HC Deb 16 May 1986 vol 97 cc964-1028 9.37 am
Mr. John Heddle (Mid-Stafforshire)

I beg to move, That this House recognises the need for a partnership between the private and public sectors in the context of urban renewal and in particular for private investment in the inner cities, specifically to widen the choice on behalf of inner city residents to offer them the right to buy and the right to rent, to make the best use of existing urban resources so as to provide the best opportunities for better schools, better job opportunities, to make the bey: use of existing real estate and personal resources, and to help to conserve the amentities and countryside around the conurbations. On about the seventh anniversary of my election to the House I had come to the conclusion that I would serve out the rest of my time here without achieving success in the ballot for private Members' Bills or for private Members' motions. However, as at constituency cocktail party raffles in the past, now and again one's number comes up.

I am probably the least numerate Member of the House. I did not manage to pass even O-level mathematics. I cannot remember the size of the majority that I was fortunate enough to secure in Mid-Staffordshire at the previous election, but when balloting for private Members' motions I have always picked the number in the ballot book that represents the majority that I had to beat to become Member of Parliament for Lichfield and Tamworth in 1979. That majority was 331. By a quirk of fate, this was the 13th occasion on which I had balloted in this Parliament for a private Member's motion. I give that advice to my hon. Friends and to Opposition Members should they at some time want their numbers to come up.

These are not just any old numbers—331 and 13, unlucky for some. One might say that, one in three or three in one, the motion refers to a trinity. Let us hope that the solution to the problems of inner cities can be found in some trinity or co-operation between the three major political parties.

It is therefore with some regret that I have to record that one of those political parties, the alliance, is not represented in the Chamber today. There is no representative of the Liberal party and no representative of the Social Democratic party. I find that most extraordinary, because the Liberal spokesman for the environment is the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who represents a borough which probably has some of the worst inner-city problems. I also find it extraordinary that the Liberal Chief Whip is not here, for he represents a constituency in Liverpool, a city which is often represented by a Liberal majority in the city hall. Perhaps we might consider whether the problem that politicians in town halls, county halls or here in Whitehall have inherited in the inner cities is due to the stranglehold—I shall not say ecclesiastical freehold, 5ut certainly fiefhold—of town halls by one major political party.

I have, as is customary in debates such as this, to declare two interests. One is possibly pecuniary, and the other is most certainly honorary. The pecuniary one is that I am a consultant to a firm of chartered surveyors, as, I believe, is well known, and there is just a possibility, although I know not of it, that that firm will from time to time act for companies which have interests in urban renewal and inner-city deprivation. The honorary interest is as a vice-president of the Building Societies Association, which I believe to be a more significant interest, in that it is possible that human life will be revived in inner cities by a tranfusion from the public sector to the private sector, embodied by the ownership of property by building societies and other similar institutions.

Urban deprivation defies definition. It shares that quality with the elephant, just as it does the quality of being huge and obvious. Urban decay is not just about crumbling out-of-date buildings, old age, poverty, and litter; it is about densities of under-privilege, squalor, concentrations of relatively poor people housed inadequately in areas of declining economic activity, rising unemployment, crime and vandalism. It is not necessarily a matter of physical location, because many inner cities are relatively prosperous.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heddle

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue my speech for a little longer. I shall then be delighted to give way to him. I respect the hon. Gentleman very much, and I know that he nurses his Liverpool constituency with great assiduity.

The inner-city problem is about concentrations of social deprivation and economic decline. It is not so much about no-go areas as about no-hope areas. Last Saturday, while queueing for admission to Wembley stadium, my 10-yearold son and I were attacked and robbed of our tickets. What happened in broad daylight in the midst of the madding crowd happens every day and every night in the graffiti-ridden liftshafts of hard-to-let council flats and in the dark, dank alleyways that meander through the inner cities. Unlike what happened last Saturday, the innocent who are robbed of their handbags, shopping baskets or wallets go unreported in the press and unreported to the police. Such things are part of every-day inner-city life, but they should not be.

Why do such incidents not occur in the leafy suburbs or the neo-Georgian estates on the fringes of our prosperous towns? It is surely that people there are better behaved, and partly because they are better housed and therefore the more content with their lives.

Mr. Parry

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on raising this important subject. Does he agree that many of the problems arising from the serious decline of our inner cities have come about because of Government policy? I refer to unemployment, rate capping and large cuts in rate support grant.

Mr. Heddle

I do not regret having given way to the hon. Gentleman, because he has revealed the one-sided and blinkered attitude from which I had hoped the debate would get away. He concentrated on the largesse of the Government and the ability of the Treasury or Whitehall to provide the solution to the nation's problems. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will be prepared to admit today that the solution to the inner-city problem as embodied in my motion lies in partnership between the public and private sectors. There should be a certain amount of financial pump-priming from the taxpayer, and a certain amount of initiative and enterprise from the private sector.

Is the answer to the inner-city problem as simple as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry) suggested? Is more cash from the public purse the answer? Is the answer to build more council houses? Has homelessness in Liverpool decreased, while the hon. Gentleman has served his constituents, by building more council houses? The answer is no. Homelessness has continued to increase, partly because the existing housing stock, public and private, has not been used to the best advantage of the community.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Fulham)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that during the past five years or so there has been an unprecedented increase in homelessness to levels that we have never before experienced, and that for the first time since the war there has been a reduction in the public sector housing stock? Is he aware that those two phenomena have gone hand in hand?

Mr. Heddle

I listened to the hon. Gentleman's maiden speech some weeks ago with considerable interest and found some of it contradictory. Despite his few weeks in the House, he has already acquired what so many hon. Members have—the disease of selective amnesia. As he was a prominent activist in the voluntary housing movement, he will know that the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 has done as much to increase homelessness as anything else. I shall come to that and to bed-and-breakfast accommodation later.

The problems of inner cities reflect acutely the difficulties that the Government have identified in their national strategy as being behind Britain's long-term problems—excessive or misdirected central and local government spending, the intrusion of controls into inappropriate areas and the stifling of enterprise. The inner cities present the best possible example of those problems in action and of the dereliction of industry and unemployment that they have helped to create.

The advice that the Government receive from the Opposition parties boils down to a bid for a greater share of public expenditure, an increased burden on the taxpayer or the ratepayer, or all three. Bids and proposals must be judged according to whether they repeat the mistakes of the past, whether they encourage initiative and discourage dependency and whether they encourage good targeting and value for money. Those are the key issues.

Is it not the case that were it not for the riots in 1980 and 1985 the inner cities would have featured far less on the agenda of the House than they do? All political parties, of whatever persuasion and hue, must bear some responsibility for the fact that for generations they have ignored the decline that has taken place behind the corrugated and nettle-ridden boundary fences of vacant land and in buildings which are rated but are unused because they have outlived their usefulness. All political parties have a responsibility for the inheritance that is ours today.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friends the Members for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), for Bridgwater (Mr. King) and for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) for the initiative that they and their ministerial teams have taken in trying to provide solutions to problems which have been conveniently ignored by all political parties for so long.

It would be wrong to relate inner-city decline simply to state intervention. However, it is clear that fundamental and expensive mistakes have been made in tackling urban problems. The initiatives on basic needs and attacks on abuses have all too often mushroomed into an overblown machinery which sought to plan, take responsibility for, rehabilitate and regulate everything. All too often the basic dynamic of wealth creation has been taken for granted, resulting in the failure that we see today.

The lessons from the past suggest the following strategy. Assistance should be targeted on the most needy areas, where results can be seen, so that help is not spread too thinly and incoherently. We should require the state, especially local authorities, to minimise regulations and to be responsive and positive to investors and consumers. We should build up business confidence by tackling dereliction, and by pump-priming investment in infrastructure. That is most important, because the private sector will not invest shareholders' capital or risk its capital or profits in the inner cities unless the Government are prepared to provide the infrastructure. That is part of the formula of the partnership to which I referred earlier. We should provide direct help to businesses, to encourage badly needed investment, such as is happening in docklands and the Albert dock in the constituency of the hon. Member for Riverside. That is a fine example of partnership between the public and private sectors, revitalising, refurbishing and renewing life in his part of that sadly neglected city.

It is self-evident that many Departments must be involved in that task. One of the problems of the past is, perhaps, that there has not been an umbrella authority or Department which can take an overview of all the components that make up inner-city deprivation. The Home Office deals with issues such as law and order and race discrimination, the Department of Employment deals with employment and training, the Department of Education and Science deals with education, and the Department of Health and Social Security deals with social services. All those matters are as important as bad housing and a lack of business opportunities. No one Department has ever been able to pull all those various components together. That is why the initiative taken to try out employment-based projects in eight selected small inner-city areas is so important. It is another example of the Government's willingness and open-mindedness to test projects to ensure that public money is properly spent and that all opportunities to secure inner-city regeneration are properly explored.

Local labour markets should work efficiently. That means encouraging young people in the inner cities to make the most of their training opportunities, and making them realise that, although those opportunities may not be as profitable in terms of pocket money as unemployment benefit, they should take the advantage of learning a skill which will stand them in good stead for a job later on. It means encouraging realistic wage expectations and improving the information arid recruitment systems which match people to jobs in a way which gives everybody a fair chance.

Job prospects in the inner cities will not depend wholly on those labour supply measures alone. We must improve the physical fabric in order to encourage private investment which generates jobs. At the end of my speech I shall make some constructive suggestions which my right hon. and hon. Friends in their Departments have not yet taken on board in as encouraging a manner as I would hope. We must ensure that land in the inner cities is open to developers. Above all, we must do something about the social mix in the cities. There must be home ownership beside rented property, and large factories beside small seed corn nursery industrial units. We cannot afford the one-tenure municipal ghettos for residential, commercial or industrial purposes which tie people in their choice of housing and job, lock them into immobility, and give them no opportunity to change their job, either from one part of the city to another, or from one part of the country to another.

I am looking forward to the reply of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. She had a long and distinguished record in local government before corning to the House, and, like many hon. Members, she can see the problem from both sides—from the town hall and from Whitehall. The Department of the Environment is most concerned about the development of urban policy, fully recognising that many Departments' programmes are necessarily involved, and it is to that that my hon. Friend lends her experience.

Too often, the arguments about how much money should be given to local authorities are given publicity. The hon. Member for Riverside referred to that earlier. I do not want to go into that today, but I wish to emphasise that that debate obscures the range of policies and policy instruments which are being used to regenerate our inner cities. Perhaps I could remind the House of some of them.

Those policies include selective and targeted support, both through the urban programme and through many local authorities' programmes. My hon. Friend the Minister will probably tell the House of the enormous sums that have been invested in those schemes, but we must ask whether that money has been properly invested on behalf of taxpayers to produce the best benefit for the people who live in those areas. There is the policy to mobilise the inner-city land market and to tackle dereliction through the land registers and the dereliction land programme, enlisting the support of the private sector through urban development grants and the new urban regeneration grant. There is the policy to improve inner-city housing by widening choice and encouraging both owner-occupation and a more responsive and efficient service to tenants

There are 188,000 acres of derelict land waiting for the developer's digger and the builder's shovel to lay foundations for homes and factories to buy and to rent. The procedure to identify that land is too cumbersome, because the information is locked in a register which is put on display at the behest of the local authority which owns the land and which, by and large. does not wish to sell it I am not making a party political point, as local authorities controlled by all political parties have been guilty of that discouraging inertia. Local authorities like to acquire land., but do not wish to dispose of it.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

The House is listening with great interest to a fascinating exposition of inner-city problems. My hon. Friend mentioned local authorities as being one of the culprits of land hoarding. Does he agree that it is not just local authorities, but many of the public institutions, such as the water authorities arid British Rail, which continue with this hoarding? Does the Government's register not show that the number of acres of derelict, vacant and dormant land in public hands is increasing, and that something much more dramatic needs to be done to allow that land to come into use, rather than permit green field site developments on the outside? As long as the inner city is left empty, with vacant dormant land in public ownership, the developers will wish to develop on the green field sites outside.

Mr. Heddle

My hon. Friend has made a valid and telling point. He had the experience, in a previous Parliament, of representing an inner city seat in Liverpool. The principal culprit of land hoarding is local authorities and certain statutory undertakings, possibly the DHSS. However, now that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Services has appointed Mr. Victor Paige as chairman of the National Health Service management board, that has injected an attitude of greater urgency into the management of properties owned by the Department and the regional health authorities.

My hon. Friend then spoke about the water authorities, and they have been guilty of holding much too much land. He also mentioned British Rail, and here I pay tribute to the managing director of the British Rail property board, Mr. Gavin Simpson, whom I have the pleasure of knowing, and who has embarked on a constructive and progressive policy towards the disposal of surplus sidings and other land which British Rail has hoarded for years to store coal, but which has not been used since the advent of the electric train. I agree with what my hon. Friend said.

My hon. Friend then referred to the maximisation of inner-city land as being the one way to relieve pressure on the green belt. We could spend many hours debating this point. I pay tribute to the House Builders Federation, to the Building Employers Confederation and the British Property Federation, which, more recently than some of us might have hoped, have taken on board the fact that the only way to satisfy builders' land requirements is for them to turn their attention from Bracknell to Beckton, from the leafy suburbs of the M4 corridor back to the inner cities.

The one way to revitalise the inner cities is to encourage people to want to live there. I suspect that the majority of people now buying property in docklands had hoped, when they left school or university, that they would spend the majority of their family lives living in the suburbs or the country. Because of the initiative that we can see at docklands, again a partnership between the public and the private sectors, that rundown place, an area which we have all neglected for the past 20 years—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) wishes to intervene, he is welcome to do so. He represents a constituency not far from docklands. Perhaps he could give the House the benefit of his views, rather than whispering to the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford).

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I did not intervene immediately because I had only just walked in to the Chamber—I apologise to the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) and to other hon. Members. I thought that it would be impertinent of me immediately to intervene, but as the hon. Member has invited me to do so, I shall take the opportunity.

The prices of houses being built in the south part of my borough of Newham, in the London Docklands Development Corporation area, are beyond the financial range of the vast majority of the ordinary people of Newham. That problem must be faced. It is all very well to talk of houses at £50,000 or £60,000, but the people of Newham cannot afford them.

Mr. Heddle

The hon. Gentleman has made a valid point and one to which the Government must devote their mind. The hon. Gentleman has experience of east London, at both local and central Government levels, and he can make some constructive suggestions. It is a problem for all political parties which seek to revitalise areas, whether inner city or otherwise, that those areas will become more attractive to the upwardly mobile, which will inevitably price out the people who we wish to house first and foremost—the young, the disadvantaged and those on low incomes. This challenge confronts us all, and the answer does not lie simply in public sector housing. If it did, docklands would not have been what it was before it was revitalised. It does not lie solely in the free market, because that would produce, as the hon. Gentleman says, the price escalation that we have seen in docklands.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Is not the massive escalation in house and land prices also pricing out housing associations and other third-sector agencies which would wish to develop the sort of partnership which the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, and which I support? Given the urgency of the task and the speed with which things are developing, the only way to control the otherwise excessive increases in land prices in the development areas is to intervene to hold down those prices, so that there can be an opportunity for housing associations, or even low-cost private housing, and for local authorities to regenerate the area for the local community. Is this not the priority for the people who live in the most deprived areas of London and Liverpool?

Mr. Heddle

I cannot entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. At the beginning of my speech I referred to the fact that the hon. Gentleman was not in his place. I am delighted that he is now with us. He may have come in late because of the traffic holding him up on the M25 as he decided to skirt round his constituency. It may be because he picked up the speech to which the House will no doubt enjoy listening later from his research assistant. I do not know, but the House always listens with great interest to the hon. Gentleman's contributions. However, I do not agree with him, because while the housing associations may wish to develop in docklands, they could buy the accommodation elsewhere. Those whom the housing associations wish to satisfy would be prepared to live elsewhere in the inner cities, in areas where land is at giveaway, knockdown, auction prices.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)


Mr. Heddle

It is not rubbish. There are about 180,000 acres of inner city land of which the value is negligible because nobody in the private sector wants to buy it because they cannot afford to put in the infrastructure. The only way to get that land developed is by giving derelict land grants.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

I hate to break up this cosy view of the term "inner cities" being applied only to London. If the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) is talking about inner cities rather than about one inner city, he should realise that the problem of tremendous pressure for development in the city does not exist in the Manchesters, the Liverpools or most of the northern cities. There is no pressure there from the leafy suburbs for land. We should be delighted to have that problem.

Mr. Heddle

The hon. Gentleman states only half the case. The pressure may not be from the leafy suburbs or the green belt land, but—he ignores this at his political peril—it is there from those on the council house waiting lists who go to his advice bureau every Friday and Saturday, as they come to mine, to demand the right to a home. The problem there is not the right to buy, but the right to rent.

Investing in the inner cities is not like investing down the M4 corridor, as the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) reminded us. The risks are greater and the returns more uncertain, and therein lies the challenge to the Government—to try to find an incentive to bring private capital back to the inner cities.

Without doubt, the right to buy has been a considerable success, as has been acknowledged across the Chamber. It has been such a success that the Opposition will go into the next election—no doubt reluctantly—unprepared to oppose such legislation. I should like the alliance parties, which are in power in so many town halls at the moment, instead of obstructing the legal process positively to encourage tenants to buy their houses.

When I served on the Standing Committee of the Housing Bill in 1980, I was delighted to learn that the Opposition were prepared to give a fair wind to the assured tenancy arrangements. They knew, as I knew, that assured tenancies would not produce very many houses, because there is no correlation between cost and economic rent. The hon. Member for Fulham nods in a north-south direction. He agrees with me. Therefore, I ask him also to agree with me that if the assured tenancy provisions are, in principle, acceptable to his party, the shorthold provisions of the Housing Act 1980 should also be acceptable to his party.

The assured tenancy provisions were designed to provide new homes for rent by people who want to rent their homes. The shorthold tenancy provisions were also designed to provide new and/or secondhand homes for people who want to rent their homes. It is not for the Opposition to say that people should live in new houses or in secondhand houses. It is up to Opposition Members to try to find practical solutions to these problems.

Mr. Raynsford

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that both the assured tenancy and the shorthold tenancy experiments have proved to be completely irrelevant? The problem, as the hon. Gentleman recognises—and that is why I was nodding—is that the economics of trying to provide rented housing which will give a return to the landlord and be within the reach of ordinary people on low incomes who are looking for rented housing are impossible. There is a gross mismatch. That applies whether one is referring to short tenancies or to any other form of tenancy where rent control does not apply. Where rent control applies, the tenant may be able to afford the accommodation, but the landlord will not find that it is an attractive proposition. Again that highlights the mismatch.

Our objection to the shorthold scheme is that when the Government introduced it they gave pledges about rent control, but then they promptly tried to remove rent security from tenants so that landlords could charge what they want. It is a grossly misconceived scheme. It is irrelevant to housing needs, it is a sad comment on the Government's pledge to revive the private market and it has been wholly illusory and unsuccessful.

Mr. Heddle

I regret having given way for a second time this morning to the hon Gentleman, and I shall not give way to him again. I shall read his speech with interest during the early part of next week, if I can find the time. He has blurred the edges between rent control and security of tenure. They are two separate and distinct issues. He has also allowed himself the privilege of putting himself into the minds of homeless persons. He should not come to the House and presume to know whether somebody would like the right to rent for one, two, three, four or five years.

It is not for the Opposition to say, as they said during the Committee stage of the Housing Bill, that if they are returned to power they will repeal the shorthold provisions. The public perception of that promise is that if the Opposition are returned to power people will find that they are homeless, or landlords will find that they have unsatisfactory tenants and that it is difficult to evict them. The debate continues about the right to rent. The Opposition have travelled down the road to Damascus over the question of the right to buy. I hope the time will come when they travel down the same road over the right to rent.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heddle

No, I shall not give way again. I have already given way on several occasions and I must finish my speech.

Today there are 1 million people who want the right to a key to their own front door. There are a considerable number of empty houses, many of which, although by no means all, are owned by local authorities. Some of the local authority-owned houses have been empty for six, nine, 12, or more months. Today 26,000 houses that are under stewardship of local authorities have been standing empty for more than 12 months. That is a scandal and a scar on the face of a so-called caring society. If one looks above the fascia boards of shop fronts in towns and cities throughout the country, one sees empty rooms.[Interruption.] Local authorities will not let these rooms, for the very reason that the hon. Member for Fulham mentioned. [Interruption.] He is as much responsible for homelessness and for the misery that homelessness causes as anybody else. His partial, irresponsible, sedentary remarks will not, I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, be recorded in Hansard.

Mr. Raynsford

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heddle

I suggest that any local authority house that stands empty for more than six months, on the excuse that the local authority is waiting to carry out repairs or that it does not have enough money with which to carry out the repairs, should be made available on a rent-free basis to a do-it-yourself expert on the local authority's housing waiting list. Hundreds of my constituents who come to my advice bureau or who write to me would like to have the key to a house that needs gentrification and to be able to do that work out of their own resources in return for a generous rent-free period. It would help them to secure a home. It would also help local authorities. They would not have to look after empty houses that are an open invitation to vandals. Furthermore, the local authorities would not have to provide the money to rehabilitate those houses.

The way in which to regenerate the inner cities is to provide a partnership between the public and the private sector in the business context, the way forward must be to encourage the great corporations of this country and abroad to put more than the 0.1 per cent. of their pre-tax profits into inner city regeneration. If that can happen at Baltimore in the United States, it can happen in the United Kingdom. It could happen through the provision of tax exempt bonds, a matter which I should like to discuss further with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and his team.

For those who are prepared to provide job opportunities in the inner cities by starting up their own small, seed corn factories, but who do not have the track record to be able to obtain premises with which to do so, I should like a covenant guarantee to be introduced under which either the Government or the local authorities would be prepared to pay or guarantee the rent for a period. That would enable people to start up in business and ultimately play their part in providing job opportunities.

I should like local authorities to pass their hard-to-let estates to the private sector and to building societies and other financial institutions, and, instead of being responsible for the cost of management and maintenance, to guarantee the rent. They would then not have to worry about maintenance and capital costs. All that they would have to do would be to guarantee any shortfall. Local authorities have to fund that shortfall anyway, because of their stewardship of our housing stock. Today the nation's rent debt bill stands at £200 million. If local authorities were to guarantee the rent to another landlord instead of having the responsibility for management and maintenance costs, that figure would not be as horrendously high as it is today.

I should like the umbrella concept to be introduced so that Whitehall Departments do not have to vie with each other to find solutions to our horrendous inner city problems. I should like a national urban task force to be established, along the lines of the Scottish Development Agency, which seems to work very well. That agency would be not Government-led, but would be business-led. The players in that development agency would be orchestrated by enterprise and incentive.

Mr. Parry

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heddle

No, I am reaching the end of my speech. I ask the hon. Gentleman to be patient, because I am sure that he will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in a moment.

The players would be orchestrated in that development agency by enterprise and incentive. The principal players would be the Department of the Environment, builders, developers, institutions, industry and the building societies.

I submit that those are the ways in which to reverse the failures in our cities. That is the way in which to provide jobs and decent housing for the residents of our cities. We must break the cycle of dependency and challenge the assumption which too often underlies the approach of some local authorities—the production of a high cost and sophisticated municipal welfare system which too often benefits the provider of the system rather than the consumer. That is the way forward.

I urge my hon. Friend to continue to seek effective ways of partnership to provide a way out of the present difficulties and certainly not ways which reinforce them. The role of the private sector will be central to that process and will be of growing and not diminishing importance. If our cities are once again to be human, safer, prosperous and the pride of our nation, I commend to the House some of the suggestions which my motion embodies.

10.20 am
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

I am sure that hon. Members have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle). We congratulate him on tabling the motion, which gives us the opportunity to develop some of the comments that he has made. Equally, it enables us to comment in depth on some of the issues that he did not touch upon. Those of us who come from the inner cities know at first hand the problmes that exist and a debate such as this is our opportunity to highlight them in the House.

On some things I am in agreement with the hon. Gentleman but on other matters we have very little in common. I think that all hon. Members would accept that in all areas of government, be it local or national, we must try to obtain the best services for the money that is being spent. No one would disagree with that. However, those of us who come from the inner cities see another side to the problem and the hon. Gentleman has not touched on that in any great detail.

The comments that many hon. Members will make today were vividly reported in the recent Church of England report "Faith in the City". It clearly outlined the kind of day-to-day issues that people who live in our inner cities, not just London, have to live with.

I want to comment on some of the issues which affect my constituency in London and which affect many hon. Members who represent London, irrespective of the side of the Chamber on which they sit. The first issue is, undoubtedly, employment. Government policy on employment in the inner cities has completely failed. One can see from any opinion poll that the great concern that people have is trying to find employment. In my post today have come the latest figures in the Manpower Services Commission report, "Unemployment and unfilled vacancies in Wandsworth", dated April 1986. One assumes that they are up-to-date figures. In the borough for which I am one of the Members, there are, according to this report, over 16,000 people registered as unemployed and there are 700 vacancies.

If one talks to youngsters in our schools about how they see their future, their reply is one of despair because, sadly, they see no meaningful employment available to them in the area. That is not a recent development; it has been going on for many years.

Another issue of great importance to us in the inner cities is that the Government have no policy which will give any meaningful hope to men and women in the 50-year-old age group who may have worked for most of their lives but who suddenly find themselves unemployed, for whatever reason. I accept that that is a problem throughout the country. Such people expected to work until they were 60 or 65. I have asked many questions on this issue because week by week people within that age group come to see me and write me letters asking what advice I can give them. The problem is of crucial importance but the Government have no policy on that.

In the inner cities where, until a few years ago, we had flourishing industries we now see many sites being sold off to private developers. Comments have already been made about the docklands development. Those private developers are developing houses which certainly do not meet the needs of those living in the area. They are for people coming into the area with money.

The hon. Gentleman said that local authorities cannot be solely responsible for providing housing. I accept that we must have a broad housing base for people, be it private or local authority development. I am sure that this week all of us have received the annual report of the National Federation of Housing Associations. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads that. In it the federation is saying how difficult its task has become because of Government policy. Yet we all know that if we do not want just local authority housing it is to housing associations that we must look.

For many years I was associated with a housing association called Threshold, which operates in parts of London. It has a superb record, but it recently told me of the enormous problems that it has trying to help people with genuine housing needs. For a variety of reasons the local authorities will not be helping it and in no way will it be able to go down to the docklands and buy property that is being constructed there. I share with the hon. Gentleman the belief that I understood him to express that we must seek to achieve good housing policy for everyone.

Mr. Patrick Ground (Feltham and Heston)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the point that he is making about industrial land being taken up by housing development applies as much to municipal housing development as to private housing development and there is a great need in the inner cities to see that as far as possible land is retained for employment purposes?

Mr. Cox

I accept that. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that many of us who represent the inner city areas, where there have been the old, traditional, employments, often receive complaints from people about the environmental effects of such employment. Therefore, we must start to develop modern constructive employment opportunities within a housing development area. Sadly, that is something that we have not seen for many years. We are not seeing that under this Government in parts of London and, to be frank, we did not see as much as we should have seen under the previous Labour Government. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point that that is something that we need to develop.

When the hon. Gentleman for Mid-Staffordshire talks about local authority housing it is true that there are some deplorable estates. We do not dispute that. But many of the problems on those estates can be traced back to Government finance restrictions. There is no doubt about that.

This is an ideal opportunity to get away from solely political points and quote organisations which, because of the nature of their involvement, hold views and expertise that some of us do not have to the same extent. I have here a report published by the Royal Institute of British Architects last summer along with a report called "Decaying Britain." It says: Many authorities commented that inadequate housing investment programme allocations were placing a great and increasing strain on resources, reducing capitalised repair work and leading to reduced expenditure on environmental improvements. There are problems throughout housing and the Government cannot contract out of their responsibilities.

The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire has suggested that big business could be brought into the city areas and encouraged to develop. That sounds attractive, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has said, not many of those on council waiting lists will live in the sort of development that will take place by big business. The hon. Gentleman's proposition will not lead to the broad balance that is crucial in the areas that my hon. Friends and I represent.

Mr. Heddle

The hon. Gentleman has missed the point slightly. I was trying to say that increased expenditure by government, whether central or local, has not produced the solution. Indeed, it has created the conditions that we are talking about. I am saying that it is time that we lifted our sights beyond bureaucracy and the public community chest to find the solution elsewhere. I have instanced Baltimore in the United States, where big business has produced the money to provide jobs and prosperity for the inner cities. If the United States can do it, Great Britain can do it. It is incumbent upon Opposition Members to make constructive suggestions as to how the partnership can be developed.

As for the prices of property in docklands——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. Interventions should be brief.

Mr. Heddle

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am answering the point that the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox)——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not use an intervention to make a second speech.

Mr. Cox

We do not see that the sort of partnership that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting will meet the needs of the constituents whom we try to represent in the areas from which we come, which are basically inner cities. The motion appears to be attractive, but if the nuts and bolts were brought together and the motion were implemented it would not bring a great deal of hope to the areas that we represent.

I shall restrict the remaining part of my speech to hospital services. Employment, housing, education arid hospital services are crucial if we are to have the communities that we want in our inner city areas. It is interesting that this week we have heard concern expressed by a respected London Conservative Member about the Government's policy vis-a-vis financial allocations under RAWP to hospitals in London. If we are to restore confidence in our communities, the hospital and social services that are available to our constituents, irrespective of their professions and occupations, are crucial. However the figures are dressed up by Ministers, we are seeing a reduction in hospital and social services in our communities.

In Wandsworth we are engaged in yet another confrontation with the local health authority and the Government as we wish to keep open a major hospital. Sadly, St. James's hospital, Balham, is threatened with closure. The health authority is saying, "It does not matter because when the hospital is closed we shall have at St. George's hospital, Tooting, all the facilities that we want." That sounds attractive, but no one believes it. It is clear that the general public do not believe the health authority. That is demonstrated by the letters that they write and attendances at public meetings. I beg Ministers to start to listen to what people are saying about the rundown of hospital services that is taking place in Wandsworth and elsewhere. This issue has been taken up by the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), and my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has cited the hospital closures and the rundown of services in his area. It is something that the people of London will not continue to accept.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that there are 12 teaching hospitals in London and 18 in the rest of England and Wales. I am sure that he is aware also that constituencies such as mine have been grossly underfunded for many years. We are spending about £3 million a year buying services from London which should be provided in my constituency.

Mr. Cox

I have the greatest sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's comments about a lack of services in his area and for the constituents he represents, but that is the responsibility of Government. If the hon. Gentleman and his constituents do not have the sort of services that they would like, we from the inner cities do not think that we should see a rundown of our services so that better services can be provided for Mid-Kent. I could run through the list of hospital closures that have taken place in many parts of London, but that would take too long and would be unfair on those who wish to participate in the debate. The fact is that RAWP, as it is applied to London, is entirely unfair.

The hon. Member for Mid-Stafforshire talks about the broad balance that he wants to see in our communites. Unless we have proper funding from tihe Government and proper hospital services for our people, be they professionals, or skilled, or unskilled workers, we shall never get the broad-based communities developing that many of us would like to see. I beg Ministers to pay heed to this argument. The constituency of the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), adjoins mine and many of her constituents must make use of the hospital services that are provided in the area which I represent, where hospitals are now under threat of closure. I cannot believe that she has not received letters of complaint. It is possible that she has not received as many letters as I have because St.. James's hospital is in my constituency, but she cannot be unaware how crucial the issue has become to the people of London.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that a telling statistic—the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) must be aware of it—is that in the past few years the sum spent on health services in Britain has placed us at the bottom of the league table of all western European countries, where previously Britain was one of the highest spenders. Unless the Government deal with this problem, needs in rural areas such as Mid-Kent and in urban areas such as those that the hon. Gentleman and I represent will not be met, and the services will become worse.

Mr. Cox:

The hon. Gentleman has made an extremely valid point and I do not need to comment on it.

I welcome the debate and I am sure that many of my hon. Friends will wish to contribute to it. They may take a line similar to mine or they may take up entirely different issues. We welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate but we want to see some changes taking place. If anyone was saying exactly that, by golly, it was the electors who voted last week, right across the country—

Mr. Heddle

In Wandsworth?

Mr. Cox

Yes, even in Wandsworth—although we did not win the council, we certainly won council seats,

We are now hearing a great deal of talk that the Government are doing everything right, and it is only the presentation of their policies that is wrong. Those people are living in dreamland. No matter who presents the policies—be it the Prime Minister or the chairman of the Conservative party—until the Government change their policies on the sort of issues we are discussing today, there will be a continuing loss of support that will end in defeat for them at the next election.

10.40 am
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I shall not follow the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) down his last road—although I have often had the pleasure of following him in debates. I say pleasure because, as the country knows, the Labour party has no policies. It is no good Labour simply attacking the Government if it cannot present alternative policies—other than £24 billion of higher spending, crushing everyone's income and imposing VAT rates of up to 41 per cent. on goods, thereby putting them out of the reach of pensioners and others. However, I shall not spend time on that particular point because the hon. Gentleman made many points with which I agreed—as he often does.

I spent 12 years teaching in Kings Cross, and one cannot be more inner city than that. I have watched the gradual elimination of open spaces and private housing to the stage where, in some areas, there is almost 100 per cent. public sector housing. For example, Tower Hamlets had several beautiful open spaces at the turn of the century, but under 50 or 60 years of Socialist councils—a reign that ended recently—those open spaces have been turned into concrete and housing. I am not suggesting that people should not have homes, but the planning has not been comprehensive. It has not taken account of the need for people to have room to breathe, room to move about, room for trees and grass to grow and room for children to play. There has been an obsession with building public sector housing and squeezing out almost all owner-occupied houses.

The result has been a rigid bureaucracy that has imprisoned people in their homes. I lived in east London, taught there and fought elections there, and I came to know the area well. Believe it or not, some people have been on the housing waiting list for 30, 40 or 50 years. Indeed, that state of affairs is not restricted to east London—it happens in urban and rural areas also. During my time in east London I found example after example of couples whose families had grown and left home retaining occupation of their three or four-bedroomed flats or houses. They wanted to move into smaller accommodation but found that virtually impossible because the bureaucracy did not operate sensibly. Sometimes people may be successful in moving from a house into a one-bedroom flat, but all too often they find that impossible.

I know of a current case of a couple with six young children under seven years of age who are stuck in one bedroom. They want to swap homes with a retired couple who want to move out of their larger property. Unfortunately, they are finding that swap impossible because in large public sector housing areas such a rigid bureaucracy has become established—and computers have not helped—that sensible exchanges cannot happen. That is a tragedy and something must be done about it.

The Rent Acts have provided protection for people already in the private sector, but others wanting to rent accommodation have no protection. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) made that point in his admirable speech. My experience in both inner London and urban areas is that, frequently, people in rent-controlled accommodation pay low rents even though they have good, well paid and well established jobs and money in the bank. Yet students and young married couples seeking temporary homes cannot find rented accommodation without paying very high rents. It is absurd and wrong for people with good jobs and money in the bank to pay controlled low rents when others with nothing have to pay high rents. There is something seriously wrong and we need to work hard to change the system and achieve equity for all.

During my 23 years as a teacher there was a gradual but strong move towards comprehensive schools. Indeed, I spent 20 years teaching in them and I enjoyed every minute. The profound and important argument put forward by those advocating the principle of comprehensive schooling was that it brought together children of all abilities and all social backgrounds, all of whom could be given equal opportunities. What could be better than that? However, there have been problems with the implementation of the comprehensive system—some comprehensives are excellent, but others are not.

The principles behind the concept of comprehensive education were attractive to me and, for ideological reasons, I was drawn into the system. As I have already said, I enjoyed every minute. The argument that most attracted me was that the system brought together people from various backgrounds—different family backgrounds, different income groups and different levels of intelligence—and the mix would contribute to the lives of everyone. Often, although not always, that has worked very well.

Why that same principle has not been applied by local authorities to housing, I shall never understand. Many local authorities, specially in urban areas, have been content to stick people from one background in one area, and only in council housing. They would not tolerate an infusion of private housing into vast council estates. It has only been the right to buy that has begun to reverse that. That is the great value of the right to buy—at last there are comprehensive housing estates. Progress is slow, but at least there are now some estates with people in private and council accommodation living cheek by jowl. That creates a better social mix, better care of an area and better attention to community life. That should be our aim.

The principle of comprehensive housing estates is essential to the future of all housing areas. I am sure that the Government will bear it constantly in mind. I hope that any alternative Government will see the sheer folly of putting only one type of person in one community. That is to the detriment of that community.

Concrete jungles, such as Tower Hamlets, have been a disservice to the people who live in them, for the reasons I have given, but also because they have not allowed mobility between homes and because they have squeezed industry out, resulting in scarcer jobs. One need only look at east London to see the effects of that principle, milking industries dry for rates and keeping rents low. This has damaged such areas. It is no good simply having homes where there are no jobs, and I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to bear that in mind.

Tenants in inner-urban areas face the problem of getting repairs done. A debate of this kind cannot ignore that factor. I can cite many examples of Labour authority areas and areas under authorities of other complexions where people cannot get repairs done in anything like the time required. Why are people required to ring the town hall to get a window repaired? Why can we not have an extension of the principle which Conservative Members have enunciated many times and let people either repair the window themselves or call in someone to do it and then put in the bill?

As for home decoration, which is so important to morale, why cannot people get their homes decorated to a reasonable standard or do the job themselves and then put in the bill? That would be much better than waiting for the council to do it. That principle is not operated sufficiently widely in urban areas. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) is shaking his head. I could take him to parts of the country where such a principle is urgently needed. Improvements such as I have described would end the nightmare for many.

Home improvements have abounded under the Government and it is greatly to their credit that more is now spent on that aspect than ever before. It is enormously worth while. Most home improvement schemes work well, but they are expensive. However, some do not work as well and tenants have to endure workmen around them pulling down walls and adding to buildings. Surely we could have a scheme in which such people were moved out for the duration of the improvement and were not moved back until the work was done. Of course, there is a danger that there will be less pressure to get the work done, but that would be better for people than being faced with workmen coming in and out of their homes. Often there is friction between the workmen's needs and those of householders.

As a prospective candidate for an east London seat.. I saw a home improvement scheme undertaken by a Labour authority.

Mr. Tony Banks

Here we go.

Mr. Greenway

The hon. Gentleman is chiacking from a sedentary position. I must warn him that it will not get into Hansard.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Mr. Speaker said that a qualification for inclusion of an intervention in Hansard may be that an hon. Member has referred to the intervention.

Mr. Greenway

Perhaps it will get into Hansard. I do not think it will damage the reputation of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), but it will not enrich it either.

I return to my example. The contractor used large amounts of the tenant's electricity, kept the gas fires on, and so on. He moved out after the improvements had been made and the tenant was expected to foot the bill. I remember battling with that Labour local authority for a refund of the electricity bill. It was a difficult job. Several tenants received a token payment but they had paid heavily for the gas and electricity consumed by contractors undertaking home improvements. Something must be done about such injustice.

People living in urban areas face another difficult problem, and I hope that there will be improvements before long. I refer to the release back into the community of mentally handicapped and mentally ill people. This is not an easy matter in the countryside, but it is especially difficult in urban and built-up areas. I and other hon. Members know of many examples. People come into the community on that basis, but are inadequately prepared. I know of individuals who were put into a flat and were expected to cope after only a few hours' advice from a social worker on how to manage a flat. That was not enough. The people who join the community on that basis are often very disturbed and they create a great deal of local disturbance. I know of a man who often stands naked at his door—it is not that he is being funny or, in his view, provocative; that is how he is. The children run to look at him, and stare and laugh and run about. It disturbs the whole area. The same man has the television on loudly at all hours of the day and night. A person a few doors down frightens his neighbours by his appearance and by smashing the place around. The mother, her husband and small child who live opposite him are very frightened. They have asked me to ask the social services department whether the man is safe. I put that question to the director of social services and received a letter saying that the department could not say that he was safe. That does not inspire any confidence among the local community. This matter must be dealt with.

Recently, we considered a Bill which provided that people would not be released back into the community on that basis until proper statements had been made and they had been properly assessed and considered fit to return to the community. That legislation will make a great difference, and I welcome it.

Mr. Tony Banks

I think that all Labour Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), agree with the hon. Gentleman. There are plenty of cases of people who are allegedly returned to the community inadequately provided for and who, in their turn, provide massive problems for people in the community. What does the hon. Gentleman suggest as a remedy? Each one of us can give anecdotal accounts of such problems. What will the hon. Gentleman do, since these people are turned out because his Government have cut the Health Service and caused the closure of beds and wards in mental hospitals at weekends?

Mr. Greenway

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is being fair to the Government. The return to the community of people who have been mentally ill has been widely supported in the House.

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Will the hon. Gentleman wait until the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) has finished rather than interrupt his speech?

Mr. Greenway

There is a problem in returning to the community people who are fit and equipped to cope. I think that that will happen in future. A Bill is currently passing through the House under which people will have to be assessed before they are returned to the community, and they will be returned only if that assessment shows that they are capable of sustaining a normal social life and of living happily with neighbours. That will help no end.

Mr. Meacher

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I rise to ask whether there will be a Government statement today on the huge cut that they are now proposing in mortgage interest payments for the unemployed for the first six months on the dole? It will affect 90,000 families and will undoubtedly cause evictions and homelessness for thousands of people. Is it not clear that when the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment rises to speak in this debate. which has covered housing and the right to buy, her colleague the Secretary of State for Social Services should come to the House to confess that he is destroying the right to buy for thousands of families who are unemployed? It makes a nonsense of today's debate.

I ask you to use your good offices, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to secure a debate or, at least, a statement from the Government on this issue. The announcement was sneaked out at the last moment in a written answer yesterday afternoon after a Green Paper, a six-months consultation period, a White Paper and a three-months Committee stage of the Social Security Bill. This is a last vicious kick at the unemployed which will undermine home ownership and cause untold hardship. I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to use your good offices to secure an urgent debate by one means or another.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I know of no request for permission to make a statement on this matter. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that the question of a debate on this issue is not one for me. The Leader of the House is present, and I am sure that he has heard what has been said. We should return to the debate.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not wish to challenge what you have said in any way, but I am sure that you agree that my hon. Friend has raised an important matter. Will you advise the House by what means we may get a straight answer from the Government today? The terrible announcement last night has caused great anxiety to people all over the country, and it is just another example of the subterfuge used by the Government in the treatment of social security during the three-months Committee stage of the Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

This is not a matter for me and the hon. Gentleman knows as much.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

Further to the original point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am mystified and I truly need your guidance. I have heard so much lately about frank and open government and the way in which things are dealt with properly. It bemuses me that we apparently do not have a mechanism which can be applied by the Chair which can ensure that Committees are given the full facts, which would stop issues being brought out in this secretive and covert manner before the Report stage of a Bill. Is there no means by which, through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we can introduce a new form of mechanism to stop what I consider to be an abuse of the procedures of the House?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I always think of the wise words of Mr. Speaker Lenthall who, on one famous parliamentary occasion, said that he had neither tongue to speak nor ears to hear, except in so far as the House shall direct him. These are not matters for me but are for the House to decide. My job is to ensure the observance of the Standing Orders and rules of the House.

Mr. Tony Banks

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely this is a matter that should concern us this morning. I understand that hon. Members will be able to raise this matter during their contributions to the debate, but it is a matter of great concern to all of us—I would hope on both sides of the House—that an issue of such great significance will not be the subject of a ministerial statement. Surely it brings the House into disrepute when planted questions produce answers that have wide ramifications. Hon. Members will all be faced with problems tomorrow in our advice centres, and yet we are not in a position, in the great forum of debate, to have a proper discussion with the relevant Minister present.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We do not need to labour this too much. There is no point of order for me in all of this.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

On a new point, further to the original point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In your answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) you referred to the fact that the Leader of the House is in his place. So far, we have had no evidence that the Leader of the House has heard the points that have been made or that he has a tongue in his head. Can you assist the House by inviting the right hon. Gentleman to comment on the proposal put by my hon. Friend?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There would be no end to my making such invitations if I thought it proper to do so. I remind the House that we are discussing a very important matter in time allocated to private Members. The Leader of the House has obviously heard what has been said. Doubtless he will want to reflect upon it. We should return to the debate.

Mr. Meacher

Further to my original point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you will know, probably better than any of us, when a point of order has been raised from the Front Bench and the Leader of the House is present, it is the normal convention that the Leader of the House volunteers a statement. I wonder whether he would wish to do so.

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

I shall try to help the progress of the debate. Of course. I have taken account of what has been said and I shall reflect upon it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The House will share my gratitude to the Leader of the House.

11.7 am

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

It was well worth delaying my contribution to the debate, simply to see the Leader of the House rise to his feet on this matter of great importance, even to today's debate. The fundamental problem faced by the inner cities is one of poverty. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) pointed out that about 90,000 people will lose by this squalid and mean measure. For Manchester, about which my remarks will be concerned, it means a further drain from the economy and from money going into the private sector about which the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) is so concerned. It will mean further pauperisation of those areas and further lack of opportunities. It will make it impossible to believe that regeneration of those areas will come about through the private sector mechanisms which Conservative Members seem to think will work. This issue is of signal importance. The House would be negligent if it did not demand a more adequate statement from the Government and if it does not get a definition and clarification of what lies behind the Government's actions.

In parts of Stretford, my own constituency, we now have 45 to 50 per cent. adult male unemployment. In the adjoining constituency, Manchester, Central, unemployment is at 60 per cent. in certain parts, and there is unemployment of over 70 per cent. of those under 24. Among the ethnic minorities, unemployment is now at such a level as almost inevitably to provoke the tensions which hon. Members on both sides of the House have been warning about for many years, yet the Government have done nothing about the problem.

There has been a massive leeching of income from the local economy. In effect, we have seen the destruction of the local economy. There have been estimates, not from Government sources, because the Government refuse to publish the information, that in the city of Manchester over half the population are living at or below supplementary benefit level. Imagine the amount of money which has disappeared from the Manchester economy, which has disappeared from the workshops in the very private sector which Conservative Members pretend to support. It is the Government's failure to give adequate income support in those areas which has destroyed the private sector as well as parts of the public sector in the centre of Manchester.

Since the Government came to power, over £1 million every week of every year has been taken away through rate support grant from the city of Manchester. At the same time housing benefit has been reduced, so that once again income disappears from the city centre. The cycle of poverty that existed when the Government came to power has not stood still, but a mechanism has been set up which has led to that cycle of poverty acting like a lance against any means of economic support. That is the reality and the scale of what the Government have done.

Conservative Members talk about the possibility of the recreation of the private sector and its ability to begin to revitalise that area, but they are talking about a totally different world from the one occupied by people on the housing estates in my constituency and, indeed, in most of our northern cities. The private sector simply does not exist in any recognisable form, nor does the private sector which does exist have the capacity to do what Conservative Members talk about. We do not have the regional capital markets in Britain such as those in Baltimore in the United States to which Conservative Members refer. Because of the failure of this country's capital system, we have a concentration of capital outside the inner city areas.

A substantial part of Trafford park industrial estate is in my constituency. It rightly claims to have been among the greatest industrial estates in the world. The irony is that the private sector and the local authority, which was Conservative until a week ago, have demanded assistance from the Government, yet the Government have been pussyfooting around with the assistance that they will provide. The private sector knows very well that there is no opportunity for it to continue to grow unless it can operate in an environment that will attract more companies into the area, so that it can build up an interlocking private and public system on the Trafford park estate.

That estate is in the borough of Trafford. Its importance lies in the fact that even my constituents, who live in the city of Manchester, have historically depended on the estate as the source of their employment, yet the Government have consistently refused to give partnership status to the Trafford park area. If such status were given, there would be a possibility of reinvestment from the public and private sectors together, to assist those who live in the partnership area—in Moss Side and Hulme—who have looked to Trafford park for their employment in the past.

I hope that today we shall hear that the Government have changed their mind on that policy, but I fear not, because the classic line that the Government have taken is that the boundaries are drawn along local authority lines and are not to be changed simply because of the way in which the regional and sub-regional economy works. I should be delighted to hear that I am wrong.

Far more fundamental than all the talk about the possibility of housing investment from the private sector in the centre of Manchester is a major problem besetting the city of Manchester, partly because of the historical process of the flight from the inner urban areas as they become old, and as mobile and relatively affluent people search for houses outside the centre. Today we have heard about the pressure on coming back to the centre of London because of the refusal to permit development along the M4 corridor and elsewhere. That is sound and logical for London and Greater London, but we do not have that problem in cities such as Manchester and most of the northern cities. It does not arise, because development land is still available on the outer rim and in parts of the former Greater Manchester council area. That flight from the inner cities is dictated not by relatively dear land there, but by the dereliction of the land.

I recognise that there has been an increase in the amount of money given under the derelict land grant. I applaud that for what it is worth. However, I remind the House that that increase is as nothing compared with the amount of money that has been withdrawn from the local authorities which have to operate those and other grants, making it unlikely that they will be able to provide adequately furnished sites even for private sector development in inner city areas. The private sector will simply move four or five miles down the road and find more suitable acceptable land for developers and purchasers. That issue must be tackled. More important is the fact that derelict land grant does not apply to areas which are categorised as obsolescent. Yet in the north-west, particularly Manchester, we have a tremendous amount of land that would be classified not as derelict but as obsolescent, so it would not be grant-aided if the local authority or the private sector wanted to develop.

Those are real and practical reasons why we shall not see the return of private house building to the inner city areas. Because of cuts in finance to local authorities, there has been a massive withdrawal of money from public sector housing. One of the direct results is that the city of Manchester has had to make some difficult choices. One hard choice that it has had to make, about which I have mixed feelings, is to reduce the amount of money available for improvement grants, which has had a significant effect on the private sector. The withdrawal of improvement grants has meant the slowing down virtually to zero of the revitalisation of parts of the city with many owner-occupiers and some private landlords. It is desperately important that the money goes back to authorities such as Manchester and into the improvement grant system.

I welcome the motion, but I feel that the Government fail to recognise the tensions in our inner-city areas. The crisis is already there and among us. Despair, misery and poverty are faced by constituents whom I and many Labour Members represent. The problem will not go away, and it is not getting better. As every day ticks by, their plight gets worse and there is more of the despair that produced the riots. I do not want to become a predictor of riots. I hope fervently that no such thing will happen again, but the Government have not done one thing to make such riots less likely. In fact, everything that they have done—their withdrawal of money and their contempt for people who live in those areas—has made it more likely that there will be another explosion in our inner cities.

11.19 am
Mr. Christopher Chope (Southampton, Itchen)

I join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) on winning the ballot and raising an interesting subject. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Minister, because I shall not be able to stay for her speech. Another Minister is visiting my constituency this afternoon and I hope that he will be able to give me a lift down there.

It was humbug for Opposition Members to interpose spurious points of order in our serious debate. The Audit Commission report on the management of council housing reveals that 11 Labour-controlled local housing authorities have a total of £100 million of rent arrears. The modest savings from the Government's proposal will total only £30 million. It is a bit rich for the Labour party to say that all hell will be let loose.

The protests of Opposition Members have more to do with a mischievous, scaremongering campaign to try to frighten council tenants from purchasing their houses.

Mr. Corbyn


Mr. Raynsford


Mr. Chope

Practically everyone knows that the majority of those who become unemployed are reemployed within six months, and it is most unlikely that any building society would take eviction proceedings against those who are temporarily unemployed and are unable to meet their mortgage commitments.

Mr. Corbyn


Mr. John Fraser

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that one of the crucial decisions is made before a purchase takes place? Some people on low incomes want to buy tumbledown houses and improve them, but are worried that they may become unemployed. We can always advise them, "Do not worry too much. You will be covered for your mortgage interest repayments in exactly the same way as tenants are covered for rent arrears when they become unemployed." The Government's announcement will undermine people who have to decide whether to buy and manage their own home.

Mr. Chope

That is not a complete answer, because the hon. Gentleman ignores the significant group who become unemployed but do not qualify for supplementary benefit. That is not a deterrent to them to buy their own homes.

Mr. Corbyn


Mr. Chope

I will not give way again, because I ought to get on with the substance of what I have to say.

I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) is not here, because I expected him to say what wonderful inner city policies had been pursued in Wandsworth and how they had received the endorsement of the electorate on Thursday last week.

The Borough News in Wandsworth today states: All the political pundits, except perhaps the staunchest Tory"— I suppose that we must add the name of the hon. Member for Tooting— were confounded last Thursday by the result of the local elections. For the massive swing to the Labour side and the vast majority that most forecasters had predicted never materialised, and the Labour party was left with egg on its face and tears in the eyes of many of the defeated condidates. The opposition parties will be picking over the bones of the election for many weeks to come to try to discover the reason why Wandsworth should have held for the Conservatives, when boroughs all around, like Richmond, Kingston and Sutton were going over to the Alliance and Labour".

Mr. Tony Banks

What about Lambeth?

Mr. Chope

The article refers to Lambeth. It concludes that people in Wandsworth voted on local issues and decided that the Conservative party in the borough had delivered the goods for them. In searching for solutions to inner city problems, the Government should not look much further than what has happened in Wandsworth and they should try to get what has been achieved there applied elsewhere in the country.

Above all else, people in the inner cities want commonsense policies, well-managed resources, good value for money and an attractive environment for residents and for enterprise. Those are the policies of the true friends of the inner cities.

Labour's policies for the inner cities are epitomised by a press story from Hackney. Judge Stuckley at Shoreditch county court said that an appalling case had come before him and that he wished that he was able to imprison the Hackney councillors who were responsible. The case concerned Mrs. Keaney, who has had five operations for cancer and waited more than a year for repairs to be carried out to her home in Hackney, notwithstanding the fact that she had obtained a court order. The Hackney council was in contempt of court for doing nothing about her problems. It permitted squatters to take over the property and wrote them a charming letter hoping that they would not be disturbed. The squatters responded by setting fire to the house.

Mrs. Keaney, who had been a council tenant for 15 years, lived in a property where the roof had fallen in, there was extensive damp, the walls were crumbling, and there were large holes in the floors where the boards had decayed. She had to move into cramped accommodation next door and her only remedy was to go to the courts. Yet the motto of Hackney council is, "Working for local people". Where does Mrs. Keaney fit into Labour's freedom and fairness campaign? There is plenty of freedom for squatters, but no fairness for tenants.

I have been asked about rent arrears. Is not it amazing that Hackney's rent arrears, as a percentage of the rent roll, have increased from 10.2 per cent. in 1983 to 27.2 per cent. last year? If the council had got in a little more of its rent, it might have been able to pay for Mrs. Keaney's repairs.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Chope

The front page of today's South London Press gives another vivid example of monumental waste. The Afro-Caribbean club in Railton road, Lambeth has been closed against, says the paper, a background of violence and confrontation with the police' The club was opened three years ago on a £1.5 million inner city partnership grant as a community centre. In March, a man was shot in a feud between drug dealers. Later, a schoolboy was stabbed and, after muggers were arrested outside the club, two police officers were attacked. The chairman of the management committee said: Eighty per cent. of the people who go to the club do not come from Lambeth. I have found out that the chairman, who has mismanaged the club in that way, is also chairman of Lambeth's community-police consultative group.

The mind boggles at the waste of resources and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell the House that the Government will apply some realism to the allocation of resources. If we carry on pouring money into places such as Lambeth, to enable vitriolic councillors and local people committed to the Socialist cause to misspend and abuse that money, we shall be doing everybody a disservice.

The most important need of the inner cities is not resources, but good management of resources. The way forward is the Wandsworth way. Wandsworth has spent £40 million in grants for private homes since 1981–82, and is spending another £12 million this year. It has spent £80 million on repairs and refurbishments to council homes in the same period. Since 1979 it has reduced substandard housing from 15 per cent. to 4 per cent., housing that needs repairs by over 13 per cent. and houses that need a bathroom from 12 per cent. to 2 per cent. Wandsworth has a capital spending programme for the current year of £65 million, the second highest in London.

Mr. Raynsford


Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Chope

Wandsworth has also attracted massive private investment. On top of all that, it has saved £25 million on council services by going out to competitive tender and often to private contractors.

Mr. Corbyn

What about the grass-cutting contract?

Mr. Chope

The grass-cutting contract has saved substantial sums for ratepayers in Wandsworth.

Mr. Corbyn

Is that the first contract or the second one?

Mr. Chope

Rather than engage in a debate with hon. Members who are interrupting from a sedentary position——

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Chope

I rest my case on the verdict of the electorate delivered on Thursday last week. About £100 million has been raised from the sale of council homes in Wandsworth and most of that money has been ploughed back into improving council estates. If that had not been done, wards with 60 per cent. of the electorate living in council houses would not have returned Conservative candidates. Wandsworth does not have cheap rents, but it does have good services.

Contrast that position with what happens in Lambeth, which has an equivalent population. In Wandsworth, the average rate bill is below £300, yet in Lambeth it is £543. The cost of refuse collection in Wandsworth is less than £9 per head while in Lambeth it is more than £17. The cost of caretaker services, which are far more efficient in Wandsworth, is just short of £9 per head, whereas it is £25 per head in Lambeth. Street cleaning services are much more efficient in Wandsworth but much less expensive. Rent arrears in Lambeth are £14.2 million, whereas in Wandsworth they are £3.1 million. There are squatters in 29 properties in Wandsworth, whereas more than 1,000 properties in Lambeth have squatters.

The most dramatic statistic is that the amount of money spent on repairs and renovation per dwelling in Lambeth is £118, yet in Wandsworth it is £786. That is why, in Lambeth, if a tenant wants repairs to his dwelling, he must go to the county court to get the council to act. Unemployment in Wandsworth, although it is sadly still far too high, is the lowest in inner London, whereas it is more than 20 per cent. in Lambeth.

The results of that superficial comparison between Lambeth and Wandsworth makes one amazed to think that an assistant chief executive in Lambeth who was earning £24,000 a year, presiding over the mismanagement that I have described, should have been appointed this week as the £37,000-a-year deputy education director of the Inner London education authority. He admitted that he had no education management experience and said that ILEA has a plethora of educationists and needs someone with a different angle on management. Inner London education needs an angle in management such as that produced in Lambeth as much as it needs a sore head. It is extremely sad that bigoted councillors can be elected who then behave in a thoroughly undemocratic manner by giving jobs to the boys and to people who are not worth the £37,000 a year that that gentleman will be paid.

The policies that have been pursued in Conservative-controlled councils such as Wandsworth are the way forward in the inner cities. The Government should not be so apologetic, as they sometimes are, about resources. Resources are being ploughed into the inner cities that are under Socialist control and they have been badly and gravely mismanaged. The Government should be much more robust in imposing penalties on those authorities which do not pursue reasonable and commonsense policies.

It should not be thought that what I am saying is to a great extent politically partisan. My views are supported by the Audit Commission, and I commend to all local authorities the report "Managing the Crisis in Council Housing". It is a well-researched and long report, so I shall not quote extensively from it. On page 4, it states that the scale of the value improvement potential in council house repairs is very large. It continues: If all authorities successfully apply the recommendations in this report, the benefits will be substantial: perhaps £80–100 million a year could be saved in excessive administration costs; the number of empty council properties could be reduced by 20–25,000; use of bed and breakfast accommodation could be more than 25 per cent. lower; rent arrears might be reduced by £100 million, or even more; and given better services, the funds available for maintenance could be increased by as much as £1 billion a year. Our inner cities are crying out for maintenance of their fabric. That is not being delivered by the Labour party, and the Conservative Government should no longer aid and abet the Labour party in presiding over the decay in so many inner cities.

11.34 am
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) for tabling this sensible motion. There is nothing in the motion with which my colleagues and I would disagree, although it leaves many things unsaid. Some of them are left unsaid because they are not appropriate to the specific points that the hon. Gentleman was trying to make, and others are left unsaid because they might cause disagreement.

The subject at the core of the motion is partnership in housing provision and the partnership principle in other provision. May I say, a little tongue in cheek, that I do not need my research assistant to advise me on these matters because, since leaving college, I have spent all my adult life in my constituency. I know at first hand and well appreciate the issues, and my experience is added to by regular daily contact with constituents who are the victims of inner city deprivation. I appreciate the daily concerns of tens of thousands of people in London and other inner cities.

I need not be as strident as the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope). I am encouraged by the thought that, as a result of last week's elections, the Liberal party can speak with more authority by virtue of its increased representation on inner city authorities. In the five northern former metropolitan counties, the alliance has more councillors than the Conservative party. That is a substantial change. Only one metropolitan district remains under Tory control, and that is Solihull in the west midlands. In the elections in London last week, the number of alliance candidates elected to local boroughs in the 12 inner London authorities doubled from the number elected four years ago. Only a few London boroughs—I am afraid to say that Newham is one—do not have Liberal or Social Democratic councillors.

Mr. Tony Banks

May I correct the hon. Gentleman's faulty geography? Although Newham has all the problems of the inner city, it is outside the Inner London education authority area.

Mr. Hughes

That is right. I was simply reminded by seeing the hon. Gentleman in the Chamber that Newham is one of the few authorities in Britain to be a single-party state after the elections. I cannot say how long that will continue.

The elections also showed that grave distortions are caused by our electoral system, which do not help the partnership principle. I shall not make a speech about electoral reform. However, a good article written in The Times by the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) about the results of the ILEA elections shows the gross disproportion of seats to votes cast.

The Minister will be aware that the massive majority for the Labour party in the ILEA election, with a small role for the Conservative party and the alliance, is a grossly disproportionate reflection of the views of the electors. Such results will encourage the fainthearts in the Conservative party before long that the arguments for reform in the electoral system for local government are overwhelming. In Wandsworth, the Tories remain in control, but the Labour party obtained more votes. In many other boroughs such as Lambeth, Lewisham and Greenwich, the Labour party has a large majority of seats but did not obtain a majority of votes. There is an urgent case for reassessing the need to ensure that the entire electorate is fairly represented in our town halls.

The Minister will know that London is still unable to have parish or community councils. The rest of urban Britain can, and there are some areas such as Birmingham which are parishing at the moment. Much of the alienation that is to be found in the inner city in London arises because there is no very local structure of representation. Will the Minister discuss that with her colleagues, especially if we are to have more local government legislation next year in the light of the Widdicombe inquiry?

Mr. Rowe

I strongly support parish and community councils, but the hon. Gentleman's support for them seems to contradict what he said about the need to take more account of the aggregation of votes across a local authority area rather than the number of votes cast locally for a candidate.

Mr. Hughes

There is no contradiction. It is quite possible to have a fair electoral system for local government and also to have a more local system of representation. My experience is that the people of London would appreciate being involved locally in decisions as much as possible.

Housing is one of the themes of the motion. Partnership is manifestly welcome and works. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) and I have watched with some frustration what looked like a hold-up in the partnership scheme for Coin street in Lambeth and Southwark. The housing development has now been approved by the Department of the Environment. The community resisted speculative development, to produce homes for local people, mainly on a co-operative basis, on a site which had been depressed because of speculative office development.

The scheme is now going ahead, but there was resistance to it right to the end from, I gather, the Conservative party in Lambeth and perhaps, by virtue of a knock-on effect, the Government. Such a partnership scheme is to be applauded. It combines public and private money and the interests, expertise and commitment of local people. We won a similar battle in my constituency recently at the Cherry garden site. What would originally have been all private development will now have some local authority development, planned with the involvement of local people. I hope that we can also obtain the same community participation on the Brunel road/Swan road site in Rotherhithe.

Partnership is vital, not least because the alternatives have failed. We have had the blind municipalism of the inner city, increasingly dogmatic Labour-controlled authorities. People do not want to be condemned to municipal ghettos. We have also had unbridled commercialism such as we now have in the docklands. This is no good either, because it prices land and homes out of the range of the people who want to live there and have a right to live there because it is their community.

It is no use telling housing associations that there is derelict land in north Barnet when those associations want to cater for the elderly in Southwark, Lewisham, Lambeth, Hackney, Greenwich or'Newham. The partnerships must be where the people live.

We must consider the matter locally and nationally. We must have an honest, open arid wide-ranging debate about housing finance. I appreciate what the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire suggested. We must consider how building societies and other similar institutions contribute funds. I believe that the money should come only from institutions with a housing interest and which will recycle the money into housing. The profits of finance houses might well not go into housing and we would run the risk of unacceptable commercial gain. We should also consider the equity of tax subsidies given to private and public occupiers. There is a proper debate to be had about the differential between the subsidies that the Government give to people who buy their property and those who rent it. The equation has been changed with inflation. We must correct the unfairness.

The Government might produce a Green Paper or a White Paper about financing housebuilding in the inner cities which embraces all of the possibilities. Last night's announcement, which was the subject of a point of order today, gives rise to great anxiety. It is unacceptable to withdraw support from people who, through no fault of their own, have become unemployed and have been encouraged to buy their own home, perhaps stretching themselves financially to do so.

Mr. Steen

Has not the hon. Gentleman got it the wrong way round? My understanding is that the Government will meet mortgage interest payments during a person's unemployment but that the sum involved is taken out of the sum that the person realises on sale. The Government are not cutting anything. They are merely saying that a profit should not be made out of public money that is pumped into a private home.

Mr. Hughes

I do not believe that that was the announcement. It was to do with the first six months of unemployment. The withdrawal of support is a great threat to people who have just started to buy who or who can only just afford to buy. The latter condition applies to an increasing number of people.

There is desperate need for partnership in regard to jobs. Local authorities should be encouraged to have enterprise forums where public authorities and private entrepreneurs can discuss how to pool their money to generate trade and work. We should have a network which joins people with skills, those who are willing to learn them, people with facilities and people with the service skills to back them all up. We must find a remedy for the gaps in provision.

Inner London desperately needs some form of development agency. During the past 20 or 30 years, inner London has suffered more job losses than any other major conurbation. The docklands regeneration deals with only a fraction of the problem. The time has come to recognise that inner London needs some form of development agency to put it on a par with the deprived regions of Europe, which draw money from the European regional and social funds, and to reconsider how the urban programme works.

We have a muddled urban programme. In the seven south and east London boroughs, sometimes called the crescent of deprivation—it runs from Islington to Lambeth—three have one form of status under the urban programme, one has another and three have yet another. There is, however, the same massive deprivation in parts of all of those boroughs. Unemployment in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Norwood has increased by more than 10 per cent. in the past year. We need a quickly adjustable mechanism of support.

We have had a small initiative in which there are eight target areas, including one in Peckham, but that is not enough because one needs to include it in a large package that needs to be substantially reformed. The urban programme has been developed piecemeal, and now we need a comprehensive review of it so that it achieves what it is intended to achieve, which is to meet the greatest urban needs.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) spoke about health care in inner London. It is in a desperate state. Inner London boroughs have some of the highest numbers of socially deprived people who most need health care of any part of Britain. They have the highest number of pensioners. Our levels of perinatal and infant mortality are consistently higher than in outer London, and our infant mortality rates are higher than those in south Yorkshire or Merseyside. Inner London suffers more deaths from cirrhosis than any other conurbation. Deaths from accidents, violence and poisoning are increasing in inner London, although they are decreasing nationally. Male suicides are increasing faster in inner London than elsewhere, and we have the highest levels of mortality from many preventable diseases.

Obviously, we have a higher proportion of old and vulnerable people in our population than elsewhere. In my area the unemployed account for 28 per cent. of the male population. We need to reconsider the funding of the Health Service in London. I know that that is not the Minister's specific responsibility but she may appreciate our anxiety. The health districts in inner London are always in a minority in their health region and compete against the outer London health districts. That means that there is a transfer of funds under the resource allocation working party formula from the so-called prosperous south-east to the rest of the country, and, within each of the four Thames regional health authorities, from inner London to outer London. The formula was designed at a time of growth in the national economy, but it is being imposed at a time of little growth. As a result, it is causing gross and severe hardship.

When one of my constituents had a heart attack recently, he had to be driven privately to hospital because there were no ambulances to take him. People wait in hospital corridors, and are turned away when they arrive for their beds. Although the Government are encouraging facilities to help drug abusers, young alcohol addicts and young, vulnerable, psychiatrically disturbed people, those units are to be cut in the Maudsley hospital, which the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security visited yesterday.

Mr. Corbyn

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one way to proceed would be to create an elected London health authority? That would avoid the ridiculous competition between the home counties, the suburban areas and the inner urban areas. Secondly, does he agree that the figure for the funding of primary health care for people in London is misleading because the overall costs include the costs of the teaching hospitals, which are essentially a national resource, the costs of which are often set against the cost of health care in London?

Mr. Hughes

I entirely accept both those points. Hon. Members of all parties in inner London now agree that the RAWP formula should not be applied at present, and that money must be found elsewhere for constituencies, such as that of the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe). I am not saying that such shire areas should not receive funding, but because we are now spending disproportionately little on our Health Service compared with other countries and our needs, we must change the formula and fund national and regional specialties separately. We in the alliance have long believed that the only medium and longterm solutions are to create one London regional health authority so that we do not have this crazy competition between the deprived inner city and outer areas, which naturally want more funds.

Waiting lists continue to grow. Every time a patient is not treated, his chances of working and contributing to the community are reduced. That creates a cycle of decreased participation and yet again reduces possibilities for the regeneration of inner cities.

Yesterday it was reported in the London Standard that next Wednesday the Home Secretary is likely to make an announcement about policing personnel levels in London. The problems will not go away even if the number of police is massively increased. The Commissioner asked for an establishment of 30,000, and I believe that that is needed. An increase of 1,200 in over three years will not be sufficient. Before next Wednesday, will the Minister relay this point to her colleagues while not encouraging the police to become complacent—because there is a danger of that—and believe that more personnel will solve all the problems? Their crime detection rate is below 20 per cent., and the statistics for their service delivery in London are not wonderful. London and Londoners need greater protection. They are vulnerable, and are regularly the subjects of increasingly horrifying attacks. Unless more police can work on the streets with our communities, we shall continue to be deprived. People will be afraid to live in the inner cities, and will move to safer places elsewhere.

The debate has given us an opportunity to discuss a range of our cities' problems. They are all urgent because unless our cities survive and prosper, the nation will fail.

11.56 am
Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak in the debate. First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) for the way in which he introduced the debate. His speech was one of the most far-reaching and all-embracing that I have heard on inner cities. We are all grateful to him for approaching the subject in that way.

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who has also added to the debate. It is a difficult subject, and all hon. Members are trying to find new solutions and ways of tackling the problem. It is appropriate that we should have as many contributions as possible to the debate, so I shall not detain the House with one of my customarily long speeches. The House does not debate the inner cities often enough. During the past few months we have discussed some aspects of them—for example, in the Housing and Planning Bill—but it is a rare treat to have a full debate, and we are deeply grateful to my hon. Friend for it.

The motion highlights housing and related matters. Inadequate housing is at the root of the inner-city problems, but there is nothing new about bad housing. The slums of the 1930s have given rise to the slums of the 1980s. The back-to-backs are replaced by vast soulless impersonalised blocks, towers and estates. In the 1930s the back-to-backs were in private ownership, but today the soulless estates are in public ownership.

In any debate, it is necessary to define one's terms. The House takes for granted the phrase "inner city", but it has assumed a new meaning, and it is important to identify what we are talking about. The phrase no longer means a geographical business district in part of the city. We use the expression to describe the worst of poverty—people locked into the worst conditions, with the highest percentage of deprivation factors such as low income, unemployment, old age, bad housing, membership of an ethnic minority and few prospects.

"Inner city" equals a concentration of high indices of disadvantage. Those ingredients can be found in the centres of great old cities. There are pockets of inner-city deprivation in Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Bradford, Glasgow and Newcastle. However, it also exists outside inner cities, on outer city estates where the inner city populations have moved lock, stock and barrel. As we know, the comprehensive redevelopment programmes of the 1950s and 1960s moved a high concentration of inner-city dwellers to council estates outside the cities.

"Inner city" equals ingredients of disadvantage compared with the rest of the population. It means people without professions, jobs, credit facilities and bank accounts—people who are the products of unemployment, poverty, and single-parent families. An over-concentration of such people in certain geographical areas and streets describes the phrase "inner city", and it may or may not be in the geographical location of the heart of our great conurbation. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire will agree that the phrase inner city must include those vast, soulless public estates on the outskirts of inner cities. They are as bad as, if not worse than, some of the traditional inner city localities.

Successive Governments have tried to do something. It would be wrong to suggest that the problems of the inner city are the monopoly of any one party. One can trace the beginning of awareness of the problems of the inner cities to the Labour Government in 1968. The then Prime Minister shifted rate support grants from the shire counties to the inner cities. In 1968, £60 million was transferred from the shire counties to the inner cities and the Conservative party created an uproar. Now, 18 years later, the Labour Benches are creating an uproar because the same thing has been done by a Conservative Government.

Mr. Corbyn

Was not the shift in rate support grant in 1968 occasioned by the fact that the Government of the day recognised that there was a basic problem of inner city deprivation? Our reasons for demanding the restoration of the rate support grant today is the same—inner city development can be dealt with by public sector investment through local authorities. It is for that reason that we are demanding the restoration of the money.

Mr. Steen

I did not quite follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. I note what he said, but I shall not be drawn. More and more public money has been pumped into inner cities, and there seems to be a correlation between the increasing sums of money pumped in and the worsening situation. The hon. Gentleman will probably disagree, but I shall advance my argument.

Mr. Corbyn

If the hon. Gentleman accepts that the Government have reduced the rate support grant to inner city areas, by and large he must accept that those authorities which have managed to maintain services have done so largely by increasing rate support by borrowing. Investment in inner cities has been self-financed by the people in the poorest areas. Our argument is that national resources have to be put into the poorest areas, rather than inner cities being expected to pay for their own poverty.

Mr. Steen

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's clarification of that telling point, with which I have to deal, and I hope that I can deal with it successfully.

In 1968 there was both the shift in the rate support grant and the dreaming up of the urban aid programme. It was only a small operation then, but has now been enlarged to £320 million. There was the community development project, and the young volunteer force, which I had the great privilege of directing. There was also the concept of pockets of deprivation—an idea with which hon. Members may be familiar. The theory was that there was nothing wrong with the inner cities except for small pockets of deprivation which could be cleaned up by money direct from the centre or the shire counties.

By 1970, with the change of Administration, the idea was that some research was needed, and a number of schemes were set up. There was the neighbourhood scheme and the quality of life studies, and larger amounts of money were concentrated into the areas. Hon. Members will remember that the idea was that the pockets of deprivation could be cleared out of the inner cities by pumping more public money through these schemes. However, the problem did not go away.

In 1973 the then Secretary of State for the Environment in the Conservative Administration said that the approach was wrong and that there should be a total approach, looking at the city as a whole. He started more research. He had the six towns study, the urban guidelines studies and the inner area studies. In 1974, so enthusiastic were the Conservative Administration that an urban deprivation unit was formed, which I believe is still hard at work in the Home Office.

Later in 1974 the Labour Government appointed a Minister with special responsibilities for the urban areas. He disappeared without trace six months later and in 1976 the Minister of State, Home Office said that everything was wrong. He did not believe in either the pockets of deprivation or in the total approach, but in a comprehensive community programme—that was the weasel word. The problem would be solved if local authorities drew up a new list of priorities with central Government. That was the beginning of the partnership between local and central Government. The comprehensive community programme had a trial run in Gateshead, but never got any further. That programme disappeared without trace in 1977.

In 1977 the Secretary of State for the Environment in the Labour Government introduced a White Paper on policy for the inner cities and all the familiar jargon was there. In 1978 there was the Inner Urban Areas Act, by which local authorities were to assist industry by means of loans and grants. Also in 1978 came the partnership programme, which we now take for granted. The Secretary of State set up the partnership authorities. The beauty of that is that it is not a partnership. It is just a matter of public sector people getting together and disagreeing. It is a lovely system whereby the Minister comes up by train or by chauffeur-driven car, attends the meeting and goes off again. It is not really a partnership in the sense of the word.

If one cannot be a partnership authority, the second option is to be a programme authority. I am not sure what the programme is, but I suspect that it is much like the partnership, in that people attend meetings and argue. There is a third division for the designated districts, which are down-market. They get, not a Minister of State, but a junior Minister. I mean no disrespect to my hon. Friend the Minister, but designated districts are definitely downmarket and do not get the top brass. Again, the scheme concerns only public authorities.

Since the White Paper and the Inner Urban Areas Act there has been an enlarged urban aid programme. That is not a medical term, but a device which the Government have used to pump more public money into the partnership programme and designated districts. In 1979 the Minister of State, Department of the Environment said—and I quote from my book on this subject, "New Life for Old Cities"—it is a well-researched document and hon. Members may find it of interest—on page 17: The Government is not prepared to abandon the inner cities or the people who live there to a steadily declining future. In Britain we have a political commitment which the present Government"—— that is the Conservative Government— has renewed and reasserted in what we believe will be a more efficient form to regenerate the inner areas of our cities. The aim is to arrest and reverse the downward spiral rather than simply to alleviate the various symptoms of decline in isolation. Our goal is to make the inner areas of our cities places where people want to live and work, somewhere where the private investor will put his money. That was published in 1979.

If one looks at what was said by the Home Secretary in 1968, under a Labour Administration, one sees that he said virtually the same thing: The aim of the urban aid programme is to provide for the care of our citizens who live in the poorest and most overcrowded parts of our cities and towns. It is intended to arrest this as far as possible by financial means and to reverse the downward spiral which afflicts so many of these areas as a deadly quagmire of need and poverty. The true situation is best mirrored by what was said by the Secretary of State for Energy in 1981. This was under a Conservative Administration: Britain's worn out industrial areas will be passed by in the coming economic recovery, bringing heavy social consequences, bewilderment and frustration. Until 1980 it was believed that all the different devices and sums of money that were poured into the inner cities in different ways would solve the social problems. When the Conservative Administration came to power in 1979 they had to find a new way to approach these problems, because the other approaches had failed. They looked at America and saw that President Carter had taken the public money injection concept to its logical conclusion in what was called the model city programme. They do not take half measures in the United States. They took one small neighbourhood area of Atlanta and said that they would pour into it whatever amount of public money was needed to change completely the face of the neighbourhood. They provided $173 million over three years. Everybody was moved out of that neighbourhood. The houses were completely rebuilt. New drains and new lighting were provided. Everything was done to change that neighbourhood completely.

What was the position 10 years later? They looked at the social indices for that area and found that about the same number of young people were unemployed, or were on probation, or were suffering from drink and drug-related problems. They also found the same problems resulting from old age and from physical and mental illness. The Americans have proved the point better than have any Government in this country that the inner city problems will not be solved by pumping large sums of public money into one area. The people living in that area will not be changed. The problems which those people manifest will not be changed.

When the Government came to office in 1979 they adopted a new approach. I do not say that it has been overwhelmingly successful, but it is a different approach. Instead of pumping any amount of public money into tackling social problems, the Government said that they would try to create a new kind of partnership. In his excellent speech my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire very properly outlined the partnership between the public and the private sectors. The Government's urban strategy, through the urban development corporations, the enterprise zones, the freeports and the Merseyside task force, is designed to attract private money by injecting small amounts of public money. The derelict land grants, the urban development grants, the inner city enterprises, the garden festivals and the enlarged urban aid programmes are designed to try inject private funds into these schemes, in partnership with public funds.

Despite the injection of public and private money, the inner city problems continue to get worse. That must be a matter of concern to every right hon. and hon. Member. Some Opposition Members say that more public money needs to be spent on inner cities, and some of my right hon. and hon. Friends say that there should be a partnership between the private and public sectors. I do not believe that the problems that people face will be solved by offering false hopes and false prospectuses. New life in the inner cities will be created only by adopting a different approach, because the problems of the inner cities relate to people. No Government have introduced that dimension. It is far easier to work with the macroeconomics—with the banks and the building societies, to boost the urban aid programme and to set up urban aid programmes—than it is to work with and involve the very people who are the problem and help them to help themselves to solve their problems.

I shall be accused of adopting a simplistic approach, but all the other approaches have failed. The man from Westminster descending from a chauffeur-driven limousine for a partnership meeting and then disappearing is no substitute for giving power to people in the inner cities. They must be given access to money and the power to make decisions about the matters that affect their destiny. Central Government and local government have failed. Let us give the people a chance.

What is required? First, we must shift control over homes from the public sector to the people who live in the inner cities. That means that a mechanism must be found whereby a high percentage of those who live in the inner cities are able to live in properly run houses. We must find a way in which rents can be converted immediately into mortgage repayments so that they own the fabric of the houses in which they live. Nothing would be more dramatic than to change the housing stock in the inner areas.

We must also change the attitude of the public sector, whether it be central Government or local government. They must trust the people and involve them in finding solutions to these problems. We must also give people access to cheap funds so that they are able to start up in business and in housing. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire mentioned Baltimore. In Baltimore they trusted the people. The banks provided cheap money for people to do up their homes and to start up businesses in that inner city area. We must find "catalytic" cash, if I may call it that, for some of the deprived people who do not have security on which to borrow funds. We must lift the planning restrictions. We shall not change the face of the inner cities unless the planning regime is lifted. Some of our inner cities could hardly look worse if there were no planners. Liverpool is a good example.

Why do we not allow anything to be built in the inner cities which is not noisy, which does not smell, and which does not block light? Why do we not try this in one area which is in decline and allow a free market force economy to operate? We must encourage private enterprise and business by launching industrial revenue bonds. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire was right to refer to these. This country needs industrial revenue bonds and municipal revenue bonds. I shall not tire the House by explaining how they work, but I would set up neighbourhood councils and transfer authority to the people living in those neighbourhoods to care for those neighbourhoods. Home helps should come from the neighbourhoods. Electricians and plumbers should come from the area in which the work needs to be done. We must get the mums to run their own play schemes. Local government should trust the people by financing them to help themselves.

Finally, we must do something about public derelict land. I have had this bee in my bonnet for 10 years, and it is worth mentioning it yet again. Every year the amount of public derelict land on the land register increases. Whatever the Government do, the amount of land on the land register goes up. In another book which I hope to bring out shortly I shall show that over one third of a million acres of public land are lying dormant, derelict and under-utilised. For that reason, the pressure on the green fields continues.

Those of us living around the large urban conurbations will find constant pressure to build by house builders and others. That is understandable, because they have no land to build on in the inner city, even though I believe that one third of a million acres in public ownership are under-utilised.

Plymouth is a good example. My constituency nearly surrounds it. The pressure to build on my green field sites and agricultural land is great because Plymouth city council and all the other public undertakings inside them, including the Ministry of Defence and other Departments, are not releasing public land which should be used first for housing before the green field sites.

There are things to be done. The Labour party is wrong to go down the same alleyway as it went down in 1968 of throwing money at the problems in order to make them go away. They have not gone away. The Government have done the right thing in obtaining a partnership between the private and public sectors. The one dimension that is still being left out is the people, and that is the next approach in solving the problem.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) promised us a short speech. At 25 minutes it was the longest speech since that of the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) who opened the debate.

12.20 pm
Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

I shall attempt to be briefer, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I must apologise to the Minister for the fact that I fear that I shall probably miss her contribution because I have a longstanding engagement to attend.

I have raised the issue of housing in my constituency in inner London many times in the House and I make no apology for doing so again because it matters deeply to thousands of my constituents. Far too many are forced to live in inadequate, damp, mould-encrusted, overcrowded and unsuitable homes. The conditions in which many of my constituents have to live out their lives, bring up children, entertain visitors and try to make a decent life and a decent home for themselves are totally inadequate and unsuitable.

Many young couples in my constituency are desperately anxious to get married, to start a family and to start making a life for themselves. Yet they are unable to do so because they cannot set up an independent home because the accommodation, quite simply and frankly, is not available.

Some 7,000 families are on the waiting list for council accommodation. Some 8,500 families are on the transfer list, wishing to move out of one kind of unsuitable accommodation into better accommodation. There are 1,000 families reporting every year to the local authority in my area as homeless under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977. That is the scale and condition of the problem.

In those circumstances, I fear that to speak nobly, as the motion does, and as the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) did in moving it, of a right to rent and a right to buy for my constituents is a fanciful chimera. It is nonsense to speak about a right to buy when it costs £50,000 to buy a tiny one-bedroom flat in most of my constituency. To buy arty sort of house in my constituency costs at least £100,000. House prices have risen by 19 per cent. in the last 12 months. In those circumstances, to talk about a genuine right to buy for ordinary Islington people is, frankly, nonsense.

Further, to speak about a genuine right to buy when the Government have consistently refused to give the same privileges to tenants of private sector landlords that they have been keen to give to tenants of public sector landlords, to abjure the possibilities of equity between the private rented sector and the public rented sector, as the Government have consistently done over the past eight years, is not to be even-handed in wanting to give genuine rights to buy to people, whatever their condition or tenure. The Government came up with a wonderful scheme about two and a half years ago for tenants of charitable housing associations. They were going to give lots of money to them to move out of their present rented flats to assist them with the purchase of properties in the private sector. The scheme has virtually run out of money so that that chance is now being denied to many tenants of charitable housing associations. What is more, the great majority of tenants of charitable housing associations in my constituency are tenants of the Samuel Lewis trust, the Sutton trust, the Guinness trust or the Peabody trust and the properties which they occupy were constructed before housing association grant was invented. Therefore, they as tenants are excluded from the provisions of the Housing and Building Control Act 1983 which gives the opportunity to move out to people supposedly in charitable housing accommodation. Therefore, they are denied the right to buy.

When Conservative Members speak about a genuine right to buy for ordinary people in inner city areas they should think rather more carefully about what they are saying because, frankly, the right to buy does not exist in any realistic sense whatever.

The right to rent is the only recourse to the overwhelming majority of people in inner city areas such as Islington. How on earth can we talk about a genuine right to rent when the Government have reduced housing investment programme allocations for areas such as Islington by two thirds in real terms over the past seven years and when they are restricting the amount that local authorities can spend on providing decent rented accommodation through the operation of severe and savage restrictions on the capital receipts which can be used by local authorities to construct new accommodation and to improve existing accommodation?

How on earth can we talk about the genuine right to rent when the estate action programme carried out by the borough of Islington to improve the inter-war estates to make them good and decent places in which to live is being cut back because of Department of the Environment restrictions on the quality of accommodation which can be produced under that programme?

How on earth can a Conservative Member come to the House and talk about the right to rent when those restrictions are being imposed savagely on the opportunities that are available to thousands of my constituents who wish to rent a good, clean, decent, nice place from their local authority and are being denied that opportunity because of the enormous cuts that have been made?

Yes, of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we must welcome any moves to link the private and the public sector. I should dearly love to see the hundreds of empty properties above the shops owned by the private sector in my constituency brought into good housing use. It is often ideal accommodation for young, single people or some young couples. That could happen if the Government were prepared to take a more suitable line on the use, for example, of partnership funds by local authorities to assist in the renovation of these properties and their subsequent letting to those on enormously long waiting lists. Assistance could be given by a rather more flexible attitude on the part of the district valuer in not derating such properties, which means that there is no incentive for the owners to bring them into genuine use. Many measures could be taken to try to link the private and public sectors in that way, but the Government, I fear, are doing little to encourage that to happen.

There must be partnership between the private and public sectors, but we must not use that partnership between the private and public worlds as a substitute for good, proper and decent fully funded public provision, which is the major form in which regeneration can come to inner city areas, with good housing being provided for those who live within them. I fear that the Government have a tendency to use rhetoric about the private sector as a substitute for real action by the public sector, which has been cut so much over recent years.

I shall refer briefly to two other aspects of inner city life which have not yet been spoken about and were not included in the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire. The first factor is the sheer scale of poverty among so many in inner city areas. There are so many in my constituency who are entirely dependent on the Department of Health and Social Security for their livelihood, for the money that they receive each week for any shreds of dignity which they are left within their lives. The conditions in which they have to supplicate for that funding from the DHSS are nothing short of appalling.

I have raised before in the House the problems that afflict my constituents when, for example, they go to the Tavistock square office of the DHSS. They have to wait in queues before the doors open. When admitted, they have to wait for hours and sometimes days at a time in grossly overcrowded and inadequate conditions. It is ironic that Dickensian scenes are painted on the walls, so that people can reflect on how little things have changed over the past 100 years. These are the conditions that people have to endure. They are not Dickensian supplicants; they are citizens who are there to secure their rights. The way in which the DHSS treats them, through lack of space, lack of proper facilities and lack of proper funding for its offices that serve the inner city areas, is nothing short of disgraceful. I await, with keen anticipation, the opportunity to read Hansard on Monday. I hope that I shall read assurances from the Minister that she will, yet again, bring these problems and issues to the attention of her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Another issue that has not yet been touched upon is the impact of traffic on inner city areas, especially in inner London. The volume of traffic is increasing. There is an increasing number of vehicles and the lorries or juggernauts that pile into areas such as my constituency are increasing in size. They travel along Holloway road, down Upper street, along the Liverpool road, down New North road and along City road.

I fear that the Government have started to make things worse. With the demise of the GLC, they are introducing into the House measures to provide for the trunking of considerable quantities of road in my constituency. These measures, quite rightly, are alarming many residents who fear that, with no local recourse. to protest, the Government in Whitehall could make decisions, because of the trunking of roads—for example, the trunking of Upper street, which runs through the heart of my constituency—to widen roads, which would encourge more traffic to come into the area, which no one in my area wishes to bear.

Of course, there must be essential deliveries and vehicles must have rights of passage, but everything conceivably possible must be done to steer the large lorries and vehicles away from densely packed inner city areas—and widening and trunking roads is not the way to do it. I hope that the Minister will draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport to some of the problems and issues that matter so dramatically and deeply to many people living in areas such as Islington.

In all the areas that we have discussed—housing, poverty and the environment in the inner cities—we have from the Government only the rhetoric of care and interest and very little action. My constituents deserve a far better deal from the Government. I long for the day next year when, under a Labour Government, they will get it.

12.35 pm
Mr. Patrick Ground (Feltham and Heston)

I join hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) on his choice of subject and on the way in which he dealt with interventions in his speech.

As someone who lives in an inner city area that is high up the Department of the Environment scale of urban deprivation, I cannot accept what my hon. Friend said about a revival of human life being necessary in the inner cities. Nor do I accept some of his observations suggesting that it is the ambition of all people to live in the suburbs. There are many people who like living in inner cities, who prefer them to other areas and who want to stay where they are.

I accept the definition of my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) that inner-city areas, for the purposes of the motion, should include many outer-city areas that suffer from the same problems. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) nodding, because many areas in London that are not strictly inner city nevertheless suffer the problems that we are discussing.

The perspective of the debate about housing is that generally housing conditions in the inner cities and elsewhere have improved under Governments and councils of all political colours. Housing statistics clearly show that there are more bathrooms, more inside lavatories and much less overcrowding than in the years immediately after the war, and that improvement has continued. However, it might be that that general improvement makes even more unacceptable the bad housing that remains, especially where some of the worst of it has been built during the past 25 years.

As a matter of policy, there is nothing new in the motion; much of it is contained in the 1977 White Paper "Policy for the Inner Cities", which recognised the need for private investment in the inner cities. I am bound to say, as someone living in an inner city area, that at the time the White Paper was very welcome because it made a number of points that had not been obvious in Government policy previously, especially the need for human scale in new developments. The document emphasised, perhaps more than previous Government utterances, the importance of making a more attractive physical environment in inner city areas so that, in general, they would become or remain places where people would live as a matter of choice.

The White Paper stressed also the relationship between inner city problems and the problems of the regions in which the cities were situated. In my maiden speech I called for a review of the regional strategy for the southeast to take account of the changes in population forecasts and the fact that some of the growth areas were taking people away from London in a way that had not been intended. I very much welcome the changes in regional strategic guidance for the south-east made in February this year by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. He plainly contemplates that a larger proportion of development than in the past will go to London and the other urban areas and proportionately less will go elsewhere.

A number of matters should be of priority for the Government in tackling the next phase of the problems of the inner cities. The first is the condition of public housing stock and repairs to council properties. In my constituency I write probably more letters on this subject than on any other. The right of repair, which has recently been introduced, is a welcome innovation. It is nerve-racking for tenants faced with substantial repairs to decide how to use that weapon. Indeed, it may not be an appropriate weapon when serious problems are involved.

It is interesting and important to recognise that councils such as Wandsworth have succeeded with a high level of spending in improving their council estates while not being at all extravagant—in fact, the reverse—in the amounts levied through the rates. The figures are striking. More than £800 on average was spent on each property owned by the Wandsworth borough council whereas the figures in other areas were lower. In some cases, less than £100—in some areas a derisory amount—was spent.

In the context of public sector housing, the Government should be concerned with the people who live in Bison housing and those who have bought their house from a local authority. Those who remained in the properties as tenants are having expensive strengthening work done, but many of those who bought their home from local authorities are without any form of expert advice of the type given to local authorities and are left in the dark about what they should do. It would be salutary if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State were to press local authorities to give tenants the best technical information available so that they could arrive at a sensible decision, and to reveal the expertise that has been made available to them.

Enormous progress has been made by the Department of the Environment in public consultation and ascertaining people's views as to the sort of development they want ir, their areas and the sort of housing that should be provided. Many of the lessons of the past have been learned, but in the provision of open space for leisure and purposes of that sort the level and quality of public consultation is still extremely rudimentary. Many of the provisions being made for leisure are grotesquely unpopular—for example, the expensive provision of a plastic football pitch in a residential area with houses all around. A maximum amount of nuisance and annoyance will be caused to residents who will see an area of green disappear for something visually much less attractive, and they will be faced with the prospect of floodlighting and noise on many evenings of the week.

On matters such as that and the provision of open space there should be a good deal of improvement in consultation and communication between central Government, local authorities and residents. In that way the Government and local authorities would recognise the importance that people attach to better standards of open space provision. In many areas, far from an improvement, there is an erosion of public open space, even in areas where the shortage has been recognised for many years by the Government. I was interested to hear the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) about the provision of open space in London. I certainly hope that the Government will give priority to reversing the indifference which has apparently been shown by the Government and local government on this subject. For example, where substantial erosion of public open space in an inner city area would be caused by a development proposal I would hope that the Minister would not hesitate to call that proposal in. Too often, the Minister refuses to call it in and leaves an inspector to make the decision, as though it is not a matter of environmental importance.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) referred to the provision of private housing in areas which had previously been used for industry and commerce. He agreed with me that the same point arises where commercial and industrial land is taken and used for building public housing. Too often in inner London Governments, of both colours, have been overjoyed at the prospect of any form of development on sites which have been derelict and without a use for some time and have not been sufficiently tenacious in insisting upon an adequate provision of land for industry.

One of the problems in the provision of land for industry throughout the country is that progressively more and more land is required to provide employment. The use of space is very much more generous in terms of the number of employees than in the past. If satisfactory sites for employment are to be provided in inner cities, it requires a strong policy on the part of the planning authorities, insisting that land allocated for industry is, as far as possible, used for that purpose. Where that policy has been followed, in most cases of which I am aware, employment opportunities have arisen, and the land has been satisfactorily developed.

Those are some of the matters that I suggest are of priority. I should like the Department of the Environment also to consider the points systems that are used by local authorities, and to consider whether systems that give priority to people according to the scale of squalor in which they live are necessarily good policies for housing in the inner cities. Too often, there is no incentive for applicants on the council housing list to do what is possible to improve their housing condition. They stand to lose points, to lose their chance of earlier accommodation. That area should be looked at, as well as the extent to which residents who have lived in the area for a long time and their local connections should be considered in the allocation of council housing. I believe that the present system, for good and worthy reasons, places a premium on squalor, which is perhaps not in the best interests of the sensible housing of people in inner cities. It gives less opportunity for people to improve their condition while they are waiting to be housed.

I support what was said by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) about tenants of housing trusts, who have neither the right to buy nor the right to be paid money to be housed elsewhere. A large estate in my consitituency, the Beaver estate, is in that position. Many of the tenants would like to buy, and many would like to move elsewhere and buy property, but, because of the historical quirks of the way in which their estate has been developed, they get neither right. The position of such tenants should be considered by the Government because is seems anomalous that they should not be given at least some of the opportunities that have been given to other tenants.

12.53 pm
Mr. Nick Raynsford (Fulham)

The motion is curious, because while much of the phrasing is couched in terms which many hon. Members on both sides of the House would find it easy to support, if one looks at the implications of the phrasing it becomes clear that if what it suggests was followed through it would involve a major reversal of the Government's policies.

The most curious thing of all is this. As I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle), it became clear that he has no intention of instituting the logical policies that flow from the terms of his motion. Instead, he is advocating a strange mismatch of curious and mainly irrelevant measures, which will not have the effect which we in the Labour party seek. We want a serious programme to tackle the undoubted needs of the inner cities.

I should like to explore some of the concepts mentioned in the motion. There is much play with the idea of partnership. Surely partnership involves sharing and a mutual contribution to achieve a more effective response to needs, yet it is abundantly clear that the Conservative philosophy of partnership, in the context of the inner cities and housing, is different. It is a concept of substitution, of substituting private for public initiative. That is what privatisation is all about. It is not about ensuring the most effective contribution of both public and private sectors to achieve the building of more homes, as the figures will show. All that we have seen under this Government is a series of drastic cuts in investment in public sector house building and measures to transfer ownership from the public sector to the private sector. We have not seen a concerted programme to achieve a large output of homes.

The figures are startling. Ten years ago the public sector was starting about 170,000 new homes each year and the private sector was starting about 150,000. Last year, as a result of repeated and serious cuts by the Government, the public sector had been reduced to only 33,000 new starts. That reduction removes options and choices from people who may need public sector rented housing.

There has been hardly any increase in private sector output. About 160,000 new private homes were started last year. That was an increase of 10,000 on the figure of 10 years ago, but in that period there has been a drastic reduction in public sector building and the overall result is a reduction of 100,000 in the number of new homes being built each year. There are fewer homes to meet people's needs.

The picture is much more serious in the worst inner city areas. There were about 25,000 new starts in the public sector in London 10 years ago. Last year the number was just 2,500—one tenth of the previous level. The private sector had achieved an increase, but only from about 5,000 new starts to about 8,000. In London last year there were about 11,000 new starts, compared with 30,000 in 1975.

The Government's policies have resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of new homes, partly because of substitution and partly because of cuts in public sector provision. The result is not an effective partnership to achieve more, but a reduction in the public sector's ability to contribute.

The motion refers to the right to buy and the right to rent". Most Opposition Members strongly agree with that concept, but the Government clearly do not agree with it, because they have limited the right to buy to council tenants. They do not advocate a right to buy for private tenants, yet many of those tenants live in the worst areas of exploitation.

Thousands of private tenants in my constituency would dearly love to buy their homes from bad landlords who do not maintain them, often charge extortionate rents and are often guilty of the most disgraceful neglect of the welfare and interests of their tenants, but those tenants are not afforded the right to buy and are afforded no protection. Their interests are ignored. The Government have a one-sided policy. They are interested solely in substituting private property for public housing.

The right to rent is a cruel illusion under the Government's policies. One million or more households on council waiting lists have no prospect of obtaining a rented home because of the shortage of available lets. Homelessness has reached record levels. Nearly 100,000 households were accepted as the responsibility of local authorities last year, because they could not find anywhere to live. Many of them had to be put into dreadful bed-and-breakfast accommodation, in poor conditions and at vast cost to the public purse.

Mr. Rowe

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, for comprehensible reasons, successive Governments have loaded private landlords with many restrictions and that that is a major factor in the non-availability of rented accommodation?

Mr. Raynsford

I ask the hon. Gentleman to be patient, because I intend to tackle that subject later.

Council houses are not the only properties in the public sector. Housing associations have been able to make an important contribution in recent years to meet the needs of the poorer sections of inner city populations who need rented housing. Yet this important contribution from housing associations has been the victim of cuts in Government expenditure. As a result of the reduction in funding available to local authorities to support housing associations, and because of restrictions on the budget available to the Housing Corporation, there has been a dramatic reduction—especially in London—in the contribution that housing associations have made through rehabilitating older homes. In 1976–77 about 12,300 homes were rehabilitated by housing associations in London. In 1984–85, the last year for which figures are available, that number had fallen to 5,700. I am certain that the 1985–86 figures will be lower, but the final figures are not yet available.

There has been a dramatic reduction in the number of homes available to rent. That makes nonsense of the rhetoric from the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire about providing the right to rent. The right to rent requires choice, and it requires options and homes being available to rent. It is clear that those homes are not available in sufficient numbers through the local authority sector and housing associations.

I do not wish to say too much about the private rented sector, except to stress that its decline has been a continuing feature of housing policy for the past 80 years. It has continued irrespective of whether landlords have had more or less freedom to evict their tenants. The Rent Act 1957 reduced the security that some tenants enjoyed. It was followed by an increase in the number of evictions and became associated with the era of Rachmanism. The private rented sector declined even faster than it had previously. There is no evidence to support the thesis that providing options for landlords to rent without restrictions on security will increase the private rented sector. That was an illusion which the Conservative party included in its rhetoric before 1979, and which some people may have believed to be possible.

Mr. Rowe


Mr. Raynsford

I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman. I have little time left.

Mr. Ground

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will give way to me.

Mr. Raynsford


Mr. Ground

If the hon. Gentleman is dealing solely with the increase in the private sector, which might or might not be caused by those factors, why does he not also consider the possibility that the decline in the rented sector might be slower if there were more incentives to the private landlord to rent?

Mr. Raynsford

I am grateful for that contribution, because the evidence reveals the strength of my case. The Conservative Government elected in 1979 moved rapidly, in the Housing Act 1980, to introduce shorthold tenancies, assuring us that this would lead to an increase in the number of lettings. However, the figures for London for the year after the introduction of the Act are illuminating. That year, about 16,000 lettings were withdrawn from the market. That was consistent with the decline in the private rented market in previous years. Only 300 shortholds were created, which is a measure of how ineffective and irrelevant the concept of shorthold tenancies was to the provision of rented housing.

There is an economic mismatch between the amount of money that a landlord can reasonably expect to receive from his investment in private property and the amount that ordinary people seeking rented housing can afford to pay. That economic mismatch is at the heart of the decline of the private rented market, and no amount of shuffling round with security of tenure will change that. The private rented market, in its old form, is doomed and will continue to decline. Parliament's responsibility should be to ensure that the decline is offset by the provision of housing for rent to meet the needs of those who cannot afford to buy. The only agencies capable of providing it properly are local authorities and housing associations, and they should be encouraged.

The Labour party is in favour of the right to rent, and it was responsible for an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill which would have gone some way along the route advocated by the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire in providing the right-to-rent accommodation left needlessly empty by local authorities. It is curious that he should have advocated that, when the Government opposed the amendment which we tabled less than a month ago. That is a measure of the inconsistency that is creeping into the Conservative party. If we are to achieve the right to rent, it must be on the basis of an adequate supply of lettings and an adequate choice. That is manifestly absent now. We need more investment and the provision of homes by local authorities and housing associations to meet the need.

The third issue that I want to mention is one of the most tragic that afflicts us—the rise in homelessness. It has continued from the late 1950s. It has not been caused, as the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire suggested, by the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, which commanded the support of reasonable hon. Members on both sides of the House and which sought to alleviate some of the disastrous consequences of the continuing rise in homelessness. Sadly, the rise has continued.

To discover the causes of the rise, we do not need to go much further than an excellent study carried out by Professor John Greve in 1970, which considered homelessness in London. He identified three major causes of homelessness: first, eviction by private landlords; secondly, domestic friction involving marriage breakdown or people having to leave parental homes because they could no longer stay there; and, thirdly, the shortage of accommodation, which prevented people from finding homes of their own.

Those three reasons are still fundamentally the causes of homelessness today, but a fourth has come increasingly into prominence. It is the breakdown of mortgage arrangements when people no longer have the means to pay their mortgage. The problem has been highlighted by the huge surge in the number of mortgage accounts in serious arrears in the past few years, rising to unprecedented levels. Figures show that one in 10 of all people who are accepted as homeless in England are homeless because they have been unable to keep their mortgage payments going.

It is against that background that last night's announcement by the Minister for Social Security is so profoundly depressing and deplorable. In view of the rising risk of homelessness because people are unable to meet their mortgages, what is surely needed is a policy that will help them to cope, not one that will punish them by reducing their entitlement to supplementary benefit to help meet their needs.

It is a curious comment that, once again—we have seen it all too often in the past seven years—housing policy is being affected by snap decisions being taken by other Departments, in this case the Department of Health and Social Security, purely to achieve a saving. There is no logical policy basis for cutting supplementary benefit help for people in difficulty with their mortgage payments. It is necessary to give that help, but it is being cut because the DHSS is trying to trim its budget, just as housing benefit has been cut for the same reason. Rent arrears are being exacerbated by DHSS decisions, and now homelessness will be, just as happened as a result of that cruel attack on board-and-lodging payments to young single people last year and again this year. The DHSS has promoted and caused homelessness.

That is a sad comment on the state of housing policy and the increase in homelessness. Perhaps saddest of all is the evidence of lack of movement by the Government to deal with it. I should like to focus on the implications of a recent House of Lords judgment involving a family called Pulhofter. The judgment included the bizarre suggestion by one of the Lords that the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 was not about housing the homeless. It would require a fairly lengthy exploration of the archives of Byzantium to find a more curious concept. The result of that judgment is that the rights available to homeless people have been seriously eroded. Many more are likely to be refused accommodation by local authorities and, as a result, will be left on the streets, swelling the army of people who are homeless and disaffected.

What is urgently needed, as is stressed in early-day motion 855, which is supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House, is action by the Government to deal with the problem of that judgment, to amend the Act to secure the rights of homeless people and to avoid abuse of the loophole which the Lords created which means that some local authorities do not need to implement the 1977 Act.

Instead of a positive response, we have no action at all. I have heard recently that an approach by voluntary organisations seeking a meeting with the Minister has been rejected. That is evidence of an unwillingness to tackle one of the crying needs of our time.

Although the motion raises a number of interesting concepts, it serves only to highlight the inconsistency and hollowness of Government policy. If the needs of the inner cities are to be properly met, we need an active investment programme which will provide the homes that are at present needed, make a reality of the right to rent, which is otherwise purely hollow rhetoric, and provide options for people who will otherwise become homeless.

1.9 pm

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

It may seem strange for an hon. Member from a constituency such as mine to participate in this debate, but I have had an interest in this subject since I was concerned with the community development projects run by the Home Office many years ago. I should also like to correct the impression that mine is essentially a rural seat. It is an urban seat with a small rural part. Chatham is one of the Medway towns which are some of the most densely populated areas of Kent.

The debate has been interesting and has demonstrated a polarisation of attitude. That is entirely understandable. If I were faced daily with the number of people in misery as so many Opposition Members who have spoken are, and with the victims of the worst forms of abuse by landlords and other denizens of the inner cities, I would naturally believe that the solution was simply a massive injection of resources. I would think "Here is the need. Why do we not simply meet it by pumping in resources?"

Resources are indispensable, but so is excellence in their deployment. I shall give an example from an area in which I have been working recently. I do not believe that there is a director of social services in the country who could not make a case that would convince nearly all of us that his or her department should have more social workers and ancillary staff. The inspectorate has said that in the vast majority of social work departments there is little or no supervision of the basic grade field worker. In other words, there would be no guarantee that more resources pumped into social services departments would achieve any of the objectives sought by the director.

We are living in a substantially pauperised society with some 14 million people dependent in whole or in part for their incomes on means-tested benefits. One third of those who go out to work do so to bring home a net gain of £25 a week or less over what they could get if they were on benefit. That is a horrific figure. Moreover, that balance would not require a great deal of tilting for a large number of those estimable people. who choose to work rather than to stay at home and do nearly as well for nothing, to stay at home. If that happened, the problems facing society, whether in the inner cities or outside them, would become almost unmanageable.

All hon. Members must ask themselves whether the injection of resources, which must be paid for by those in work and those providing employment, would do anything to help the problem. This is one of the reasons that has impelled the Government to put their proposal about mortgage repayments to the Social Services Advisory Committee. I hasten to say that this is a proposal that has not yet been agreed. I am one of those who will be suggesting to my right hon. Friends that a better way to deal with the problem of an equity gain from a mortgage on which the public sector is meeting the repayment would not be to cut mortgage repayments at the beginning but rather to lay some claim to the appreciation in the value of the property pro rata for the contribution that the public sector has made to it later on, and not when people are at their most despairing.

Successive Governments have pumped money into the inner city and have contributed to its pauperisation. The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford) will know better than I that great essay on housing by Professor Donnison, in which he pointed out that since the war every Government have achieved exactly the opposite effect in their housing legislation to that which they set out to achieve. This is not an easy matter to resolve. One of the consequences of the way in which we have proceeded in recent years is that we have destroyed a balanced community.

Some years ago, I went to talk to the Labour leader of one of the inner London boroughs. He told me that he was desperate to achieve a mix of housing in his borough but because a number of young idealists had taken possession of his council and believed passionately that the people who had the right to the first and best houses to be built were the poorest members of the borough, he was unable to build houses that he could either have let or sold to people on above average incomes. Both sides of that debate are respectable sides to hold, but the consequence of one-class housing over large stretches of the inner city is that everybody ends up impoverished.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) referred to the Church's report "Faith in the City", a report that I greatly welcomed. However, one of the least attractive sentences was that which expressed, with some surprise, that the members of the committee had found a large number of intelligent people in the inner cities. There is a terrible danger of enormously under-rating the people who live, often against great odds, within the inner city. I cannot agree more with my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), who urged upon local authorities and others that we should give much more power and control to the people who live there.

One of the effects of pumping public money into the inner city has been to establish hugely expensive bureaucracies run by people who pull the salaries that ensure that they no longer continue to live in the areas for which they express so much public concern. A great proportion of that money might be better spent by people in the area. We need to encourage personal responsibility within the people who live in inner cities. Often enough, they are only too glad to take it if they are given some assistance and some assurance that, if they do so, they will get the rewards.

I can give an example. The gentleman who had most to do with rehabilitating the Watts suburb after the riots in Los Angeles came over here, and one day saw a young lad playing pool in a youth centre at 11 o'clock in the morning. "What are you doing?" he asked, to which the lad replied, not unreasonably, "I am playing pool." "It is 11 o'clock in the morning. Why are you playing pool, which is a leisure pursuit?", asked the man. The young lad said, "Because I have nothing else to do." The man asked him, "Is this your youth centre?" "Yes", said the young lad. So he was asked, "How can you say that you have nothing whatever to do when the windows of this youth centre are filthy and when the floor is covered with rubbish?" We feel that our function is discharged if we provide facilities, but thereby we deprive those who use them of a sense of responsibility. If the facilities belonged to them, they would play a much larger part in their management and maintenance.

Having referred to some of the problems, may I suggest a few possible remedies. The Government should offer a guarantee of employment to those who have been unemployed for more than three years. It would have to be worthwhile employment that provided more money than people can get when they are on the dole. I am unable to define it more closely than that, although I have a few ideas about it which I share with some of my colleagues on the Select Committee on Employment. That would change the nature of our inner city problems. One of the inner city problems, thanks to the beneficence of previous Governments who have thrown money into the attempt to lure companies away from the inner cities and put them on green field sites, together with their skilled workers, is that now we have a population in the inner cities which is substantially without skills. There is, therefore, a tremendous need for training.

Local authorities should sell off, by means of a mortgage equity arrangement, some of their community facilities to groups of people who live in the area, who could manage those facilities and thereby share in the equity. As they made profits, they could take a larger share of the mortgage equity. The Treasury succeeded in destroying a most important incentive. Local authorities were encouraged to sell council houses but the Treasury refused to allow them to spend that money. The Treasury failed, but the Department of Health and Social Security did not fail. It allowed the district health authorities to spend the money that they saved from closing hospitals and selling off unwanted land. The inner cities should be allowed to do the same.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) that we should encourage people to set up co-operatives and tender for the right to carry out some of the functions that are now performed by local authorities. Co-operatives to provide home helps and similar functions would be very useful.

The worst feature of polarisation to which I referred at the beginning of my speech is the unwillingness of so many inner city local authorities to consult their business communities. The Government have made it obligatory for local authorities to consult the business community before they set a rate. However, I hear tales from all over the country of the extraordinary unwillingness of local authorities to set up a reasonable consultation procedure. If local authorities will not consult their business communities they will remain alienated, the rates will increase to an unreasonable level and more and more of those employers will leave.

I end on a well-reported anecdote. Some years ago, the mayor of one of the towns in New York State discovered that businesses were pulling out of his town to such an extent that it was bumping up the unemployment rate. He asked one or two of the companies why they were leaving. They told him that they were very happy where they were but that they had looked ahead and foresaw that in four, five or 10 years' time they would be unable to survive as easily there as they would be if they moved to, say, San Francisco. He then called together all the businesses in his patch and asked them what sort of facilities they saw themselves requiring in three, four or five years' time. As a consequence of being able to do some joint planning of that kind, he not only managed to retain businesses but to secure new ones.

If we are to talk about partnership in the inner cities, we must get away from the suggestion that the private employer is somehow there to grind the faces of the poor. Rather he is there creating the only sources of revenue which can sustain the inner cities. We must make sure that the consultations that take place between private business, local authorities, Government and everyone else concerned with the inner city are constructive, creative and forward-looking, not defensive and polarised.

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

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and I have sat through most of this interesting and important debate. Unfortunately, we have only five minutes left to share between us.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) on having introduced the debate, because it gives us the opportunity to discuss a matter of national concern. It has highlighted just how badly divided Britain is today; how dangerously divided our nation has become.

The divisions that we often talk about between the north and the south are apparent. We talk about the relative prosperity of the south as opposed to the high unemployment-blighted areas of the north. It is a division that is not precise, but it is one that we recognise.

There are also the divisions within the inner cities. The great divisions in London are there and are available for all to see. Such extremes of poverty and wealth within London are dramatic and they represent a source of potential conflict within our capital city which we ignore at our peril.

This has essentially been a debate about housing. It should have been an economic debate from the beginning. The problems of the inner city arise essentially out of Britain's economic malaise. They are, at base, economic problems. We see in massive unemployment, high real interest rates, a record number of bankruptcies, a record balance of payments deficit on manufactured goods and the steady destruction of much of Britain's manufacturing base, the problems of the inner city. It is in the inner cities that the consequences of the economic folly of monetarism is seen in all its horrid forms.

I shall be holding my advice surgery tomorrow morning in the London borough of Newham, the second most deprived local authority area in Britain, according to the Department of the Environment's statistics. As the hon. and learned Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground) said, out of the first 20 most deprived local authority areas in the country, 10 are in London, and three of those are in east London. That is real poverty. That is real deprivation. It is about no jobs and no hope. It is about living in a society whose youth are surrounded by all the trappings of a consumer society. Our young people are bombarded with consumer goods which they can get if they have the wherewithal to achieve them, but of course they have not, because they have neither the jobs nor the prospects of the jobs. It is little wonder that many of them reach out and grab those goodies. That is why in the inner cities we have seen such dramatic increases in street crimes, drug pushing, prostitution and all the other problems. They arise out of the economic malaise which Britain in now experiencing.

Conservative Members talk about the destruction of the community, but this Government have done more than any other Government since the war to destroy the values of the community. They are a Government based on institutionalised greed and selfishness and the devil take the hindmost. That is the Government's economic and social philosophy. They talk about not being able to solve problems by throwing money at them. I tell the Minister that problems cannot be solved by taking money away, and London has lost about £4 billion in rate support grant since the Government were first elected in 1979. That is where the problems of the inner cities start. They start with the rotten economic values of this Government. Until we get rid of the Government. we shall never get rid of the problems of the inner city.

1.30 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

It is ironic that I seem to have rather less than a couple of minutes in which to speak about the inner city area which I represent, which has suffered enormous deprivation and high levels of unemployment for many decades.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was correct when he said that the problems are economic ones. The inner city area which I represent has an elected local authority which is hamstrung by the Government. The local authority can attempt to alleviate the serious housing and social service problems of the people of Islington, but it has virtually no control over the industrial life of the borough, and it has no control over the borough's economy. It can provide and develop services, but it cannot develop the economy within the area, because it has no control over it. A process of deregulation, cut and closure and the giving of unfettered life to capitalism in inner-city areas makes the problems of inner-city deprivation worse instead of solving them.

If anyone wishes to see the ultimate in setting capitalism free in London, let him go to the Wapping print plant, which has been constructed in a rate-free and tax-free haven by a foreign multinational entrepreneur. The purpose is to destroy the jobs of print workers and the public are forced to pay for the police force to suppress those who are trying to get their jobs back in that plant. If Conservative Members believe in free speech, why do they try to muzzle every local authority which speaks up about deprivation in its area?

Another aspect of inner city deprivation is the Health Service, and a curious phenomenon is the growth of commercial private medicine. I have an excellent book, which was produced by the Greater London council before it was tragically abolished, entitled, "Commercial Medicine in London". It tells of the so-called freedom of choice for the people of London. Apparently they can choose to queue at their hospital for a hip replacement operation, or any other fairly routine operation, and wait two years before it is carried out, or pay to go into a private hospital in Harley street. The choice is a non-existent one. My constituents do not have that freedom of choice and they have to queue.

It seems that the message is getting through to the Government that the people of London are fed up with the way in which their Health Service has been treated. That is why the Minister for Health wrote his curious and weasel-worded letter of 7 April to the chairman of the London group of Tory MPs claiming that there had been an increase in Health Service expenditure in London and listed a number of new hospitals that had been constructed. He wrote: The suggestion that the changes now taking place will mean a general decline in services for Londoners is not justified by the facts. The Health Service is making increasingly efficient use of the funds available because of the improvements in treatment techniques and the increased use of day surgery. I do not know when the Minister last went to a London hospital or examined the curious way in which the efficiency of the Health Service is examined, which means that the through-put of patients is the sole arbiter of whether a hospital is efficient. If the patient visits a hospital several times because he has been released too soon after an operation, that is often ignored. Early release is regarded as an increase in efficiency, when it is the very opposite.

A series of figures have been produced by an excellent organisation called London Health Emergency, which was established with GLC support. It states: Barney Hay hoe speaks only of particular examples of new projects, claiming increases in spending. He leaves out the fact that overall health spending in London's 30 health districts has been cut by over £70 million since 1982 with a loss of 1,876 beds in 1984 alone and with well over 5,000 jobs cut. The document lists the new buildings in various district health authorities. It is certainly true that new hospitals are being built, and, for example, the development of Islington's Whittington hospital is very welcome. We want a decent, good hospital on that site. What we do not want, however, is the closure of Friern Barnet or neighbouring hospitals, which would take away that advantage, or the cut of 69 beds and the loss of 278 jobs that has occurred since 1983.

The issue of health care in London appears to be haunting the Tories. It certainly haunted them in the local election campaign, and it will continue to haunt them. Is the Minister satisfied that the RAWP formula does anything but bleed the inner-urban areas of London dry of Health Service resources? Does she not now accept the need for a democratic London health authority? Does she not also accept that there is something quite evil about a proposal to close a hospital such as St. Thomas's for one month in August, or the Middlesex, which was closed last Christmas, simply to make up the shortfall in expenditure?

Each time regional health authorities try to bail out a health authority to stop it closing a hospital temporarily, that means that another health authority cannot be bailed out. What we need is a London health authority, with a massive injection of capital, so that we can provide the Health Service that is needed. Above all, we need an end to the parasite and the cancer that is private medicine in London, private pay beds in NHS hospitals and privatisation of NHS resources to line the pockets of a bunch of scroungers who are trying to live off the NHS and bleed it dry.

1.36 pm
Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) on his luck in the ballot and on initiating what has been a thoughtful, if hard-hitting, debate.

I wish to define what I see as the inner-city problem. The problem in Tyneside is different from that in Liverpool, as it is from that in Lambeth or in Islington. There are distinguishing features as between one inner-city area and another, and we do well to recognise that.

Having said that, the inner-city problem is a concentration in urban areas of a number of problems—what the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) called a density of deprivation. Central to those problems is poverty, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) pointed out and as the Archbishop of Canterbury's report underlined.

That poverty is coupled with wholly unacceptable levels of unemployment—typically about 25 per cent. male unemployment. I use the figure for male unemployment because it is often a truer reflection than the level of female unemployment. There are even higher levels in limited areas. It is by no means unusual to be told in inner-city constituencies that unemployment has reached 70 or 80 per cent. in small, limited areas. Neither is it unusual to be told that unemployment among school leavers is as high as 50 per cent.—even 70 per cent. among certain ethnic groups. In my borough there are 3,000 unemployed school and college leavers who have never known the experience of work.

The problem is characterised by inadequate housing, long waiting lists, unacceptable levels of homelessness and, of course, the contradiction in many areas of an acute shortage of housing at the same time as we have the phenomenon of a large number of local authority dwellings that are classified as being hard to let.

The problem is also distinguished by an unstable population, family breakdown, poor health, low levels of appropriate skills and, increasingly, an educational underachievement as the hopelessness outside the school begins to creep into the school itself and devalue the courses.

We often find different racial and cultural traditions, the absence of a common set of values and the presence of a different set of perceptions about discrimination and how people are treated, which does not make it any easier to solve the problems.

Too often, the inner city exhibits high levels of personal crime, such as burglaries, robberies and even murders, as well as drug and alcohol abuse and other forms of antisocial behaviour. Often there is antagonism between the police and sections of the community. Indeed, virtually every riot has been sparked off by a clash with the police, and usually a rescue from arrest. I am sorry to say that that phenomenon has occurred this spring.

Of course, all those elements exist in other parts of the country but the combustible nature of the inner cities, which burst into flames in the 1981 and 1985 riots, appears to be a function of the size of the cities as well as a constituent element of them. What happens in Lichfield will not happen in Liverpool, and vice versa. Size has something to do with the combustible nature of our inner-city problems.

I am worried that, as well as the dangers and deprivations of the inner cities, there is evidence that they are beginning to create their own momentum of new traditions and new patterns of accommodation to violence. The patterns are becoming more deeply entrenched as people begin to have to get used to a life without any reasonable possibility of wealth or work. One then gets to the stage when the character of the environment is determined by people as much as, according to the old theories, the character of people was determined by their environment. The facts create notoriety and then the notoriety begins to create fresh facts.

I shall cite an example from my constituency, but I have come across such cases in Manchester and elsewhere as well. Because of levels of crime and disorder, it becomes extremely difficult for some business people to obtain insurance. Without insurance, it is impossible to start or to continue a business. The original causes of criminal behaviour, which make it difficult to obtain insurance, lie in poverty and unemployment, but, as fewer people are able to obtain insurance and start new or maintain old businesses, the problem of unemployment and poverty becomes even that little bit more acute. That is just one example of the way in which the inner city can create its own negative momentum.

Every measure of inner-city deprivation is worsening, and not by accident—in many cases, because of the Government's deliberate action. The difference between 1979 and 1986 is that in 1979 there was hope. I had the feeling in my inner-city constituency that we were beginning to turn the corner—housing was improving and there was a hope that people would get jobs. However, since 1979, a different economic climate has made it much more difficult to solve inner-city problems.

When the Conservative party took office, unemployment in Lambeth was 7,000; by the riots in 1981 it had doubled; and, since then, it has doubled again. Between 1979 and 1986 unemployment has increased fourfold. In most inner-city areas, crime has escalated by two or three times the national level. This week, we read in our newspapers that the Conservative party, which at its last conference committed itself to more policemen on the streets and more resources to deal with crime, is cash limiting the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis in the same way as it cash limits Socialist town halls.

If unemployment and crime have soared, housing has nose-dived, leading to a doubling of levels of homelessness. Typically, the amount of money that local d authorities may spend on housing, by means of their own housing and by improvement grants, has dropped by two thirds. The burdens, frustrations and tensions have been heaped on those who already bear more than their fair share of suffering.

Changes in housing benefit regulations have introduced new tensions between young people and their parents. The DHSS changes in board and lodging allowance have created the feeling that there is a vendetta against the young, who already have a great burden to carry. Increases in fares have made it more difficult for those who work to travel out of their areas. The Government's marathon battle against the teachers has done nothing to improve morale in our schools, which are feeling the backlash of the hopelessness of unemployment for many youths. I agree that owner-occupation is to be encouraged, but the latest announcement about the safety net for owner-occupiers will not help.

Until this year, rate support grant has been cut and rates have risen as a direct consequence of Government action. For example, six years ago Hackney had a rate support grant of £69 million. By last year that figure had dropped to £37 million, a cut of £32 million. The only compensation for Hackney was a £3.5 million increase in the urban programme, compared to a total loss of £65 million in rate support grant, housing subsidy and housing investment allocations. I do not think that the people of Hackney would say that one of their problems is that money has been thrown at them—quite the reverse.

Health care has suffered. In my constituency, King's College hospital is the biggest employer. It is our only major industry. Although that should be playing a significant part in inner city partnership policy, and we are told that the Ministers are all working together, I read in the London Standard this week that there is a "horrific situation" for National Health care in the hospital. The hospital says that it has a 110 per cent. occupancy of beds, which means that as one patient leaves another one takes the bed on the same day. On many occasions a patient has stood in the corridor outside the ward waiting for a nurse to change bed linen which is still warm from the last patient, so that he or she can then take that bed. A consultant has been quoted as saying: Recently I had to turn away a coronary patient because we just had no bed available—and that patient died. The effects on the health service are immeasurable and the future will be awful. There is a possibility that the neighbouring hospital of St. Thomas's may be closed for a large part of the year because of cuts.

We have two Government Departments which could be making a contribution to the inner cities. One could run through a great catalogue of Government action which has deeply intensified the distress, poverty and frustration of the inner city. The Government have penalised not only the people of the inner cities but their representatives, as in Lambeth and Liverpool.

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I have never argued that the Government do not care or that there have not been some responses to the challenge of the inner city. However, we say that their responses have been token—tranquillisers—and, in some cases, they have been gimmicks and wholly inadequate to meet the scale of the problem. The problems that have been imposed on the inner cities have far outweighed any of the advantages brought their way.

The argument that money has been thrown at the inner cities and has failed is simply not true. If one takes the total of current initiatives—urban regeneration grant, special employment initiatives and urban development grants—they do not add up to anything like the amount of money the Government have been prepared to put into one City bank, Johnson Matthey Bankers. The Government believe that the problems of the financial City deserve much more money than the problems of the inner city.

The responses to the riots in Brixton and Birmingham last year have been virtually non-existent in any positive sense and negative in that the resources which would have been made available to inner city areas have been diminished in London by the abolition of the Greater London council and the beggaring of thousands of voluntary groups, and in Birmingham the Government have been resisting the legal rights of Birmingham city council to resources under rate support grant. I warn the Government that the smouldering volcanoes of our inner cities remain just as dangerous this year as last year. I do not think that the Government have the correct perception as to the extent to which the cities could explode again. I hope that that does not happen because it does more damage than anything else I can think of in my area. However, the risk remains and the response to the problems of last year has been minimal.

Throughout the debate we have heard that money has been thrown at the inner cities. I want to refute that by giving a few figures. Firstly, I shall give the figures of an urban authority outside London—Newcastle upon Tyne—and compare the figures of 1981–82 with 1985–86. I am using constant 1985–86 prices. In 1981–82, Newcastle upon Tyne received rate support grant of £60 million. By last year, it had been reduced by £40 million, a reduction of 67 per cent. If one takes 12 urban authorities outside London, ranging from Birmingham to Sunderland, one sees that in total, between 1981–82 and 1985–86, those authorities lost £387 million in rate support grant, a cut of 30 per cent., which is not made up for by any inner city money. Tower Hamlets in London had £33 million of rate support grant in 1981–82. Last year it amounted to £18 million, a cut of 44 per cent. over the four years from 1981–82. Whichever local authority one looks at, one sees that nowhere have local authorities been compensated by increases in inner city partnership or programme money.

Let us take the total of all the partnership and programme authorities. In current values, the loss of block grant from 1981–82 to 1985–86 has represented a reduction of £427 million, compensated for by an increase in urban programme allocations of only £39 million. That utterly refutes the argument that money is being thrown at those places, or that they are awash with Government largesse. It is simply not true.

Coupled with that is something that affects the inner city badly, which one cannot exactly measure—the cut in purchasing power of the people who live there. That cut has come from increased taxation on the poor, increased rates, and falling employment. It is interesting to canvass in my constituency and the Fulham constituency, and to see the difference that high purchasing power makes in different areas. In my area, shops are rundown and there are problems in secondary shopping areas. In Fulham, because of the greater purchasing power that exists there, there is an entirely different pattern, with the development of property and the use of commercial and residential property. Therefore, there is no truth in the notion that money is being thrown at those areas and is making the problem worse.

What can we do to rescue the inner city?

Mr. Tony Banks

Get rid of the Tories.

Mr. Fraser

That is absolutely right. There is not a single measure of net improvement in the condition of the inner city to which the Government can point over seven years. They may talk about individual advances, but in total no net gain can be demonstrated by the Government.

First, we must recognise the massive scale of the problem, which has grown so quickly over these seven Tory years, and that in most cases the solution to the problem lies not only with individuals. There has to be an urban policy that comprises a comprehensive, coordinated attack on the web of interlocking factors that affect urban residents.

Mr. Heddle

What the hon. Gentleman is saying is echoed by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). He is devaluing the currency of the debate if that is what he is telling the House. Is he saying that the inner city problem started on 3 May 1979? Did it not exist when he was a Front Bench spokesman in the Government between 1974 and 1979? Did it not exist after the war, when perhaps he was a member of the Labour League of Youth?

Mr. Fraser

Of course, the problem existed during the period of that Labour Government. I had the privilege of serving on the Cabinet Committee that put together the 1977 White Paper on the inner cities. The difference is this. In 1979, there was hope, and in 1986 there is despair, because we are living in an entirely different economic environment. I do not say that the Government do not care and that the problem has been created in the past seven years, but I say that the possibility of curing the problem is immeasurably less now than when the Labour party left office.

The Government must adopt a single, coherent, coordinated strategy for each inner city area; the strategy will differ from one area to another. There must be a corporate urban strategy. It is no good the Manpower Services Commission opening a new training facility in Deptford when the DHSS is closing a hospital there. Of course, often we find the MSC closing a training facility and the DHSS closing a hospital.

It is no good the Department of the Environment agreeing to an urban programme and then penalising a local authority for its 25 per cent. contribution to the programme. It is no good the Department saying that a project has been a success arid then penalising the local authority because the project goes into its main programme. It is no good giving money to a local authority to put down pink paving stones, which I have seen in Lambeth, Southwark and Sunderland, and denying the authority money to put slates on the roofs of the houses that adjoin the road where the environmental improvements are being made.

It is no good talking about industrial regeneration in Birmingham when the Department of Education and Science slaughters facilities at Aston university, which was a generator of industrial innovation. There was a chance of a partnership with that university and there are chances of partnerships between polytechnics and local authorities to regenerate industry, but the DES is closing establishments that stimulate new industrial ideas.

The contradictions of Government policy are legion and we must have a meaningful, coherent, corporate strategy from the Government, led by a single Minister. We are not even sure who is in charge. Sometimes we think that it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer; sometimes we are told that it is the Secretary of State for Employment; sometimes we think that it is the Secretary of State for the Environment. No one is really sure who is taking the lead.

The Government must also cut out the gimmicks. For example, it is no good the Government telling us that privatisation of council properties in inner cities will make the slightest contribution to solving the overall housing problem. With privatisation, the Government solve the problem of the property without solving the problem of the people.

Privatisation schemes in inner cities do not lead to the comprehensive housing of which the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) spoke. They lead to more ghettoisation as those who are unable to buy homes are squeezed into denser blocks of ghettoised and residualised flats. It is not the change in tenure that matters, but the change in conditions.

At local level, partnership remains the best approach. The partners will be not merely central and local government, but the professions, voluntary and community groups, trade unions and commerce and industry. Each partner needs to recognise its strengths and weaknesses. For example, local authorities are not always best equipped to make decisions on investment and business, any more than businesses are best equipped to make decisions about projects and their social consequences. People must work together and recognise the contributions that each can make. Architects and town planners have strengths, but they also have weaknesses and they can discover their weaknesses by going into partnership with community groups and those who will occupy the houses, estates and environments that the professions are designing.

In some cases inner city renewal agencies may be the least bureaucratic and the most effective instrument of change. That is certainly true of the Greater London Enterprise Board, but the agencies must take local government with them and not bypass local councils.

We must have clarity in our objectives and ask what particular expenditure is intended to achieve. I say to Labour authorities as well as to the Government that we must not be afraid to monitor value for money and the proper conduct of agencies, whether public, private or voluntary, that use funds that are supposed to regenerate the inner city. Of course, we must take chances. Excessive caution in spending on new initiatives would be silly, but we must not be afraid to evaluate expenditure and to monitor performance.

I am in favour of the state principle—the idea of putting money into regenerating the inner cities, which would allow them to generate their own resources. In some cases, the resources could be provided by industry and commerce. In other cases, they will come from private money, perhaps from voluntary organisations. In the most impoverished areas, the only resources available will be commitment and effort. I am a great believer in the principle of people putting a stake and commitment into the inner cities by forming businesses, committing themselves and risking their futures as well as public money. That is the sort of partnership and commitment that we need.

The Scarman reforms must continue. It is a great pity—a judge observed this recently—that racial discrimination is not a reason for dismissal. There must be a more imaginative approach to recruiting black people into the police force. I do not question the fact that there is a commitment in principle, but the Metropolitan police must consider the success of the GLC and boroughs such as Lambeth in recruiting. from the racial minorities. The Metropolitan police should also consider the successful approach adopted in the United States. It is not good enough to have a police force that does not reflect the general racial composition of the population that it serves.

All hon. Members would agree that poverty and unemployment are the most haunting spirits in the inner cities. We cannot cure the problem by removing money from the inner cities, but I also agree that we cannot cure all problems by expenditure. We must examine the patterns of behaviour which are a cause as well as a consequence of inner-city problems. and we must develop a policy that helps favourable patterns of behaviour in the inner cities. Sometimes it can be done through sport, leisure or the arts. People develop a pride in what they can achieve for themselves in the arts or sport. It is even more important when there is mass unemployment. Sometimes it can be done through co-operatives, tenants' organisations, clubs and societies.

We must invest people with a sense of achievement, dignity and self-respect and the feeling that they are, in practice as well as in theory, governing themselves. There is a destructive streak in our inner cities, but people destroy that which they do not believe is theirs. If they believe that it is theirs—if there is a stake, commitment or involvement—they are much less likely to be destructive and will want to preserve their environment.

It is terribly important to create small businesses. Lambeth is often reviled, but the council has used much urban aid money to support 1,000 new businesses, many involving black business men and workers. Some will fail and fall off the log, but the successful businesses will have a greater stake in the local community.

One of the worst problems of the inner city is that not only do people know that their conditions are bad, but they believe they have little ability to control them. If we are to develop a new coherent set of values in the inner city, and develop the visionary fervour of William Blake, that fervour and those values must grow from the people themselves. They cannot be imposed.

There is a contradiction that, despite the unpleasantness and bad conditions of life in the inner city, it is often vibrant. One problem of my area is not that people want to move out, but that they want to move in. There must be values and a belief in the inner city. We must get people to believe that they can create a new Jerusalem in Liverpool, Manchester and London. I shall work for that. A combination of values and expenditure will save us from what otherwise would be a dim and dismal future for the centres of our great urban areas.

2.4 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) for initiating the debate. It has been hard-hitting and interesting, and I have listened to it with great interest and attention. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the manner in which he introduced the motion. I hope that he and his son have both recovered from the shock of the attack that they suffered at Wembley last week. I hope that his son will not have unpleasant memories of British life.

I should like to describe how the Government are attempting to respond to some of the problems of the inner cities and the housing problem. I will try to answer some of the other issues that have been raised as well.

The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) rightly said that it is difficult to define inner city problems. There are many cities with similar difficulties, but we must be careful not to assume that all cities are the same. I utterly reject his analysis of how the Government have responded to those problems. I also reject the assumption made by many Opposition Members that the Government's insistence on initiating partnership between the private and public sectors is causing the problem.

The hon. Gentleman rightly said that there is a great deal of hope in our cities, but he insisted that we could solve the problems only by putting public money into housing, city centres and local government. In 1979, we had to sit down and work out why previous efforts had failed and to try to find a different approach.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) mentioned partnerships, and said that many people have failed to attack the problems of inner cities. He mentioned Ministers who, from 1968 to 1981, have made identical statements. He also said that junior Ministers seem to end up going to designated districts and that senior Ministers go to better programme and partnership areas. He said that partnerships were in essence between Government Departments and local authorities. That is not quite true—partnerships meet the voluntary sector.

Partnership and programme authorities produce inner area programmes which set strategy and list schemes on which the private sector, chambers of commerce, the voluntary sector and the Sports Council, for example, are consulted before they are approved. Partnership authorities have been seen to work. Indeed, the hon. Member for Norwood pointed to them as a solution. They have been made to work in Birmingham, where local authorities of whatever political outlook have met with success. By contrast, a local authority that does not have a positive attitude towards partnership, Liverpool, has slammed the door on co-operation and the offer of assistance. That seems to be why it is adding to its urban degeneration rather than to urban regeneration.

The Government are guided by four main principles in targeting assistance on inner cities. First, they seek to target assistance on the most needy areas where results can be seen, and stimulus given to wider regeneration. Secondly, the Government are convinced that it is of great assistance to keep regulation and intervention by central and local government to a minimum. That concentrates activity on creating the right climate for investment and enterprise. Thirdly, we must build up business confidence by tackling dereliction, by pump-priming investment and by improving local labour skills. The Government have consciously made efforts to improve all those aspects. Fourthly, we want to help to make urban areas places where people want to live and industry wants to be. Indeed, I echo the view of the hon. Member for Norwood that people want to stay in inner cities because they are attractive places to live. Therefore, we must emphasise the importance of attracting skilled people back into those areas, of improving job prospects for those already there, and of reinforcing residents' pride in their community. Those are fundamental and important objectives.

At the heart of our urban strategy is the recognition that to achieve the regeneration of inner city areas priority must be given to creating a climate in which the private sector is encouraged, and the spirit of enterprise and innovation is engendered.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the Minister reaffirm that, in seeking to reduce exclusive decision-making by central and local government, important principles are accountability for what is decided and the participation of local people in those decisions? Otherwise, the private sector or development corporations and the like act unaccountably and inconsistently with the views of the communities whom they seek to regenerate.

Mrs. Rumbold

In essence that is exactly the partnership principle, and one which I am happy to reaffirm within that context.

The main thrust of our policies is geared to providing the means to improve the quality of the local environment, the living conditions and the skill levels which will make urban areas attractive both to local entrepreneurs and inward investors as places to develop and expand their businesses.

We have heard about urban development corporations, and they are good examples of the Government's policy of encouraging opportunity. They have not relied simply on public money to secure regeneration, although those sums have been substantial. By the end of 1985–86 some £250 million of public money will have been directed to the redevelopment of London's derelict dockland areas.

Mr. Tony Banks

No accountability.

Mrs. Rumbold

I know that the hon. Gentleman will say that there is no accountability, but he should visit London's derelict dockland areas which were derelict for years and see what is springing up and how splendid it is. A similar achievement has been gained in the Merseyside development corporation area, where more than 3.3 million visitors went to the Liverpool international garden festival.

Mr Simon Hughes

What about the people who live there?

Mrs. Rumbold

Indeed, the people who live there are, obviously, net beneficiaries of such urban improvements.

The urban development corporations represent the Government's willingness to commit substantial public funds to carefully targeted initiatives to encourage investment. Ministers are often asked whether there are to be any further UDCs. I am not sure whether there are sufficient places that share the characteristics of London and Liverpool docklands, hut we can look at the experiences to see whether there is any possibility, without replicating the machinery, of encouraging such development.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) acknowledged that Coin street has received official approval from the Department of the Environment, just as Lambeth borough council has received official approval for the payment of housing association grant to the Mulberry housing association. I am sure that he will be glad to see that.

The hon. Member also asked me about parish councils and I suspect that he wanted to ask about accountability. There are no plans to introduce parish, neighbourhood and community councils into the London area. I am sure that he will be sad to hear that I am an unrepentant advocate of the first-past-the-post system of elections. I do not find the local elections a persuasive reason for changing the system of our electoral law.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Even if I cannot persuade the hon. Lady during this Parliament about electoral reform, will she look again at introducing parish councils in London? There is great public demand for them.

Mrs. Rumbold

I take the hon. Gentleman's point.

Much has been said about the urban programme and it has grown substantially since 1979, from an allocation of £90 million to one of over £300 million. In this financial year, the urban programme will provide, in the major urban areas, 900 small workplace units, 800 business starts, 1,600 grants and loans to firms, creating or retaining 24,000 jobs. This facility is appreciated and used. I have seen it in cities such as Nottingham, Leicester, Liverpool and Bradford. The urban programme will help to reclaim some 2,500 acres of derelict land and improve vacant or underused buildings.

The House may have noticed speculation about the responsibility for making urban policy, but discussions about urban issues involve a substantial proportion of the Ministers on the Government's payroll. Urban problems cover health and social services and law and order, both of which we have heard much about today, education, race, employment, training, and industrial and transport issues. The response to the range of urban problems that have been vividly described by hon. Members has to be flexible and grounded in carefully tuned and targeted programmes.

For this reason, we have established city action teams to pull together the programmes from the Departments of the Environment, Trade and Industry and Employment and the Manpower Services Commission. We can be proud of this because here, as with other Government programmes, the aim is to learn and apply lessons about the direction of the large public sums that are going into the inner city areas through a variety of programmes. It is important to see that that money goes to those who most need it.

We have heard much about the depressing sight in so many of our older towns and cities of acres of derelict and underused land. This is a waste of resources, and something that the Government have been determined to attack. The land register systems have helped to attack this problem and the Government have paid a great deal of attention to ensure that land holdings by Departments and the nationalised industries and the statutory undertakers are reviewed regularly with a view to disposing of surplus land as quickly as possible. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has encouraged local authorities to take a similarly positive attitude. It is a disgrace that so much land remains in public ownership and is not used as it should be.

The Government are changing policy towards the derelict land reclamation programme. The fact is that 45 per cent. of all land used for housing is on either previously developed or unused land within built-up areas. We wish to bring this land into use to resist the pressure on companies to move out into the green belt. This should be seen as a positive move. Since 1979 we have doubled, in real terms, the resources that are made available for derelict land reclamation. They have been increased from £23 million in 1979 to £78 million during the current financial year. The derelict land grant is absolutely critical to encouraging private investment and it has been successful. There is much more investment in the inner cities now than there was in the past. Our aim is to reclaim sites where we believe that new development will be possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams referred to the need to relax the planning restrictions in the inner cities. This would help to relieve pressure on the green belt. In recent years we have tried to change attitudes towards planning by emphasising that the system must provide properly for both housing and industrial development while maintaining well-established conservation policies. That is an exceedingly important part of our remit. We have challenged the assumption that planning exists primarily to restrict or prevent development. Its proper purpose is to ensure efficiency and economy in the use of development land. We are keeping up the pressure on local authorities to improve their performance in handling planning applications.

The Government have also examined the urban development grant. We have a good story to tell about our support of individual projects. About 179 projects are bringing in £350 million of private investment in return for £85 million of public sector investment. This has created 20,000 jobs, half of which are commercial while the other half are industrial. The Government have also supported the provision of 3,500 homes. I do not know how it can be said that this Government have made no effort to support urban regeneration and urban renewal. The grants that we have made have led to the development of derelict and disused land, and private business must be encouraged to use that land.

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) referred to Trafford park. It was set up in the 1890s as a major industrial estate. It is situated at the head of the Manchester ship canal. The hon. Gentleman complains about the large amount of urban dereliction in his area. However, the Trafford park major manufacturers' group has persuaded the Trafford borough council, the Department of Trade and Industry and my Department each to invest £25,000 in the Trafford park investment strategy. I hope that that will be of some comfort to him.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) referred to an area that both he and I know. He said that he thought that lack of local authority public expenditure had led to housing dereliction in the area. I do not agree with him, but I must now turn to a matter that must be raised. In this debate, the right to buy has been referred to as an absolutely essential choice that ought to be available to those who live in the inner cities. Nobody who is familiar with the inner cities can doubt the importance of humanising some of the council estates which have displaced private housing in so many areas. The right to buy is designed to introduce variety in the place of uniformity. It enables people to look after their own homes instead of having to rely upon remote housing departments to do it for them. Many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have complained today about the dereliction that is caused by long-distance maintenance and long-distance accountability. Therefore, it is important to look at the impact that the right to buy has produced.

Mr. Raynsford

Will the hon. Lady address the point that I raised earlier about why the Government refused to extend the right to buy to private tenants, who often live in appalling, derelict conditions, in homes that are not being properly maintained by their landlords?

Mrs. Rumbold

I shall be coming to that point in a moment.

The major impact on inner cities will come not just from the right to buy houses but from the right to buy flats. Flats represent only 4 per cent. of all sales and it is not hard to see why. A tenant buying a fiat still has to look to the landlord to maintain and manage the rest of the block and has to contribute to the service charges and the landlord's maintenance costs. But we are planning to help tenants to do just that.

The Housing and Planning Bill, which has now completed its first stages through this House, provides for a higher discount on flats sold under the right to buy. For a tenant with a minimum qualifying period of two years, the new scale will start at 44 per cent. and will rise by 2 per cent. for each additional year of the tenant's qualifying period to a maximum of 70 per cent. Thus, a tenant of 15 years' standing will qualify for a maximum discount. I shall be surprised if that is not an extremely popular and well-taken-up provision.

The Bill also provides for tenants buying flats to have better protection against high service charges and we are confident that many tenants will see this as a satisfactory method of ensuring homes for people in need, not least those in later life.

We did not underrate the difficulty of introducing owner-occupation on a large scale into high-rise council blocks, but it is well worth trying and the Bill gives tenants of flats solid encouragement.

To back that up, one must point to the London borough of Wandsworth and its great success in the way that it has managed its housing. A balanced sales policy has provided the capital to pull up the private sector and to upgrade its public sector. Receipts are ploughed back into the public sector and they provide local infrastructure. They improve the environment and help to guarantee jobs. Anyone who went through Wandsworth eight years ago and does so again today cannot fail to see the changes that that successful local authority has produced by its imaginative sale of council houses, ploughing the money that it has received back into the public sector, ensuring that the environment and the infrastructure are right.

Mr. Tony Banks


Mrs. Rumbold

It is essential that that policy is pursued because it has proven to be a great success.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams also mentioned the right to rent and short tenancies. Hon. Members have reported and spoken about a number of council properties today that have been reduced in recent years in response to Government pressure, but there is still a scandalously high number. Therefore, I sympathise with my hon. Friend's suggestion that there should be a right to rent. However, there are difficulties which must not be brushed on one side. For example, a single person on a waiting list could become a tenant of a four-bedroorned house which had been empty for a specified time just ahead of a large needy family which was waiting to clock up its qualifying period of registration.

The urban housing renewal programme is highly successful. The private rented sector should play a greater role in providing housing choice.

We were told by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford) that shorthold tenures have not been successful but it is mainly because they have been obstructed by the rather doctrinal policies of many Labour authorities that they have not had the success that they deserve. Moreover, in response to his rather spurious point that sales make it more difficult for local authorities to house those in need, I should say that most of those who have bought would have been likely to remain in their present homes anyway as tenants and therefore would not have released housing.

The debate has been interesting, but nothing has been suggested by those on the Opposition Benches that would do more than that which the Government have done to tackle the problems of the inner cities.

2.29 pm
Mr. Heddle

I thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for her reply, and all hon. Members on both sides of the House for ensuring that the debate has been basically constructive arid good natured in the true tradition of Friday business. I am bound to say that I think that the debate was marred earlier by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) raising specious

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.