HC Deb 19 February 1986 vol 92 cc306-8
9. Mr. Simon Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has plans for further meetings with the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of his commission on the subject of the report "Faith in the City"; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

When I met the Archbishop of Canterbury on 28 January I offered the assistance of my Department in following up his commission's work on the assessment of need in urban areas. We also agreed to look at the potential for joint initiatives involving Government programmes and the proposed Church urban fund.

Mr. Hughes

Given the announcement in another place on Monday by Lord Skelmersdale that the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor's committee that law centres should be funded is not to be taken up by the Government, and given that the worst crisis will come in the metropolitan counties and Greater London during the coming year because of their abolition, will the Secretary of State tell us whether he accepts the Archbishop's commission's recommendations that the law centres should be funded? If they cannot be funded by the Lord Chancellor's Department, will his Department look sympathetically at their funding next year?

Mr. Baker

The spokesman for the Liberal party is asking yet again for more expenditure in the inner cities. The Liberal party also asks for more spending in the shires, the rural districts and the suburbs. How is all this Liberal largesse to be funded? Where is the money to come from? The hon. Gentleman would he infinitely more credible if he set out how we are to fund all the special interest groups which the Liberal party promises to support. The Liberal party comes to the House and weeps and wrings its hands over every special interest group, but where is the money to come from?

Mr. Lilley

When my right hon. Friend met the Archbishop, did he draw to his attention the excellent comment on the Archbishop's report by the Chief Rabbi? In particular, did he draw to the Archbishop's attention the comment by the Chief Rabbi that in the Archbishop's report Christian charity was roughly balanced by a measure of blatant political bias?

Mr. Baker

I have read the document from the Chief Rabbi entitled, "From Doom to Hope", and I was so impressed with it that I asked the Chief Rabbi to meet me to discuss it. Some of the sentiments expressed are plain speaking and good. One of them reads: A Jewish religious contribution would lay greater emphasis on building up self respect by encouraging ambition and enterprise … let them [parents] encourage ambition and excellence in every negro child as Jewish parents encourage in their children and they will pull down their ghetto walls as surely as we demolished ours.

Mr. Heffer

Has the right hon. Gentleman looked carefully at the housing proposals in the commission's report? If so, what is the right hon. Gentleman's response? Will we get a real response, or will we get the usual guff that we had from the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister the other night on television?

Mr. Baker

During my meeting with the Archbishop, we discussed that matter. The commission intends to develop a form of neighbourhood partnership that will be directed towards housing, among other things. I am also holding discussions with various large financial institutions on ways in which they can help to deal with the housing problems in our cities and towns.

Dr. Hampson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one hope for the inner cities is the idea of a task force, on the lines of the Liverpool task force? Does he further agree that £8 million for the new task forces can be only a beginning if we are to have effective leverage to draw in private money? Which Minister will be responsible for the Leeds and northern task forces?

Mr. Baker

The task forces will cover a population of only 300,000. We will have to see how they get on. I am optimistic that they will show results in a short time. They are especially directed towards dealing with the problems of young unemployed people, especially from ethnic minorities, in the inner cities.

There are several instruments to hand—the new urban renewal grant, which can bring in money, and the other grants to which I have already referred. We must find ways to attract more private sector development and finance into the inner cities. The public sector must act as a catalyst for that.

Dr. Cunningham

Does the Secretary of State not recognise that local authorities are, and will remain, a major and significant force to tackle the problems of the inner cities? Given that, is it not a humiliation for the right hon. Gentleman and his ministerial colleagues to have been elbowed aside from that responsibility, which has now been given to the Department of Employment?

How can the people of Britain's inner cities be sanguine, or even hopeful, about the Government's policies when, in the words of the Audit Commission, they have resulted in a 20 per cent. cut in real terms in the resources available to tackle the problems? Is £8 million not peanuts when set beside the scale of those cuts? Does it not all add up to the fact that while this Government and their policies remain, the problems of Britain's inner cities will continue to mount?

Mr. Baker

I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Gentleman. While we have been in office the urban programme has increased from below £100 million to more than £300 million. We have introduced a variety of grants, and we are introducing another this year, to help with the problems.

We must marshall all the resources available from the public sector, and that is the purpose of the pilot studies in the inner cities. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would give them a little more welcome. The studies were welcomed by his hon. Friends, so why can he not welcome them?