orders to allow this debate to continue until 3 o'clock?
§ Mr. Hughes
—mean that the Government, for the first time in Conservative party history, are totally uncommitted to handing power back to individual local authorities—something to which they had always said they were committed. As a centralist Government they are second only to the justifiably centralist Labour Government of 1945 to 1951, who at least said that they intended to be centralist and then set about being so.
Democracy in London means that we should have local councils making local decisions and raising their own money. It means that we should have access to public information—not closed registers of members' interests, as in Southwark and Lewisham. It means that we should have a two-chamber parliament to debate the matters. The sooner the Government realise that they will pay a heavy price for the removal of democracy in London, the sooner they will change course. It is not too late. They must do so soon.
§ Dr. Ian Twinn (Edmonton)
I am not surprised to hear the arguments presented by Labour Members today in view of their emotional attachment to the GLC. We have heard of grants of £60 million in this financial year to organisations which largely support Labour Members. I have taken the opportunity to have a look through the responses of GLC committees to see what they do for my constituency of Edmonton in the London borough of Enfield. The answer is precious little—
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would be the last person to challenge your ruling and I do not seek to do so now. You have correctly followed the tradition of the House in calling hon. Members, but in debates on Scottish, Welsh and regional matters preference is given to local Members rather than following the tradition of calling hon. Members first from one side of the House and then from the other. Thus, Yorkshire Members receive preference in a debate on Yorkshire. Therefore, may I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to discuss the matter with Mr. Speaker to see whether in future there can be some flexibility in regional debates?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The occupant of the Chair has to take many factors into account in determining who should catch his eye, but I shall certainly bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said.