§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
I am grateful for this opportunity to open this debate on the inner cities. As recently as Monday, the House heard a statement by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is also a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, on the Government's project for the inner cities. That statement was made on behalf of "She who must be obeyed". We understand that, as a result of that remark, a previous Leader of the House found himself in disgrace and ultimately departed from this House. Nowadays, he is to be found in the other place.
Monday's statement and the Minister's response to questions is best illustrated by the observation of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks):Why does the Minister not just come clean and tell us that the statement is part of the process of dismantling Labour-controlled local authorities in the inner cities…and turning them over to Tory business men to take decisions behind closed doors?"—[Official Report, 7 March 1988; Vol. 129, c. 43.]My hon. Friend should know about the inner cities because he is a former distinguished member of the Greater London council. We still have bitter memories of the abolition of the GLC. It was a major planner of London's affairs and it faced the difficulties encountered by Londoners in a progressive manner. Its work was appreciated by Londoners on the western fringes, such as those in the London boroughs of Ealing and Hillingdon, and those living in the inner city which is the substance of this debate.
My constituency is in the borough of Ealing. In a recent speech during the debate on rate capping, I said that my borough had the characteristics of an inner-city area. Those characteristics are especially apparent in the Southall end of the borough—the west end if one likes —as well as in other parts of the borough, including the area represented by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young). I am glad to note his presence this evening, and perhaps he will explain how his right hon. and learned Friend's statement will substantially benefit Acton, an area which he zealously represents.
It is well known that Southall has the country's biggest community from the Indian sub-continent. I am not claiming that everyone is poor—far from it—but the area is overcrowded. There is a desperate housing shortage, largely due to the fact that the area has a low-average-age population. It also has a high level of youth unemployment. There is grave traffic congestion in the streets. The area is in desperate need of Government financial assistance channelled through the local authority.
That local authority, as the elected representative of the people, knows more than anyone where that money is needed. The Labour-controlled authority has struggled to meet the problems, but all that the Government have offered is rate capping. Such action has been taken instead of making money available to offset the need to increase the rates that raise the money to pay for the much-needed improvements throughout the borough.
The ruling Labour party of the authority, which had such a handsome victory at the last municipal elections, was elected on a manifesto to carry out progressive work, 604 and it proceeded apace. Since 1979, the Government have reduced the total grants to local authorities from 61 per cent. of total spending to 46.4 per cent. in 1987–88. The effects in Ealing have been even greater. In 1980–81, the last year of the old rate support grant system, 52.4 per cent. of council spending was met by the rate support grant. In 1987–88 only 25.5 per cent. of its spending will be met by block grant. Those are significant figures. They demonstrate how central Government have pulled out of the borough and, in particular, their attitude towards a Labour-controlled local authority.
Ealing leapt from being the lowest rated area in west London to the highest because the local authority was intent on carrying out progressive change. In cash terms, the council is receiving less this year than it did in 1980–81. In 1987–88 Ealing has lost £48.5 million in rate support grant from the Government. That money could have been invested in providing essential services for the borough.
The particular social needs of the borough were outlined in a submission made by Ealing to have its rate-capped limit raised. The Government have consistently refused to accept that Ealing has inner-city characteristics. That is our major complaint. For example, using the Z score to measure urban deprivation, Ealing, as at 10 December 1986, ranked tenth out of the 23 authorities granted programme status. Ealing has repeatedly been refused that status. In other words, it has been victimised because it is under Labour control.
Since its election in May 1986, Ealing council has attempted to meet the area's needs. It has housed 1,000 homeless families, appointed 140 teachers, and negotiated with the private sector to provide more than 600 new homes for letting to families in priority need. It has started making improvements at the Acton end of the borough that had been held back for many years. Plans are well advanced for the development of Southall town centre and much-needed car parking space has been introduced. The Fenner Brockway centre, an imaginative leisure centre in a disused superstore, has been built. Lord Fenner Brockway was born in India and was a distinguished Member of this House for many years. He has been in the forefront of the struggle for racial harmony in this country.
Labour was elected to provide the services that the people need and to tackle the problems, characteristic of inner cities, of the London borough of Ealing. Those needs were not addressed by the Government. The Government's action in rate-capping the council was specifically designed to force the current administration to adopt the spending policies of the previous council. That was a backward administration and that was why it was soundly defeated and turfed out at the municipal election.
Ealing council has been faced with the dilemma of how to reconcile the needs of the area and the wishes of the electorate for better services with the Government's spending limit with which, as a responsible authority, it felt it had to comply. In very difficult circumstances, the council has managed to set a proper and legal budget while minimising the reduction in the level of service to the community.
The council has stated that there will he no compulsory redundancies. It is determined that no one will be sacked, although those who leave voluntarily are a different matter. None of the measures taken are affected by the recent announcements of the Secretary of State for the Environment. Ealing's budget remains totally lawful, even 605 after the later statement aimed at further limiting the options of those authorities which are trying to tackle inner-city needs, but are being prevented from doing so by the Government's rate-capping and grant-reducing measures.
If the Government are serious about improving the quality of life in the inner cities, they will work with local authorities instead of taking away millions of pounds which they should be spending on maintaining essential services. The Under-Secretary of State's responsibilities include planning matters. I do not know what will be the outcome of the proposals in the "Action for Cities" document, or what it proposes to do by giving powers to urban development corporations. I do not know whether the Minister will be made redundant as a result of that, because it bypasses local authorities and the time-honoured traditional duties imposed upon them in the realm of planning.
That document is a hotch-potch and does not have the characteristics of a White Paper. It is simply a propaganda statement made down the road at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre, which is a very agreeable place. I recently went there in connection with matters relating to Cyprus. It is astonishing that the architect of the document was not present when it was launched in the House of Commons, and complaints were made about that.
Let us imagine a conversation that might have occurred between the Prime Minister and her husband, who said, "Now, look here Margaret. You made specific promises after your election success about tackling the problems of the inner cities. Six months have passed and it is about time that you did something about them. If we retire to the home that we have lined up in Dulwich, you could say that you did your best to carry out your promise in the flush of electoral success."
The document has all the hallmarks of such a scenario. It is unspecific and, for such a major matter, that is not good enough. There was a good deal of substance in the complaint of the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), about the absence of the Prime Minister at that important launch.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Does my hon. Friend remember the old comics, the penny plain and the tuppence coloured? He has the penny plain comic; I have the tuppence coloured. I do not know whether he has seen this one. There is a very fetching picture on page 2 of the right hon. Lady whom he is describing—Mama Doc with soft lighting.
§ Mr. Bidwell
I have been known to put the right hon. Lady in some of my cartoons. I shall not go into graphic details, but no doubt she will be a future subject when we have our art exhibition in July. I do not stick simply to brilliant oil paintings. I dabble in the art of cartoon production as well. The Prime Minister has one of my works, but I shall not go into all the details. Margaret and Sid are already known to each other. My picture caused her to laugh heartily. I did not know that she could laugh heartily, but she did so on that occasion, which showed that I had scored a hit.
When the Minister replies, I hope that he will deal with the problems of the London borough of Ealing. I invite him to come and look at both ends of Ealing. It is a phenomenal place and has a phenomenal Member of 606 Parliament for Ealing, Southall. It is well known that most Members of Parliament are exceedingly modest, so perhaps that will be acceptable.
The Minister knows all about the role of local authorities in planning. We are taken aback by the substance of the proposals. The civil engineers involved with the proposals probably do not live in the inner city. They probably live in the countryside or on the coast. Heads of companies will get together to co-operate in the programme. Some of them are well-known donors to the Conservative party. That will have an effect. I do not know whether a monopoly will result, but sometimes civil engineers are known to get on the telephone and to carve up the situation between them. Sometimes that is done on the golf course.
I shall not suggest other ways in which there can be collusion and collaboration to sustain a high profit level. Certainly there will be no public accountability in the paraphernalia of "Action for Cities". There is a real fear that planning and consultation with those who know about town planning and landscaping to make things pleasant will not take place.
On that score, the House might be interested to know that I received a letter from a Mr. Woodrow, secretary of the Association of Consulting Engineers. It comes from an address in Westminster:
"I note with interest that you will be introducing the subject of inner cities for consideration during the Consolidated Fund Bill tomorrow Thursday 10 March 1988.
The Association of Consulting Engineers is pleased to see that such an important issue is to be debated and would like to draw your attention to the contributions of UK consulting engineers in this area.
We noted the Government's statement at the Press Conference held on Monday 7 March of its intentions regarding 'action for cities'. However, we are concerned that in this process of regeneration of urban areas construction should be appropriate to the longer-term benefit of the community and that temptations of short-term thinking in cost cutting exercises are not considered.
I enclose for your information and use a copy of our paper 'New Images for Cities' which sets out the critical part consulting engineers expect to play in the revitalisation of the nation's cities."
Of course, these engineers may be after a quick buck —I do not know—but there is a great deal of substance in what they say. There is also a certain amount of fear about what is proposed in "Action for Cities". It will land us in difficulties because it will not take into consideration the time-honoured planning system in which the feelings of local people are of prime importance. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. The hon. Member for Acton said that Labour-controlled authorities would be queuing up to get in on this scheme and obtain financial assistance. Of course they will if it develops into anything of substance, but we are sceptical about it, set, as it is, against the massive needs of London.
There are depressing things all over London. The other day I travelled to the TUC demonstration in Hyde park, where worries about the National Health Service were expressed. I went on the Central line from Ealing to Marble Arch. I am sure that the track on which that train travels — I speak as an ex-railway worker — is long overdue for replacement or renovation. The vehicle lurched badly, and I do not know whether the rolling stock 607 requires renovation too, but that sort of thing will not be done under "Action for Cities". It is sorely needed. London's cluttered roads and desperate housing problems will not be solved by it, either. In my part of London there is a rising generation of young people whose mums and dads came from the Punjab and who stand no hope of getting decent housing as things stand, and the proposals will not help them.
The Chancellor will shortly make a speech. I do not know what money he will allocate to this scheme or how he will face the enormous problems that are developing, especially in London. One of the leading members of the Prime Minister's Cabinet at the launch of the scheme was the Home Secretary. The crime rate has been rising ever since the Tories came to power in 1979, and that certainly has much to do with the high rate of unemployment and enforced idleness among young people. Crime and unemployment go together, yet time and again the Prime Minister has denied that there was any connection —until she was finally forced to agree that perhaps there was some connection.
The whole country — inner cities, outer cities, urban areas and villages — needs extra public expenditure. "Action for Cities" is trivial compared with the gigantic problems that exist. We shall see whether the Chancellor goes for tax relief for high incomes and befriends the rich, or makes proposals that will lead to a real solution of the great problems that beset the people of the capital.
§ 9.4 pm
§ Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton)
I congratulate my parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) on his success in the ballot and on choosing this important subject for debate. I endorse his invitation to my hon. Friend the Minister to come to the London borough of Ealing. My hon. Friend will find a confident west London suburb emerging fast from the recession. In my constituency he will find a new confidence in investment, the Park Royal estate bustling with activity, and plans for two shopping centres, one of which will be wholly funded by the private sector. He will find the streets covered with skips and buildings covered with scaffolding, showing that the construction industry has work under way.
The renewed confidence in the borough owes nothing to the Labour-controlled local authority which last year put up the rates by 58 per cent. In spite of its recruitment, the authority is taking an unprecedented time to process the planning applications that will generate even more jobs in the borough. My hon. Friend will find the incidence of squatting going up on local authority estates and he will see delays in dealing with maintenance and management of those estates.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will wish to speak in more detail about the activities in the borough of Ealing. I reiterate the invitation to my hon. Friend the Minister, and hope that he will visit some of the successful and expanding firms in my constituency as well as those in Ealing, North. I shall be brief, and if I cannot stay in my place after I have finished my speech, it will be because I have duties upstairs in the Committee examining the Local Government Finance Bill.
The statement on inner cities made on Monday was a confident one and, for three reasons, is likely to prelude regeneration. First, the statement was made against a 608 background of economic recovery. Many of the previous initiatives on inner cities were made against a background of recession and, inevitably, had to swim against economic tide. Inner-city economies have been vulnerable and exposed to that recession.
That has now changed. There is a real appetite for investment in the inner cities and as I have travelled around the country, I have been enormously encouraged by how much of the investment is in industrial activity as well as in commerce and services. The background to Monday's statement is far more positive than the background to similar initiatives in previous years.
Secondly, the basis of partnership is now much better developed. When we started on the whole process of partnership in the inner cities, there were two cultures that did not understand each other. One had the private sector looking for quick decisions, looking at profit-orientated projects and trying to relate to the rather slow, leisurely six-week cycle of the local authority dealing in a partisan, political atmosphere with socially responsible projects. It has taken time for those two cultures to get to know each other and to understand better each other's needs. The whole regime introduced by the Department — urban regeneration grant, urban development grant and the urban programme—has forced the two sides to work together and to climb the learning curve together. Partnership is no longer an aspiration but a reality.
The third reason for greater confidence relates to the local authorities. Here, one has to distinguish between the rhetoric and the reality. The reality is that, in 1979, the mainly Labour-controlled local authorities thought that the Conservative Administration were here for about four years and that then it would be business as usual.
In those days, such authorities had a real ability to obstruct Government initiatives in the inner cities. Now the balance of power has swung the other way. The metropolitan county councils are no more, and urban development corporations have been established. The local authority empire is faced with competition from housing action trusts, opted-out schools, urban development corporations and so on. The morale of the far Left in the inner cities was destroyed by the result of the last general election. It has been virtually disowned by its own party and is quite happy to deal with the Government and to work with them on their own terms to regenerate the inner city.
§ Sir George Young
Opposition Members may say that that is rubbish, but local authorities such as those in Manchester and Islington are quite prepared to talk to the private sector and to put in joint applications for development grants in order to get worthwhile projects going in their areas.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Is the hon. Member aware that in October the Association of London Authorities sent a delegation to see the Secretary of State and offered a partnership between the boroughs and the Department of the Environment, and that it was rejected out of hand by the Secretary of State? Does the hon. Gentleman really welcome more and more local authority functions being taken away from democratically controlled councils and handed over to appointed bodies and the services run by Tory business men?
§ Sir George Young
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was at the meeting. I certainly was not. My hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate was there and it is probably best if I leave him to deal with that.
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that, yes, I welcome the opportunity for housing action trusts to turn round difficult to let, difficult to manage estates where the local authority has failed for decades to address itself to those problems. I welcome the opportunity of bringing in private sector capital to make faster progress, rather than simply leaving the local authority to do it out of its own resources.
The most significant fact on Monday was that the Prime Minister staked her credibility and reputation on making progress in the inner cities. I am sure that the Prime Minister will want to go back this year and next year to the sites that she has been visiting over the past few months, and that she will want to see progress. The political imperatives for making progress in the inner city and getting projects going are far stronger than they have ever been.
Given the number of Government initiatives in the inner city, we have to address the problem of how to coordinate them at the local level. There are likely now to be in the inner city MSC projects, some urban regeneration projects, some opted-out schools and some city technology colleges — a whole range of welcome initiatives. Some mechanism will have to be developed for managing these and it strikes me that the Thamesmead trust and the Stockbridge village trust may provide the model for getting local participation in the management of these new initiatives. Even greater efforts than have been made so far are needed to win the confidence of the local people. I see the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) in his place, and he may wish to develop the theme of the London Docklands development corporation.
New UDCs are being set up in areas that are more heavily populated than the docklands, and I am sure that they will wish to involve local people as much as possible in the discussions about the progress of the area, the direction it is to take and, where possible, the management of change.
The final point that I want to make relates to the whole business of getting private capital. This Administration have much to boast of in getting the private sector to invest in projects which hitherto have been the responsibility of the public sector. The extension of the docklands light railway to the City is being funded privately. The Dartford river crossing is being funded privately. The Channel tunnel, which 10 years ago was to be a public sector project, is now being funded privately. But I think that even more progress can be made in getting the private sector to fund more of the infrastructure in the inner city.
I know that there is a long and somewhat theological debate with the Treasury on what is and what is not public expenditure. Progress has been made by the Department in housing, where the housing associations can now borrow privately without the whole amount spent on a project scoring as public expenditure. I hope that we can make even more progress in getting the private sector in renovating the infrastructure in the inner city.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier), whose appointment has been so warmly welcomed by all those who interest themselves in the inner city, that if we can complement the resources that the Government have made available by even more 610 from the private sector, there really will be an opportunity to make such fast progress in transforming the inner city that the whole debate about whether it should be public or private will be made redundant.
So I regard Monday's statement as a positive one, against a background of growing confidence built on real partnership and, in spite of the rhetoric, with many local authorities willing to collaborate. At the end of the day those who live and work in the inner city will be grateful for what was announced on Monday.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
I listened with great care to the statement made on Monday about inner-city policy, and I do not rise to rubbish everything that the Government are doing. The statement was characterised by bringing together many of the things that the Government intended to do anyway and trying to dress them up as an inner-city policy, rather than being an original initiative to deal with the deep-seated and intractable problems that we face.
I spent four years going to virtually every inner-city partnership area in the country, from Gateshead to Brixton, Islington, and so on. The more one looks at the problem of the inner city, the more one realises that it is an intractable problem and that there are not solutions that are common to all areas of the country. One must look carefully at the problem because there is not a single solution to it, and one must choose between one project or another.
I am becoming convinced that the only way to make progress is by means of a partnership. Having looked at the matter in great detail, I do not believe that local authorities on their own are capable of creating the same amount of wealth as a partnership. We must devise projects in the inner cities that create wealth as well as consume it.
In some London boroughs, if a developer wants to develop a site and sends out a local search to find out whether there are any planning restrictions on the site, it may be 20 to 26 weeks before he receives a reply saying whether he can buy the land. That is not a very good start if one is thinking of setting up an enterprise in an inner-city area.
If someone makes an application for planning permission to build—this is the case in Tory boroughs such as Wandsworth and Westminster as much as it is in boroughs such as Lambeth or Southwark—which itself creates jobs and which may create permanent jobs afterwards, he may have to wait six or nine months for the result of his application.
Those are examples of schemes that are within the scope of local authorities, which perhaps are not as geared as they should be to the creation of new jobs and enterprise in inner-city areas.
Often, business and commerce take no account of the needs of the local population. Therefore, there must be a partnership between local authorities, Government, industry, trade unions, and sometimes academic skills, to serve the needs of the community, realising that each has an appropriate part to play.
I said that the problems are intractable, but some of the main problems that I experience in my constituency are concerned with poverty. If we were to eliminate poverty, there would not be any inner-city problems. For all that is said about extending the A13 and so on, there are mixed 611 races and cultures in St. John's Wood, but there is no poverty. In consequence, St. John's Wood is not a programme authority. It does not experience problems with housing, behaviour and so on, because it has wealth.
What distinguishes the inner-city problem more than anything else is poverty, which is the creation of the Government. In my constituency, unemployment has trebled since the Government took office in 1979. One quarter of the population are on social security benefits, two-thirds of them are on housing benefit and about 25 per cent. of the male population are unemployed. I use the male figure because it is often a more accurate reflection of unemployment than the female figure. Poverty is at the root of the problem. If the Government stopped creating poverty, as they have by the changes in housing benefit rules, some contribution would be made.
There is the most intolerable housing shortage in inner-city areas, which has been made deliberately worse by the Government. The problem in areas such as Brixton, Islington and Hackney is not that people want to leave the areas, but that many people want to move into them. Those people who want to move into them have a lot of money and are forcing the price of houses up beyond the reach of ordinary people. The only way to provide for the 20,000 people on the housing list, the thousands that are homeless and the hundreds that are in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in my borough, is for the Government to restore the levels of investment in the housing investment programme to allow homes to be built to rent. This would allow people to Ike in dignity, which would eliminate another element in the inner-city formula for deprivation, deep unhappiness and distress.
The problem of the inner city, particularly in London, is often characterised by appallingly high levels of crime, and high levels of alcohol and drug abuse. Any metropolitan, cosmopolitan area is difficult because of the conflict in people's values. It is clear from some estates that some people think that graffiti is an art form. Indeed, the Greater London council spent money on encouraging graffiti—[Interruption.] If it did not, I apologise.
Some people think that graffiti is a great art form, but others do not. Neighbours often have conflicting values about the nature of their environment, and when there are conflicting values it is difficult to get a cohesive community working together. People have conflicting ideas and attitudes towards the police. I am not condemning any view; I am simply describing a conflict. There is also a conflict about people's attitudes towards litter and so on.
In the inner cities, in addition to investing money, we must try to establish a cohesive and stable community working together. The Government do nothing to encourage that. My borough gives 40 or 50 per cent. of its inner-city money to voluntary projects which try to bring the community together and give it a sense of dignity, self-respect and self-reliance. The Government accompanied their great announcement by cutting our inner-city partnership money in Lambeth by 10 per cent. year on year. We have lost about £1.25 million in inner-city partnership money as a result of the Goverment's attitude. All our efforts to build a cohesive community and a common set of values are being destroyed by rate-capping inner-city policies.
As many other hon. Members wish to speak, I shall make just one more point. The Government have tended to concentrate their fire on the development of land, not on people. It is very easy to take an empty area such as the 612 docklands and say that it is a raging success. It is a raging success, but it is not such a success for the people who live there.
If we took any inner-city area within two or three miles of the City of London and drove out all the people from the centre of Islington, Brixton or Hackney and said that the land was for sale to those who are rich and want to be a few miles away from the City of London, we could make a raging success of those areas. However, we would have exploited the land and the people. It is all very well to take riverside land that has a high value and, if enough money is spent, has a high amenity value, and say that it is a success. I regard an inner-city policy as a success if it addresses itself to improving the dignity and wealth of the people, instead of the value of the land and those who are not deprived and who settle upon it.
§ Mrs. Maureen Hicks (Wolverhampton, North-East)
I welcome the debate and start by congratulating the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) on his choice of subject, although I regret that we might part company at that point.
Having listened to a rather depressing introduction to the subject, I have to ask, where is the hon. Gentleman's vision, imagination and initiative for the inner cities? When I heard the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the night of the general election, I was overjoyed by the fact that she was singling out the inner cities as a problem that we should pinpoint, highlight and alleviate.
I am afraid that too much of the debate so far has concentrated—as so many Opposition Members choose to do on these subjects—on money. I should like to take us back to the problem of people and their lives. Essentially, that is what we are discussing.
On Monday, the Prime Minister initiated a situation whereby she has taken the strands of inner-city life, housing, education, employment and law and order and brought them together under one umbrella with the overall aim to improve the quality of life of those people who hitherto have often felt abandoned. I see "Action for Cities" as an exciting initiative. We have to provide hope, initiative and leadership in those areas. Financial backing of £3 billion and the establishment of 57 inner-city centres are no mean achievements; however, such initiatives demand leadership. The heart has gone out of the people, and the hope that they once had has been replaced by despair. Even if we do nothing else, we as a Government must inspire those people to want to help their community.
Opposition Members may say that it all started on Monday, but they know as well as I do that our attention was drawn to the inner cities a long time ago. Without a healthy economy, it is impossible to take any initiatives. In my constituency, I have had the benefit of a task force, and an inner city area grant of £5 million this year. The urban development corporation has been extended, with another £15 million, and we also have the £160 million urban development corporation in the black country.
On top of that, the Government agreed on Monday to a £50 million injection into a black country spine road. Without the roads, the business cannot be brought in, and unless the business is brought in, the jobs cannot be created. Those strands all depend on one another, but for too long they have worked in isolation.
613 I see one barrier to our progress, and I speak from experience of my constituency. That is the problem of law and order. Unless we tackle that underlying problem, some of our initiatives will not achieve the success that they deserve. In my area, which has had 16 years of Labour control, people who live in high-rise flats feel abandoned; they feel like prisoners. They view their homes as no-go areas, because they have experienced deplorable estate management.
The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) talked of homelessness. We have thousands of empty council houses and flats in my area, which we cannot give away. No one wants them, because they have been allowed to run down to such a degree that it would take a considerable sum to return them to being habitable. The area has become unpopular. It is a disgrace, when thousands are on council waiting lists, that there should be properties available which they will not consider renting. I welcome schemes such as Estate Action and the housing action trusts. The Government are bringing in new money and initiatives to return properties to use and find homes for the people who need them.
It is deplorable—here I revert to the problem of law and order—if, having provided homes, we allow the mindless minority to come in and ruin those areas by vandalising them. The wheel has turned full circle, and we have found no solution.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
The hon. Lady is describing a phenomenon of which many of us would disapprove. But does she deny that one of the major purposes, hidden or obvious, of the housing legislation now going through the House is to increase the cost of housing on the open market? The hon. Lady started by saying that it was not a matter of money, but surely that is what it is all about.
§ Mrs. Hicks
I think that the hon. Gentleman is getting away from the point. We are talking about homelessness and the problems of inner-city areas, and about the need to give those who cannot afford to buy the opportunity to rent properties which they can guarantee will be well managed. If the local authorities have not been able to provide the necessary management of estates and finances, we cannot criticise the Government for coming in to assist.
The safer cities initiative, involving eight inner cities in the next 12 months and 20 over the next three years, seeks to combine the efforts of the police, the community, businesses and voluntary groups, all working for a safer and better community.
We shall get the concierges and entry phones into the high-rise flats, and we shall do all in our power to deter the offenders. But what is the point of all that if we cannot inject pride into a community? It is difficult to restore pride in anyone who has lived in a high-rise flat or who has been scared to go outside the home or to let the children play in a nearby park.
We have 330 neighbourhood watch schemes in my area and 420 business watch schemes. They are partnerships, and the safer city scheme will also be a partnership whereby each of the groups involved will work for a common end. That initiative will be funded by the Government but run locally to bring those strands together.
614 Some people rubbish some of the initiatives in "Action for Cities". I see that it is compulsive reading on the Opposition Benches—almost a best seller, except that it is free, unlike some Labour publications. I for one have put in my bid for a safer city initiative for Wolverhampton.
We must give heart and hope. It would be wrong for the Opposition to be destructive. There are initiatives after initiatives, which never existed years ago. I ask the Opposition to join me at least in having the honesty and vision to welcome these measures.
We should all welcome the togetherness that we are trying to foster between schools and industry and the voluntary sector and the police. We should welcome the efforts to try to give our young people a sense of pride.
One of the nicest things that has happened to me since I came to the House last June was when 14 young people from Wolverhampton visited me last week. As the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) knows only too well, Wolverhampton suffers from a great deal of bad publicity, but those 14 young ladies were here to receive their Duke of Edinburgh gold awards. I told them that they were showing an initiative in their local community. Too often we hear about the glue-sniffing parties and truancy. We almost have a down on our young people.
We should capture such initiative in our inner cities. If we lose such people when they are young, we lose them for life. The wheel turns full circle and they contribute to the sort of problems we are now experiencing in our inner cities. If we get the opportunity to encourage the police to visit their schools, we should do so. I know that some Labour Members disagree with that philosophy, but we must start educating people for future life in the inner cities so that they will respond and appreciate the environment in which they live.
I hope that all hon. Members will join me in welcoming the initiatives. I hope that they will try to foster togetherness and leadership in our community, and try to get people back to work. The west midlands has the highest success rate in getting people back to work. We should welcome the training initiatives and the initiatives that seek to provide skills for the young unemployed in the community, to help improve the quality of life, and, above all, to help make inner cities a safer place to live.
It is no good just throwing more policemen in. We have 19,000 more now than in 1979. That is no solution. Money and people are not always the answer. No matter how much money and people are thrown into the inner cities, unless attitudes are improved and hope and motivation restored to create a sense of pride, we might as well forget the problem in the first place. I ask hon. Members please to join me in welcoming the initiatives and let us get to the roots of inner city deprivation.
§ Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
I listened with great attention to the Minister's statement on "Action for Cities" on Monday. Since then I have read the document many times and believe that it would be better called "Inaction for Cities". It contains no proposals for new money for the communities; it contains no new proposals. As has been said, a bunch of initiatives that would have taken place anyway have been grouped together into what is fundamentally a PR initiative.
On Monday the Minister challenged Labour Members to say what we disagree with in the document. The thrust 615 of our disagreement is with the omissions from the document, which are manifold. After the Minister's statement and the questions on it, I came away with a strong sense of insult. In the morning, the Prime Minister and six Ministers held a press conference to launch the document, yet in the afternoon we got a statement only because of pressure from my hon. Friends, and the Prime Minister was not here.
That reflected the lack of seriousness about the democratic process and was an insult to the House. If the statement was important enough to warrant the presence of the Prime Minister and six Ministers in the morning, it was important enough to warrant the Prime Minister's presence in the House that afternoon.
§ Mr. Spearing
Conservative Members have lauded the quality, availability and free access to the document "Action for Cities", but the document—superficial though it may be—would not have been available in the House on Monday afternoon if it had not been for the action of a Labour Member.
§ Ms. Abbott
I am able to confirm that I was present when the Labour Member took the action which made the document available. The initiative was an insult to the House, first because of the manner of its launching and secondly because of the lack of availability of the document. The document is an insult to the inner cities because it is almost entirely a PR initiative. If Conservative Members and Ministers were serious about tackling the problems of the inner cities, they would be talking about cash. If it were anything more than hypocrisy, they would be giving London its money back.
Since the Government have been in office, London has lost £7,000 million in rate support grant. The initiative is nothing but cant and hypocrisy, designed to delude no one. The Government shed crocodile tears about the inner cities but money has been systematically drained from them and given to the shires. Since 1979, some £8,000 million has been lost by London for spending on housing, which is the equivalent of 150,000 new homes. How can the Government talk about their concern for the inner cities when millions and millions of pounds have been drained away? The amounts of money talked about in the document do not begin to compensate for the money lost as a result of the Government's policies.
The initiative was an insult not only to the House and inner cities but to the black and ethnic minority communities of the inner cities, who make up a large part of the population. We have made and are making a valuable and important contribution to inner-city life, but Conservative Members think that we are invisible. I have read the document three times and I can see only one mention of black and ethnic minorities in a reference to the need to recruit more black and Asian police officers. It appears that, far from taking a constructive, positive attitude to the inner cities, the Government see at least one segment of the population purely as a law and order problem.
With regard to the inner cities, the document contains no mention of the black and ethnic minority communities, of multiracial communities, of the contribution made by 616 the black and ethnic minority communities or of the importance of guaranteeing fair access to social services and housing to black and ethnic minority people. How can the Government talk about a stable and flourishing community in the inner city if black and ethnic minority people do not believe that they get fair access to housing and social services?
§ Ms. Abbott
Perhaps the Minister will allow me to finish making my point.
All kinds of documents and research show that the black and ethnic minority communities are not receiving fair access to services in the inner cities. A Government who talk about rebuilding the inner cities, about flourishing inner cities and about a serious inner-city programme, yet believe that black and ethnic minority people can be ignored cannot believe that their initiatives will be taken seriously.
§ Mr. Trippier
The hon. Lady's remarks are quite scurrilous. She is well aware of the responsibility of project Fullemploy. I hope that she has heard of Linbert Spencer and indeed she has probably even met him. She will be well aware that Project Fullemploy concentrates on the black community. I hope that she will also be aware that it is actively sponsored by major Government Departments. Has she counted the number of times that project Fullemploy is mentioned in the document?
§ Ms. Abbott
I hope that the Minister will allow me to continue, as I gave way to him for some minutes.
I can only go by what is written in the document. The attention in the document to the multi-ethnic communities in our inner cities is entirely derisory. The black and ethnic minority communities outside the House have taken note of how we are perceived as invisible by the Government.
The document contains no mention of fair access to services and there is no serious mention of black business and enterprise. What will the Government do about black business and enterprise? What are they going to do about the well-documented problems that black and ethnic minority business people have about access to capital? What will they do to give practical help and support to black business enterprise? I see nothing in the glossy 32-page document about that.
§ Mr. Trippier
I am now convinced that the hon. Lady has not read the document carefully. If she had, she would have seen that as a result of changes made by the Department of Employment to the loan guarantee scheme, only in the 57 programme authorities, there has been an increase in the Government guarantee part of the small loans guarantee scheme which is a clear recognition of the problems facing many small businesses run by black people in getting loans from the bank. That is a specific measure designed to help those people. It is in the document.
§ Ms. Abbott
If the measure is specifically designed to help black and ethnic minority business men, why was it not spelt out in the document. Are you telling me—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Lady, but she continues to use the word "you". That is me.
§ Ms. Abbott
I apologise, Mr. Speaker.
If the measure is aimed specifically at black and ethnic minority business, why is that not spelt out in the document? This point seems to have got under the Minister's skin. The treatment and references to the black and ethnic minority community in the document are derisory and run contrary to the whole trend of inner city and urban policies of the past 20 years. That appears to reflect a complete lack of seriousness on the Government's part when it comes to inner city problems.
Black and ethnic minority communities want to know what the Government will do about issues like contract compliance. What will the Government do to ensure that local jobs and local contracts go to local people including black and ethnic minority people? The Government cannot talk seriously about the problems in the inner cities unless the issues affecting black and ethnic minority people are addressed seriously. That is a gaping omission in the document. Conservative Members, especially the Minister, should be ashamed of themselves.
The document was an insult to the House and the inner cities and a calculated insult to the black and ethnic minority communities who, inasmuch as the inner cities have flourished, developed and made money, have contributed to that. They deserve to be respected and treated properly.
The document is also an insult to everyone with intelligence. We should get behind that glossy PR document, with its picture on page two of "Mama Doc" in soft focus—as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) described it—and think just for a few minutes about the Government's real programme for the inner cities. In a sense, the document is irrelevant because, to find out the Government's real programme for the inner cities, one need only look to the city of Westminster, a local authority of which I have some experience because I was fortunate enough to serve as a member for four years.
Conservative Members have told us about the Government's housing proposals about how they are designed to help the people of the inner cities and to introduce choice and about how the Government's new Housing Bill, with its housing action trusts, will help people in the inner cities. Hon. Members may not know what Westminster council does or know about its current housing policies — the kind of policies that the Government wish to introduce throughout the country with their housing action trusts.
Westminster council is selling off between one third and one half of its council properties to anyone who can prove the most tenuous connection with the city of Westminster. That is what it is doing in an area where it has not housed anyone on the waiting list for many years and where house prices are so high that no person on an average income has access to housing on the private market. For the ordinary person, council housing offers the only hope of getting a home. The council is selling off its council houses to anyone with cash in hand.
What are the council's proposals for the poor and homeless of the inner city? The answer is to build prefabricated housing on the outskirts of London. Westminster's housing policies for its poor and homeless 618 amount to bringing yuppies in and shipping the poor and homeless out. That is the reality of the Government's housing policy for the inner city. Buildings may be built and renovated, but the Government will not help people.
To see the real face of this Government's initiative for the inner city one should look at Westminster's cemeteries. Burying the dead has been a basic function of local authorities since time immemorial, but such is the humanitarian and caring face of Conservative local authorities that there is the appalling spectacle of a local authority selling off three cemeteries for a total of 15p.
That has been a disgraceful, squalid episode. Councillors have had to resign. The fraud squad has been brought in and Westminster council has been forced to try to buy the cemeteries back. We hear a lot from Conservative Members about the failings of local authorities. We want just one Conservative Member to condemn Westminster for peddling the dead. Westminster's actions have caused shock and outrage not just throughout Westminster but throughout London.
The Government's policies do nothing for the poor of the inner cities and everything to line other people's pockets. Overall, the Government's policies focus on taking powers away from people through their local authorities and giving more power to central Government. They take as their theme the development of buildings and not the development of people.
It has been said that the heart has gone out of the people of the inner city. To the extent that that is true, the reason for it is to be found in the way in which the Government have systematically drained money and resources away from the inner cities and stripped people's representative bodies — their local authorities — of powers. It has to do with the callousness and lack of concern that the Government have shown for the people of the inner city.
What could be more symbolic of that callousness and lack of concern than this wholly superficial, cynical and calculating PR exercise, which will do not one jot of help poor people in my constituency of Hackney? It ignores many of the most pressing problems such as public transport and the problems of black and ethnic minorities. This PR exercise will do nothing for my people and I only hope that in the months and years to come the Government will put some real work into the inner cities.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
If the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) would like to know how 18 Conservative Members stand on the question of the Finchley, Mill Hill and Hanwell cemeteries, perhaps she will look at early-day motion 737, which shows our determination to ensure that these cemeteries are properly looked after. A number of my former constituents are buried in Hanwell cemetery, and I am deeply concerned about its sale. I remind the hon. Lady, with respect, that in the winter of discontent of 1979, during the dying months of the Labour Government, the dead were left unburied, sometimes for weeks on end. What a terrible and wicked thing that was. No one in that Government seemed to care or to do much about the problem for a very long time.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell), my neighour, on securing this debate and on his choice of subject. If I cannot stay for the whole of the debate, it is because this very evening I shall be helping 619 a number of constituents to set up an enterprise in my constituency. I missed the hon. Gentleman's speech in the debate on rate capping because I had to attend two public meetings in my constituency — one seeking to raise £120,000 to keep a scout facility going, and the other concerned with traffic in the Perivale hospital area.
I know a difficult area when I see one. I believe that Ealing council would do much better for our borough if it spoke positively about the area rather than in the depressing terms adopted by the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall this evening. I fought three general elections in east London, and I taught and lived in east London for a time. I know the area well. I also lived in a difficult part of Birmingham for a time, and I know that area well.
I was deputy headmaster of a boy's school of 1,100 pupils in King's Cross. I taught there for 12 years before going on to Lewisham to a mixed school of 2,200 pupils. At the King's Cross comprehensive we had pupils of 65 nationalities, and in Lewisham we had pupils of 95 nationalities. I am very accustomed, therefore, to seeing people from many backgrounds, and I know the problems and opportunities that arise in such a situation.
We all respect the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall, but when he talks in such a depressing manner about the borough of Ealing—as Ealing council does — I am prompted to say to him that he should talk up Ealing, as I always will. We have easy access to the M1, M25, M4 and M40, and a wonderful infrastructure of roads. We are near Heathrow and Gatwick airports. We have excellent rail and bus services. Ealing has all the infrastructure that any thriving community, or potentially thriving community, should look for.
The hon. Member for Southall did not mention my constituency, where unemployment is 6 per cent. below the national average, and would have been a great deal better if we had not suffered the imposition of a 57.1 per cent. rate increase on our industry in the current financial year. In such an area, there is no limit to the growth that can be achieved by the enterprise of our own people. Ealing has a wonderful community of people, who are hard-working, industrious and determined. However, Ealing needs a council that will enable them to go ahead, because with that they would do so.
§ Mr. Bidwell
I do not want to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman, but he knows as well as I do that one of the most pressing problems that we meet in our local surgeries is housing. The situation is desperate throughout the borough of Ealing. It is all very well having easy access to motorways and the employment available at London airport, which these days is a major employer, but there is considerable misery and gross overcrowding in both the hon. Gentleman's constituency and mine. Those problems must be tackled. The Government have been in office for nine years, but what have they been doing for those nine years if they now need to introduce an innovation of this kind? Where have the Government been for nine years?
§ Mr. Greenway
I was coming to the very point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. It is kind of him not to be unkind to me, but he is not normally unkind to people, which is much appreciated.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question of housing. I had every intention of saying some words about that. When the present administration in Ealing, which has been in office for nearly two years but is still pleased to call itself 620 "the new council", came into office in 1986, there were 30 families on the homeless families waiting list. One of the first things that the council did was to abolish residence points and to suck people on to the Ealing homeless list, from far and wide. Those people are given the same priority for access to housing as those who have lived locally all their lives and been born and bred in Ealing, or who have lived there for a considerable time. That fact causes tremendous local resentment, which I understand. We now have a homeless list of 1,000. Ealing is the soft touch of the country, and everybody knows it.
Expenditure on homelessness has increased from £300,000 in 1986 to £14 million in the current year. Why does the hon. Gentleman not talk about that imposition? It was imposed by Ealing council on our borough. Why does he not talk about the difficulties presented by that for the local scene that must finance it?
One could build on every blade of grass in the London borough of Ealing—indeed, I am not sure that the council would not like to do that—but that would not solve the problem caused by the number of people who are being attracted into the borough by that extraordinary policy of open house and, "Come here, whoever you are, and we will house you." Ealing council is seeking to build on 16 acres of superb playing fields at Cayton road in Greenford. That land is needed for pupils' recreation. People have to live, and they must have land. That policy is wrong; it is gross vandalism.
There are 208 allotments left in Northolt, but Ealing council seeks to build on many of them. The people's way of life is being destroyed. Every year I go to different shows, such as flower and vegetable shows, at which all the produce comes from people's allotments. This way of life is important. If inner-city regeneration is to do anything, it must give people access to such land, not take it from them; otherwise, the people's way of life will be destroyed.
Last Friday, after my long surgery, I took the chair at a spontaneous public meeting at the Hanwell community centre. The meeting was absolutely packed to the doors. Labour councillors attended and at times they were roundly attacked because they want to remove a complete lung from that community—in an already over-built area. We must have a rational approach towards housing policy. The miles of docklands and other similar areas are ideal places on which to build the necessary extra new housing. Suitable infrastructure could be provided so that people could travel to work. That is far better than building on every blade of grass in Ealing, the "queen of the suburbs."
Housing policy is important, and I believe that the council should be much quicker in letting empty properties. The other week some people came to my surgery and told me that a flat down the road had been empty for 14 months. They have asked for that flat six times, but have been refused. That is terribly wrong.
The hon. Member for Southall spoke of the need for more cash. Is he aware that on 26 February the council issued a job advertisement for part-time assistants for the gay and lesbian rights officer, at a salary of £8,000?
§ Mr. Greenway
It is no good running away from the facts—that council is still recruiting.
The hon. Member for Southall spoke of 600 new council homes in Ealing. He did not mention that those 621 houses are part of housing developments that were established by the Conservative council under private enterprise. Those houses have now been taken over by a housing association scheme—250 of those homes are in my constituency. Such a scheme would now be illegal. The tenants will never have the right to buy, yet people cherish that right. The council has taken that right away, and that deals a massive blow to inner-city regeneration and people's sense of ambition.
§ Mr. Greenway
I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman owns his own home. Why are other people to be denied that right?
The council is spending millions of pounds a year on its own publicity. It regularly publishes a magazine called "Voices"; no one likes it, and it is full of Labour party propaganda. Currently, the council is sending out "Ealing Housing News". The Minister for Housing and Planning recently said that this paper would not pass the new code for truth that is being established. It is designed to put the shockers on every council tenant, and it is mendacious. No council tenant need cease to be a council tenant if he or she does not wish to do so, but that paper states the opposite.
I note that the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) is holding aloft the Government document "Action for Cities". Obviously he is trying to develop his muscles, and good for him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) spoke about the delays that industrialists face when trying to get approval for new building schemes, but, he did not quantify that delay. Last week one of my constituents came to see me. He wants to build a new facility at his factory that will employ 100 people. His application will not see the light of day at the council for six months. He needs to get that planning approval within six weeks at the outside. The money is there, the jobs are there, and the work is there. What he needs is a council that will wake up and approve that plan.
A council that increased the rates on the Lyons Group of companies by £600,000 in the current year cannot be surprised that between 60 and 70 people may become redundant as a result in the next few weeks. The group cannot put up its prices any more. Sales of its products are not increasing, so the extra rates will have to come from employment.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman will know that Ealing's expenditure went up by about 20 per cent., but the result of the withdrawal of rate support grant exaggerated that increase to one of about 60 per cent. The Government were therefore responsible for 40 per cent. of that increase and the local authority for 20 per cent. Which does the hon. Gentleman condemn more—the Government, or the local authority?
§ Mr. Greenway
That is a totally false argument. The council deliberately increased industrial rates by 57.1 per cent. That put £450,000 on Taylor Woodrow's rates. To stand still, Taylor Woodrow has to generate another £15 million-worth of work. It will not make a penny out of that. It will not gain one extra job, but, to pay the rate increase, it will have to find an extra £15 million-worth of work from somewhere.
622 The Labour party claims to care so much about the Health Service, as we have heard from the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), yet the council increased Ealing hospital's rates by £00B7;5 million.
At the other end of the spectrum, a small company up the road from my office faced a rate increase of £5,000, which meant that one job out of five was lost. Rate increases cost jobs, and people concerned with the inner cities and partnership schemes must face that. An area will lose its resilience and its purchasing ability if the council increases ordinary people's rates by 65 per cent. If people have to pay their money to the town hall, they cannot make purchases from shops or factories to keep employment going.
§ Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West)
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a correlation between the problems caused by rate increases in such places as Ealing and the fact that firms are driven out to the surrounding shire counties and cause problems by exerting pressure for development on green belt land, which leads to the overheating of local markets? Therefore, bad news for Ealing is bad news for other places, too.
§ Mr. Greenway
My hon. Friend makes his point very well.
I had the foresight to initiate the Ealing enterprise agency. This is a superb institution, financed almost entirely by the private sector with a very small donation from Ealing council. It is an enterprise scheme at the centre of which is an individual who has a great understanding of industry and has handled several hundred inquiries in the two years since the agency was set up.
My hon. Friend the Minister was central to that initiative. He took the trouble to come to Greenford to help me establish the agency. It has gone from strength to strength and, by now, thousands of jobs have been generated as a result. Without those jobs, the borough would look pretty sick, having suffered so much as a result of the council's actions.
Finally, I warmly welcome the link between schools and industry. It is overdue and must be the way forward for more jobs and better motivated pupils. If pupils can leave school with a proper work ethic, generated by knowing what industry expects of them, and having seen that by visiting factories, they will be much better contributors to industry. That is a vital leg of the Government's excellent programme.
§ 10.9 pm
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
The title of the now much-quoted document issued on Monday was "Action for Cities" but I fear, having read it, that it is action that risks communities—and that is how I would criticise it.
People in my office have been through it today to see how many times local authorities are mentioned in it. They are mentioned four times. Page 5 says:This does not mean leaving it all to the local authorities".That is a mention that merely excludes them. They are mentioned again on page 15, on which Tyne and Wear county council appears. Page 14 mentions them again in a negative way:National land registers have been introduced by the Government to highlight unused land owned by local authorities and other public bodies.Lastly, they are mentioned on page 18 which refers to 623Home Office demonstration projects",and lists a few places—Bolton, Croydon, North Tyneside, Swansea and Wellingborough—where the projects brought togetherpolice, probation, local authorities, voluntary organisations and the private sector.Local authorities are not mentioned at all in the index.
That is clear evidence of how local councils are ignored in "Action for Cities", and that is its first and major flaw.
My second criticism is that the document confirms that local elected government is ignored, but unelected replacements proliferate. There are to be another development corporation, two more city action teams and other variations of those of a lesser type. So local government is excluded, quangos are increased and there is no mention of what we in London would welcome and have asked for for a long time—parish or community councils like those we used to have and which the rest of the country has. We regularly give the Government an opportunity to legislate to allow parish or community councils in London, but that opportunity has once again not been taken.
If the Government really wanted to give power to local, natural communities, they could start to allow us that power by amending the law. I ask the Minister seriously to consider that. It would greatly help people to feel that they had power again instead of suffering from the exclusion of power which the document makes it clear is more likely.
Not only hon. Members such as I criticise the document. It has not had a very good press. The Financial Times is hardly a Left-wing newspaper, yet it said: "On inspection,"
"Action for Cities"turns out to be one of those cases in which the fatness of the prospectus is in inverse proportion to its contents… Taken as a whole, however, the package is shallow.The article ends with an important last paragraph:Other Government policies, not counted in the inner city balance sheet are likely to do more damage to the immediate interests of many of the worst—off inhabitants of the inner cities than yesterday's measures are to do good. The new community charge or poll tax will be payable by every inhabitant, however poor; the maximum remission will be 80 per cent. The new social security regime, due to come into force at the end of the month, will leave some of those at the very bottom of the pile with less income than now. The new housing policies will lead to sharply increased rents accompanied by a ceiling on rebate expenditure. Some may be 'rescued from dependency' by the combination of such sticks and the 'Action for Cities' carrots, but many will become more dependent than ever.Ministers will have read Tuesday's comments in the press and will be aware that there was much other criticism. I shall quote one such criticism. It is about the Prime Minister going to her press conference accompanied by six Cabinet Ministers and rattling off the breakdown of the programmes. They totalled £3 billion and the Government claim that the money is already being spent. The press comment says:at this point the sheen began to look scrappy. How much new money was there? She couldn't say. Why hadn't a figure been produced? Well, there was not much new money. It would all have to to be found within the existing public expenditure totals already announced,… Yes. Slowly, the Empress said farewell to most of the new clothes her advisers had provided.The "Action for Cities" was not all that it was heralded to be.
It was not only the press which gave the document a hard time. In this building last night, the right hon.
624 Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) made a widely reported speech and I should like to quote three of the headlines that the speech was given in today's press. One of them was, "Heseltine calls for more jobs". Another was, "Heseltine urges action on jobless", and a third headline says, "Heseltine accuses Ministers". I have the full speech which I copied in the Library and if there is any doubt I can confirm it verbatim.
An article in The Independent says:Michael Heseltine last night accused ministers of deceiving themselves and great number of the unemployed by holding out hope of significant improvement. He warned that if determined action was not taken, lawlessness and potential political violence could be added to the despair and intolerable human waste already generated by the problem.The press criticised the document, and the right hon. Member for Henley, who started working for the inner cities in the first of the three Conservative Governments, has within two days said that the serious problem of unemployment is not being seriously dealt with.
The hon. Members for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will confirm that, if people living in the areas in which the Government have taken initiatives are asked about it, they will confirm that the Government plans are not working. The hon. Members for Newham, South and for Newham, North-West are in the Chamber and they and colleagues who represent London docklands constituencies attended the launch some days ago of a report from the London Docklands consultative committee. The facts in it are incontrovertible and have been accepted and confirmed. The facts and views in that report confirm that the people within the area of this pilot scheme for all inner-city renewals, the flagship for the Government's policies on inner cities, do not believe that it has been a substantial improvement for them.
The evidence shows that in terms of new jobs, new opportunities, new homes and improvements, there is no great advantage for most people. Indeed, there is a deficit measured over the eight years of Government interest in London docklands. That is the evidence from all three of the boroughs that are affected. As the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) said, one can put glass and concrete buildings on derelict land and bring jobs from elsewhere to a new and better site, but that does not necessarily generate community spirit, community activity or enterprise or true community regeneration.
§ Mr. Spearing
I endorse the hon. Gentleman's remarks 100 per cent. Is he aware that this afternoon, in a Select Committee on a matter which I shall not mention relating to this area, a witness said in his acute summing up that most of the people feel that there is a party going on next door but that they are not invited and are not part of it?
§ Mr. Hughes
That does not surprise me. It is what my constituents tell me all the time. They self-evidently manifest the fact that the opportunities are open for those who have money, but for those who do not have money the opportunities are not open. The Minister should talk seriously to people in the inner city in my part of the world about the issues that really matter to them. If I gave hire a list of what they would say, it would show that they are all critical of Government policy.
About education they would say in London that the Government are proposing to destroy something that, although far from perfect, none the less gives many 625 advantages: special education, adult education and commitment to special needs in a multiracial and multicultural capital city.
They would say about employment that all the promises of last year about employing local labour have so far come to nothing. The legislation that we have just been dealing with in Committee and last night finished dealing with in the House positively precludes local labour from being advantaged in terms of employment in the inner city.
They would say that finance is being reduced, not increased, in real terms for the local authorities in the inner cities with the hardest problems and the greatest stress. They would confirm that there have been real cuts in the Health Service—and I mean real cuts, in real terms, in cash—for districts such as Lewisham, north Southwark and Camberwell, which have led nurses who have never been on strike before to take to the streets with patients and others. They would confirm that social security which they desperately need is about to be taken away and that social services which they desperately need are no longer going to he available.
I want to mention something that was excluded and that I hope that the Minister will consider again. The voluntary sector should be one of the key partners with local authorities in the inner city and its regeneration. People who are willing to contribute voluntary effort and who have the experience to do so should be invited to the table, not kept outside the door.
Only this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury's advisory committee on urban priority areas, planning for the launch of the Church urban fund next month, made it quite clear that its members want, in all local, district and borough areas, on behalf of Churches of all denominations, to invite the leaders of public authorities to join them in a dialogue on how best to help the communities which they serve.
The Government seem to believe, unlike 100 years ago, when city and local councils were regarded as vital to regeneration, that now they know all the answers and have all the solutions. The tragedy is that they will not be lasting solutions or proper answers unless the people and their representatives are listened to, their needs are registered and their representatives are involved all the time in the partnership in solving them.
§ Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)
In some ways, the less said about "Action for Cities" the better. It is a high-colour gloss on the truth. Its hallmarks are hype and hypocrisy. It is a shameless deceit.
What we need to talk about is the opportunity missed on Monday. The Government had an opportunity to say something that might have sparked some hope in the inner cities. They had the opportunity to make an announcement that would really have opened doors for people of all races in the inner city, and for the poor, those on the verge of poverty seeking a way up and people trapped in a nightmare world in which no sooner has one door opened for them than another is shut. The Government might on Monday have given those people a ray of hope. Instead, they chose the other way; they chose a way characterised by a complete inability to grasp the challenge of the inner cities.
626 The challenge of the inner cities is, first and foremost, one of investment — investment in the infrastructure, investment in industry, investment in people. What we want in the inner cities is investment, not high-gloss brochures.
The borough in which my constituency is situated is the eighth most deprived borough in Britain. Unemployment in my constituency has risen by 273 per cent. since 1979. When I consider that rise, I know, and Conservative Members must know, that the only way forward is investment. We looked for investment from the Government on Monday, but we did not get it.
§ Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)
Will the hon. Gentleman say what has happened to the rate of unemployment in his constituency in the past year?
§ Mr. Boateng
I have no hesitation whatsoever in sharing with the House what has happened to the rate of unemployment in my constituency over the past year; it has gone up, particularly on the inner-city housing estates. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks) rightly highlighted that as a major problem which must be tackled by the Government, but which so far has not been. Unemployment has gone up on those inner-city estates, particularly among black people between the ages of 16 and 25. It is a problem that exists throughout the community, black and white, but it is felt particularly by young black inhabitants of inner city estates. That is what has happened in my constituency over the past year. Only investment, not glossy brochures, will tackle that problem.
I should like to raise with the Minister a number of specific problems that we face in Brent, but which I am sure are shared elsewhere up and down the country. First and foremost is infrastructure. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East rightly mentioned housing. Last year the Government allowed Brent to spend £22.2 million on council house repairs. The amount needed was £146 million. Are Conservative Members surprised that there is hopelessness, vandalism, isolation and bitterness on those housing estates? The housing needs of our people are not being met.
It is not only people living on council estates who are suffering. Many owner-occupiers in my constituency, some of whom are old or unemployed, are experiencing increasing difficulty in meeting their mortgage repayments. They are finding it increasingly difficult—this applies particularly to older residents who rely on a fixed income—to afford repairs to their houses. What response did the Government give to that? None.
The infrastructure is under strain, but the Government are doing nothing to ameliorate the problem. There are opportunities for the creation of investment and jobs on estates such as Stonebridge, if only the Government would give us the money to do it. We need to be using local people to do work locally because they have a stake in the estates on which they live. It is much better to use local people than to have to contract out to people from the outskirts of the cities who do not know the area, do not know the problems or challenges and are unable to rise to them.
What was the Government's response to those problems? It was to make it much more difficult, through the Local Government Bill, for authorities to hire local labour. Conservative Members should understand that that simply is not good enough. We ask the Government to address the issue of the infrastructure of our inner cities.
§ Mr. Boateng
I shall give way in good time.
With regard to infrastructure — I hope that the Minister will listen—we have a particular problem in Harlesden in my constituency of which he is aware. He knows about it because a group of residents and employers there have written to him and his Department on numerous occasions asking exactly what is to happen to the centre of Harlesden and the development proposals for that area that have been with his Department for many years.
I pay tribute to the local small business men, the larger enterprises, Woolworth, the building societies, the banks and local residents who are involved in the Harlesden Centre Group. They have no axe to grind, but a stake in the prosperity of the centre of Harlesden. They have asked year after year for a response from the Department of the Environment to the proposals that have been put forward by the local council and by a consortium of public and private money. I can tell the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment that they mean business. We look to the Department of the Environment for an early answer to their problems.
We also look to the Department of the Environment to answer letters more quickly. Those residents and business people are still waiting for answers to their letters. They meet on cold winter nights upstairs on the second floor of Woolworths and they ask questions, collect signatures and attempt to see the Minister. They invite him to look at the problems in Harlesden, but answer get they none. They are entitled to better.
When, within the next month, I go to the next meeting of the Harlesden Centre Group, am I to show them "Action for Cities"? What comfort will it bring those men and women? They want public and private investment. That group of people—local residents, local ratepayers, local taxpayers and local business people—have had no response from the Government.
This document and Monday's announcement represent a deceit. The Government are not addressing the real problems of the inner cities.
§ Mr. Trippier
I am not trying to be clever, but when the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) looks at Hansard tomorrow or on Monday he may be surprised to discover that he has not explained to the House what these people are asking. It may well be that one of my colleagues within the Department is dealing with the matter, but I am not absolutely clear about what they are asking.
§ Mr. Boateng
They are asking for an answer to their last letter to the Minister. They are asking simply when the Department of the Environment will release the money that the council is currently awaiting to enable that development to start. That is what they are asking for.
I had imagined that because the Minister has received numerous letters to that effect from the Harlesden Centre group and, only a couple of months ago he received a letter from me, he would have been aware of the issues in Harlesden.
§ Mr. Trippier
The hon. Gentleman specifically referred to me. That is not correct. I am not the Minister for Local Government.
§ Mr. Boateng
With due respect, I know exactly to whom I am referring. In my office I have a letter signed 628 by the Minister specifically in response to a letter that I sent him about the problems of the Harlesden Centre Group. When the Minister looks at Hansard tomorrow, or more importantly, when he looks in his own filing cabinet, he will find that that issue has been raised with him by the people of Harlesden time and again. We want an answer. I hope that tonight the Minister will give an undertaking to seek an answer to my question.
Aware of the onward march of time, I should like to examine two other issues. The first is investment in industry. A local borough such as Brent does not have the resources of the GLC or of central Government that will enable it to bring about the industrial rejuvenation that it really wants in industrial estates such as the Park Royal estate. I am glad that the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) is present, because many of his constituents seek work or have work on that estate and have a vested interest in its future.
We want Government support for the kind of initiatives that the London boroughs of Ealing and Brent are seeking to develop together for such estates. That proposal has its origins not in any sectarian alliance but in a bipartisan approach to industrial rejuvenation, of the kind that existed between Ealing and Brent for many years.
§ Sir George Young
Perhaps we can build tonight on the partnership between Ealing and Brent. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in his constituency Guinness wished to expand and to provide more jobs by developing its car park but that the London borough of Brent is trying to place a compulsory purchase order on it for a gipsy site? How will that provide new jobs?
§ Mr. Boateng
I am well aware of what has happened, and I welcome the hon. Gentleman's interest. I hope that he will join me in ensuring that the Department of the Environment does everything in its power to facilitate the creation of proper sites in London for gipsies and that he will join me in ensuring that Guinness and other local employers have sufficient land available to them when expansion is able to take place. I have heard and seen nothing connected with the debate about the Guinness site that the creation of a gipsy site there would impair in any way. That is not the issue, as I fancy the hon. Gentleman well knows, in relation to the borough's proposals for that land, which has lain fallow for many years. I, too, should like it to be used for socially and commercially useful purposes.
It ought to be possible to achieve genuine consensus rather than mischievous political points over the development of the Park Royal industrial estate. We need the Government to say that money will be forthcoming for the work that must be done there to create roads and factory sites, if new companies and new jobs are to be attracted to the area. Is the Minister willing to discuss with the London boroughs of Brent and Ealing how the Park Royal industrial estate might be further developed by building on the engineering and food industries that are already there and making it into a place of growth, hope and prosperity? Two Labour-controlled councils are willing to work with the Department of the Environment.
We must also invest in people. We have seen in the glossy document "Action for Cities" pretty pictures of people, but there is no recognition of the fact that economic growth needs to be generated. The hon. Member for Acton referred to economic growth and to the new 629 climate of prosperity, but it rang hollow in my ears. Even where there is growth and development, Conservative Members must realise that the inner cities lack people with specific skills.
On Tuesday last I visited a factory in my constituency that is owned by Heinz, and I spoke to the senior management. It is seeking to shed labour, but at the same time it is seeking to increase productivity and capital investment in that plant. Tens of millions of pounds are to be invested there, but the company is having to import skills from outside London because they cannot be found in London.
The London Docklands development corporation is much vaunted in this glossy document, but when one looks further one finds that none of the £400 million that has been pumped into docklands is earmarked for training. There is a mismatch of skills which is addressed nowhere in the document.
Before we hear the trumpeting of promise and success for the Government's inner-city proposals, let us have some content. In the United States, they are asking about one of the candidates, "Where's the beef?" That is what we are asking about this document. When we have the answer, perhaps we, too, will bring out the trumpets—but that will not be for a long time yet.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I understand that the first Front Bench speaker will seek to rise at 11.15 pm. Three hon. Gentlemen have been sitting for most of the time during this debate. Would they divide the time equally between them?
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
The truth of the debate was revealed by the non-reply that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks) did not give to my intervention in her speech—with a great deal of which I would agree. That was the challenge that it was the intention of the Government, through legislation going through the House, to increase not only the cost of land but the general level of rents. That will clearly be to the disadvantage of the inner cities and all who live in them.
Much of this glossy document describes what I regard as a conduit for capital. The Minister dissented when I informed my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) that even this glossy, although available to the press, would not have been available to the House but for the action of an hon. Member.
I can assure the Minister that I know more about the matter than he does, because when I attempted to get the glossy from the Vote Office last Monday, I was informed that it was not available. On further inquiry, however, I was told that the Vote Office had contacted the Minister's Department and would endeavour to deliver it by 3 pm. I was also told that, but for my questioning, the Vote Office would not have known of the document's existence.
For once, I think that the Minister can take it that the Government's PR apparatus failed dismally in not permitting Members of Parliament to see it. Perhaps after tonight we shall be able to say, "No wonder." Perhaps the Government had something to hide.
630 One of the things that they hid was the Prime Minister. In her opening words at the press conference, which will go into the annals and the history books, she said that she wished to encourage civic pride in Britain: that, from someone who destroyed the Greater London council almost single handed, and who wishes to take away some of the civic powers of the cities of Leeds and Sheffield in extending the urban development corporations.
Civic pride — a subject to which I shall return — is something with which we should all be able to agree, and which we should all have. We should cherish and enhance the civic amenities and commonly owned civic facilities which alone make life inside the inner city tolerable and even fruitful. The problem is that the present Government are doing the opposite.
I challenged the Minister on Monday about the London Docklands development corporation. Before it came along, he said, there had been trivial developments. Not so. Lord Rippon, when he instituted the docklands joint committee, set up a co-operative structure of local authorities that put together packages of programmes. I have here "The Years of Growth", the London joint committee operational programme. In the back of the document, we find a host of developments, including the London docklands strategic plan and the Beckton development plan, adopted by the London borough of Newham and now nearing completion.
In addition, that document set out many civic facilities. It mentioned the East Beckton primary health care premises in my constituency. That document was published 10 years ago. Those premises in Tollgate road, Beckton, were opened by Lady Shearman, the retiring chairman of the Newham district health authority, at midday yesterday. It has taken 10 years, but we have now got it. It should have been funded entirely by the Newham health authority. In fact, it has had to rely on some funding from the LDDC. That is the wrong way round.
Why should not the health authority in some cases, and the borough in the case of education, provide full funding? We look with distrust upon the LDDC, particularly in the light of the spectacular resignations that have occurred recently and the letter from the auditors, Robson Rhodes, on aspects of consultancy contracts and the way in which the board was unaware of certain things that were going on. Recently, I asked the Secretary of State how the LDDC was going to respond to that letter, and he said that the matter was still under consideration.
Indeed, the Public Accounts Committee may, as we know, be receiving a report from the Comptroller and Auditor General about the LDDC. Therefore, it would be wiser to await that report before extending the principle of the UDCs to other areas. As a visiting Austrian said recently when interviewing me, "It strikes me that we have a colonial situation here. They are coming on you like a colonial power." I could only agree.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), in the Adjournment debate tomorrow, will refer to some of the needs of our borough, but I wish to use the second part of my time to talk about the Health Service in Newham. I have already said that it is not entirely funded, as it should be, by the district health authority, and we have to rely on the munificence and patronage of the LDDC for proper facilities.
After visiting the health centre yesterday, I went to the local district and general hospital, where some nurses and auxiliary workers had been busy collecting signatures from 631 passers-by in an effort to obtain proper facilities for that hospital and for the NHS in Newham. I have the 17 pages of signatures in my hand, given by over 200 passers-by in less than an hour.
Newham is an inner-city area. Our in-patient numbers have risen by 8.5 per cent. since 1982, out-patients by 5.4 per cent., elderly day patients by 24 per cent. and maternity in-patients by 30 per cent. Cost-efficiency savings have been computed and agreed by the RHA and DHSS as £5 million between 1982 and 1987. Next year, depending on whether the Chancellor coughs up for pay, our income will go down by between 1.5 per cent. and 3.5 per cent. as our needs go up.
That is being done by a Prime Minister who, in commending a package which she claims was part of her election mandate, dared not face the House. She dared not face the House with this inner-city package because she knew that it was essentially a fraud, just like her policy for health.
I said that I would emphasise the civic pride which the Prime Minister emphasised at the beginning of her press conference on Monday. Civic pride concerns not just our local community, Newham—important though that is— the nation, or even Westminster perhaps. It is something larger.
The vast majority of people look upon themselves as members of the Health Service. Civic pride will enable people to obtain the services for which they have paid and which are their due. At the moment, too few are doing too much for too many for too little in the Health Service.
I was torn by the descriptions given by the staff of Newham hospital yesterday of the feeling of anguish they have in not being able to provide what they know is necessary, because there are not enough staff. The dedication of those people who stay in low-paid jobs is beyond all praise.
I received a letter not long ago from a person who works in the blood transfusion service. There can hardly be a greater emergency service than that. The people who work in that service are outside the usual pay negotiations for scientific staff and are working hard to keep the service going, but only just.
The Government have taken Newham's land through the UDCs and are not providing the wherewithal for Newham to supply a blood transfusion service for those in need. Through the legislation before us and through the Housing Action Trust, the Government may well take our homes as well.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I should like to be fair to the Government and to the Minister and say that the Government have not been responsible for creating all the problems of the inner cities; just most of them. Certainly the Government have been responsible for exacerbating all of them. I do not see how the Minister can pretend that taking some £20 million in rate support grant from the inner cities and £7 billion in rate support grant from London, as well as doubling unemployment and poverty since 1979 have nothing whatsoever to do with the problems of the inner cities. That is where the problems of the inner cities are most deeply rooted.
As my hon. Friends have said, one cannot solve problems merely by throwing money at them, but taking away funds and resources as the Government have done 632 has made the problem much worse, so the crisis of the inner cities is essentially created by the policies of the Government.
The Prime Minister has made great play of the inner cities because they have become a fashionable subject, rather like her campaign to clean up Britain. She appointed Mr. Branson as the overlord for clearing up the litter, but we do not know what has happened to that initiative. She also chaired the working party to deal with football hooliganism, because it was fashionable at the time. She takes up those things, then throws them down as it suits her.
The inner-cities initiative has been full of nonsense, hype and glossy documentation. The Prime Minister, sitting there flanked by six Members pretending to be Cabinet Ministers, all nodding away as she clucks around them, is lamentable and pathetic, but it is typical of the attitude and style of the Government.
I have looked at the document "Action for Cities". We keep hearing from Conservative Members that local authorities should co-operate. I have already said that some members of the Association of London Authorities went to the Department of the Environment and wanted to do a deal with the Secretary of State for the Environment. My God, that must have stuck in their throats, but the Minister was not prepared to accept, and they were thrown out of his office. He said that he was not interested, because the Government are not interested in a partnership with Labour local authorities.
The document "Action for Cities" has a picture of the agricultural hall in Islington. This is all trumped up. There is not one mention of the fact that Islington was able to get this going by co-operation and funding. There is no mention of Islington, because the Prime Minister and Ministers cannot bear to mention that one Labour local authority is prepared to co-operate and to work in partnership with private enterprise. That level of small-mindedness is appalling. So when one hears the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) talking about the crisis and conflict to come in the inner cities, at least on this occasion we can join hands with him and say that we are in agreement.
Yes, there will be problems in the inner cities. There is the possibility that there may be civil commotion in the inner cities. All the glossy pamphlets in the world will not avert that crisis. I can think of one very useful thing to do with this glossy pamphlet — that is, add it to a large bonfire. Frankly, that is all it is worth.
The Government's inner-city policies so far have involved taking resources from local authorities. They have then attacked the authorities in a most vile fashion, assisted by the rabid right-wing Tory press. They have removed the authorities' functions and handed them over to unelected, unaccountable quangos made up of Tory business men who take decisions behind closed doors, unaccountable to the public whom they are supposed to support and whom they are supposed to be looking after. They are totally unaccountable to Parliament as well, because the Minister simply will not answer questions.
In the few minutes that I have left I want to say a few words about the London borough of Newham. We can be sure that the three hon. Members who represent Newham will never allow the case for Newham to pass by default. We make no apologies for continually bringing to the 633 attention of Ministers and the House the problems that we face in the second most deprived local authority area in the country.
I want to show the Minister a very good document—one that is much better than the hyped glossy that the Prime Minister launched the other day. It is called "A Fair Deal for Newham" and a copy is winging its way to the Minister at this very moment. I hope that he will look at it. It even includes some graphs. Any Tory Member who wants to discover how unemployment has affected the London borough of Newham since 1979 need only look at a graph to see how dramatically it has risen. Indeed, it has risen even more dramatically than the wave on the Minister's head. There has been a dramatic increase in unemployment in the London borough of Newham and that has brought all the usual problems.
Capital allocations are a great problem for Newham. They have plummeted in real terms. The housing investment programme allocation dropped from £47 million in 1979–80 to £17 million this year. Most other allocations have dropped by a similar degree. As a result, the urban fabric in our borough is crumbling.
There are still many Victorian schools in the borough. Twenty-three of Newham's 62 primary schools were built before the first world war, and some still have outside toilets. There are 108 tower blocks in the borough. A Conservative Member referred to tower blocks. The tower blocks in Newham are appalling places for people to live. I do not blame the Government for the fact that the tower blocks were built, but they are there and we do not have the resources to deal with the problems that they create.
The problem of housing in the inner cities is reaching a crisis point equivalent to that in the National Health Service, and it deserves the same level of parliamentary attention that is given to the Health Service.
Let me tell the Minister about homelessness in Newham. Housing the homeless is an inescapable statutory obligation, as the Minister is aware. However, the costs have soared in my borough. In 1983–84, we spent £52,000 on bed-and-breakfast charges. In 1984–85, that had risen to £138,000. In 1985–86, it had risen to £605,000, and in 1986–87 it rose to £1.9 million. The projected figure for 1987–88 is £5.4 million.
How does the Minister think that we can deal with the problems in the London borough of Newham when charges for bed-and-breakfast accommodation have risen from £52,000 in 1983 to £5.4 million? Next year, the figure is expected to be about £8 million. However, the Government do not take homelessness levels into account when determining the council's block grant. That is a shameful scandal that "something should be done about", as we say in this House so often.
I want to refer to the revenue expenditure needed to compensate for past penalties. Newham's revenue support from the Government has dropped substantially, despite the fact that the Minister and the Department of the Environment have acknowledged the levels of need in the borough and recognise Newham's position as the second most deprived area in England and Wales. Newham's block grant dropped from 60 per cent. of revenue expenditure in 1985–86 to under 46 per cent. in 1987–88. Although the Minister is not responsible for that, because it is an environment matter, it has a knock-on effect in the inner city.
634 It is impossible to say that reducing rate support from about 60 per cent. to 46 per cent. has no impact on jobs, services and facilities in the inner city. The council is trying to construct a balanced budget for 1988–89, limiting rate rises to an absolute minimum, but the effect of the soaring cost of homelessness, which I mentioned, means that real cuts will be imposed in nearly all service areas.
Newham borough council has adopted throughout a responsible approach to regeneration. It is reaching major agreements with the London Docklands development corporation on ways of achieving revitalisation of the area, and it is ready and willing to work with the private sector to boost the local economy and help to create new jobs. The council's essential capital spending in docklands means that we are having to ignore the remainder of Newham where the worst inner-city problems exist. The investment currently made in docklands by Newham and the LDDC needs to be matched across the borough, and at the moment we simply do not have the resources to do that.
I warn the House that Newham is in danger of becoming a divided society, with docklands taking all the resources, while the rest of the borough is even more deprived of investment. We must avoid turning Newham into a divided community. That is the essential problem that we face in our borough.
I hope that the Minister will take these problems seriously. We want a partnership with Government, but we have the feeling that there is so much vile opposition to Labour local authorities and so much hatred from the Conservative Benches towards authorities such as mine that this plea will fall on deaf ears. If it does, the responsibility for the chaos and the aggravation that will follow will rest entirely with the Government and the Minister.
§ 11.1 pm
§ Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). I do not admire the content of his speeches, but I admire the delivery. I should like to pick him up on some of his comments.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the royal agricultural hall in Islington. I have lived in Islington for the past 11 or so years, and I know that Islington council bought the hall in, I think, 1974. Why it did so no one knows, including I suspect, Islington council. Had the council been going to do something with the hall we could have understood that action, but the council did nothing, let it deteriorate and the hall became worse. All the time the ratepayers had to pay interest charges.
The hon. Gentleman tries to give credit to Islington council for what it did with the royal agricultural hall. There should be no credit to the council, but a lot of credit to the Government, who made urban development grant available to the business men who ultimately took over and developed the hall. It is entirely due to the Government and to that private enterprise that the royal agricultural hall is thriving.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned quangos. He spoke in emotional terms about operating behind locked doors. It might interest the hon. Gentleman to know that my local Labour-controlled council had a meeting of its finance committee the other day, and the first item on the 635 agenda was a motion to exclude the press and the public. There is another example of a Labour council operating behind closed doors.
§ Ms. Abbott
If the hon. Gentleman were knowledgeable about local authorities, he would be aware that it is usual for finance committees to exclude the press and the public when they discuss matters to do with contracts and other confidential matters.
§ Mr. Summerson
If the hon. Lady could see the way in which my Labour council runs its affairs, it would not surprise her in the slightest that it wants to exclude the public.
I am glad to see the hon. Lady here, because I pass through her constituency on the way to mine. I get on my bicycle and pedal through Stoke Newington. I give the hon. Lady a warning: Stoke Newington is getting more prosperous. She should see the danger signs. Front doors are being painted. New cars are appearing on the streets. The worst sign of all for the hon. Lady—she will not like this — is that there is a delicatessen in Stoke Newington.
It may be a truism to talk about buildings in the inner cities. Of course, there are buildings in Regent's park, which one might call the inner city, and splendid buildings they are, too. They look splendid, but they were all badly built and have had to be renovated. No building is permanent. If we want to keep buildings in good condition, they must be maintained constantly.
I agree with what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said about tower blocks. Some system-built tower blocks in my constituency are falling to bits. I am convinced that they breed crime, vandalism and despair. They are sinks, and they should never have been built, but they are classic examples of what happens when those in power—I make no party political point on this—believe that something will be good for people. They impose those things on people.
It was a fashionable idea at the time, but Le Corbusier has done more harm to people in Europe and in America than almost anyone else. I am sure that he and everyone involved in building those tower blocks had good intentions. We heard all the nonsense about streets in the sky and cities in the air, but they did not have to live in them. One of my great ambitions is to see those tower blocks come down.
I have no doubt that the Labour Government passed the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 with the best of intentions, but it has been a disaster. If a council has a duty to house homeless people, people will make themselves homeless. That adds terribly to the problems of a mature city, as London is. It is all very well for Labour Members to say that we need more money to build more houses, but where will they build those houses? We cannot build them in parks and open spaces. We cannot cover London's green lungs with buildings. Those open spaces are what make London a partly civilised city.
Waltham Forest council has calculated that it would have to cover Wanstead Flats—an area of 140 acres—with bricks and mortar to house everyone on the waiting list. That is simply not possible.
Another factor is the divorce rate, which is increasing by leaps and bounds. It means that there are more households and more people looking for somewhere to live. The problem is becoming worse. If we make it easy 636 for people to get divorced, and if we put it in statute that local authorities must house homeless people, there are bound to be more homeless people.
Infrastructure is badly needed in many inner cities. Infrastructure is the catalyst for new development and for bringing inner cities to life. Local authorities should look at this in a positive way. Instead, I am sorry to say, too many of them have acted in a negative way and imposed massive rate increases.
We have heard much about rate increases. In my own borough, there was a rate increase of 62 per cent. last year. The biggest local employer in my constituency tells me that it has had to increase its turnover by about £2 million to generate the increased profit purely to pay its extra rates bill. My local hospital has had to find an extra £250,000 a year in rates. Merely soaking local people by increasing rates goes nowhere towards solving the problems.
The problems of the inner cities are multifarious and diverse. They have been with us for many years. I hope that the Government can work in a positive way, in harmony with local authorities—I should like to see that happen—but local authorities must change their attitudes. I hope that the Government will motivate and inspire local people and perhaps — who knows? — through them the local authorities; and then the inner cities will be made better for us and for future generations.
§ Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) on being fortunate in the ballot and on his choice of subject, which is both topical and timely.
A great deal has been said this week about the Government's "Action for Cities" and Mrs. Thatcher's post-election flagship. We had been led to expect a cruise liner at least, but all that we had was the Prime Minister and half the Cabinet in the same old leaky rowing boat. Yet again the Tories are trying to persuade us that the private sector and the Government alone can cure the ills of the inner cities, and they are using this dogma as an excuse to destroy local government.
Since 1979, almost 50 Acts have been passed that affect local government and diminish its powers, and that has gone hand in hand with the rubbishing of its activities in many sections of the gutter press—or perhaps I should say in the press, because it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between the Murdoch papers.
There has been a persistent and deliberate withdrawal of local authority finances, amounting to a net loss of £8 billion from inner-city authorities alone. "Action for Cities" gets 10 out of 10 for presentation, but zero for content. I am not alone in saying that, because the Financial Times in its editorial of 8 March, under the headingFlawed plan for inner cities",said:On inspection, this turns out to be one of those cases in which the fatness of the prospectus is in inverse proportion to its contents.Even the Evening Standard was not satisfied when it said in its editorial:Our rundown inner cities can be made competitive and entrepreneurial again — but it requires a greater Government commitment than we have seen so far.This is a public relations exercise rather than a White Paper, which suggests that there is simply not enough Government policy to fill one. The bottom line is that 637 there will be almost no new cash. Instead of providing much-needed strategic public investment and the proper co-operation with local authorities that is needed to breathe new life into our inner cities, the Government have given us a collection of so-called solutions, all of which are based on the mythical power of private sector money. These solutions range from the trickery of streamlining grants by simply changing their names, to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster's breakfasts, which have become a joke before they have started.
We are all too aware of Mrs. Thatcher's fervent desire to win votes in the inner cities. There are few Conservative constituencies in the targeted urban development corporation areas. The Government's cheap jibes at inner-city Labour local authorities and the repression of their activities at the expense of concerted urban renewal betray this electoral motive.
On 8 March the Financial Times said:Taken as a whole, however, the package is shallow. The principal reason for its shallowness is ideological. The Goverment has a profound distaste for local authorities."Action for Cities" is simply part of the longest-running and most expensive election campaign—paid for by the taxpayers—that this country has ever seen. On a more sinister note, if the Prime Minister does not succeed in changing the electoral complexion of inner-city areas, we should remember what happened to the GLC and the metropolitan counties in 1985.
The Government's continuing and calculated undermining of local authority efforts to generate jobs, industry and services, and their blind faith in the private sector—cash winkled out of some of their best supporters—are appalling mistakes that are likely to exacerbate many of the problems associated with the inner cities.
Only yesterday the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)—no longer Mrs. Thatcher's golden boy—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. That is the third time in two minutes that the hon. Gentleman has referred to the Prime Minister in that way.
§ Mr. Boyes
He is no longer the right hon. Lady's golden boy. The right hon. Gentleman recommended that the Government should provide at least £500 million more for the urban programme as that would increase inner-city employment and prevent social disorder.
On 10 March, Today, under the headlineJobless will riot, warns Heseltine",said:Tory rebel Michael Heseltine last night warned of full-scale riots unless unemployment was drastically reduced. Even two million jobless will still mean too many families `deprived, underprivileged and firmly enmeshed in an environment of hopelessness, as they are today.' That would lead to 'possibly explosive' anger which could erupt on the streets in a few years' time, claimed Mr. Heseltine.It is vital for inner-city regeneration that co-operation is established between central Government, local authorities, the private sector and local communities, and for them all to be involved in the decision-making process for an integrated, strategic programme. That would result in the achievement of real, meaningful success.
The goals to be attained must be set by local authorities for the good of the community and not be determined by the profit motive. A couple of days ago, an article in The Daily Telegraph about potential investing companies said: 638at the end of the day they have a responsibility to their shareholders as well as to the community and should not allow the charity element to overshadow the case for profitable investment.I am sure that the residents of our inner cities, many of them unemployed, poor, homeless, disabled and old, living in what the right hon. Member for Henley described as, "an environment of hopelessness" will appreciate being considered a "charity element" in inner-city regeneration.
If "Action for Cities" is the compassionate face of Thatcherism, I hope that we never see it in vindictive mood. It is certain that market forces, left to their own devices, will repeat the errors of the 1960s and put bricks and mortar, property and land values, before people and communities.
Only democratically elected local authorities can exercise the appropriate sensitivity to the needs and aspirations of communities that is necessary for successful urban renewal. The Government's main tool for encouraging private sector money into the inner cities is the urban development corporation. "Action for Cities" imposes another UDC on another local authority—Don Valley in Sheffield. These corporations are funded by cash controlled by Whitehall. They are undemocratic and unrepresentative and can operate outside the democratically determined objectives of local authorities.
The London Docklands development corporation is an example of that major failing. It is a concentration of private affluence, surrounded by public squalor, yet it is heralded as the Government's biggest success story. In his speech yesterday, the right hon. Member for Henley said:Children are growing up in the pincer grip of their own deprivation but live just a stone's throw away from a more affluent society whose benefits they see but cannot share".Local authorities will of course continue to work with urban development corporations. They have little choice but to do so when there is money available, and the examples of Cardiff Bay, Teesside and Tyne and Wear urban development corporations show just how local authorities have felt compelled to be involved in UDC work, even though many of the UDC ideas came originally from the localities, and councils could complete the job themselves, given the cash.
The Government's policy is totally inflexible. A Coopers and Lybrand report specifically recommended that there should not be a UDC in Sheffield, yet this week's proposals sees one imposed. It is therefore difficult to see the UDC as other than an element in the struggle against local authorities. UDCs can work only in a very limited sense. They suck resources, public and private, into a demarcated zone, while the surrounding area is starved of capital. They cannot achieve the regeneration of the inner city, never mind the whole city.
We have recently seen the introduction of the mini-UDC, as yet an unknown quantity. Large amounts of cash will be pumped into relatively tiny areas. Clearly, as well as assisting the regeneration of small areas, they have an important political role to play.
So far, the Government have made attacks on Labour-controlled local authorities the main focus of their inner-cities policy. It is, however, unquestionably spiteful and divisive to starve local Labour authorities of resources and then complain that they are incapable of doing a job properly themselves. Tory councils can act irresponsibly too, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) said.
639 The selling of three cemeteries on land worth between £7 million and £9 million for just 5p each by Westminster city council is a particularly topical example of that. The Conservative leader of the Council, Lady Porter, was rightly accused by Labour councillors of total incompetence and irresponsibility. In my opinion, as a Westminster ratepayer, she should have resigned immediately. The whole episode is squalid and a disgrace, and I regret that the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) for an extraordinary audit was not taken up.
However, I hope that the district auditor, when he completes his investigation, will mete out the same treatment to the Westminster councillors as he has to some Labour authorities. In addition, I understand that the fraud squad is investigating the matter, and that the courts might yet have a part to play.
The Government's perception of the problems of the inner cities is as narrow as the so-called solutions that they have presented to us this week. These problems are numerous and by no means restricted to inner-city areas in particular. All over the country we are faced with high unemployment, poverty, had housing, environmental degeneration, crime, racism and poor transport, but not only those matters will receive attention.
For example, in an article in The Guardian today, about the winding up of the new towns in the north-east, Peter Hetherington says:inner cities are fashionable. The old industrial areas, such as south Durham, are not … While the cities offer hope to Mrs. Thatcher, for many Conservatives the Durhams of this world would appear political no-go areas.The phrase "inner cities" is a Thatcherite code word, designed to focus the nation's attention on the purpose of winning votes, while ignoring the real reason behind our social and economic problems. Nine years of incompetent Conservative Government have left our inner cities in the tragic mess that they are in at the moment.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. David Trippier)
I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) on being fortunate in bringing forward this subject for debate. He has done the House a great service, and we have had a wide-ranging debate.
My great sorrow is that there have been comparatively few speakers who represent constituencies north of Watford, as I do. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) has contributed to the debate, as he represents a distinguished constituency in the north-east. I am also grateful for the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks) who represents an important seat in the west midlands. In the short time that I have, I want to deal in as much detail as I can with some of the specific points raised in the debate.
I begin by discussing the general point made by Opposition Members, about partnership. It is perhaps significant that few hon. Members representing constituencies north of Watford have attended. That is strange, given that, of the 57 programme authorities upon which the Department of the Environment concentrates, the vast majority are north of Watford, and about 53 of them are controlled by the Labour party. Yet the hon. Members who represent those areas are absent. Do they perhaps approve of the document?
640 It is interesting to note that the photograph on the cover is of an area—Salford—which is controlled by Socialists on the council and represented here by Labour Members, who work extremely well with various Government Departments.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
It is only fair to point out that the Minister knows why the debate is less well attended than it would usually be. Unusually, the Consolidated Fund debate is being held on a Thursday, so many hon. Members who would normally be here are not.
§ Mr. Trippier
I agree that there was short notice of the subject matter, but that is not a matter for me. I accept, of course, that some hon. Members have left London to get back to their constituencies in the midlands and the north. Nevertheless, this is an important debate on the inner cities. The Government have said that they should be top of their agenda—not as a passing phase, but for the whole Parliament—so I should have thought that more attention would have been paid to the debate by hon. Members from north of Watford.
The hon. Member for Southall referred to rate capping. He will recall that a delegation was sent to see my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Local Government, who listened carefully to the delegation's special pleading. Having considered all the circumstances described to him by Ealing borough council, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State substantially increased the council's rate limit in recognition of the problems it faced. We did not hear about that from the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall.
The Government have been reasonable and responsible. The hon. Gentleman would probably have preferred to leave ratepayers in his constituency to face a rates bill even higher than the one they faced the year before. That increase, mentioned by several hon. Members, was about 65 per cent.
The figures mentioned by Opposition Members to describe what has been lost to London and their mconstituencies as a result of Government action are bogus. At best, they are hypothetical. There is no way in which any Opposition Member could put a figure on what a Labour Government — had the country had the misfortune to have one—would have done in the period that has elapsed since 1979.
§ Mr. Boateng
The Minister really is a bit rich. Talk about brass! Richness and brass characterise the Department of the Environment, which has taken our brass and grown rich at our expense. It has taken about £21 million from Brent in rate support grant since 1980–81. We know what we got out of the urban programme in 1987–88—£4.5 million. Those are not bogus figures: they are facts.
§ Mr. Trippier
That is the interpretation that the hon. Gentleman wants to put on the facts. They are clearly speculative. He has no way of knowing how any Labour Government, had they been in power since 1979, would have dealt with rate support grant for local authorities. Many of my hon. Friends can remember the horrific economic mess that the Labour Government left. They had to bang on the doors of the IMF to borrow money. When the drastic cuts were made, they resulted in the so-called winter of discontent, a winter that we have not had since 1979. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman does not 641 know what he is talking about. Alternatively, he thinks that Conservative Members have forgotten. They have not forgotten.
The hon. Member for Southall spoke about the powers given to urban development corporations. Of course powers for land assembly, compulsory purchase and vesting are given to those corporations, but only in areas where we think that local authorities have been ineffective in bringing about the urban regeneration that we all wish to see. The vast majority of the 57 programme authorities on which my and other Departments concentrate our resources work well in a form of partnership not only with central Government but also with the private sector.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) for bringing to the attention of the House the fact that a few more local authorities controlled by the Socialists have changed their tune since the last general election. We still have some way to go, and we are not yet at the stage of banging the cymbals.
§ Mr. Trippier
I am sorry, but I am not giving way. The hon. Gentleman knows that everybody has had a fair crack of the whip and I have less time to reply than any hon. Member has had to make a speech. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would wish to be unfair.
§ Mr. Trippier
Of course we still have the last word on planning. Even though the power of planning and vesting are given to urban development corporations, the power of appeal lies with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. There is no question about that.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Acton said, it is time for us to speak with confidence about the positive side of our inner cities and the great strengths of the people in them, our indigenous resource that we need to encourage and develop, particularly in enterprise. Opposition Members have said that there is no new money. That is a silly comment. The vast majority of people who know anything about how Government work know that the public expenditure survey round is normally completed by November, prior to the beginning of the Government year, which in this case has not yet started. Extra money has been made available by various Government Departments.
In my budget in the Department of the Environment, what is known as the urban block has been increased from about £541 million to £594. [Interruption.] Let us not be silly. Even the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) will be able to calculate that that is slightly more than the rise in the retail price index or inflation. There has been an increase in money coming from various Government Departments. We were not going to keep it all back until the announcement on Monday.
Our inner-city document has made it abundantly clear that we now have clear co-ordination within Government Departments. It is led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and co-ordination and presentation of the policy is in the capable hands of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. That is new, 642 and it is also new that there will be an increase of £120 million in my Department's targeted spending programmes on inner cities and estates in 1988–89. That includes more resources, not only for urban group programmes, but for Estate Action. That was not mentioned at all by any Opposition Members. That is additional money going into most of their areas.
The hon. Member for Brent, South might forgive me if I doubt some of the statistics that he gave the House. When he was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) whether unemployment had been reduced in his constituency, he said that it had not. Yet the figures are perfectly clear; I have them here, published by the Manpower Services Commission.
The hon. Gentleman does not seem to know what is going on in his own constituency. In January 1987, the figure for Brent, South was 15.4 per cent. In January 1988, it was 13.1 per cent.
§ Mr. Trippier
I am terribly sorry; the hon. Gentleman has had a fair crack. The figures are here. He can read this again in Hansard. I will happily debate the matter with him in correspondence. The Manpower Services Commission figures are here. He sought to deny them in his speech 20 minutes ago.
§ Mr. Boateng
Since the Government have been in power, there have been 19 changes in the way these figures have been calculated. If those changes are disregarded, the real unemployment trend is up. Will the hon. Gentleman not recognise that I referred him specifically to the levels of unemployment on the priority estates, which have consistently risen over the last nine years? That is a fact, that is also in Hansard, and that is game, set and match.
§ Mr. Trippier
It is not game, set and match; that is a very silly comment for the hon. Gentleman to make. He has probably forgotten that in my former incarnation I was in the Department of Employment, where I had a shared responsibility for statistics, and I can say with complete conviction that the statistics which have been presented by the Department of Employment are correct. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who at that time was shadow spokesman for employment, acknowledged that those statistics would have been presented in exactly the same way had a Labour Government been in power. That is a matter of record, which the hon. Gentleman may care to check.
We would have regarded this interesting and exciting debate as a little more creditable if the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) had said at some point that there were either some things in the presentation document that he welcomed or something that the London Docklands development corporation had done that he welcomed. He fought shy of that.
The hon. Gentleman told us that his research assistant had spent some time counting the number of times that local authorities had been referred to in the document. He should have looked at the photographs, in which there are several mentions of local authority schemes that are very good examples of partnership in action. All of us in government believe that the best possible partnership is a tripartite partnership—ourselves, local government and the private sector.
643 The difficulty that I have with the speeches of the hon. Members for Southwark and Bermondsey and for Brent, South is that they seem to be concerned only about Government or public sector investment.
§ Mr. Trippier
No, I will not.
They totally ignore the fact that, for every pound of taxpayers' money that we inject into these schemes, particularly under urban development grant, and that is on average. In the scheme at Salford Quays, portrayed on the cover, the leverage is six to one. But I heard not one word from any Opposition Member about private sector investment. The reason for that is that hon. Members do not understand it. They do not understand enterprise or the importance of the private sector taking the lead.
That is what is different about this. We have shown the House this evening that we have indeed increased the amount of public finance that is made available for these new initiatives, as a result of which we are now going to have the multiplier effect, attracting that much more 644 capital from the private sector. It is possible to achieve a leverage far in excess even of four to one. If one can get six to one in Salford, one can get it anywhere else. What is more, Salford has approached these matters in a sensible way and in a form of partnership which we welcome.
The criteria we set down for our grant regime are flexible. If certain Labour authorities cannot comply with them, there is something seriously wrong with those authorities. And most of those Labour authorities, which are the great defaulters, are represented by Opposition Members who have spoken tonight. The representatives of the vast majority of decent Labour authorities are not here tonight, because they, like my hon. Friends, will welcome the publication of this document.
This will be an exercise in self-help. It will bring pride back to the inner cities. The form of co-ordination we shall see will bring about the vitality that is needed in these areas. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East said, the people in these areas will no longer be part of a forgotten army. We shall make these areas strong and vigorous once again.