HC Deb 12 June 1984 vol 61 cc811-52

Order for Second Reading read.

7 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment for an instruction in the name of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Sir A. Berry) and the amendment thereto in the name of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). I believe that it will be for the convenience of the House to debate the Instruction and the amendment jointly with the Second Reading of the Bill.

Mr. Dobson

This is the second time that I have had the privilege to introduce a GLC money Bill. On the last occasion, the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) described my performance as one of my less provocative speeches. It was deliberately less provocative as I was trying to walk the tightrope between adequately making the case for the expenditure proposed by the GLC and ILEA and putting the case in such a way as to cause the least possible offence to the Conservative majority in the House. On this occasion, the instruction proposed by various Tory Back Benchers, which in fact seems to have been stimulated and provoked by the Government themselves, so undermines the purpose of the Bill that I should be hard put to provoke the Tories into doing anything more damaging than that which they already intend. I am thus relieved of one possible constraint on my remarks today.

Like my predecessors, the last time I introduced a similar Bill I spent a good deal of time describing the intricacies of capital financing in the capital city. On this occasion, however, I think that I can sum up my comments on the technicalities by saying that although in one way or another about £600 million is at stake, the bulk of that money is not in dispute because it is already committed in contracts that have been let and very little can be done about it. In many ways, therefore, that aspect is a mere technicality.

The matters that are much in dispute concern funding for new projects this year. The GLC wishes to spend £80 million on new projects to improve services for Londoners. The Government wish to cut that to £39 million. ILEA, elected by the people of inner London, wishes to spend £20 million on improving the schools and other education services in the centre of our capital city. The Government want to cut that to £16 million. In anticipating possible comments from the supporters of the wrecking instruction, I am led to suppose from their comments to the press that they will claim that they are simply trying to take a substantial part of the discretion in spending that money away from the GLC and ILEA and to make each individual project subject to Treasury scrutiny. There are two objections to that.

First, such a proposal covering such a large proportion of the GLC's and ILEA's projects for this year defeats the whole purpose of the annual money Bill because the general idea has been that there is a trade-off — the disbenefit of parliamentary scrutiny being, as it were, countervailed by the benefit that the Treasury would not scrutinise the details of individual projects. The proposed instruction thus undermines the whole basis on which GLC money Bills have been prepared, presented and debated in the past.

The second objection is that, whatever the hon. Member for Southgate (Sir A. Berry) may say, it is clear that in practice the Treasury will permit very little indeed of the spending that the hon. Gentleman wishes it to decide. I say that with some confidence. In this case, it was not necessary for a letter to be leaked and to appear on the front page of the Daily Mirror to show the truth about what Ministers are doing behinds our backs. On this occasion we have a plain, straightforward letter from a Mr. Fletcher at the Department of the Environment to a Mr. Laidlow of the GLC, dated 4 May, stating that in advocating that the GLC should do as the hon. Member for Southgate wishes to make it do, Ministers did not intend to create an expectation that the Treasury consent in whole or in part will necessarily be forthcoming. It would be released only if there were good cause for Ministers to change their view about the appropriate level of spending (for example, if an additional allocation were agreed for the Thames Barrier or if it became possible to offer extra resources to local authorities generally) or if the Council actually wished to on-lend to another local authority. One is tempted to add the words: or I will eat my hat", because it is in the nature of the present Government that the chance of any of those eventualities being accepted is very small indeed. About the only thing that can be said for the present Government is that they pride themselves on their resolution and their unwillingness to change their mind, and, according to that letter, any Treasury commitment would involve Ministers changing their minds.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

The hon. Gentleman said that he wished to anticipate some possible comments. If called, I intend to raise a point covered by GLC capital spending but not, I believe, by the Bill—the Lambeth sports centre. Will he tell us, on behalf of the GLC, what is the rationale behind that proposal?

Mr. Dobson

If the House gives me leave to reply to the debate, I shall try to deal with any individual matters that are raised. For the time being, I shall continue with the speech that I intended to make without prompting from Conservative Members.

In reality, we are talking about cuts. Londoners want to know why the Government wish to halve the GLC's capital expenditure this year 'when they apparently found expenditure of about £80 million on new capital projects last year perfectly acceptable. The Government did not try to block last year's Bill, and that did not bring economic ruin to the country, so why do they object to a similar provision for this year, given that the GLC and ILEA have not changed their priorities and that their spending programmes are on the same lines as those accepted by the Government last year?

Which services will suffer if the cuts are made? The building of new homes and the renovation of existing homes will certainly suffer. There will be no money for the borough councils to improve the rundown ex-GLC estates which in 1981 the then Secretary of State for the Environment, now Secretary of State for Defence, insisted that the GLC should hand over to the boroughs, although the boroughs had no wish to take them. When those properties were handed over in June 1981 the then Secretary of State insisted on a 10-year programme to carry out all the necessary rehabilitation according to a 10-point standard of improvement, that the boroughs should start the improvement work at once and that money should be provided by the GLC to pay for the work.

It may be said that displays of hindsight are always nauseating, but Tory Members may be even more sickened to discover that, for once, I showed considerable foresight when I said of tenants on a rundown GLC estate in my area: Those tenants want better transfer arrangements … They do not believe that the GLC will have the money to complete the work, and they are not sure that the money available will be spent on this estate. They are not sure that the necessary funds will be passed to Camden, and there is no protection for them during this transfer period."—[Official Report, 30 June 1981; Vol. 7, c. 738.] That all turns out to be true, and it will be reinforced if the Conservatives get their way and the money is not made available by the GLC to the boroughs. Many boroughs are much worse off in that respect than is the borough of Camden, part of which I have the honour to represent.

There has been a massive increase in homelessness in London, but the cuts proposed by the Government will mean that new hostels for the homeless, which are desperately needed in London, will not be provided this year. Other projects, such as new community and neighbourhood centres, will also not go ahead, and capital projects for ethnic groups will not be helped.

Among other projects that may suffer are new job training schemes designed to improve the level of skill of Londoners who are at present, because of the Government's house-bound economic policies, out of work. I could give examples from all parts of our capital city.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Could the hon. Gentleman speed up?

Mr. Dobson

If the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) waits until the end of my speech, he will find that I refer to him.

I will take my examples from central London, which is the area with which I am most familiar. No doubt my hon. Friends from other parts of London will provide examples from their areas.

Among the schemes that will be at risk if the Government proposals are accepted is a £215,000 scheme for building new homes in Matthews yard in the constituency of City of London and Westminster, South. There is a £1,250,000 scheme for the replacement of Rowton hostels. There is £600,000 for the purchase of Gordon house road for the Heathview housing association in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg), who cares so much about his constituents that he has not bothered to attend the debate. The Westminster Society for the Mentally Handicapped is seeking funding to replace urban programme funding cut off by the Government in the constituency of Westminster, North. That alternative funding is at risk. The purchase of a farm by the Paddington Farm Trust to give deprived children from that area access to the countryside is also at risk. The hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) is not here. Perhaps he is embarrassed, as I know that he supports that project.

Sir Anthony Berry (Enfield, Southgate)

My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) is with a Select Committee in Hong Kong, with two hon. Members from the Opposition side. He is carrying out a parliamentary duty.

Mr. Dobson

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is in Hong Kong. When he gets back—if his hon. Friends get their way—he will find that the valuable farm trust project is unlikely to be financed by the GLC. I hope that he will not blame the GLC for that. Let us consider the consequences of a cut of £4 million in the Inner London education authority's budget for improvements this year. The programme to provide additional nursery classes in many parts of inner London will suffer desperately. Other straightforward improvements, such as the provision of new indoor lavatories for primary schools in place of the rotten, awful outdoor lavatories still to be found in many primary schools, will be lost if £4 million is cut. Plans to provide more play space for some schools which at present have very cramped playgrounds may also have to be abandoned.

ILEA's programme for introducing yet more computers in schools is also at risk. As other authorities and the Department of Education and Science have always acknowledged, ILEA has led the way in this field. The Department of Education and Science is demanding a greater emphasis on computing in schools, but the school computer programme will be at risk if the Conservatives succeed in cutting the funding.

Similarly, the cut may affect the provision of new science facilities intended by ILEA, in particular, to make it easier for girls to take up science. The Government claim to support that trend. They will provide every assistance short of help and money. Indeed, Government policy will be to hold up the provision of those facilities.

I do not want to detain the House by listing all the projects at risk in central London. I shall confine myself to the area with which I am most familiar. In Fulham, a nursery class at Queens Manor primary school is at risk. At Munster primary school, which I visited this morning, the provision of internal toilets is at risk. At St. Thomas Roman Catholic primary school, improved sanitation facilities are at risk. In Kensington, improved play space at St. Mary's Roman Catholic school and computers for Cardinal Vaughan and Sion Manning schools are at risk.

In Chelsea, the list is even longer. A new heating system for Ashburnham primary school is at risk. The Westway sports centre, which would provide an all-weather running track, is at risk. More play space for Christchurch Church of England primary school and computers for St. Thomas More Roman Catholic primary school are at risk.

Then there is the constituency of Westminster, North. North Westminster school, which is recognised all over London for its efforts to provide decent education for children from all ethnic minorities, may not now benefit from improvements costing £250,000. Improvements to Paddington rec—for Conservative Members who do not understand what that is, I should explain that I am referring to Paddington recreation ground — are at risk. The project technology area at Quinton Kynaston secondary school is at risk.

In the constituency of City of London and Westminster, South the additional toilets at the Pimlico music annexe may well not he built, and the energy conservation scheme in Pimlico school will probably not go forward.

The constituency of Hampstead and Highgate forms part of the borough that I have the honour to represent. The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate—knighted if not benighted — may well have to explain to his constituents why he does not support the provision of funds for the provision of nursery classes at Fitzjohns, Kingsgate, and New End schools, and improved facilities for staff at Fleet primary school.

No doubt my hon. Friends will give other examples of what is at risk in their areas of London.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

I know that the hon. Gentleman said that he would not try not to be offensive——

Mr. Dobson


Mr. Bottomley

All right, provocative. Will the hon. Gentleman now answer my question? The project of which I referred appeared to involve £25 million of discretionary spending by the GLC. Scrapping that project would have accounted for two thirds of the amount of money dealt with in the instruction, albeit under another budget head.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has prepared his speech and is not speaking off the cuff. Will he tell us which of the projects he personally regards as less important than the GLC's present policy of spending £3 million on propaganda campaigns in the national newspapers?

Mr. Dobson

If the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) does not understand by now the difference between revenue and capital spending, one can understand why the Tory party has brought his wife into the House to supplement the Bottomley contribution.

Londoners will ask why the cut is being proposed. There seems to be no rational explanation. The proposed spending levels are no higher than those of last year, and the Government made no objection to them.

The explanation is that the Government, led by the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) are carrying on a vendetta against the GLC and ILEA. Not content with abolishing the GLC, they are now involved in the dubious process of abolishing the GLC elections in advance of the abolition of that body. If the protectors of the British constitution at the other end of the building cannot turn out to vote against the abolition of democratic elections, their excuse for existence has expired and they are living proof of their inadequacy.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, bearing in mind the turnout achieved in another place last night, it is clear that the Government Whips in the other place had been grave robbing?

Mr. Dobson

Grave robbing is one stage further than what was suggested to me—that many Tory peers had been taken out of their glass cases and suits of armour. My source observed the decayed proceedings.

The Government seem to be adopting Henry Ford's idea of any colour as long as it is black with regard to local authority elections. They are telling us that we can have any political colour as long as it is blue and Tory, even if elections have to be done away with to achieve that result. Abolition of elections anticipates the abolition of the GLC. What we are discussing also anticipates the abolition of the GLC. The Government are getting their nasty little hands on the GLC's money which the council uses to provide services that are vital to Londoners. The programme of spending that we are discussing is not frippery. Conservative Members obviously agree with that, as none of them are laughing. There are items of spending to which I would not give the highest priority, just as Conservative Members do not wholeheartedly endorse what the Government are doing. There are, however, one or two Conservative Members——

Mr. Tony Banks

They are toadies.

Mr. Dobson

The senior ones—the more advanced toadies—do not seem to be here this evening but some of them would probably justify every item of the Government's expenditure. The overall effort of the GLC and of the ILEA has been to protect and improve the living standards of the worst-off people in the GLC area or, for the ILEA, in inner London. I do not expect Tory Members to support those ideas because they believe in protecting and improving the living standards of the better-off at the expense of the worst-off. That is why their party exists. However, I have always believed in a responsible system of Government. I believe that elected representatives should be responsible and held to account for their actions. I therefore remind Tory Members who represent London constituencies, although I notice that their number has been augmented by hon. Members with no connection with London——

Mr. Peter Bottomley

They work here.

Mr. Dobson

Some of them do not work here tonight, or so it would appear. Tory Members from London are supposed to represent the people of London. Representation is a serious duty and function. If Conservative Members use their majority tonight. they will be cutting the money that will make possible vital improvements in the living standards of many of their constituents. The hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who seems to continue to wish to intervene, appears to have called upon his wife to join him in proposing measures that will ensure that the nursery class in St. Mary's Roman Catholic school in Eltham, the internal toilet improvements at Henwick primary school and that improved sanitation facilities at Wyborne primary school will not be provided. Presumably he is here tonight because he believes that it is right that such damage should be done to his constituents.

In view of the Government's majority, the Opposition. expect to lose tonight, but we intend to show the electors of London that Conservative Members had a choice. Their choice is between being vindictive to please the right hon. Member for Finchley and being sensible and being responsible to their electors. They will have the explaining to do. I might have some explaining to do at the end of the debate, should I be given the opportunity to reply to detailed points that have been raised.

Although I have been provocative, I should like Conservative Members to consider the history of our capital city and remember that the bulk of the improvements in living standards have sprung not from the interplay of market forces but from public provision of vital services. The interplay of market forces was not responsible for providing a decent and clean water supply, a decent sewerage system, decent housing for working-class people at rents that they could afford, a decent education system that was gradually developed by the London Board of Education, then the London county council and now by the ILEA, or decent hospitals and a decent Health Service. All of these improvements came from the public provision of services.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson

No. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to speak later.

We are considering a proposal to add just £80 million to the capital expenditure that has done so much in the public sector to provide a decent standard of living for ordinary Londoners. If Conservative Members want to halve the money, they will have to bear the consequences.

Mr. Jessel

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for having to raise a point of order. I seldom do so. Is it relevant and within the rules of procedure for an hon. Member, in a debate on the GLC, to refer to five functions of local government, none of which has anything to do with the role of the GLC? The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) mentioned water, which was handed over to the Thames water authority——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have got the hon. Gentleman's point. I do not think that I have heard anything that is out of order. Mr. Dobson.

Mr. Dobson

I have completed my speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

7.27 pm
Sir Anthony Berry (Enfield, Southgate)

It has for many years been a custom of the House to table a blocking motion on GLC Bills. It has been done by both parties, regardless of which has been in Government or in control at county hall. All parties have welcomed such a motion as an opportunity to discuss London matters and to exchange views. The usual channels have also welcomed it, as it relieves pressure for London debates in Government or Opposition time. Colleagues who represent other parts of the country welcome it for other reasons.

This year, the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill went through on the nod. That is unusual and it is therefore not altogether surprising that the Bill has been treated what I might call normally. The procedure by which the GLC receives approval for its capital expenditure and lending though the money Bill is not just curious, but unique, and has been so for many years. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have welcomed that.

Four years ago the House considered a new system for controlling the capital expenditure of local authorities. The GLC made special pleas to keep the money Bill procedure, which were heeded. The money Bill was therefore reinstated in the Local Government Planning and Land Act 1980, although in a somewhat modified form. At that time the GLC was Conservative-controlled, and I well understand why Sir Horace Cutler wished to retain the existing system. The following year the Labour group, under Mr. Andrew McIntosh, about who we do not hear quite so much these days, won control.

Mr. Tony Banks

He has gone to the Lords.

Sir Anthony Berry

Of course he has; I wonder why.

So far as I know, no requests have been made by the GLC under its present control to change that system. So we come to this year's Bill. It will not, of course, be the last such Bill, but I accept that we are considering it under rather unusual circumstances. Therefore, it is right that we should inspect it in a special way and consider what is in it. That is why my hon. Friends and I have put down the instruction on which we shall be voting later.

Before I discuss the Bill I must carry out another tradition that we have in the House, namely, that the first Member to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, after the Second Reading motion has been moved, pays tribute to the hon. Member who has moved it. This I do willingly and happily. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) did not take us through the different clauses, as I expected. Possibly he did not want to do it. He preferred to make the more political points rather than to explain the details of the Bill. Nevertheless, I thank him for doing so. He has played a leading part in London debates over the last few years and we have enjoyed his interventions. We particularly enjoy his special way of indicating what Hansard reporters frequently describe as indicating dissent. We all do it in our various ways by making noises. The hon. Gentleman does it with a rather delightful chuckle which we have all come to know. We know that if he does that he does not agree with what we say. I shall be disappointed if I do not hear the odd chuckle during my speech.

I come now to the basic problem that concerns my hon. Friends and myself. We are greatly cheered at the prospect of the GLC ceasing to exist in about two years' time, but while it remains it must have power to carry out necessary capital works; I emphasise the word "necessary". Also, it has to make appropriate grants and loans and so on in discharge of its functions. It would be contrary to the interests of Londoners, at a time when the Government are doing so much for the citizens of London in making local democracy really local——

Mr. Banks


Sir Anthony Berry

I should like to finish my sentence. I should not like the hon. Gentleman to miss the thrust of what I am saying, because no doubt it is something with which he will wish to agree. At a moment when the Government are doing so much for the citizens of London in making local democracy really local, it would be wrong for the powers of the money Bill to be totally withheld.

Mr. Banks

If the hon. Gentleman believes that the Government are doing so much for Londoners and local democracy, how can he equate that with recent opinion polls which show that 67 per cent. of Londoners are totally opposed to the abolition of the GLC and the abolition of the GLC elections?

Sir Anthony Berry

I think that I can answer the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps I shall be criticised by him for referring to the account from which the money being spent by the GLC on propaganda is coming. I am in no doubt that that is the main reason for the swing in public opinion, as expressed by the polls, but I have always taken the view that the ballot box is what matters, just as it did this time last year. The hon. Gentleman had a nice majority in his constituency, but he did not find many of his friends from his party coming into the House last year. I do not think that he will find someone from the Labour party coming here from Portsmouth after Thursday.

I am not prepared to agree to whatever level of spending the GLC wishes to choose. This would be wrong at any time, and certainly it would be wrong at the moment—here I come to the hon. Gentleman's point — when it appears to be spending £6 million of ratepayers' money to finance a campaign to ensure its continued existence. I do not mind which account that comes out of, whether it is capital or interest or whatever. What I am concerned about is the fact that our fellow London ratepayers, without permission from them, are having to pay for that propaganda campaign. I do not believe that that was ever envisaged when the legislation under which that is allowed was passed by Parliament. It is disgraceful that it is used in that way.

Mr. Banks

So the Government are changing the rules.

Sir Anthony Berry

We are not changing the rules.

Mr. Banks

They want to.

Sir Anthony Berry

I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State could have brought in a Bill to change the rules. We have not done so. We fight on the facts of the argument and we are prepared to go on doing so.

My next note was in regard to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), but we have got to him already. The hon. Gentleman accepted a figure of £1.5 million across the Floor of the House some months ago for the propaganda campaign. I think that the GLC has allowed £3 million in the financial year. I suspect that the figure is nearer £6 million, but if the hon. Gentleman can give us facts and figures I am sure that they will enrich the debate and allow us to discuss the whole problem with much more interest, and we might yet find out why the opinion polls have changed.

Mr. Banks

As the hon. Gentleman asked me a direct question, perhaps I may reply to him. Does he not understand that the Bill is about capital? It has nothing to do with the use of section 137 or the revenue account. He must understand that difference. If he wants to know the figure, it is probably about £2.5 million. Of course, all this money is being properly and legally spent and it is open to any London ratepayer, including the hon. Gentleman, to challenge it via the district auditor if he so wishes.

Sir Anthony Berry

Of course the hon. Gentleman is right. We can challenge it. I am not suggesting that it is against the law. It was the hon. Gentleman who asked me why I thought that the opinion polls were showing support for keeping the GLC. I say that it is because of the mass expenditure, from whatever account, of ratepayers' money in this respect. Therefore, I think that it is relevant.

Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green)

Does my hon. Friend agree that section 137 money could be used on capital expenditure? Would it not be far better spent on doing things from the list of items to which the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) referred than on propaganda?

Sir Anthony Berry

Yes. My hon. Friend has great knowledge of these problems. I am most grateful to him and I hope that Opposition Members will heed what he has said.

I believe that Opposition Members are also concerned about the timing of the exchanges on the Bill. I should like to put this on the record to defuse in advance any points that they may make. The GLC finance and general purposes committee approved the capital programme on 2 February. GLC officers wrote to the Department of the Environment on 9 February with proposals for the Bill. These had to be considered carefully, and the reply was sent on 3 April. I accept that this was only two days before the final finance and general purposes committee meeting before the date of deposit o f Bills. I am sure the GLC would not have expected the Government to reply without its proposals being given the consideration they deserve.

It would have been helpful if the GLC had sent draft proposals before final adoption by the council, If it had done that, as had been done in the past, whichever party was in control at county hall, even with later amendments the Government would have been in a position to give their views earlier. The GLC claims that its intentions had been known since the publication of a consultation document in October. That is not the same as having a document which shows how the expenditure plans will be translated into money Bill terms. The refusal of the GLC to allow the Department to see the proposals in advance is typical——

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

Can the hon. Gentleman explain whether he is speaking for the Government or as a simple Back Bencher?

Sir Anthony Berry

I appreciate the compliment the hon. Gentleman has paid me. I think he knows the answer. It was kind of him to draw attention to my position in the House, which is not that of a member of the Government.

The GLC's refusal to allow the Department to see the proposals in advance is typical of its attitude and in keeping with its refusal to allow officials from the Department of the Environment to look at the books to see where real savings can be found. I wonder what it has to hide.

I hope that I have explained why we believe that it is right to examine the figures in this year's money Bill with particular care to discover whether the proposed expenditure should be reduced. We are not prepared to sign for whatever level of spending the GLC chooses to ask. The GLC has notoriously exaggerated ideas of what constitutes appropriate spending. I speak not so much of capital expenditure as of the whole range of its total spending, for whatever purpose, at a time when control of public expenditure is one of the Government's top priorities.

We must bear in mind the wider question of the prospects for local authority capital expenditure in England as a whole this year. That expenditure is controlled by cash limits. In the first two years of the capital control system—1981–82 and 1982–83—the cash limit was not under threat. Indeed, in 1982–83 the Government were able to offer authorities additional capital expenditure allocations to use up the emergent underspend. In 1983–84 the pattern changed. The Government now say that capital spending that year will probably turn out, when fully analysed, to have been close to the cash limit.

There are various possible reasons for the change. It is common sense to attribute much of it to authorities' increasing familiarity with the new system and their increasing readiness to commit spending justified by capital receipts now that they have a couple of years of receipts in the bag. The extra spending in 1983–84 will not just disappear as we move into 1984–85.

I do not speak as a member of the Government, but I understand that the Government have suggested to local authority associations that the arrangements for monitoring capital expenditure should be revamped to give the earliest possible indications of the likely spend this year.

If the cash limits are to be adhered to this year, the level of authorities' net capital expenditure must not exceed £2.75 billion of new capital receipts. If spending looks like exceeding that level Treasury rules will require that the Government consider taking corrective action mid-year. Whatever form such action took, it would clearly benefit neither local government nor the construction industry.

My colleagues and I do not wish the GLC to contribute unduly to the likelihood of such action. The Bill reflects a total capital programme involving about £500 million. For one local authority out of 400, even if it is much the largest authority that is a very filling slice of the cake.

Certain resources which authorities are allowed to spend — such as capital receipts accumulated from earlier years and the 10 per cent. year-to-year tolerance on allocations—are not allowed for specifically in the cash limit. The assumption is that the use of such resources by some authorities will be cancelled out by underspending elsewhere.

Provision in the Bill relies upon £66 million of such resources, plus a further £10 million based on allocations which the GLC hoped to receive from the Government, but did not secure. In all, the Bill puts an extra £76 million of pressure on the cash limit. It brings local government as a whole that much closer to some sort of corrective action. That figure alone represents almost 3 per cent. of the national cash limit—and we are still talking about just one authority out of 400.

The Government asked the GLC to reduce the provision in the Bill so that the £76 million was reduced to £30 million, but the GLC did not agree to that request. The first and main purpose of my motion is to achieve a reduction equal to that which the Government requested, because I believe that that is in the interests of local government as a whole.

I have accounted for £46 million of the £123 million mentioned in the motion. The reason for including the remaining £77 million is quite different. The £77 million represents amounts which the GLC has included in the Bill even though it says—I do not doubt its word—that it does not intend to spend them.

First, there is the provision of £50 million in part II of the schedule for lending to London boroughs. The GLC has no plans for such lending. The other £27 million is that part of the part III reserve which is not included in the GLC's plans. It has put the figure of £35 million in part III because it represents a full 10 per cent. year-to-year tolerance on allocations and is thus equal to the facility available to other authorities.

Such amounts have been included in previous year's Bills. The GLC said that it would not use them, and, it has not done so, but lending to boroughs would not count against the cash limit in any case. I question whether it is sensible to put surplus provision in the Bill at this time.

If the GLC has to come to Parliament for authorisation for capital spending, let it ask for the spending that it really wants and not some other higher figure which it produces out of the sky. I propose the removal of the spare £77 million.

I have explained the reasons for my motion and I shall try to explain the intended effect. The first part of the instruction proposed to be given to the Committee on the Bill simply provides for £123 million to be taken away from the amount specified in the schedule as available to be spent at the GLC's sole discretion. That £123 million is equal to £46 million of real reduction, plus the surplus £77 million to which I have referred.

The second part of the instruction provides that the same sum of £123 million may be added to that part of the provision in the Bill which is subject to Treasury consent as to its use. I understand that the GLC is unlikely to ask for the addition and, speaking from the Back Benches, I see no objection to that. As a reasonable person, I should like to think that the Treasury would give consent to extra capital spending if it were satisfied that that was appropriate. If such a situation arose, having the extra resources available in part IV would make the consent feasible. [Interruption.] I hear a chuckle from the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras. Similarly, if for some reason the GLC, after all, wants to lend money to a London borough — which does not count against the cash limit—the Treasury could consent. It is reasonable to have a margin in part IV, but the main provision unequivocally available to the GLC should be based upon its real capital programme.

The third part of the instruction deals in more detail with where the reductions and additions should fall. The Committee needs clear guidance, but my motive this evening is not to attack particular items of GLC expenditure.

As the motion is in my name, I have deliberately refrained from naming individual areas where cuts can be found. That they can be found I am in no doubt, and I am sure that my hon. Friends will give examples from their own areas and experience. I also hope that the GLC, if the instruction is carried, as I believe it will be, will tell the Committee how it would like the changes made. The instruction allows it to do just that.

In case, for any reason, the GLC did not make such proposals, I had to propose something to cover that situation. I have assumed that with the spending of accumulated receipts cut below the maximum feasible the GLC will no longer wish to have recourse to the tolerance provision. I therefore suggest leaving only a token provision both for lending to the boroughs and for the use of tolerance, and distributing the rest of the reduction across the remaining items in parts I and II exactly pro rata to the GLC's own proposed split of provision in the Bill as it stands. Similarly, I propose that the split of provision of any addition to part IV between the GLC's own services and ILEA should be pro rata to the size of the programmes planned for each in the Bill as it stands—except that the whole of the amount for lending to boroughs would go under the GLC heading.

The final part of the instruction simply provides for the Committee to make any necessary consequential arrangements.

If the Bill were passed it would represent a further attempt by the Opposition to frustrate the clearly defined wishes of the electorate as expressed last June. There is a limit to the level of capital spending by the GLC which the nation as a whole can afford. In the Bill the GLC has shown that it has no realisation of the need to restrict its expenditure to that which is needed.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras tried to make out that if we carried the instruction all sorts of worthwhile projects would be lost. The money will be there under the Bill and under the instruction for all the worthwhile projects. He is misleading the House and Londoners if he makes out this evening that our action in passing the instruction will in any way inhibit the welcome improvements in schools, especially in the ILEA area. Money will still be there. It is up to those in charge of programmes to use the money as they think fit. If they choose not to carry out the improvements mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, that is up to them. We have allowed the money for them to be carried out. The nation can no longer afford the GLC. The instruction is a modest step in curtailing this unnecessary and extravagant waste of the money of our city's ratepayers.

7.50 pm
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I must disagree with the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Sir A. Berry), although I agree with the first part of his speech in which he outlined the history of the Bill. I join him in saying that the system has worked reasonably well, at least until now. It is unique—but London is unique, although the Prime Minister does not always seem to appreciate that fact.

My hon. Friends and I have tabled an amendment to the instruction. I am obliged that that has been made possible through the procedures of the House. As I understand it, the instruction will be moved formally if the Bill is given a Second reading, and I shall be able to move the amendment formally.

I agree with the hon. Member for Southgate that the arrangements have usually worked well, but he said that necessary capital works will go ahead, although works regarded as unnecessary by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends would come within the £46 million that is in dispute so that the instruction would curtail the operations of the GLC if it was extravagant.

My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) mentioned discretionary expenditure. As I understand it, the GLC's discretionary expenditure will be cut by about 52 per cent. As the hon. Gentleman has not served in local government, I shall put on the record what that means. The GLC has entered into commitments that it must discharge, although they may not be of the first priority. The balance between what is remaining after they have been discharged and the money that is left in the kitty for projects was that referred to by my hon. Friend.

The hon. Gentleman may also agree that his reduction of £46 million may be split roughly as between £41 million or £42 million for the GLC and £4 million to £5 million for ILEA. The distinction between committed and discretionary expenditure shows why many of the projects mentioned may be at risk. We hope that the Minister will tell us why they are not at risk, if that is so.

The hon. Member for Southgate explained what the instruction does. He has split the £123 million into two sums—£46 million of unnecessary expenditure and £77 million for lending. We must make clear that an instruction to a Committee does not have the power to lock away that money. The Bill's promoters have set down certain sums of money. The instruction to the Committee is to transfer those moneys to part IV of the schedule as moneys that the GLC cannot spend unless the Treasury says that it can do so. The hon. Gentleman claims that he GLC will not be spending the £77 million as it could not spend it anyway, or so he says. However, it might have spent the £46 million.

I approve of what the hon. Gentleman said about the Treasury letting the GLC spend some of that £46 million. I should put it on the record—this is in accordance with clause 6, which gives the GLC power to apply to the Treasury for all the sums that are left in part IV of the schedule — that if the Treasury agreed to payments, whether they are from the £77 million or the £46 million, the GLC could go ahead and use that money. Perhaps some of the projects referred to by my hon. Friend will come within that £46 million because of the discretion allowed in the Bill.

As a technicality, it is up to the GLC or the Bill's promoters to apply to the Committee for that transfer of funds. As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, it is up to the GLC, if it so chooses, to decide during the Committee hearings whether the money should come out of parts I, II or III. As everyone knows, the members of a Committee considering a private Bill are not debating the merits of the Bill on party lines in the ordinary way as they would do if they were members of a Standing Committee. They are present in a judicial capacity, irrespective of party. They adjudicate between the merits of promoters and petitioners or those who feel that their right are being interrupted by the Bill.

Hon. Members would not usually make much fuss about the Bill, as it is unique in terms of private Bills. That is to everybody's advantage. But if the instruction is passed the position will be rather different. Members of the Committee will act almost in your role as chairman, Mr. Deputy Speaker. They will be concerned, under the Standing Orders on a private Bill, to protect the interests of the promoters and those who think that the Bill prejudices their private rights as citizens.

The reductions in moneys for the GLC are relevant at that point. There is a clear difference of opinion between my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras and the GLC as to the effect of the instruction. I shall add to the points already made by my hon. Friend, as they were rather telling.

In the constituencies of Croydon, Central and Croydon, North-East—that is of some interest to an occupant of the Chair—rehabilitation of homes might be at risk with a loss of $178,000. I see that the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), who usually contributes to London debates, is not in the Chamber. He may be concerned that major repairs to windows and roofs on the Harold Hill estate may be at risk to the tune of £925,000.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Sir A. Berry) has a history of interfering in the affairs of Croydon, having written to the Prime Minister urging her to prevent housing development for the poorly housed in Lambeth from taking place in Croydon. The hon. Member for Southgate suggested that the development might have altered the political complexion of one of the Croydon constituencies.

Mr. Spearing

The hon. Member for Southgate had better watch out, because his instruction may have the same effect. We shall have to see. It may have some effect in Erith and Crayford. There, the GLC is planning to spend over £1 million on the reconstruction of Queens Kent road canal bridge, with the object of relieving heavy traffic congestion. That is something that everyone believes in. I remember the motorway box proposals when Conservative Members were hell bent on vast public expenditure and on the destruction of homes. They were defeated only by the ballot box. I remember The Guardian showing that caterpillar of a motorway being killed by someone puffing a ballot box at it.

The hon. Member for Southgate talks about local democracy. There are many ways in which the former Southgate borough council, the former corporation of West Ham, Paddington borough council and the metropolitan borough of Fulham are not really suitable for the task. We need an all-London government for all-London matters. The citizens of London need a vote in the ballot box on all-London matters, such as public expenditure being wasted on unnecessary motorways. Indeed, that is what the public did. However, the Prime Minister apparantly does not approve of that principle. Conservative Members, including the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), voted in favour of the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill, and apparently want to expunge the right of Londoners to vote on such London-wide issues.

As I have said, the Queens Kent road canal bridge may be at risk. Users of that bridge will say that this instruction may well jeopardise their rights as motorists. After all, motorists are very important to the Conservative party. Parents of children who attend schools where the lavatories will still be outside will say that the Bill, as changed in Committee, will jeopardise their rights as ratepayers and citizens, not because of the GLC or the Government per se, but because of the hon. Member for Southgate and his colleagues. Under the private Bill procedures, they will have rights. All sorts of petitions can be made against the Bill. However, I shall not go into that.

The opportunity then arises for the GLC to apply to the Treasury. Let us suppose that there is an uprising in Upminster, that there are objections and petitions from Erith and Crayford, or that the people of Croydon complain because they want their houses repaired, and that the GLC—being a democratically responsive organisation—decides to go to the Treasury to see whether it will allow the GLC to spend the money. That money, of course, will be locked away in part IV of the schedule, under Treasury control.

In his optimism or, I hope, knowledge, the hon. Member for Southgate said that the Treasury might well decide to agree to that money being spent. However, I think that he may have forgotten mentioning much earlier in his speech that there was a bit of disagreement with the Government, and that the Bill and its changes represented what the Government said that the GLC should be spending. So if the normal and quite good negotiations broke down at an earlier stage, why does the hon. Gentleman think that the Government will change their mind if the GLC has a second bite at the cherry? I was very surprised by what he said. I was pleased to hear it, but I think that his speech was contradictory to that extent. We shall have to assume that the answer is no.

Sir Anthony Berry

I was most anxious to establish my position following the question which I was asked as to whether I was speaking for the Government or as a Back Bencher. I hope that I have made it clear that I was speaking as a Back Bencher. I am sure that the Government will come to the right decision when the occasion arises.

Mr. Spearing

The hon. Gentleman has given his view of the right decision, which is minus £46 million. He is really saying that the right decision is no. But is that the right decision from the point of view of the rights of the public? The present members of the GLC were elected in 1972 — [HON. MEMBERS: "1981."] I should have said that they were elected in 1981, on a mandate to carry out the policies that they are pursuing. I was confused for a moment about the dates, just as the Prime Minister was confused this afternoon. She said that councillors in London boroughs had a mandate to go to the GLC. But the mandate that we are talking about was given by the London electorate in 1981 for the GLC to carry out its programmes.

This is where the effect of an amendment to the instruction comes into play. Given what I have said and certain inconsistencies in the remarks of the hon. Member for Southgate, I hope that he will agree to accept the amendment even though, for obvious reasons, I would not necessarily agree with the total instruction, as amended. I think that the hon. Gentleman will understand that. I shall explain what I hope will happen if my amendment is accepted.

Earlier I said that the role of a private Bill Committee was to adjudicate between the rights of the promoters, and the rights of petitioners and of those who feel that their rights have been infringed. Across the Floor of the House, we can disagree about the £46 million, and we can talk about lavatories, houses and canal bridges, wherever they may be. We shall not come to a proper judicial conclusion tonight. However, my amendment would instruct the Committee to take evidence and to determine the criteria on which the Treasury should assent to or dissent from any further application from the GLC. That is a clear and proper instruction for the House to give. It allows the four or five hon. Members set aside for the purpose to take evidence on the sort of criteria that the Government or Treasury should apply when saying yes or no to an application. I have explained to Conservative Members that the Treasury is not told to pay the money but is given guidance on whether it should say yea or nay. That is a logical, fair and appropriate procedure.

If the hon. Member for Southgate accepts the amendment, the Committee will no doubt hear evidence from the promoters, and perhaps from ratepayers who do not think that the money should be spent, as to the criteria that the Treasury should apply when ILEA or the GLC wants to put more lavatories inside schools, when the rotting window frames in Upminster have to be repaired, or the canal bridge at Erith is built. The Treasury would then apply proper public expenditure value-for-money criteria, or something of the sort — which we would instruct the Committee to prepare—and, guided by that, would say yes or no.

In the interests of good parliamentary procedure and of taking an objective look at the real needs, that is the right way to proceed. The GLC would not necessarily get as much as it wanted. It might not get back anything like the £46 million. If it does not have that, there is not much likelihood of it getting anything. It is not the GLC but the citizens of London who would be estopped from getting items of capital equipment which they voted for in the 1981 election and which they have a right to expect.

8.10 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I am in favour of the amendment and against the instruction. It is worthwhile just re-emphasizing the point made by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Sir A. Berry). It is unique that the GLC has to come to the House each year to have its capital expenditure approved. That is a point that I am tempted to make when Conservative Members go on about GLC spending. The House has within its power the right of control over the GLC's capital expenditure, not in terms of specific projects, but in terms of the overall amount that is due to be spent.

It could well be that among other things we are witnessing tonight the future for the affairs of London. I hope that most hon. Members realise just how unsatisfactory it would be if the misconceived proposal to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan county councils went through. As hon. Members know, there has been general talk about having a debate once a year about the affairs of London as they relate to the administration of local government. It could be that that is the future for the running of London. It is clearly unsatisfactory. It has always been rather strange that the GLC is subjected to such an investigation. It is unsatisfactory because hon. Members are at least one stage removed from local accountability and the understanding of the needs of the people of London. Moreover, it is open to non-London Members to be present to put in their four pennyworth.

In the past, negotiations between the GLC and the Government have been between honourable people. Therefore, the system, despite its defects, has tended to work. But today's Tory Government cannot be considered honourable. I believe them to be dishonourable and not to be trusted as a Government. The GLC has always in the past complied with the law and never broken an undertaking that has been given verbally by its officers during negotiations with the Government. This year Labour Members believe that the Government have treated the GLC abominably. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) put his finger on it when he said that the attack upon the Bill — it is undoubtedly Government-inspired — anticipates the proposal to abolish the GLC. Therefore, it is a back-door method of pursuing a political campaign that the Government have been waging against 'the GLC for the past 12 months and more.

In setting the rate for 1984–85 the GLC anticipated capital expenditure as set out in the Bill. The hon. Member for Southgate was misleading himself, or he was being misled by whoever wrote his brief—someone, I suspect in the Department of the Environment — when he suggested that the Government were not aware of the GLC's capital spending programme. The GLC made it quite clear in the consultative document issued last October exactly what it wants to spend in capital terms. Accusations that are bandied around by Conservative Members that the GLC is unaccountable for its spending take no account of the fact that for the past three years the GLC has had a major public exercise over its budget. It has given borough councils, individuals, trade associations and employers generally the opportunity to make representations about the level of spending. For the hon. Gentleman to say that the Government were not aware of the GLC's capital spending is to mislead the House. I believe that he has been misled by whoever wrote his brief.

The GLC has raised much of its money in the form of its rate precept and its capital receipts. That money belongs to the London ratepayers as Conservative Members have said. It is up to the ratepayers of London's elected accountable council—the GLC—to spend that money on behalf of the ratepayers. There is no fear of the ballot box at County Hall. Indeed, the only fear of the ballot box exists on the Conservative Benches and particularly in the mind of the Prime Minister. She is frightened of the ballot box, which is why she will not have elections in 1985. We have said this before. If Conservative Members want to test it let us have the election in May 1985. That is the way to test who has really got it right.

The hon. Member for Horrisey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) —who has suddenly left our proceedings——

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

How sad.

Mr. Banks

It is sad only in so far as I am not able to correct him in his hearing. He mentioned the fact that the council can use section 137 for capital expenditure. Of course it can. That is well known. But that capital expenditure must come within the limits of proscribed expenditure. What is paid by the one hand has to be deducted by the other.

The Bill has nothing to do with the council's revenue grants but has to do with the council's capital programme. The effect of the transfer of £123 million to part IV will mean real cuts, since capital money is likely to be authorised only by the Treasury where the Government are willing to release additional resources to the authorities generally. The GLC will be unable to go along with the Treasury, even if the amendment is accepted, and ask it to treat the applications on an individual basis. If I am wrong, I hope that the Minister will correct me. The GLC will only obtain capital authorisation if it is part of a wider policy that the Government are pursuing at that particular time to make greater resources available to local government generally. If one holds one's breath waiting for that to happen there will be a lot of dead bodies around. It will not happen. The Government will not authorise additional expenditure for local authorities.

The effect of paragraph (c)(ii) of the instruction to the Committee—a reduction of 7.49 per cent. of each line — will cut new projects from £80 million to £39 million, a reduction of 52 per cent. That is what we are talking about. Certain other levels of spending could be given up by the council, particularly the borrowings to the local boroughs, as not damaging the council's capital projects. Paragraph (c)(ii) would result in a reduction of 52 per cent. on the GLC's new capital projects. That comes about because most capital spending rolls forward from previously signed contracts. All the cuts will have to fall on new starts. If the Bill becomes law we shall see a 52 per cent. cut in areas of expenditure where the council has any real discretion. That is yet another example of the way in which Whitehall is now interfering in the affairs of local authorities, and specifically in the affairs of the GLC.

I ask Conservative Members to reflect for a while. Lists have been read out to them of the capital projects that could be in danger if the instruction goes through. It is not just improvements in social amenities that will be lost to Londoners. Conservative Members should realise the effects within the construction industry in London generally. Capital projects mean work for contractors, most of whom will be private. About £85 in every £100 spent by local authorities works its way into the private sector. By restricting the GLC's new capital expenditure programme Conservatives are inflicting more unemployment on the construction and supply industries which are already suffering badly from public expenditure cuts generally. That is something that the Prime Minister has never yet understood.

Mr. Dobson

Does my hon. Friend accept that, from the selfish point of view of the Conservative party, it would be unwise to obstruct those capital projects because considerable amounts of money move from those contractors into the funds of the Tory party? The list of the major civil engineering contractors of the GLC reads like a list of major contributors to Tory party funds.

Mr. Banks

I have never understood why those contractors do that, because, over the past few years, the high level of bankruptcies shows that, whoever else benefits from the Government's economic policies — frankly, I have yet to find any large category, other than the small circle of the Government's friends—it cannot be the construction industry. That industry, and certainly its small and medium-sized firms, has suffered heavily from the Government's economic policies in terms of reductions in public spending. The instruction will exacerbate an already appalling position. Once again, this action amounts to gross interference by central Government in the affairs of a local authority. One must return to the fact that this is all part of the Government's vindictive campaign against the Labour-controlled GLC.

Mr. Martin Stevens (Fulham)

Whoever is interfering it is not central Government, but half a dozen Back Benchers.

Mr. Banks

I was not born yesterday, and nor was the hon. Gentleman. I always accept him as an honourable person. It looks to Labour Members as though this measure is Government-inspired, and the hon. Member for Southgate was given a brief written by the Department of the Environment. The brief was certainly up to the generally low standards of briefs supplied these days by the Department of the Environment to the Government Front Bench. It cannot be said that this is a matter that involves just Back Benchers. I should be interested to know what the Under-Secretary of State thinks about the matter.

I have been shuffling my papers to ascertain what projects will be in jeopardy in the constituency of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens). I shall cite some of them:the new King's road footway, housing rehabilitation and an Elizabethan school project for the Castle youth club. The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that projects in his constituency could be at risk if he supports the instruction. Opposition Members have read out the various projects that will be in jeopardy if the instruction is carried.

I speak as a member of the GLC, and I know of the feeling on this matter. I know what projects will be hit if this instruction is carried. I shall use what small influence I have at county hall to ensure that we hit the constituencies of those Conservative Members who vote in favour of the instruction. There will be a certain degree of "selective vindictiveness" — I use a phrase that has been mentioned before. There is no way that Conservative members should think that they can escape from the consequences of their actions. I shall do my best as an individual member of the GLC to ensure that retribution is visited on the heads of Conservative Members. I hope that the GLC will ensure that the constituents of Conservative Members know exactly who is responsible for cutting projects in their areas.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

How would the hon. Gentleman deal with a constituency that has, say, a Conservative Member of Parliament and a Labour member of the GLC?

Mr. Banks

With extreme difficulty; but I am sure that it will not be beyond the intelligence and wit of Labour GLC members to ensure that the chickens come home to roost. Conservative Members will not be allowed to get away with quietly passing this measure. No one is reporting this debate, so it will not get a great deal of publicity. They must not believe that they will get away with this action, without some retribution being visited upon them. I shall certainly use whatever influence I have at county hall to ensure that they pay the price.

8.24 pm
Mrs. Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden)

It will come as no surprise to Opposition Members for me to say that it gives me much pleasure to support the instruction to the Committee. I can see no earthly reason why the GLC should not be subjected to the constraints and disciplines to which every other London local council and local authority throughout the country are subjected when they make their budgets.

I shall be a trifle tedious and explain how a budget is put together by a local authority. There is a clear distinction between two elements—capital expenditure and revenue expenditure.

Mr. Dobson

In the first place, there is need.

Mrs. Rumbold

I shall come to the hon. Gentleman's point. I remind hon. Members that the capital expenditure is taxpayers' money. It is not money given by the Government, the Treasury or the chap in the friendly local bank. It is the permission to borrow money that is given to local authorities to carry out a reasoned capital programme. The GLC had a reasoned capital programme.

When putting a budget together, the first item that must be considered for revenue expenditure is the interest on the borrowed capital. One begins to see, therefore, how revenue and capital expenditure must interlink. It is exceedingly important, when beginning to put a budget together, to look at the capital programme to ascertain the likely consequential revenue expenditure for future years. Given the constraint of cash limiting for capital expenditure, many local authorities have had to exercise a certain amount of discretion, choice and settling of priorities when selecting capital projects. The proposal is to look at £123 million which is being put in to the discretionary part of the GLC's capital expenditure. I believe that it would be right in that connection to undertake a certain amount of exercising of priorities.

I have met the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) before. Numbers of local authorities have to deal with chairmen of committees such as those on education, housing, transportation and social services. Those chairmen all have special feelings. They all list the various schools, housing projects and social service projects that are high on their list of priorities, and they all want those projects in their capital programme for the coming year.

The hon. Gentleman listed the programmes and projects for London. Undoubtedly some of those projects are worth while, but others must, by their nature, be not as worth while. The task of responsible local government is to examine and to put into order of priority not only revenue expenditure but capital expenditure for capital programmes. I suggest that that task needs to be done. If it is not possible for the present GLC to do that responsibly, the Treasury and Parliament have a right and reason to look at those priorities.

When examining the capital programme, other elements must be considered. Besides putting into some order of priority the projects for expenditure, one must consider the fact that one is looking to future years for revenue consequences and is borrowing taxpayers' money, on which one must, therefore, pay interest.

Local government programmes nearly always suffer every financial year from what is known as slippage. In other words, a certain sum is put aside for a capital programme in the knowledge that not all of the money will be spent by the end of the financial year. I suggest that that will be the outcome of money that is allocated under part IV of capital expenditure for the GLC. It is more than likely that the sum that is to be withheld would not be spent in total even if some of it were granted at any time by the Treasury on the ground that it was a special project.

An important element is the contingency arrangement that will be built in automatically to any capital expenditure programme. Contingency arrangements are made for good reasons. It is not unusual for unforeseen events to take place during the course of a capital programme. However, it is unlikely that all the money that is put into the contingency funds will necessarily be spent. Therefore, I suggest that there are good reasons for putting aside into part IV the discretion for the Treasury and for a Committee to examine carefully each and every project and to satisfy itself in as judicial a way as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) suggested it would be necessary to do.

I agree that we must be exceedingly careful not to prejudge issues. Nevertheless, for all the reasons that I have outlined, I contend that there is every possible justification for ensuring that the proposed capital programme is reviewed exceedingly carefully to ascertain whether there are elements of expenditure which will never be expended or, if they are, will not be expended in the best interests of the people of London. It is important to recognise that the people of London pay rates to the GLC and to their own borough council, and at the same time are taxpayers.

Mr. Tony Banks

Is the hon. Lady seriously suggesting that the Treasury knows better than elected councillors of the GLC about the local needs of Londoners in terms of capital projects?

Mrs. Rumbold

I venture tentatively to suggest that it is possible that those who are not elected members of the GLC would be able to come to a proper judgment. I make that suggestion in the light of the hon. Gentleman's speech, in which he revealed that his motivation for allocating capital expenditure is not reached on an impartial or justifiable basis. It seems that he does not consider individual projects to determine which are worth while and which are not. He said that he would make certain that some boroughs had less money spent on them, for vindictive reasons. That does not seem to be rational. That is a good reason why the Treasury or a Committee should make an effort to examine proposed capital expenditure.

Ms. Harriet Harman (Peckham)

As the hon. Lady said, Londoners are taxpayers and ratepayers. Does she accept that those of my constituents who live on the Gloucester Grove estate are taxpayers and ratepayers and also pay rent to live in an estate which was formally owned by the GLC? Does she accept, too, that they are entitled to ask that capital moneys be spent to rectify appalling design faults which make it almost impossible to live on that expensive estate? They are entitled to some of the moneys in the form of capital projects.

Mrs. Rumbold

There may be enormous defects and great need for rectification on council estates in the hon. Lady's constituency, as there are in many London constituencies. With the benefit of hindsight, one realises that many of the large estates which were built immediately after the war were not built as well as they might have been and a certain amount of capital expenditure is required to deal with problems. However, there are other ways in which those estates might be viewed and one might not necessarily be thinking in the long term that the best policy is to pour money down the same drain as that into which the original money went when the estates were constructed.

Mr. Dobson


Mrs. Rumbold

No, I shall not give way. That is an excellent reason for the local authorities which are to take over the responsibility of examining capital programmes in future to have an opportunity to set their own priorities and to make their own decisions on how they wish to expend capital in future. The proposition before the House is reasonable, and one which I wholeheartedly support.

8.38 pm
Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

I entered the Chamber already determined to vote for the instruction. My determination to do so has been reinforced by the speech of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), which contained a threat. We heard him say that any hon. Member who voted for the instruction would suffer in his constituency from a withdrawal of capital expenditure by the GLC. The hon. Gentleman said that he would use all the influence within his power to bring that about.

I do not know the extent of the influence which the hon. Gentleman retains in the GLC, but I can tell him that British people do not yield to threats or blackmail. The hon. Gentleman has attempted to make a threat or to blackmail Conservative Members. It is a good rule in life never to give in to threats or blackmail and I do not have any intention of doing so. As far as I am aware, no GLC scheme is intended in my constituency. If there is, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my constituents, in Twickenham, Teddington, the Hamptons and Whitton would not wish me to give in to his threat. I repeat that I have not the slightest intention of doing so.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) spoke somewhat more impressively than the hon. Member for Newham, North-West. In his peroration he referred with great passion to five areas of expenditure. These were water, sewerage, housing, education and hospitals. He used these areas of expenditure as examples of what we should have in mind in supporting the continuation of the GLC. He talked about not spending enough or severely reducing expenditure within these areas. That is what the argument about the abolition of the GLC is all about.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about capital expenditure on water; but water is controlled by the Thames water authority. He spoke about capital expenditure on sewerage; but sewerage is controlled by the Thames water authority. Responsibility for sewerage was removed from the GLC about 10 years ago. He spoke about capital expenditure on housing; but the great bulk of the vast heritage of council housing which the GLC inherited from the former London county council 19 years ago, which housed 1.25 million people—equivalent to the entire population of Birmingham — was transferred almost entirely to the 32 London boroughs. That happened five or six years ago and the then Labour Government gave their consent.

Education in inner London is run by the Inner London education authority, and there is no intention of abolishing that authority. On the contrary, it will be directly elected. In outer London, education is run by the boroughs. Finally, the hon. Gentleman referred to hospitals, which have never been run by the GLC. The hon. Gentleman's remarks in that GLC context were irrelevant.

I am not convinced that the GLC makes correct use of all the capital resources that are placed at its disposal. I shall give two illustrations that have been presented to me by constituents. First, a constituent who is a pensioner and who was employed as an officer at county hall has complained to me of a report that the GLC has offered to use GLC pension fund moneys to buy the Liverpool town hall. This constituent lives at Hampton Wick.

It was reported earlier this year that the Greater London pension fund money was to be used to buy Liverpool town hall, and to lease it back to the GLC at a peppercorn rent. The object would have been a financial one to enable the Liverpool city council to continue paying its bills, including the wages of its staff. I suggest to the House that that is an improper use of capital resources under the control of the GLC. It is wrong to use the pension fund in that way. Not content with abusing the ratepayers' money, the GLC now wishes to abuse its pensioners' money. That the pensions of GLC officials should be jeopardised in this way by Greater London councillors wanting to involve themselves in the extremist policies of Liverpool is utterly wrong. I hope that Opposition Members will give me a clear and definite assurance that this wicked proposal has been dropped, and that the GLC has no intention of doing anything of the kind.

Mr. Tony Banks

Indeed, that proposal was never made. The suggestion that the GLC should buy the Liverpool city hall, and then lease it back at a peppercorn rent, and pay all the staff, is arrant nonsense. The GLC could have bought certain parts of Liverpool as a form of investment for the future, but pension funds are known often to buy large amounts of property, and they do not lease them back at peppercorn rents.

Mr. Jessel

I am glad to hear that there is no intention of doing this, but there has never been any official denial by Mr. Livingstone or other leading councillors of the GLC. They have kept remarkably quiet about it since a great deal was reported on it in March. I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's assurance, which has hitherto been lacking.

I deal next with another aspect of abuse of capital resources by the GLC which concerns its failure to make efficient use of one main road in west London on which a large sum of GLC capital expenditure was incurred, as it has been on London Transport buses in the area. Capital resources of the GLC put into that road — the main radial road into west London, Cromwell road, leading into Talgarth road, leading into the A4, the M4 and the M3 into Heathrow airport—have been constrained by a foolish traffic scheme which was instigated by the GLC in a decision to reduce the lanes from three to two lanes, although later that was slightly modified. There is still serious congestion, as there has been over the last three or four weeks.

This is arguably the most important road in Greater London. The road was built by the GLC with funds on capital account as voted in a previous GLC money Bill. It has caused colossal traffic jams which have spread to other places, because, as the traffic could not easily get through, it has attempted to go through other routes, and so has jammed up places like Hammersmith, Shepherds Bush and Putney. Thousands of my constituents are held up each day, and public transport buses in those areas are being delayed.

Mr. Corbyn

I realise that the hon. Gentleman has not had much experience of driving recently, but could he tell the House whether he is certain that the expenditure on the Talgarth road right-turn about which he complains is capital expenditure, and not revenue expenditure?

Mr. Jessel

It was certainly capital expenditure that was incurred in the construction of Cromwell road which was intended to be used at full capacity. I happened to be a member of the GLC at the time that the Talgarth road-Cromwell road extension was constructed. I am complaining that the resources of the GLC put into that road, and on which GLC ratepayers to this day are paying interest, are being improperly and inefficiently used.

Mr. Spearing

The hon. Gentleman and I were on the same Committee when that capital investment was made. Will he tell the House whether he thinks that such traffic management schemes should be decided by locally elected people at county hall, as they are at the GLC, or by central Government?

Mr. Jessel

I very much hope that Cromwell road will shortly—by which I mean April 1986—become a trunk road under the control of the Minister for Transport when it will be much better run, and will not be subject to unwise traffic management decisions by the councillors of the GLC who have shown themselves to be guilty of sheer administrative incompetence and unwise decisions taken against the clear advice of their officials and of the Metropolitan police, who strongly advised against the scheme, and said that serious traffic congestion would result from it, as it has.

Several of my constituents have written to me, including one doctor who said: There would seem to be no logical reason why the traffic flow into London should have been reduced to absolute chaos for the advantage of what must be a handful of drivers wishing to turn right. The resulting tail-back was monumental in the morning rush hour; but even in the evening when I was called back to my hospital for an emergency, I still found the traffic leading up to this junction at a standstill. It is appalling that the scheme should have been allowed to go ahead. The GLC councillors have flouted the professional advice that they received. The experiment is a failure, and it should be called off forthwith.

8.45 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I wish to deal first with points made by the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), because she appears to think two things that surprise me, although they surprise me less every time that I hear London Members of the Conservative party speaking on matters relating to London government. She said first that, in accord with the normal practice, it was normal for the London budget to be submitted even more substantially for approval, vetting and authorisation by the Government in comparison with other local authorities. As I understand it, the provisions covering the financing of London are unique, and have always been different. They alone provide the specific mechanism by which in the past the Treasury has been given a part of the budget for its approval.

Mrs. Rumbold

I made my comment about this being normal in the context of local government as a whole. Local government, when considering its budgets, automatically sets priorities, and puts the programmes side by side to decide which it should choose. That applies to the GLC, and has always done so.

Mr. Hughes

Of course I accept that. Priorities have to be made. We say that it is wrong in principle to extend the opportunities for central Government—in this case, the Treasury — to determine what local government is providing for in the capital planning of its resources. The hon. Member said that there ought to be some control "by the Treasury", or by some other body. Other bodies already exist throughout the country that are empowered by various pieces of legislation to send in local government auditors to examine the books. This does not apply in the same way to budget provision as it does to spending by local authorities. The argument of Conservative Members that matters of local government budgeting and financial planning should be overridden by the employees of central Government, if the Government feel so minded, is wrong in our view, and particularly so because the figures show that in recent years, it is central Government spending that has risen in relation to local government spending, and the fault has been not with local authorities, but with local government.

Mrs. Rumbold

In the Local Government Planning and Land Act 1980, there is a specific provision for central Government to cash limit capital expenditure. It is to that that I referred, and that is how it happens at present.

Mr. Hughes

That is correct, but the Bill proposes to take a sector of the planned budget out of the list of items which can automatically go through into the list which requires prior authorisation. That will increase the amount of central Government power to look at, interfere with and negative decisions made by local government. Because of our procedures, the GLC must have a Bill introduced in House by promoters. The principle is the same. We object to the further extension of the power of central Government. Once the legislative framework is in place, that should be sufficient.

There is a procedural objection to what are clearly Government proposals wrapped up in private Members' motions. It must be clear to everyone—it would be helpful if it were admitted rather than denied—that the Government are asking Conservative London Back Bench members to put forward what the Government want. They have involved the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Sir A. Berry) and others. It is an objectionable method; it is objectionable when Whips interfere in the business of private Bills; it is objectionable when Back Benchers pretend that they are acting for themselves in the full knowledge that they act for the Government.

The Minister will no doubt shortly stand up and say that the Government support the proposals. He could say that the Government will reserve their position and consider what they should do. But the reality is that he will not oppose what is proposed by Conservative Back Benchers, including the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) to whom I give way.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept my categorical assurance that no Minister or Whip has asked me to be one of the signatories.

Mr. Hughes

I certainly accept the hon. Gentleman's assurance. However, without the assurance of the other Conservative Members that there has been no contact between the Government, the Department of the Environment and themselves, we cannot believe that it has not happened.

I echo the view expressed earlier that the speech of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate sounded, in the second part, mightily like the speeches that we have heared before, written by the gentlemen who sit in the Officials Box, and who spend more of their time in Marsham street than they do as research assistants to hon. Members.

Mr. Martin Stevens

I can confirm that we have not been suborned by the Government but are acting in our proper capacities as private Members. I am happy to add my name to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) as one upon whom no pressure of any kind has been put. This debate is a private Members' debate, and, although it involves the disclosure of secrets, I must say that there has been no whipping by the Government's business managers. That is a clear sign that the Government are treating the matter as private business.

Mr. Hughes

Although I have not been here for long, I was not born yesterday. I would be surprised to find that, when we vote, the producing of hon. Members will be carried out by those who are not members of the Government. If Government members are sitting in their places and not moving, I shall be interested to see the turn out of hon. Members. However, I accept the assurance of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens). It is noticeable that his name and that of the hon. Member for Surbiton are last on the list, and not included in the first four names.

I wish to raise a matter of substance about which local government makes valid complaints. The GLC produced its budget last year, but at the last moment the Government decided to say, "We do not like it. We want you to knock off money." It is the bane of the lives of those planning local government finance to have central Government intervene regularly and always belatedly. They cannot get on with their jobs, just as health authorities cannot get on with their jobs when, half way through the financial year, there are cuts. The Government, having had the documents on the table for some time, belatedly said that they were not satisfied.

We either decide as a country and as a Parliament to allow local government to get on with its job, and trust the people involved to do their jobs, or we say that we will not allow them to do so. It is unhealthy to intervene belatedly and it is not in the interests of those who try to carry out their jobs in local government.

I wish to reaffirm a matter of precedent. I understand that there has been not similar intervention in the past. It is not as though this has always been the way in which the Government have proceeded. They have not always gone back to the GLC and said "We do not like your proposals" — even since the present GLC took over in 1981. I am intrigued as to why, last year, there was not such an intervention, yet this year — when the Government anticipate being able to cap local government rate spending through another Bill, presently in another place — they suddenly need to intervene, especially as it is true that it is not local government but central Government whose expenditure is out of control.

Those are the matters of principle and I shall be brief about the specifics. It is clear that the effect of the proposal on the areas of budget to be transferred will mean that the Government will be likely to say that they will not authorise the money. There may be some duplication of expenditure, but that is a matter for assessment in each case. The substantial areas that could be affected are those such as housing in London. Former GLC housing stock, having been transferred, needs phenomenal amounts of capital expenditure to improve it to a decent condition that will make the estates ones in which people will want to live.

Much of London's housing was built at the same time, after the war. It is in need of substantial maintenance. When the property was handed over in 1981—although it was not handed over in Tower Hamlets and in a few other places — money was required for improvement work. Those former GLC estates—now the responsibility of the boroughs — have a continuing GLC commitment, and are liable to be most at risk.

One substantial estate on the edge of my constituency that borders Lewisham—the Silwood estate—is in an appalling state. It needs money so that it can become a place into which people wish to move rather than a place that people want to leave. The Dicken's estate could be a nice estate, as it was originally. In general terms, people make efforts to keep it in a good state, but it needs substantial moneys spending on it. There are estates at the Southwark end of the constituency as well. I shall not trouble the House with many examples, but those are the places where money is needed for capital works that have been budgeted for and that the GLC should be allowed to budget for as the local authority, for the time being, of London.

To continue to cut back on a budgeted amount and to say that the central Government will decide that housing stocks particularly, but other projects as well, in London will suffer substantially when all hon. Members know that, of all parts of public spending, housing has been the most harmfully affected by the Government and that the housing conditions in London are getting worse day by day, is a particularly unjustified interference in the basic and most obvious need of most Londoners—to have a decent home.

We oppose the instruction to the Committee for that reason, and I hope that the promise of no intervention and no bringing Members here to vote will mean that we can defeat that instruction later on.

9 pm

Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

The Government have an overall responsibility for total expenditure in the public sector and they must retain that control if they are to retain the power to govern. Therefore, it is essential that local government behaves responsibly if requested by central Government to take certain action. I believe that this has been the case for many years and that, until recently, the wishes of central Government have been adhered to by local government without question. It is a relatively new phenomenon, and the Government have had to introduce legislation to ensure that what by convention has happened in the past continues in the future. It is a retrograde step, particularly in a country with an unwritten constitution, that we should be forced into this situation by irresponsibility. This I am afraid may be a sign of the times, but it is not something that I can support.

If the Government do not take the necessary action that they are called upon to take now, undoubtedly that will mean that certain parts of the country will have to suffer a loss of resources, which will be taken from them to make up for profligate spending elsewhere, to ensure that the Government can retain overall control of the economy. This is an unfortunate state of affairs, and one that has been brought about directly by certain local authorities. Until 1979 it was my experience that, regardless of which Government were in power, if they sent messages to local authorities asking them to trim their budgets in certain ways and by certain amounts there would be negotiations, but at the end of the day the Government would have their way because it is an essential part of our constitution that Parliament is supreme. If we do not have that supremacy in Parliament the Government cannot govern, and to enable them to do so the Government will always have to take the necessary action to introduce the laws that will give them the power to do so.

The present GLC has earned for itself a reputation of profligacy. It has made it clear time and again that it intends to take every opportunity to sabotage the efforts of the Government in every possible way. This was made plain by the present leader of the GLC when his predecessor, Mr. McIntosh, now Lord McIntosh, was pushed from office in the first few days after the present GLC administration came to power. The present leader then said that he was intending to take on the Government in every possible sphere. We have noticed that this extends as far as Northern Ireland, international affairs, defence, anything — name it, and the GLC has an irresistible desire to interfere. That is not what the GLC was set up to do, and it is only right and proper that it is checked to make sure that it behaves in a more responsible way.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will answer a question. How is this measure an interference by the GLC in the Government, as opposed to an interference by the Government in the GLC?

Mr. Thorne

This, as has already been explained to the hon. Gentleman, is an interference by Back Benchers, not by the Government. I have not been approached by any member of the Government to support such a measure. It is my intention to do so, because I believe that the GLC needs to be brought to account. Therefore, I propose to support my colleagues who have tabled the instruction, and I hope that large numbers of my colleagues will follow them into the Lobby.

The GLC is a profligate spender. Some people say that it has plans to spend as much as £6 million on advertising its own personal merits.

Mr. Corbyn

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that all previous GLC money Bills were presented to the House after agreement between the GLC and the Government of the day? The hon. Gentleman will destroy what in the past has been a good working relationship because of his hatred of the GLC, which he has clearly portrayed tonight.

Mr. Thorne

The hon. Gentleman was not present at the beginning of the debate. If he had been, he would have heard that the GLC intentionally did not come to an agreement with the Government on the matter, which is why it is now running into difficulties.

Mr. Tony Banks

The hon. Gentleman speaks as a former member of the GLC. He knows that discussions take place between GLC officers and the Treasury regarding the money Bill. It was not the GLC that withheld information from the Government about capital projects, upon which it wishes to spend money, but the Government who suddenly announced in May that they would seek cuts, after their discussions with the GLC since October.

Mr. Thorne

The GLC was given every opportunity to trim its budget in accordance with the Government's requests, but it failed to do so. If it behaves in that way, Conservative Members will take a serious view of that behaviour. That conduct would not be entirely surprising. It measures up to what we have come to expect of the GLC during the past three years.

That is also illustrated by the way in which the GLC has refused to co-operate with Government Departments in providing information on resources. That shows clearly that it intends to take on the Government in every possible sphere and that it believes itself to be above and beyond Parliament. That must be checked, which is why I support this instruction.

The GLC had an opportunity to put the matter right, but failed to do so. Therefore it has little reason to complain when the current proposals are blocked. As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Sir A. Berry) said, the GLC should come to Parliament for its expenditure. It should tell Parliament what it needs, and Parliament should decide whether to approve the GLC money Bill.

I was one of the hon. Members who was approached by the GLC in 1980 and 1981 for support for the proposal that the GLC should have a separate money Bill. After considerable persuasion that the GLC should be treated as a special case, I supported the issue and spoke in its favour. I am glad to say that although the Minister was not too happy about giving way on that point, he was persuaded by his hon. Friends that it was right and proper to give the GLC its own money Bill, which is what it has. However, to expect the Bill to be endorsed year by year with a rubber stamp is to expect too much of this House.

Undeniably, some perfectly good schemes are covered by the figures before us today, but I suspect that some of them have been included so that Opposition Members can claim that those projects will be lost if the GLC does not get its way in all respects. That claim is entirely false, as I believe that a number of those worthwhile schemes will proceed in any case.

However, I take great offence at the comments of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who showed his pure vindictive self when he told the House what would happen to those hon. Members who voted against the Bill. If ever a speech showed how irresponsible GLC members can be, that was it. It shows how right the Government are in saying that the GLC no longer has a role.

Mr. Corbyn

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Government's attitude in constantly cutting the resources of predominantly Labour-controlled inner city areas through an iniquitous system of penalty clauses on grant-related expenditure formulae and through the rate support grant is itself a vicious act of political spite against the poorest people of this country and the poorest working-class districts in London?

Mr. Thorne

No, I do not accept that because it is not true.

Mr. Corbyn

Come and tell that to the people of Islington.

Mr. Thorne

I have been challenged before to come and say things in hon. Members' constituencies, and I have done so. As I have said, the Government must retain control of the economy and will continue to do so with the support of Conservative Members.

None of this, however, detracts from my comment about the vindictiveness of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West in describing what would happen to the constituencies of hon. Members who voted against the Bill. It is disgraceful to behave in that way in the House. I believe that is is an affront to Parliament and a challenge to the authority of the House. Indeed, I believe it could be claimed to be a matter of privilege, because hon. Members must be able to speak and vote without fear of vindictive behaviour from those with some petty control elsewhere. Such behaviour is utterly irresponsible. It brings the GLC into disrepute and it brings the behaviour of the friends of such an hon. Member into disrepute. I certainly shall not bow to such behaviour from the hon. Member for Newham, North-West or frorn any other hon. Member.

Mr. Tony Banks

I do not apologise for one word that I said, but I want the hon. Gentleman to know that I spoke as an individual Member of this House and as an individual member of the Greater London Council. I do not apologise. I shall use my influence in just the way that I described.

Mr. Thorne

We have it again. The House has heard what the hon. Gentleman has to say. He is a man with a certain influence in the GLC and he is determined to behave in the way that he has described. That sums him and his colleagues up very well. We shall see whether his colleagues follow his example. If they do, we shall see how right and proper it was for the Government to seek to get rid of the GLC as soon as possible.

9.15 pm
Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

I detect a certain air of unreality in this debate. We have listened to the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Sir A. Berry) making a Front Bench speech from the Back Benches. The House is supposed to be considering private legislation, but the instruction is clearly a Government instruction. We await with interest the speech of the Under-Secretary of State, because only he can answer many of the questions asked by Opposition Members. We have heard honeyed words from the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate. He tells us that we do not need to worry too much, because the Treasury will use its discretion. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) quoted from a letter from Mr. Fletcher of the Department of the Environment, dated 4 May, which made it clear that only in exceptional cases will money under part IV be made available.

We are therefore deeply disturbed because we all know — as Conservative Members no doubt also know—of important projects in our constituencies which are likely to be damaged as a consequence of the instruction.

It is odd that the Government—this is a Government instruction—should think that it is necessary for the Treasury to crawl over projects which the GLC wants to set up. As all hon. Members know, capital projects suggested by local authorities have to be approved, by and large, by the relevant Government Department, whether the Department of Transport or the Department of the Environment, which will approve those projects presumably in terms of priority and various other considerations. I cannot therefore believe that the purpose of the instruction is anything more than to cut expenditure.

Some speeches from Conservative Members make it clear that they do not like the present leadership of the GLC. Many Opposition Members did not like the leadership of the GLC when it was under Conservative control. However, the Conservatives are reacting in a different way. They wish to limit the GLC's powers to operate as a democratic body, to abolish it, and to interfere with the money Bill that has been presented, or to refuse to negotiate on it in any sensible fashion.

Many hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall be brief. I want to bring the debate down to the level of the ordinary London electors and the effect that the Government's action is likely to have.

There is an estate in my constituency which I believe will suffer particularly badly as a consequence of the instruction. It is called the Ferrier estate. The GLC is under a legal obligation to finance major repair and improvement works required on dwelling stock which has been transferred from the GLC to the boroughs. Ferrier estate is in precisely that position. It was built by the GLC. The first tenants were moving on to the estate when I was first elected as hon. Member for Greenwich in 1971. Ever since then, that estate has been the subject of complaint and dissatisfaction from its 5,000 residents. People do not want to live there. Because of the serious problems arising from design and technical faults, they long to get away. All the sewers have had to be replaced and all the house drains must be replaced too. Major roof work is needed. There is no play provision. The third floor walkways are a nightmare which give no privacy or security to tenants. The underground garages are a design folly in that there is no protection from theft or vandalism of vehicles. The residents have had to put up with those problems for 13 or 14 years, but I am glad to say that in the past 18 months Greenwich borough council and the GLC have been working together to try to identify some of the major problems which have made the estate a disaster for so many years. The scale of the problem is well known to the Government, and has been for some time. One of the chief objectives of the GLC and Greenwich council is to give tenants on that estate an opportunity to decide what they regard as the priorities. One of the awful facts about large housing schemes that have been adopted in the past is that the people who move to an estate have had no say in how it is designed or what facilities are provided.

Ms. Harman

My hon. Friend will have heard the speech of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), who said that it is no good throwing money at such estates which suffer from chronic design faults. Does he agree that there is no chance of solving the massive problems on those estates and putting right the terrible design faults that make them uninhabitable without large sums of money—perhaps millions of pounds?

Mr. Barnett

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as she has reminded me of the incredible remarks made by the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), who is no longer here. There is no means of improving the environment for people on the Ferrier estate except by spending money. It is easy for Conservative Members to talk about throwing money at the problem, but that is the last thing that Greenwich council or the GLC is doing. We have had long consultations with the tenants and are now ready to make major improvements on the estate.

I want to make one thing clear to the Minister, as it is a factor that has not been mentioned. At the beginning of the consultation exercise, tenants were completely uninterested and resigned to having to accept their lot for ever. They had been promised improvements before but had not got them, so they asked why should they believe that, this time, anything would be done or anything that they said would be listened to. The officers and elected representatives persisted in trying to persuade them that, at long last, because of the commitment of the Government, the GLC and the borough council, they were being given a chance radically to change their environment and to get some of the facilities that they badly need.

The only person that can tell me whether the estate is at risk is the Minister. If it is at risk, the result could be devastating social damage. Such hopes as have been raised on the estate and the expectations of its inhabitants because of constant assurances will be destroyed. I can envisage the atmosphere there declining weekly as a result of these proposals if, as I believe, they imply a serious risk that commitments that have been made on behalf of the tenants are likely not to be honoured. I, Greenwich council and the GLC believe that the proposals have such an implication.

I could name other estates in my constituency or in the rest of the borough of Greenwich that are similarly affected. I know that the same is true for the area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman), and there must be dozens of other cases in the GLC area. If the moral and legal commitment entered into between the GLC and borough councils to recondition, upgrade and correct design faults in estates is not honoured, there will be a tragic loss of confidence in the ability of the Government and local government to do anything to improve the environment, reduce vandalism and enable people to live reasonably comfortable lives.

Whatever else I might say about the Ferrier estate, the interiors of many homes there are extremely pleasant. A great effort has been made by the tenants in many cases to make nice homes for themselves, but the environment and the design faults mean that it is often impossible for the elderly to live there; facilities are lacking for youngsters and families, and there is a very low state of morale. The letter which I quoted earlier implies that the money is at risk and will be spent only in the most exceptional circumstances. If that is the case, the greatest possible social damage will be done in London, damage that the Government and the Conservative party will rue. Whatever happens when the instruction is passed, I hope that we shall be able to return to this matter after the committee has met.

I have been handed this evening a petition signed by 718 people who live on the Ferrier estate. This petition was taken round only in the last three days, but there was no difficulty in obtaining signatures. It says that the residents petition all Members of Parliament to ensure that the GLC has adequate resources in this financial year, 1984–85, to guarantee the spending of £2 million needed to carry out essential improvement works on this estate.

9.26 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)

It may be convenient if I intervene at this stage to outline the Government's attitude to the Bill and to the instruction. I begin by echoing what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield. Southgate (Sir A. Berry) in commending the speech of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). How the hon. Member for Holborn and St. pancras manages to reconcile his tribute to county hall today with the view he expressed a few years ago that it was the slowest bureaucracy this side of the Kremlin is a matter between him and his conscience.

Mr. Dobson

If the Minister were to consider that that remark was passed at the time I was trying to get Sir Horace Cutler's lousy, slow and awful GLC to start doing improvements on the Ossulston estate in my constituency, which it had failed to do for years, he would understand why I am doubtful whether there is a bureaucracy even the other side of the Kremlin as bad as that run by Sir Horace Cutler.

Sir George Young

The House understands the hon. Member's sensitivity on that quotation which we enjoy using in the context of the debates on abolition. The view that he put forward this evening is understandable. He outlined a range of worthwhile social schemes, mainly, it appears, in Conservative constituencies. He made the case that if the instruction was carried those schemes would be abandoned.

Mr. Dobson


Sir George Young

He implied as much. He was reinforced by his hon. Friends. The case he made was that where there is an identified need, and where the local authority wishes to meet it by capital expenditure, the Government should not intervene. That was the nub of the case.

I am not unsympathetic to the problems that we have heard about concerning the tenants on the Ferrier estate and other estates that have been mentioned. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is a generous man and that he would extend to other local authorities the same regime that he apparently proposes for the GLC. No Government, Conservative or Labour, could forgo the control of local authority capital expenditure and subsequently be held responsible for the conduct of the national economy. The capital expenditure of local authorities affects the use of resources, interest rates and personal taxation. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the Government should simply accept whatever figure the GLC puts forward, while he may be a staunch supporter of local democracy, that philosophy has grave implications for parliamentary democracy.

The Government must reserve the right to control local authority capital expenditure. I hope that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras will deal with the remarks made in an intervention by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) who asked why the £25 million which the GLC has earmarked to purchase a leisure centre from Lambeth council could not be used to pay for some other schemes. If the hon. Member has the answer, we shall look forward to hearing it. I think that the sum involved would pay for many of the schemes at risk. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to explain satisfactorily why so many worthwhile schemes are to take second place to the purchase of a recreation centre.

Mr. Dobson

The council paid not £25 million, but £10 million. The sum was paid last year, so the money is spent.

Sir George Young

That is not a satisfactory reply because the council has an ability to carry forward unused capital expenditure from one year to the next. The hon. Gentleman must find a better answer if his remarks are to have any credibility.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southgate made an excellent speech. It was more closely related to the matters before the House than that by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras. He explained in detail why the convention which has worked up until now has broken down. I shall explain the Government's views on the instruction later.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold) said that there was no reason to exempt the GLC from the disciplines imposed on other local authorities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr Jessel) rightly exposed the blackmail by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who took the view that, far from trying to meet need, the GLC should abandon schemes planned for constituencies represented by Conservatives. It would be equally logical, and unfair, for the Government to say that taxpayers in Newham should not have the benefit of tax reductions made possible by the Government's economic strategy because their Members of Parliament opposed the economic strategy. That would be totally unfair and wrong. We have no intention of doing that, but the hon. Member's views are equally illogical and unfair.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir George Young

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) will be able to make his speech in a moment.

The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) tabled an amendment to the instruction. It would be odd for the House to instruct the Committee to determine the criteria to be used by the Treasury when considering applications by the GLC without giving the Committee guidance on the criteria that it might use.

My Department has already told the GLC the criteria that any Government would be bound to have in mind. The letter which has been quoted warned that Treasury consent to the use of part IV, in whole or in part, would not necessarily be forthcoming. The instruction of my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate sets out the level of spending which the Government believe to be appropriate. My Department's letter explained that the Government would be likely to change their view about the appropriate level of spending only if, for example, an additional allocation were agreed for the Thames barrier or if it were possible to obtain extra resources for local authorities generally. In view of that, it would be inappropriate to ask the Committee to draw up criteria.

The Treasury will consider applications carefully, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate said, but it must pay close attention to the level of local spending generally.

It has been alleged that the Department had adequate notice of the proposed capital expenditure level because of the GLC's announcement of its spending plans in November last year. The plans published last autumn were provisional capital spending plans, subject to consultation. I welcome such public consultation, but, by definition, the proposals were not final. It would have been wrong for the Department to act upon them as if they were. Indeed, the proposals for housing and transport expenditure were substantially lower when submitted to my Department responding to allocations submitted in December. It would have been a waste of time for us to consider proposals before they were firmed up—that is, until the GLC considered that the proposals were ready to send to my Department. The proposals were put to us in February and are before us in the Bill.

It is unprecedented in recent years for the GLC to come to the House without taking account of the Government's view of the appropriate level of spending, and I very much regret that the convention has not been maintained.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) expressed some surprise that there is a Whip on the Treasury Bench. There is always a Whip on the Treasury Bench. They are part of the furniture. The Whips spend far more time in the House than members of the SDP-Liberal alliance.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I asked not why there was a Whip on the Treasury Bench but for an assurance that the debate was not the subject of intervention by Government Whips. I suspect that Whips will be present even on the Opposition Benches, although sometimes recently it has seemed as if the Whips do not exist.

Sir George Young

My hon. Friends have already answered the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question about whether a Whip was on tonight. The hon. Gentleman will have heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) said earlier. My hon. Friend, who is a former member of the GLC, outlined the convention that has worked well until now. As I have said, the convention broke down because the Bill was tabled on 25 April in a form that was known to be totally unacceptable to the Government. Indeed, the correspondence relating to it has already been referred to.

There is much about the GLC that the Government cannot support. We do not support its behaviour or attitudes or the profligacy of its current spending. We see no reason for the continued existence of a body that fails to justify the costs that it imposes upon our ratepayers. As hon. Members well know, we are proposing to bring a Bill before the House shortly to abolish the GLC, along with the metropolitan county councils, from 1986. Those are not, however, the issues before the House this evening.

We are concerned with providing for the GLC's capital expenditure during the present financial year and, to a lesser extent, in the first six months of the ensuing financial year, which, on our present plans would be the last year of the council's existence. The issue tonight is not whether the GLC is needed to carry out its limited remaining functions, but rather the need to provide for the level of capital spending that is appropriate for those functions still falling to the council.

The Government believe that the provision that the GLC seeks in the Bill is more than what is appropriate. My hon. Friend the Member for Southgate has already spoken about his instruction, on which we shall vote later this evening, and which asks the Committee to reduce the provision. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing forward proposals with which I find myself in complete sympathy. [Interruption.] It is a convention, honoured by all parties, that the Government do not table amendments to a private Bill. However, I am delighted that the figure that commended itself to my hon. Friend when he tabled his instruction bears a close resemblance to some of the figures in correspondence between my Department and the GLC.

In past years when the Government have made representations to the GLC about the level of its proposed capital expenditure it has reduced it, recognising that the Government have a role in fixing overall capital expenditure. This year, however, the GLC has not responded.

Mr. Spearing

Can the Minister refute the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) that the levels of spending requested by the GLC were not remarkably greater this year than in previous years? Will the Minister also deal with the point about the 52 per cent. discretionary expenditure before he completes his reply?

Sir George Young

The 52 per cent. figure was produced by the GLC. The reduction that we sought was £46 million, which is 9 per cent. of the £510 million proposed capital expenditure that was sought in the Bill. The 52 per cent. is the GLC's own figure. Whether the next year's figure is committed or discretionary, it is still money and makes claims on the resources of the economy. The Government must consider the totality of expenditure in any one year.

The GLC drew up its own plans internally, subsequent to the negotiations that I have referred to, as to how it might cope with such a reduction if necessary, and then came to the Government with a list of all the projects that would be unable to proceed. Indeed, we have heard about some of them tonight. But it is for the council itself to decide which projects it will proceed with and which not, within the provision that is available. The Government's chief interest is in the overall provision and we simply do not believe that the spending proposed by the GLC is affordable within the available national resources.

As to the surplus provision, I readily acknowledge that the undertakings that the GLC has given in previous years have held good. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate has said, it is not really logical or sensible to have a Bill that purports to say how much the GLC may spend on certain things but which actually contains figures that are quite different. Frankly, that is an unnecessary idiosyncrasy in a rather complicated system, and we should have removed it before now.

I welcome the instruction that my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate proposes should be given to the Committee, but opposition to the particular figures included in the schedule to the Bill should not mean opposition to the passage of the Bill as a whole. It would, in fact, create considerable difficulty if the Bill, whether in its present form or some amended form, did not pass.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has emphasised that, under the unique procedure that governs the Bill, the GLC is dependent on the approval of Parliament for all its capital expenditure and lending — including undeniably desirable schemes as well as some of the more dubious indulgences that we have heard about from my hon. Friends tonight. Therefore, it is important that the Bill should proceed, and I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading. But thereafter I invite hon. Members to look very closely at the levels of spending that are proposed in the Bill. I commend to the House the instruction to the Committee and invite hon. Members to send the Bill to the Committee with a clear expression of the wish of the whole House as to the way in which it should be amended.

Mr. John Fraser

Before the Minister sits down, will he say what the Treasury's attitude will be towards any requests for approvals under part IV of the Bill?

Sir George Young

With respect, I explained at some length the position on part IV of the Bill. It was outlined in some detail in the letter that has been quoted, and I assume that the hon. Gentleman has it. The position is as set out in that letter, and in what I have just said, and I have nothing to add to those statements.

9.43 pm
Mr. John Fraser

The Prime Minister has had many nicknames, such as the Iron Maiden and She Who Must Be Obeyed. She could be given one other nickname—Knight Nurse. On the Order Paper, an instruction stands in the name of a knight, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Sir A. Berry), supported by a knight from Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg), supported by another knight from Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), all of whom are of recent creation by the right hon. Lady. Indeed, she gives away knighthoods like some people give away valium tablets, in order to deal with problems of anxiety and stress on her Benches. Tonight, that has clearly paid off. Those three knights will be supported by other recent creations in the form of the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins), the hon. Members for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison), for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), and for Croydon, South (Sir W. Clark), the former hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Sir A. Grant) and so on.

Sir Anthony Berry

Will the hon. Gentleman remind the House just how many peers, who were once leaders of the GLC, voted with the Labour party last night in the other place?

Mr. Fraser

I cannot give the exact number, but the Prime Minister's recent creations make Harold Wilson look rather parsimonious in his patronage. The right hon. Lady's policy is clearly paying off.

There have been protestations about the fact that the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate apparently produces stuff from the Treasury arid the Department of the Environment by means of extrasensory perception. I did not know that he could count up to £123 million before. It seems quite clear that there has been a shabby compromise between the hon. Gentleman and some of It s colleagues—although others have been left in ignorance — in order to put a case to the House that the Government did not dare to put themselves.

As I said in an intervention, the hon. Gentleman's record on such matters goes back some way. Perhaps he will tell the House in an intervention about an episode when he wrote to the Prime Minister, when Lambeth borough council wanted to develop a large area of land that had once been a children's home at Shirley Oaks in Croydon. That land would have provided many homes that were badly needed by Londoners particularly in the inner city. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will confirm that he wrote a letter to the Prime Minister in about 1981 urging her Government not to give any approval for that kind of housing development in Croydon in case it disturbed the political balance on the borders of Lambeth. That is one example of the kind of shabby arrangements which the hon. Gentleman is willing to enter into. The instruction to the Committee is a similar shabby conspiracy between stooge Back Benchers who are sort of sub-contracted hit boys tonight for the people who normally engage in the assassination of the independence of local government.

Sir Anthony Berry

I would never use the phrase "stooge Back Bencher" about any colleague in the House. I have been a Member of the House for 19 years, and I object strongly to that phrase. I ask the hon. Gentleman, as a decent honourable Member with whom I have had relations for many years, to withdraw that charge.

Mr. Fraser

The hon. Gentleman has not had relations with me for many years, but if what I have said gives offence, I withdraw it. However, the hon. Gentleman is carrying a case from the Back Benches which ought to have been put in the first place from the Front Bench. Indeed, although I withdraw the word "stooge" if the hon. Gentleman finds it objectionable, the vocabulary of his speech was not that of a Back Bencher but of a Department of the Environment brief. It worried me because it confirmed some of the things tht I have been asking the Department of the Environment about for some time. He used words such as "the need for careful monitoring of local authorities' capital programmes during the coming year." That is the vocabulary of the Front Bench. He was using Department of the Environment words which are precursors of a possible moratorium on capital expenditure which is likely to be announced by the Government in the forthcoming year.

Outer London Conservative Members have put up this operation because of the open disagreement between the Government who want to abolish the GLC and the GLC because that way it is less embarrassing. The instruction means that less money will be available for the disadvantaged, the disturbed, ethnic minorities and those who are poorly housed.

Let me give some examples. A housing association scheme in a road which I share with the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) is to lose £800,000. It is hardly a militant, immoderate scheme to give £800,000 to the Hyde housing association for a development in Croxted road on the borders of the Norwood and Dulwich constituencies. That is not immoderacy, mindless militancy or irresponsibility; it is worthwhile for the people whom we both represent. But it could be put at risk by the instruction which is being put forward by the hon. Member for Southgate.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

I hope that at some stage during the course of his speech the hon. Gentleman will be able to give us information about the Lambeth recreation and sports centre in the borough which he represents. Can he give us the increase in the costs, details of the deal with the GLC, and whether there is a sale-back arrangement in prospect and if so when it is to take place?

Mr. Fraser

I like doing this during every GLC debate. There are two former Lambeth borough councillors in the House who are partly responsible for that. One is the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and the other is the Under-Secretary of State who were Lambeth borough councillors in 1968. They were party to what turned out to be a scheme which makes Versailles look like a workhouse in cost terms. The Conservative council of Lambeth represented by two hon. Members here tonight, was sold a booby by a large construction firm which went to Conservative councillors in Lambeth and said, "We will build you a sports centre. Don't worry boys, we shall build it without any profit at all. It will just be a cost-plus contract." The Tories fell for it. Admittedly, the Labour council had to take the scheme over because it was unable to get out of it. The cost escalated. I agree that if Louis XIV had found himself in Lambeth instead of Paris and had wanted to spend a lot of money, he would have gone for the Lambeth sports centre. That expenditure occurred because of the profligacy, extravagance and bad judgment of people such as the Under-Secretary of State and the Government Whip.

Mr. Bottomley

The House knows all that. The questions that I put to the hon. Gentleman were: what was the cost of completing that centre? What has the GLC paid or agreed to pay for it? Does the GLC intend to sell it back to the Lambeth borough council? When will that deal occur?

Mr. Fraser

I do not know about the completion, because it has become almost a tradition that the centre is never completed. I believe that, at the last count, the capital cost was £12 million or £15 million, and the accumulated interest payable is high. In financial terms, the centre has proved to be a disaster, but the facility is likely to be used more widely than by the people from Lambeth. In the same way as the Crystal Palace sports centre is assisted by the GLC, assistance for the Lambeth sports centre will be provided by the GLC. Frankly, I do not know whether the GLC bought the centre, but it has turned out to be far more expensive than anyone anticipated. As the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) knows, we are both Lambeth ratepayers, and Ken Livingstone has done us both a favour by bailing us out of the misjudgments originally made by people such as the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. I am sorry to have been interrupted on those matters.

The effect of the instruction will be to put at risk housing association schemes shared by the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) and myself. It will put at risk £53,000 for a day nursery in Knight's hill in my constituency, where it is badly needed. The instruction will put at risk £105,000 for the Brixton neighbourhood community association for a scheme that would involve advice and training facilities and other welfare matters. That £105,000 was to go to a body operating at the heart of where the riots broke out in 1981. I can give many other examples in my constituency and others.

I shall concentrate on some wider matters. The cuts that will flow from the instruction amount, as many hon. Members have said, to 52 per cent. of all new capital start. That is bad news for London and for the construction industry. That is why the instruction should be withdrawn.

Another plan to be put at risk involves my constituency and those of many other hon. Members in which housing estates were compulsorily handed by the GLC to the London boroughs because of Government orders in 1982. The Tulse hill estate in my constituency could be affected. In the lead-up to the handover to those authorities, the GLC was forced to hand the estates to the boroughs, but the boroughs organised so as to get a commitment from the GLC and the central Government that there would be a 10-year improvement programme for the housing they were taking over. Otherwise, the position would be like the Brixton recreation centre in reverse — the GLC would be handing over an increasing financial burden to many hard-pressed and deprived London boroughs.

The GLC and the central Government made a commitment that the cost of improvements to the estates would be funded over 10 years by the GLC. The GLC willingly agreed to that plan. It is estimated that the cost of those renovations will be about £1,000 million. The only way in which that provision can be made in the proper time is by capital that has been raised by the GLC. If one looks only at the way in which the Government control housing expenditure in London, there is no way that those commitments can ever be met.

In 1984–85, the GLC sought the modest housing investment programme of £250 million, of which it budgeted to spend £152 million on the renovation of former GLC estates. Although it applied for £250 million, the Government allowed it £85 million on an HIP for all its housing needs, that being part of £1,000 million to be spread over 10 years for the renovation of its estates. With capital receipts, the GLC was able to put aside £91 million for estate renovation but the paucity of the money that it has been able to provide as a result of its capital programme and HIP allocations means that many thousands of Londoners living in former GLC estates will be under sentence to live in dull, damp and insanitary conditions, conditions that need to be improved. Some people are condemned to live on estates which have turned out to be like Dante's inferno.

The result of the instruction is to impose that sentence on many thousands of Londoners. The result of the instruction is to break a convention that was long established in the House. The effect of the instruction will be to break faith with many thousands who are poorly housed in London and who rely upon a commitment which was given by the GLC and the Government jointly. If the hon. Member for Southgate feels proud of that, he can feel proud of anything.

9.57 pm
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) spoke about the Ferrier estate. I hope that I shall be allowed to spend a short time talking about the estate, because for a time part of it was in my previous consituency of Woolwich, West. The hon. Gentleman and I, with the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), attended a meeting held by the Greenwich council and the GLC on the possible impact of tonight's business on improvements to housing stock transferred from the GLC to Greenwich.

I became the Member for Woolwich, West in 1975. I found that part of my constituency was part of the Ferrier estate, which contained 5,000 people and had for five years no post office, no pub, no church or chapel and no recreation facilities. There was nowhere within three quarters of a mile in which anyone could set up the smallest business. It was a sterile area which was lived in by many decent people who kept the inside of their homes in perfect order but who were condemned to live in a ghastly environment outside their own front door. Who condemned them to live in those conditions? It was the GLC.

The GLC was taking decisions on building programmes which were condemning Londoners to a miserable life. I have no doubt that we all take some blame for that. The idea of large-scale redevelopment was perhaps a bipartisan policy which was encouraged by successive Governments and implemented by successive GLC administrations. However, the lessons were obvious in 1975 and the present GLC administration came into County hall in 1981. We are talking about a programme which starts at least three years after that. If the programmes were of the highest priority, which I was arguing they were at the time when I was responsible, the GLC could have acted substantially more quickly.

One example of a possible GLC capital cut which was left out of the litany of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) is the Rochester way relief road. The GLC and its friend, the Greenwich council, are now saying, "If the instruction is passed, the Rochester way relief road"—it will bring great relief to my constituents in Eltham—"might not be completed as planned."

If the GLC had had the chance, it would have cancelled the Rochester way relief road, but it is now putting at forward as one of the highest priorities in its programme which is under threat by the instruction. The GLC's ability to swing round on a turntable within months if not years is amply demonstrated by that example.

We have heard, perhaps ad nauseam, about the democratic accountability of the GLC. Two issues followed from that. The first issue is the Lambeth sports centre. Throughout most of the debate there has been about 30 per cent. of the London Parliamentary Labour party in the Chamber. Not one of those Labour Members has given any substantial details of the proposed or past deal between the GLC and the London borough of Lambeth over the Brixton recreation centre.

If the GLC was democratically accountable, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who heard my original intervention, would have stood up and said those were the facts. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) who is promoting the Bill on behalf of the GLC, would have given the information straightaway. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) would also have been able to give the information. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) would have been able to give the advice to the hon. Gentleman who now seeks it. However, he will not get it from the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, because he did not have the full information.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.