HL Deb 30 March 1977 vol 381 cc915-1021

4.3 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, first of all may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for raising the subject of the problems of the inner cities in your Lordships' House today. There are a great number of distinguished Members of your Lordships' House making contributions to this debate today, and I have therefore decided to limit myself to the question of the social problems that have been created in the inner cities because of the relationship between the planners and those for whom they plan. If I can use the terminology, I want to make a distinction between people who are city dwellers and people who are city users, and I want to concentrate basically on the social problems.

In order to do that, I hope your Lordships will forgive me for spending one or two seconds on the historical build-up in the way I see it. It is true that until recently cities developed naturally—that is, in accordance with the demands of industry and commerce—and that the people who invested in the cities were the people who really governed the planning of those cities. There was no planning in the way that we understand it today. The only exception perhaps, in the 18th and 19th centuries, was the enforcement of public building standards and health requirements. Otherwise, it was a naturally evolving society. In those days, until the second half of the 19th century, the planners—in other words, the people who were investing money in the inner cities—were city dwellers as well as city users, so that to a certain extent there was an interest by at least a percentage of the people living in the cities in the development of the city itself. Nevertheless, the majority of the people, the working class, even in those days had very little say, if any, in the development of the cities in which they lived.

The second half of the 19th century saw the flight to the suburbs, and this was caused largely by the rapid growth of the working classes taking over the centre of the cities, the desire to get out of the conurbation; and the people who could afford to do so, did so. This exodus of the middle classes from the inner cities sharpened the distinction between the city dwellers and the city users.

When Government planning started at the beginning of this century there was a certain community of interest between the city planners and the private enterprise planners in the fact that they were both city users rather than city dwellers. It was very rare for the official city planners to be actually city dwellers. They planned, largely, in a paternalistic way, and the private enterprise planners took decisions based on profit, which is natural. This is still the position today.

What mistakes can we pinpoint which resulted from this planning coming from the outside rather than involving the city dwellers themselves? First of all, as has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, official planners accelerated the flight of private capital from the inner city areas. Grants were available to industries to set up in development areas, and local government positively encouraged firms to move out. The result has been, and is, widespread unemployment, and this leads to micro-economic collapse of all the small businesses that existed in the inner city. The small shops have disappeared, and those that survive are often surviving because they are paying low wages, cutting corners on safety, and not really conforming to the kind of conditions that we should like to have. The main housing strategy for inner cities, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was clearance and redevelopment.

I accept that some of that has now begun to change. It was legitimate in some ways: there was a desire to reduce the overcrowding of the inner cities, and so the overspill into expanding towns was encouraged. But it resulted in the withdrawal of a large percentage of the younger generation in the cities, and particularly the skilled manual workers. So we were left in the inner cities until recently with an excessive number of unskilled labour.

I was interested to read the report of a conference held in the City Hall, Cardiff, in 1976. Dr. Graham Lomax, who is General Secretary of the London Council of Social Service, claimed that between 1963 and 1973 one finds that fewer of the unemployed in the inner cities consist of unskilled manual workers, compared with the proportion in assisted areas, so that that balance has slightly changed. This is something I think we should keep very carefully in our minds, because although we have an enormous unemployment problem in this country it is still tremendously difficult for industry to find skilled labour. If Dr. Graham Lomax is correct and we have a fund of skilled labour hidden in our inner cities, this is something we should look at very seriously.

My Lords, I was saying that there is a difference between city dwellers and city users, and as the planners and the architects very rarely live in the cities—in the areas to which they are applying their development plans—it is very difficult to see how they can ascertain the desires of the people who are actually going to live in those communities. As we have seen, the results have been calamitous. I do not know how anyone could ever have conceived the concept of the vertical street—to think that a liftshaft would create the same community spirit as would be created by a row of terraced houses or a square where people can get together!

Huge estates have been developed without any of the services—the small shops, post offices, telephone kiosks and other facilities—that help to create a community. The only way in which to solve the problems of the inner cities more economically than by pouring enormous sums of money on specially large schemes in inner city areas, is to give priority to the preservation of the community. This can be done, but many facets have to be integrated if we are to recreate the communities in the inner cities. One very important one is transport policy in a city. I do not think that it should be called "transport policy"; it should be called "mobility policy", because it is very often forgotten that most journeys by city dwellers, rather than city users, are made on foot or by local transport over very short distances.

The planning policy which has intersected the big cities with radial roads to help the city user has also helped to kill life for the city dwellers. Unimaginative transport planning has helped to create the problem and to divide communities and families, and has made it difficult for them to get together. Once we have created those conditions, we have created enormous problems because we have broken up the community. We create loneliness. Such conditions are an incentive to crime; we get inadequate schooling, low employment and material poverty. To a certain extent people become trapped in the decaying inner cities of this country.

What have the planners suggested, and what have they done to ameliorate the conditions? An enormous amount of money has been poured into deprived areas, particularly into social services, schools and law enforcement. However, I believe that those facilities are an endless drain—they will always be there demanding money. In doing that we are treating the symptoms and not removing them from our society. We must look at how we can use that money in a more constructive manner. I do not suggest that the social services that exist in these areas are unnecessary. I suggest that they would not be necessary to such an extent as they are at present if we changed the conditions, instead of continuing forever paying large sums of money to treat the symptoms.

What can we do in order to change the social climate within our innercities?— because I believe that that is the basis for a solution in the long-run. As long as the planning is carried out by city users, the problems will continue. We urgently need participation in planning and execution by city dwellers. That requires a massive sustained community effort. Today what is called "community action" I would not call "action". It is basically community "reaction". It is only when something comes to light which is so outstandingly bad that the community gets together and objects, that we have what is called "community action". It is a tool for stopping the madder schemes but it is not a positive way of reacting and nor is it a positive contribution by the community. I believe that that tool has to be developed very carefully.

In certain parts of the country neighbourhood councils can do an enormous amount of good. In suburban areas they are the right answer. But I wonder whether they are the right vehicle for the inner city dweller. Community development on a much smaller scale, starting from a much smaller root, will be the answer in the inner cities; a development where people get together and evolve their own authentic institutions through which they can exercise greater control over their own lives. As examples I should like to cite tenants' co-operatives, where the tenants themselves are responsible for purchase, conversion and management of the houses in which they live; and tenants' associations, where tenants associate to protect their common interests.

There is a marvellous example of a tenants' association in Islington where there was an enormous problem of vandalism. The tenants' association was farsighted enough to enrol all the youngsters into a junior tenants' association and it charged them with the responsibility for keeping watch on the surroundings of their developments. That has worked enormously well. I greatly believe in the principle of giving responsibility to people at all strata of society in order to solve some of the problems which face us.

The other problem is obviously employment. Small industrial co-operatives are beginning to appear in inner cities. Many of them have taken advantage of the job creation programme. A very good one in Liverpool is the Merseyside Training Co-operative No.1 A group of people have got together and through the job creation programme they are able to train youngsters in carpentry and bricklaying, and have taken on the construction of fibre-glass boats. They are doing very well.

However, what will happen to them when the job creation programme comes to an end, as is planned, at the end of this year? They have no capital and they cannot get any. This is one way in which we can help the inner cities to help themselves. Why not revitalise the development commissions started by Lloyd George, and give them a little more money for the purpose of giving capital to small co-operative enterprises which can then begin? Thus we can create a coherent whole within the inner cities.

Those are important suggestions because if they are carried out by the community itself there is more likely to be a healthier development than if something is superimposed on it. What can the Government do? They obviously have a hand in all these things. They must encourage self-help. I said that the social services have to spend an enormous amount of money on treating the symptoms of the malaise in the inner cities. Why should not some of the money allocated to the social services be given to community groups so that they can organise themselves and therefore establish a firmer footing and better foundation on which to build? We should make more money available to local organisations for employing local community workers within society. Above all, we must be prepared to take risks when making grants to locally-organised enterprise, and to be less bureaucratic. We have to take a gamble on these things, because I believe in the long term it is only self-help that creates a lasting solution.

Then we heard, for instance, in the Budget yesterday about the Government giving another £100 million for the urban aid programme. The problem is, as always, to what extent Whitehall and the various departments, all involved in a problem like an urban aid programme, will get together and function together. My own experience is that from department to department—and even within departments sometimes—it is difficult to get concerted action. I would therefore hope that the Government are going to allow this money to be administered wholly by the regions of this country, because I believe that that is the only way again that the dwellers within that region will get a real say in the kind of development they want.

Apart from the lack of capital for creating jobs and cuts in housing expenditure, I do not believe that inner cities, except for help of this kind, suffer from lack of money more than any other part of the country. It is just that it has been superimposed and not spent in the right way. I believe, and perhaps noble Lords will agree with me, that if one allows the city dweller to have a greater say in the development of his city, and if we encourage community development—which, after all, is the basis of democracy—then we have some hope in the long run of solving the problems of the inner cities and also of getting the greatest mileage out of public money spent in this way.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene in this debate very briefly, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for giving us this opportunity. I should also like to thank my own Front Bench for promoting me so high on the list, and I must apologise to them if I do not follow entirely the environmental theme. I speak this afternoon as an inner city dweller of what I still consider to be the greatest city in the world, London. The problems of the inner city, as the noble Baroness has just outlined, are not only environmental but social.

I offer three quotations to your Lordships to make my point: In the lightest thoroughfare [in London] there was at every turn some obscure and dangerous spot whither a thief might fly for shelter and few would care to follow… It is no wonder that with these favouring circumstances in full and constant operation, street robberies often accompanied by cruel wounds and not infrequently loss of life should have been of nightly occurrence in the very heart of London. It was not unusual for those who wandered home alone at night to keep to the middle of the road, the better to guard against surprise from lurking footpads: [who may surprise them] few would venture to repair at a late hour to Kentish Town or Hampstead or even to Kensington or Chelsea unarmed or unattended. The second one: A warning to elderly folk of the Borough not to let people into your homes unless you know who they are—in recent months police have dealt with cases involving confidence tricksters: one old lady was so nervous that she had to be persuaded to open the door to the police who went to interviv.v her about the crime. The third quotation: Borough police are on the lookout for a gang of youths who have robbed and assaulted elderly and infirm persons. Although the amounts stolen have been small,… The first quotation is taken from Charles Dickens' Barnahy Rudge, date 1870; the second from the Wandsworth Boro News, date March 1977; the third from the Fulham Chronicle, March 1977.

A ride on a No. 11 bus, which I frequently undertake from your Lordships' House when I "venture to repair at a late hour unattended" can be a very traumatic experience. Drunks come up and ask for some cash—albeit one did say to me, "Excuse me, but could you lend me a shilling?" Fights break out, gangs of boys and girls race up and down the stairs shouting abuse, with the unfortunate conductor being quite unable to deal with them. Almost invariably the other passengers are too indifferent or too afraid to offer any support.

Last week one of my granddaughters, a student at Kent University, was travelling on the Underground en route to the Houses of Parliament to take tea with her mother and myself in the other place. Alone in the compartment she was attacked by a young man. Bearing in mind that we may not mention ethnic differences, I would say he was an overseas visitor. Being a tall and strong girl, as well as a good looking girl, she was able to fend him off. My Lords, this was at 3.45 on a weekday afternoon!

This is not a pretty picture I paint, and I do not like what is happening to this great city where I was born, and of which I have always been proud to say—"I am a Londoner". In the other place recently, Mr. William Whitelaw, introducing a Motion on crime prevention, referred to the danger that many of us may take for granted acts of lawlessness which were once almost unthinkable. The Home Secretary, in his reply, made reference to the state of affairs in earlier times, just as I have this afternoon. But in Dickens' time there obviously was great poverty and degradation. There were great differences between the very rich and the indescribably poor. This does not obtain today. While there may be certain pockets of unemployment, I am bound to say that I am genuinely confused about unemployment in the great city of London, since the very newspapers from which I took these two cuttings contain not one page but five pages of all kinds of employment.

No one would deny that juvenile crime is an increasing and a rising problem. May I mention just one area in which I am now professionally concerned as a director of the Association for the Prevention of Theft in Shops. A representative sample of 1,400 boys in London aged between 12 and 17 were interviewed recently in a study of theft. All the boys admitted to at least some stealing at some stage from a wide variety of sources. Eighty-eight per cent. had stolen from their school; 70 per cent. had stolen from a shop; 33 per cent. from stalls in markets; 25 per cent. from motor vehicles, and 5 per cent. had actually taken away the vehicles. Eighteen per cent. committed theft by the age of seven, and 42 per cent. by the age of ten.

One of the more curious changes in attitudes of our times is that stealing does not seem to be regarded as serious, particularly if it is from a large store. We all seem, even intelligent people, to subscribe to the "them" and "us" or "they can afford it" theory. I believe that as parents, teachers, youth leaders, or whoever is concerned for the young, our approach must be that a criminal offence is just what it is; an anti-social act against the community.

The figures of £550 million of known thefts from shops will show that I am not talking about a small problem. The prevention of crime in inner cities cannot be merely left to the authorities. The honest citizens, who happily still make up the majority of folk living in the inner cities and elsewhere, have to play their part. The moment has come for those who do not like the violence, the dishonesty, the intimidation of this minority to act and speak out. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that the expenditure in Press and television advertising in public service campaigns shows that safety-belts, pedestrian safety, road safety, fire prevention, anti-inflation and antismoking were all given far more money than crime prevention.

If we are to make our inner cities good places in which to live and bring up our children, more attention must be given to the philosophy that small is beautiful. The tower block, the vast school and the enormous shopping area depersonalise the human being and create many of the difficulties we meet today. We must remind ourselves that cities are for people and not for units of population, and a society which ignores this will certainly reap the whirlwind.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I ask noble Lords to extend their usual kindness and indulgence to me as a maiden speaker. Knowing how many experts there are in this august Chamber, I have delayed speaking until I found a subject in which I had acquired a particular knowledge; I declare an interest at the outset, in that I have been engaged as a developer for the whole of my working life. As such, I wish to submit for the judgment of noble Lords some ideas I have, and I will do so in a brief and non-controversial way. First, however, I wish to thank my noble friend Lord Sandford for giving me the opportunity of speaking on this extremely urgent and important matter.

As I see it, the problem of the regeneration of the inner urban areas of our cities is basically that of introducing into these areas means of employment by the building of factories, warehouses, commercial premises and the like. Tempting industry to many of these areas will be a very costly matter in the short-term, but I submit that in the longterm perspective the costs of taking action are bound to be infinitely less than failure to act at all.

The problems of the inner urban areas were the subject of an address by the Secretary of State for the Environment, delivered to the Save Our Cities conference held on 9th February last in Bristol. It was a pity that the Minister did not have more to say about the role of the private sector and perhaps a little less about the possible use exclusively of local government agencies. However, I agree wholeheartedly to the need, to which he referred, for planning policy to be made more sensitive to industrial and employment requirements. This need must be recognised and implemented by local authorities.

The Secretary of State went on to say that the institutions which hold the key to effective action were those of central and local government. Maybe, but unfortunately central government and particularly local government are desperately short of one ingredient, money. Today who is not short of this most valuable and rare commodity? In the circumstances, in the present economic plight, therefore, any local authority real improvement will have to rely on private capital. It is essential, then, that central Government and local authorities should stop looking askance at the private developer and instead actively encourage his participation. Apart from his finance from private sources, he has skills and experiences which he can bring to the many problems of regeneration and he possesses the further attribute that, given the right circumstances and modest rewards, he is willing to take risks in backing his judgment.

If, however, the private developer is to be asked to help, there must be a willingness to recognise his problems. For too long he has had to negotiate an obstacle course of planning process, public inquiry, office development permits and industrial development certificates, the existence of at least some of which render urgent action not merely difficult of achievement but initially impossible. There must of course be give and take; the planning authority must be ready to adopt a sensitive and flexible attitude within the framework of its development plan and the developer must be ready to acknowledge his social responsibility. Together there is much that they can accomplish. By putting private capital to work to effect the earliest process of regeneration will have a two-fold effect; that of giving an immediate fillip to employment in the depressed building industry in the short-term and the benefit of large job creation in the long-term when commercial premises would have been built.

I submit that the right dynamism for the regeneration of our inner urban areas is to set up a development corporation with full executive powers along the lines of the new town development corporation but in reverse; that is to say, not seeking to tempt out to new towns industry and commerce but to induce industry and commerce to come back into the inner urban areas. This suggestion was actively mooted in the policy statement of the Town and Country Planning Association of 16th March 1977. The remit of the development corporation, I suggest, would extend over the whole of the city region designated and would thus do away with the fragmentation of control that at present exists. It should incorporate the good parts of central and local government while attracting substantial inputs of private enterprise at the right time. It would of course be accountable to the proper authorities concerned.

However, I submit that no success can attend on any effort to regenerate our inner cities unless steps are taken within the areas affected to abolish industrial development certificates and office development permits. These two systems entail onerous restrictions on development and are completely out of step with the present need to encourage development. I quarrel with the policy statement of the Town and Country Planning Association where it views with scepticism the advantages flowing from the abolition of these two systems. The Association claims, erroneously I submit, that these should be maintained since development up to, but not exceeding, 12,500 or 15,000 feet require no permits. That is a totally false premise which merely seeks to put back the clock in a futile attempt to reinstate the inner urban areas as a mushroom of very small enterprises from which originally they sprang. It cannot he the answer of a lasting and durable nature.

What I envisage as an early solution is large-scale industrial warehouse and commercial enterprise being introduced into these areas ab initio, thus reducing the time needed to rehabilitate and revitalise the afflicted areas. To this end I quote the action of the GLC as recently as last week when it adopted a recommendation from its planning committee to suspend the IDC system and to abolish the ODP system in the GLC area and to set up an industrial development agency to deal with inner city planning. The new town corporations are able cheaply to buy agricultural land for their new towns; but it is axiomatic that the cost of the land in the inner urban areas can and will be very expensive. It is apparent, therefore, that there must be either Exchequerborne or rate-borne grants to buy land and to clear it and to bear planning loss. This is where the £100 million that the Chancellor announced yesterday would come in tremendously useful. One thing is quite clear: some review of the compensation code is imperative. The detail is unimportant at this stage compared with the acceptance of the principle.

Under the present legislation for special development areas, the industrialist who builds his own factory and the entrepreneur who is prepared to build factories to rent, enjoy tax incentives and inducements by way of grant for regional development, new machinery, building, removal expenses and training of the workforce. These grants should, I suggest, be made available under the development corporation. But the private developer would still face the formidable hurdle of high interest rates, spiralling cost of materials and a large wage bill in a labour-intensive situation and those would normally deter him from industrial development at this particular moment. He should, therefore, be encouraged to the extent of being permitted to take up ground leases at discounted ground rents that would enable him to have a fair, reasonable and modest profit in return for introducing his risk capital. It could well be that the incentive of the grants that I have mentioned would not be enough to encourage him to enter these areas. If that were found to be so, I suggest that one could even go to the limit of offering some tax rebate on his ultimate profit to ensure a properly, modestly added equity to enable him to have an equation of fair return for risk capital.

For the eight and a half square miles of Dockland in London, I suggest for consideration that the land could very well be used for the Olympic Games such as were held in Munich and Montreal.

4.43 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of BIRMINGHAM

My Lords, I am glad of the opportunity to follow so expert a maiden speaker as the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and should wish to congratulate him on the quality of his speech. I regret that I could not find myself in agreement with all of it. In my innocence, I was unable to follow the rather larger financial flights of fancy to which I listened with interest, but I hope that, having left it for three years before making his maiden speech, the noble Lord will speak again much sooner.

My own reason for contributing to this debate is largely because my service in the Church over the past 30 years has been in South London, then in Liverpool and is now in Birmingham. I therefore have quite a personal interest in the Department of the Environment's summary report, Inner Area Studies, to which reference has been made this afternoon. Indeed, I warmly commend the substance of that report and, in general, the conclusions that are drawn from it.

Of course, London, Liverpool and Birmingham are three very different cities and I think it unwise to draw conclusions from one city and apply them rigidly to others. The problems are quite certainly similar but by no means necessarily identical. Others have spoken or will speak of London and Liverpool in particular; but I content myself with referring specifically to Birmingham, because this is the area with which I am at present most in touch and about which I hope that I am best informed.

Sometimes when I am driving through Birmingham both by day and by night I am reminded of that hymn which begins, City of God how broad and fair… and goes on to say, How gleam thy watchtowers through the night With never fading ray, How rise thy towers serene and bright To greet the dawning day". Birmingham is sometimes called the city of a thousand trains, and at night it sometimes gives the semblance of a city of a million fairylights, although I hesitate to say that the overhead lights on the urban motorways can exactly be called fairylights. Then there are the hundred or so tower blocks of high rise flats to which critical reference has been made this afternoon—rightly, as I think. These are those great towers within which tens of thousands of human souls are boxed up. Again, we have heard of the artery-like urban throughways. They do indeed divide the city but, more than that, they provide a rapid means of transit by which many well intentioned and comparitively affluent people by-pass and escape from the intervening twilight zones which surround the business and administrative heart of Birmingham. What a contrast there is between the status buildings and the glittering city centre shops (which are themselves such a magnet for those who cannot afford to buy what they display), the generally green and pleasant suburbs on the perimeter of the city and the intervening deposit of obsolescent housing, industrial decay and social deprivation. I use the term "deposit" quite intentionally, as meaning what is left behind and, very often, left far behind. We are familiar, and have been for a long time, with the distinction between the "haves" and "have-nots" but I believe that to those two categories we have to add a third one—the "never will haves" or those who, often with justice, think themselves to be so.

The basic problems of our inner cities seem to me to begin with poverty. Despite what has already been said and may again be said in this debate about the way in which social security has, in large degree, met a great many of the problems of the poor, poverty is still at the root of all our troubles. It is poverty which is often accentuated by the particular burdens of old age and ill health, by the high proportion of problem families and single parent families who gradually emerge in or drift to the problem areas, by widespread unemployment—we have already heard a good deal about that—and, nowadays, by the influx of citizens of immigrant stock, West Indian or Asian. To this, we must add the factor of human inadequacy and misfortune. The less able are left behind by those who are more able and more enterprising and consequently suffer deprivation in the various terms already referred to—housing, environment, job opportunity, amenities, educational opportunity—and that, I believe, is a very real deprivation for many children locked into areas such as those we are talking about.

Let us remember that deprivation often means actual privation. Of that, I have not the slightest doubt from my own first' hand knowledge of the situation in my own city. Sometimes it is needless privation arising from the fact that those who might be better advantaged from what is provided through social security just do not know how to go about getting it or are too frightened to take the necessary action themselves. There are quite a lot of people in that category.

Then there is a consequent dampening, damning effect of the apathy which arises from long experience of nothing happening to improve the situation. It might sound as if nothing had been done. There are some inner areas of Birmingham which I take pride in and show to people when they come to the city. I did not know what was there before though I hear people who regret the loss of what had to go in order that the new might emerge; but what has been created is splendid, if a bit too opulent and expensive for some of those who would desire to live there. There has been a great deal of rehousing both within the city and on the edge of it, but there has undoubtedly been a great loss in the sense of community and of neighbourliness. There has been the migration to greener pastures of the more able and independent residents to which I have already referred. With all this has come the not-to-be-underrated impact of the break up of the three-generation family to which I attribute so much juvenile crime and irresponsibility today. But then I speak as a grandfather and, let me add, without reference to my own grandchildren.

We have heard already about the relocation of industry, and with it the disappearance of many small businesses and job opportunities, lost to those who cannot travel right across the city to their work nowadays because sometimes they can hardly afford to do so. This is particularly hard upon working mothers who want a part-time job, but cannot take a job which is very far afield, and especially if, in the area where they live, there are insufficient proper baby-minding or nursery school facilities.

The zoning of industry has, in my judgment, gone much too far. Clean air legislation and pollution control have done a good deal to counter the old arguments in favour of separating where people live from where they work, and there are a great many people in the rundown areas of our city who would rejoice to see a return of the smaller industries, whether on a co-operative basis or otherwise, to within walking distance of where they live. It is very much a pattern of the old Birmingham, the old Black Country, and I believe it is one that we have lost to our very great disadvantage.

I believe that urban renewal has proved to have been conceived on too ambitious a scale, and evidence of that is the extent to which it has fallen behind its objectives to a point where a great many area plans have had to be entirely reconsidered because of the sheer cost that is now involved. There has been too little consciousness of the human factor. Too much has been imposed on a theoretical basis without sufficient awareness of what these changes will mean for those who have to endure them. We have been overtaken by a large-scale influx of residents from the new Commonwealth, not least in Birmingham, though not exclusively there of course. They had nowhere else to go but to the twilight areas. They were dependent, and are still, on employment for their prosperity, and they were forced by comparative poverty when they arrived to accept low standard housing and so to reinforce a problem which they did not create.

So there has come about this heightened separation of social classes. There has been produced a very great strain upon educational resources. There are teachers, for example, in areas like Small Heath in Birmingham where 30 per cent. of the children in their classes are the products of one-parent families with all the attendant complications that that imposes on those who try to help those children grow up. There is inevitably a high level of English language deficiency which has to be coped with, and of course very few of those teachers live, or are able to live, or perhaps could be expected to live, in the areas where they teach. I am glad to think that the clergy still do and in this way make a real contribution to the total scene; and it is not all loss.

Let me quote from an article which one of my clergy, who lives in a run-down part of Aston, recently wrote about his own situation as a married man with young children in such an environment: …problems are all relative—your loss is our gain! 'What about the Children?' people say. Well, Martin is 4½ and starts school this January. We're pleased with the school; he'll learn to read and write and we've every hope that he'll be happy. Of course there are children in his class who can't speak English, but there are also specialist teachers ably tackling the problem. And no suburban isolation here, no deserted streets or children ferried everywhere insulated in their parents' cars! 'What about crime?' Well it exists, just as it exists all over the city. We feel every bit as safe as when we lived in suburban Birmingham. On the other hand, it's right to call our area 'deprived'. Poverty, unemployment, social rejection and racialism determine people's lives more than in other areas (which doesn't mean everyone is poor or that all the houses are slums.)". I am glad to have a man like that among my clergy.

What can be done to meet the situation as we know it to be? We certainly cannot leave it as it is, and much has been suggested in the various reports to which reference has been made by others as well as by myself. But I hope that we shall go on from there and face up to the realities of the situation in every possible way and by setting ourselves alongside whose who live in these circumstances. The £100 million, to which reference has also been made, is a start. Much can be done if the money is there. But much can be done by cherishing what we already have: the enterprise of the people who are there and who are longing for an opportunity, as I believe, to demonstrate it; the skills, some of which have not yet been alienated from the areas of greatest social need; the capacity for industry which is undoubtedly there to be generated; the housing which I think could often be regenerated.

But we need to admit and to reverse our mistakes—and not least this separation of where people live and where they work. We need to reverse the pattern by which these have become one-type areas, and perhaps to reverse it by giving a lead ourselves, if we are able to do so. We need to attract more people engaged in commerce and administration and in the professions back to these areas where they lived not so very long ago—half a century or so ago, and that, after all, is not very long in terms of history. We need a greater mix in the housing provision, or in the housing rescue operation, if such people are to come back willingly, as I believe more would do. We need, too, more public investment in job creation, subsidised rents and other advantages for small businesses. We need more nursery school accommodation, localisation of social services and of other community facilities, so that they are not seen as a distant faceless lot inhabiting a vast block in the city centre, but as those who want to befriend those whom they are paid to serve, and who I think often in themselves believe they are calledto serve. We also need provision of capital resources centrally and its administration locally, and I think that in Birmingham, at least there is a case for local area committees, although I do not speak in any sense as a politician. But I do think of areas which are large enough to need that kind of treatment.

Even greater support is needed for the teachers who I believe are doing a most vital and constructive job in areas where most other people either do not go, or feel themselves unable to go. We need, too, greater support for the police, not simply as those who hunt the criminal, but as the guardians of the peace, as a great many of them are still in these areas; not feared, but respected, and in need and deserving all the support which this House can give them. By all means let us work for local participation, recognising the problems of encouraging those who have lost hope to begin to hope again. Let us encourage hope by identifying specific needs, first, if we can, through the eyes and the aspirations of those who are living in the areas where need seems to be a fairly useless word to use.

Let us recognise and plan positively for a multicultural society, recognising that a good many of the people of immigrant origin will want to go on living in areas like this because they have embedded themselves in the area quite properly—the Asians, not least—by buying property, by improving it, and by developing a sense of cultural identity through being closer together. Racialism, though not a word which any of us would wish to speak lightly, is still a factor that has to be recognised and I think lived through, and lived down.

I quote again from my young clergyman in Aston: Racialism especially is infinitely more subtle and piercing than most white people have begun to realise. In the current political climate it's the politically weak and the minorities who are fair game for attack… And all this is compounded by racialism. Anyone whose ministry is among the blamed is going to have to share the blame. He continues, speaking of his own experiences: 'still large barriers of language and culture between us and the Asian majority—large, but not insurmountable. We've found that not a lot happens simply through chance contacts and being friendly on the streets. Here is a kind of loving that really has to be worked at… What does it amount to? Certainly an affirmation of some traditional values: worship and the Christian community at the heart of ministry, a priest living with his people, a neighbourhood ministry, a spiritual and social fellowship for the congregation. And then some quite normal activities occur in a new form, like the ecumenical scene or relationships with schools and the professionals'. But behind it all there is the more radical perception that the Church needs to become much more a place of multi-racial communion and fellowship at all levels"— and here are the words I want to emphasise— if it is to be a sign to the British people of their new vocation to be a community of many races and cultures". I repeat, my Lords, …a sign to the British people of their new vocation to be a community of many races and cultures". So I say to your Lordships that we should make quality of life a real aim, and not just a talking point; that we should encourage and make much fuller use of the voluntary and social agencies that are there; and—and here I speak to myself rather than to your Lordships—that we should try to revive or generate a spirit of civic pride which will permit none of us to turn a blind eye on the black spots which deface our cities, or to dispute where the available resources should first be applied.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, first of all I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for initiating this important debate. I must say that I feel very happy to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham; not only happy, but privileged because of all the things he said in his speech with which I agree—and I agree with all of it. The Birmingham study was, to me, the best one of the three. It seemed to me to go straight to the heart of the matter by being called "The Unequal City"; and, as this happens to be on the same wave-length as the things I am going to say, I cannot help appreciating it particularly. The Liverpool one was the next best; but the Lambeth one I found much too theoretical and much too obvious in the things it advocated. I do not mean this in a harsh way, but I think it really has not helped us a great deal. I must also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, on his excellent maiden speech. Except for the fact that I could not work out how much the incentives which he underlined were going to cost unless we received them as, say, pennies from heaven, or something like that, I agreed with a great deal of what he had to say.

My Lords, this debate poses more questions than it provides answers, and is more articulate in its diagnosis than cure about our national economic ailments, and that somehow our political differences will not be breached during this debate. The phrase "the hearts of our cities" makes me slightly uncomfortable when it is people we are talking about. The trail of deprivation which we must follow—and here I agree with the right reverend Prelate—reaches beyond the boundaries of this trendy reference to "inner cities". In trying to uncover the economic blight that has fallen on some of our cities, we have to go to the roots of the problems—the inequalities that lie at the hearts of these cities. There seemed so much hope at the end of the war, when we tried to build a fairer and better country: yet here we are, thirty years later, demoralised by the existence of slums, homelessness and unemployment, and even disenchanted with so much that the planners have built. I always wondered what kind of people the planners had in mind when the architects built all those high rise flats, because it seemed to me that they were not meant for families with children at all.

In 1959 I accompanied my husband on a visit to Moscow. Mrs. Healey and I were allowed to visit the fiat of a woman house-painter, which she shared with a young married couple and their baby; the flat of one engineer; and the flat of one of the intelligentsia. They were all a little different from one another. I did not see the flat of a ballet dancer, which I was told would probably be the best of all. Discussing the housing problems with one of our Russian hosts, I distinctly remember his saying that their Government had found it uneconomic—that is, much too expensive—to build flats of more than eight storeys.

My Lords, the fact that we have not dealt with the inequalities of the housing system after all these years is a severe indictment of our free democratic society. The violence in Belfast, which has been referred to today by my noble friend Lady Phillips, sometimes makes me wonder whether the housing situation there is tolerable; and I have little doubt that unemployment is still a factor in the troubles that we have in Ireland, in Belfast. I am sure that the bad housing and unemployment which exist in a rich city like New York are a large contributing factor to the violence that exists. So when we propose to give special aid to metropolitan inner city areas, it is not surprising that there is a backlash from the country areas calling for co-ordinated programmes to deal with industrial decline. Urban deprivation, they point out, is not the monopoly of the big cities.

The policies that both Labour and Conservative Governments have followed since the war have failed to change the social conditions of many of our citizens. Bland statements such as, "Every citizen should have a decent home", or about a property-owning democracy, only go to show how necessary it is to have precise policies in housing. There is still conflict between the ideas of renting and owning one's house. It has been pointed out by experts in this field that one of the tasks for the Labour Party is to make tenants equal to owner-occupiers, so that council tenants should not he left without security of tenure. I believe the Labour Party had a better understanding of the policies based on modern sociological and economic understanding of the human needs in urban societies, and the quality of life within these societies. I am only making a few general points and I am not expert whatever in this field.

The main needs, I believe, lie in new building and to deal with the obsolescence in the private rented sector. Emphasis should be placed on giving access to housing for low income earners. To obtain the resources, urgent reform is needed to cut taxation relief which is now given to those who need it least; that is the universal option mortgage scheme and to reduce assistance to owner occupiers. To meet the need for rented housing, a high level of council housing is necessary. These policies amount to a positive discrimination towards deprivation areas which are the real problems in the cities; and it is a major political problem of housing for the workers. The lesson still to be learned by us has been stated in several Fabian pamphlets: that there is no substitute for comprehensive and direct action by the State in meeting housing problems, and in channelling resources to those most in need. This is at the heart of the problems in our cities.

5.11 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, on his contribution which was quite unlike any of the others that we have had; and, not surprisingly, because he has special experience which I myself lack, I was all the more interested in his suggestions. I hope that we shall all hear him very often again—and in less than two years' time. I should like also to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, warmly for giving the House a chance to discuss this question this afternoon. In particular, I was interested in the suggestion he threw out that we might consider in this House having a Select Committee which would in some ways monitor what is happening to the urban environment throughout Britain and, in particular, in the inner areas of cities which we are discussing this afternoon. I had the privilege of being a member of the Select Committee on Sport and Leisure, under the late Lord Cobham. Not only did I learn how much experience there was of both sport and leisure among my fellow members of that Select Committee, but it provoked a debate which was the historical occasion of the first speech by the Prince of Wales. I cannot help thinking that this problem of inner cities is a matter where your Lordships' House can be of value in watching and using the varied experience of our membership in an area which is going to be with us for a very long time and about which none of us this afternoon will say we know the answer.

I want to suggest something which is quite compatible with that idea hut which goes much wider. I want to suggest that the time has come when we should follow the experience which we have had since 1970, when the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution was established, and continued by the next Administration, first of all under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, then under the chairmanship of Sir Brian Flowers and now, more recently, under Professor Kornberg's chairmanship. This has done specially valuable work in monitoring pollution authoritatively and on a continuingbasis. Unlike these pathetic Royal Commissions which come into being and pass away, of which I have had something to do on one occasion, what I call the "Ashby-Flowers Commission", not only gathers together some eight persons including the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, and other friends of ours, with a very small secretariat and marginal expense to public funds, but draws attention to the whole position of environmental pollution as it was in 1970 and follows that up with racy pieces about toxic waste which did not particularly please the Departments concerned or the Government, and, more recently, one on nuclear waste.

I ask the Government seriously to consider whether it would not be valuable to establish a continuing Royal Commission on cities—not on inner cities, but on cities. Anything we can do for inner cities must be part of a wider policy for the city region, and for the country as a whole, as well as for those inner parts of it to which we are considering giving priority, as I personally think we should, in our debate this afternoon. The Royal Commission that I have in mind would start by reviewing what are our present assumptions about the future form of cities in the light of our past experience. I believe that we have been very slow in the last 30 years, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, was saying earlier. We have not been quick enough to see the mistakes which either a particular city council or the Government (either the present or a previous Government) have made. Those great devastated areas, bulldozed without thought for the uprooting of human communities in the process, which have been a feature of the last 30 years of our efforts to plan and redevelop our cities; and those high rise monstrosities which at the time were done in good faith by people who really believed that that was the only way you could make use of this highly priced land in the centre of our cities (whatever the Russians did) were mistakes.

These were mistakes which we now, I believe, generally recognise. That is why the whole emphasis now is on redevelopment and rehabilitation and the preservation of communities as far as possible instead of uprooting them and putting them at a distance. Those were the sort of mistakes that we shall go on making, and that Governments will go on making and will be unwilling to admit that they have made. And when I say "Governments",I mean not only national Governments but local governments. It is difficult for a political Party that has been responsible for a city to admit that it has made a grave mistake and to go back on it. I believe a Royal Commission would help us to learn these lessons quicker and would give us earlier warning of necessary changes than we had in the last 30 years. It would also be authoritative in the sense in which a non-political body can be and a political body cannot. Furthermore, it would treat (as we all of us would probably agree we should treat) the problem of the cities and inner cities as something which is not for "Stop-Go!" and not for one political Party to change the policy each time it succeeds to Office.

We need a policy which is an all-Party Policy (with great differences of opinion about how to execute it; for that is right and inevitable) with a broad picture of what the cities of the future should be. We want to encourage those movements of people who want to have a small house and a garden to live in, who want to get out of the urban context; and to encourage also those who are prepared to come into the urban context and who would like a redeveloped house such as one may find in various parts of London not far from this Chamber in places where people of professional and other classes choose to live for various reasons. This inward and outward movement you cannot stop and should not try to stop; planning should simply help people to make their choices individually in a way that helps the rest of the community to make their individual choices.

These movements involve a rethinking of the assumptions on which our city government and planning have been based and I believe that a Royal Commission that developed a momentum from having a continuing life would get over the political and the departmental difficulties. What we are discussing today—and every speaker has referred to it—covers so many central Government Departments and also many parts of our local government structure. God forbid! that we should now re-organise local government, but there is no doubt that those of us who are unrepentant about the original proposals of the Royal Commission on Local Government in England—with city regions or something like it, and two tiers of local government in the metropolitan areas but a single tier in the rest of the country—still think that that would have made our chance of solving the inner area problems a little better than it is to-day. Fortunately in the metropolitan areas (and I have no quarrel with the decision that there should be London and six instead of the three that the Royal Commission suggested) the district—the old city councils of Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester—still has responsibility for most of the services relevant to the problem of the inner areas; that is, social services, education and housing. Unfortunately outside the metropolitan areas we have to get collaboration between two tiers: the districts—particularly the old county boroughs which are now districts—and the new county councils; for districts are responsible for housing in the inner city areas of Bristol, Stoke-on-Trent or Nottingham, but the new counties are responsible for social services and education.

May I now leave this perhaps foolish suggestion—though I feel it to be a good one—that the Government should consider setting up a continuing Royal Commission on cities which might go very well with a Select Committee of your Lordships on inner cities. Meanwhile, what are we to do straightaway? Decide to give priority to certain inner areas. But there should be no nonsense in our minds. Giving priority to someone means that you give less to someone else, and unless we have the political will, both nationally and in the cities, to give priority to these inner areas at the expense of some areas or some services, particularly at the present time when resources cannot be substantially extended, nothing will he achieved.

We are grateful for the £100 million which the Chancellor tossed to the inner cities yesterday afternoon, but that is chicken-feed when we are thinking of the problems at stake. We cannot expect big additional sums to be added to what is already the public expenditure total. If, as I greatly hope, we mean immediate business for the priority areas, we shall have to do less in those which are not priority areas. Here let me agree with those who have already said that the inner areas which we are talking about this afternoon are all over the country. They are not only in the metropolitan counties, not only in the big towns, they are in small places, too. If we are going to give priority to inner areas where there is this collective disadvantage and deprivation, if finance or other resources are to be made available, it requires great and difficult decisions by national Government to pick among all those who will of course think that their own problems deserve any priority support that is going.

Concentration and focussing are the next requirements. There are already educational priority areas where there is deprivation from an educational point of view. There are housing action areas and various areas which the urban aid programme has been concerned with. If I might refer back for a moment to the Select Committee on Sport and Leisure, of which the noble Lord, Lord Cobham, was chairman, that Committee reported in 1973 and in the enthusiasm following the appearance and speech of the Prince of Wales the Government promised a White Paper. It took them two years, but in 1975 they produced it. They there declared their agreement with a particular recommendation of the Select Committee that there should be recreational priority areas, parallel to and similar to the educational priority and housing action areas.

Perhaps the Government can tell us that something has been done about that. They were going to discuss this most urgently with the Sports Council. That may have been done and the Sports Council may not have enough resources to do it. There is a good example of what I said earlier about priority: if you want to give recreational priority to certain areas but cannot increase the total sum for distribution, other very worthy demands on the Sports Council will not be met. Whatever else comes out of this debate, I hope we could agree that there should be a single focussing and concentration of priority on these inner areas.

On the local government side, the last thing I would do would be to suggest a single pattern of how the local authorities should proceed. In these reports on the inner areas, it is interesting to note that local government has not found it easy to adapt the corporate management concept of better co-ordination of various departments and committees of the local authority, and reconcile that with aid to priority areas. I believe that no progress will be made on the inner area problem unless local authorities have within their committee structure an inner area committee of the council. I believe that every district council which means business by their inner areas should have a committee which ranks with the other main committees of the council, whose chief officer is one of the team that assembles weekly around the board of the chief executive officer. The council must contrive that what tends to be under Gains-type administration, a centralised decision-taking process for the city as a whole, is complemented by decision-taking about special action that should be taken in priority parts of the city.

There is one point which I think is relevant both to central and local government: that is, that we should not allow the private professional firm of architects and planners and developers to go out of business or even to go into exclusive business in Saudi Arabia, the Sudan and other places. These are excellent uses of their talents and skill and for obvious reasons we are all for it, but it would be a pity if we gained the whole world of the balance-of-payments resulting from work in the Sudan of Saudi Arabia and lost the contribution of these persons to saving our own urban soul.

In the last analysis, whatever the policies of the Government may be, it is going to be local government that does or does not effectively carry these out and if national Government is giving special subsidies to priority areas for this or that reason it is right that they should monitor them and be as sure as they can that the money given for special purposes goes to the special places for the special purposes. But there is no real alternative to trust. Local governments are far more likely to make good use of whatever money is given to them if the attitude of Ministers at the centre is to trust them, even though they know that some of them will make mistakes.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join in the congratulations to my noble friend Lord Ashdown on a most able maiden speech, in which he was able most wisely and strategically to talk about his own specialty of development. He referred to the responsibility of the developer for the environment. Your Lordships will, I think, appreciate that he practises what he preaches when you realise that the imaginative development in Victoria Street, which has opened up the Roman Catholic Cathedral and given a new dimension of history and environment to that street, is the result of development brought about by my noble friend and his colleagues. I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for giving us an opportunity to debate this subject, although I doubt whether he could have imagined how widely differing in their topics and specialties would be the speeches this afternoon. I am almost in sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, who will have so wide a range of topics to deal with.

My Lords, in the rush to new towns and new environments after the war—largely to expedite the improvement of areas of bomb damage and of slum clearance—we denuded parts of the great cities of some of their most skilled workers, and we left tragic areas of dereliction and poverty, which got consistently worse as trade and industry found such areas unattractive because labour was difficult to find. At the same time, the retailer in those areas saw the number of his customers being whittled away as they migrated to other territories, and thereby he saw the purchasing power of his market descending. At the same time, we witnessed an immense growth in the multiples, in the then still very viable High Streets, and such growth was often to the detriment of the small individual shopkeeper.

The trend has changed again, and today we find that the great retail chains are unable to obtain in city centres the considerable acreage they now require for their new hypermarkets and car parks; and so they are moving way, way out to the perimeters of cities. Therefore, the only way we are going to tackle these areas—which are often quite small—within the cities and the only way we can revitalise these centres, is by positive action to rehabilitate the dwellings that can be restored and maintained and to bring in new commercial enterprises. Such enterprises will come, in the main, from the thousands of small manufacturers and from the smaller shopkeepers, because more and more the large firms—whether they be industrial, professional or retail—may desire, or indeed are often compelled by the local authority, to move out into areas away from towns, often by the fact that they are commanded to provide four times the area for car parking than they actually want for their factory. Therefore, it will be the small man, who is so often overlooked and so often regarded as somebody who need not be consulted, to whom we must look to bring in service industries and to bring back the retail shops alongside the housing of which many speakers have spoken, in order to restore the life to these communities.

In all the reports that I have read, the local authorities have unanimously insisted that they alone are experienced enough and capable enough to carry out such a project. To an extent, it is their rigid and inflexible attitude which has so often driven industrialists and retailers to seek pastures new. It is they who have concentrated so much on new and virgin areas with scope for prestigious new schemes which could be started from scratch—areas where there are no headaches to begin with. Nobody can blame the planning officers and architects for seizing opportunities in respect of new land which is fairly readily available, where they are able to build, for example, their own access roads. So they say: "Let's get this done to the glory of City X, rather than tackling those terribly difficult inner areas."

We must now change the direction. I believe that, in the same way, as when they went to the new towns they consulted with and made concessions to the prestigious employers, whether in manufacturing or retailing, to get them into the new towns and to make them viable, so in their drive to improve these derelict areas they should equally deal with the smaller groups who are even more closely aligned with their areas. How often do they consult the small manufacturing associations, or the local chambers of trade, who are based locally on the community—sometimes in an area of only four square miles? Nevertheless, they know those areas like the backs of their hands and they know what their members want. How often are those bodies consulted in advance, rather than being told suddenly, "We have got a blueprint: this is what we are going to do—the shops are going to be 2,000 square feet each—like it or lump it".

I believe that we could gain a great deal by close consultation between those associations which are strong in the areas where development is needed and which, because of their modest size but certainly not lack of knowledge of their areas, could make a very real contribution, not only in developing the areas but in encouraging people to take up the projects. The emphasis has to be on the smaller firms and there has to he great variety. It is here that the needs of the locality can be satisfied, because there is available, through these people, the local knowledge which can be so valuable.

Many of the derelict areas are comparatively small parcels of land. Much could be done to help. Even if it required a reduced rental for a period of three to five years, it would be cheap at the price from the point of view of providing employment and rebuilding the heart of the community. When the new towns were set up, they did not hesitate to give the major retailers concessionary rents, or even a moratorium for several years, because they knew that if the four giants were there, then all the other retailers would follow and their shopping centre in the new town would get off the ground. Let us do the same now to attract the small manufacturer and retailer and service industry hack into the areas which need them to provide employment and to revitalise the cities.

If anyone doubts that there is a place for the small shopkeeper, let him study the queues and explain the success of the very considerable number of Pakistani shops which have opened in London during the past few years. They are making an excellent success of their shops, which they could not do unless the need was there. Last night, I read in an evening paper of an imaginative scheme concerning a very well-appointed warehouse in Chiswick, with space for up to 30, where young people with their own craft, knowledge and desire to expand are able to rent the space they require at a reasonable cost, with heating, lighting and other services there, in order that they can start up new enterprises and new industries themselves. I believe that the scheme is very imaginative, has been very successful and is well conducted, and I consider that we could well start something similar in other areas.

Would that we could have such a centre for dealing with problems, because one of the biggest and eternal questions of people today is: Where do you get anything repaired? The electrical shop says "Send it back to the manufacturers". You pay almost as much as the piece of equipment is worth in order to post it one way, and then you are charged for having it posted back. If you ask the Electricity Board to come and repair a frayed flex on a fire or an iron for an old lady, it costs £6.50 just for the man to cross the mat, without the charge for the repair.

Why can we not have one of these warehouse centres where an electrician can do these jobs and where one will have to wait only till the next day, at most, to collect the article? Why can we not have someone who can really repair, and will repair, a pair of shoes—a centre where you can get new corners put on a suitcase, new linings in a pocket, a rib on your umbrella or your scissors ground? I am quite sure that there is still a demand for these things, and a craft repair centre could go a long way to bring in people, and make a name and a new life for a centre.

It would be useless to deny that we have seen a tragic decrease in the community spirit. But it is only patchy in London, because in many areas there is still a village and community spirit. People tend to forget that London is an agglomeration of villages. Kentish Town and Chalk Farm were villages in the sixteenth century. Lambeth was not linked up in the Tudor period. Many of those former villages still have a community spirit, and the right reverend Prelate will endorse the fact that such a spirit very much exists in Lambeth. There is also a community spirit in Dulwich, in Camden and in Soho; but, alas! it has been lost in those areas which have been allowed to run down.

It is very sad that we have lost a good deal of the good neighbourliness and the urge to give immediate help. The feeling of instant compassion has, in many ways, lessened as the welfare services of the State have grown. Where friends and neighbours would rally round in the old days, in sickness or unemployment, they are now more inclined to say, "Well, they will be all right on their benefits and national assistance. They will manage."

But mere cash is not the sole answer to people who have fallen on hard times. They want the moral boost of personal contact and encouragement. They want the feeling that somebody cares and is sympathetic to their problem, even if it is only someone to whom they can pour out their woes, or someone who will help them to keep their chin up and encourage them to try for another job, or to look forward to the days when they will be well. They want the kind of friend who, in the old days, would pop in and say "I was making some cakes anyway, dear, so I thought I would bring around half a dozen for your kids", or "Here are a few vegetables from George's allotment"; or, for the sick person, someone who would pop in and change the bed and do the shopping.

The warmth and loyalty in times of stress in the inner city communities was something about which we all rightly boasted. But the chats over the garden fence have been replaced, alas! by the cold-blooded isolation of multi-storey flats, where a frail old lady finds herself jammed between a hi-fi addict upstairs and unruly children downstairs; neither family anti-social in themselves, but making life hell for the old lady. She does not have a proper opportunity to do something about the noise, and possibly the people upstairs and down hardly know she is there, because they do not meet and talk over the garden fence.

I believe that if we are to bring back that spirit of warmth, that spirit of living and working in and enjoying the local community, we must take a hard look at the restrictive legislation and the high cost of land, which discourages industry from venturing into these areas of blight. I believe that the planning chiefs must be told that, before they launch grandiose schemes in virgin areas, they must look at these inner city areas. We have to take a cool look at the Community Land Act, because that is an open encouragement to local authorities to take new sites, easier sites and sterilise capital and land, which prevents them from doing the work which they might do in these inner areas.

We have to look again at the inflationary cost of existing user rights. Let us look at some of the local authority by-laws, which say "This cannot be used for that purpose". Some of them have been in existence for 20 years, and they are not at all applicable today. Again, we have to look at the application of the minimum size rules under the Industry Act, which, in practice, have prevented inner area firms from benefiting from grants payable outside, although I know that the Chancellor has made some concessions in his Budget which will be helpful in this sphere.

I believe, too, that councils must review the plots that they own and hold on to for future development. They must do something to speed up their machinery in relation to industrial applications, and be seen to woo industry and be ready to work with it in the widest sense, not only those who will live in the area—and, indeed, the small shopkeeper generally does—but the manufacturers and the retailers, in order to make it attractive and viable for people who set up in business and provide employment, which is vital if any housing refurbishment is to be worth while.

As a measure of their intent, I think that they could begin by rehabilitating all those existing buildings which, with modernisation, could provide good accommodation for the next 20 years. At the same time, priority should be given to reviewing the many buildings which are in the possession of councils and are idle. I am thinking of what had been a great residential school, which has been taken over by the local authority and will probably be sterile for years, but with a little plumbing and partitioning it could become a hostel for young people searching for digs.

It would probably be a lot cheaper to give such buildings to known and experienced charities, who are used to managing such properties for the young employed. The Government and the local authorities do not have the resources to do this alone, and I believe that it must be a co-operative effort with all the advantages which accrue to the industrial employment areas applied to these inner areas. If we fail and do not get massive action on these centres, we shall turn London, and possibly other great cities, into something like a bankrupt New York which we hear so much about today. We shall repeat in our other cities the fate of many formerly great American cities where, as all who have visited them know, the perimeters thrive and the ancient hearts of the cities are dead. It is a massive task; but, with vigour and imagination and, above all, co-operation—co-operation from those who will occupy and make viable those sites —I believe that we can succeed.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, I must begin by declaring an interest in today's subject. My firm carried out the Birmingham inner area study to which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred in opening the debate this afternoon. As a professional planner, I have been engaged in many parts of the world with new towns and have planned two—Milton Keynes and Washington—in this country. I shall have something to say later on about their impact on the inner areas of cities.

Other noble Lords have already described the present acute and deteriorating situation and discussed the various immediate steps which can be taken to bring about improvement. I agree that early action must be uppermost in our minds this afternoon, and I expect that this debate will contribute significantly to our understanding of what needs to be done at once. However, I hope noble Lords will understand if I speak on a different aspect; that is, the longer-term aspects of decay and the possible long-term policies which might halt or even reverse it.

In Britain, the state of our inner cities is the result of major changes in the social and economic structure of our society. The actions of planners and the policies of successive Governments, which we can now see to have been sometimes mistaken, are only secondary and not principal causes of today's difficulties. The principal cause is that the fabric of British cities is still very much what it was at the end of the 19th century: the age of the railway and the horse. The railway system, around whose radiating routes our cities grew into spider-like shapes, with development spreading out along the tracks, was always a rail-horse system. It was as dependent on the horsebus—the hansom cab and the dray—as it was on the passenger and goods trains. "Waterloo, cabbie", shouts Sherlock Holmes, pulling Watson into the hansom beside him, "and a guinea if you can make it in 10 minutes". Railway stations were always built just that distance apart as could be efficiently served by horse-drawn traffic, and they generated the highly centralised 19th century city.

Employment in the 19th century was mainly in manufacturing industry, much of it in heavy industry, using coal for fuel and often linked to steel production. So cities grew in the mining areas, and at seaports, where coal and ore could be brought together. Workers were housed at high density as near to the factories and mills as possible. These industry-based cities were not loved; they generated little sense of civic community and were often denounced by reformers of the time as inhuman. The Garden-City idea developed as a reaction, and led in turn to the idea of New Towns.

Today we have a different transport system and a different pattern of employment and they do not fit our old city fabric. Road transport enables people and goods to move in any direction, wherever there is a road, and to go from door to door without changing. Employment has moved progressively away from primary industry into secondary industry; that is, into the production of manufactured goods which are today produced more and more by automated or mass production machinery. Employment is again moving, now into activities connected with the interchange and creation of knowledge. Ideas have taken the place of goods as the main generators of employment. Books, newspapers, television, radio, research, education, entertainment, the arts and medicine are increasingly the basis for employment. As an example from America, in the great steel-producing centre of Buffalo the University of Buffalo is now the largest employer of labour, far exceeding the steel industry and employing a far wider range of skills.

Much of industry is now footloose. Gas, oil and electricity are available almost everywhere from national networks as sources of power. Workers can come from any direction by road transport, and products can be distributed equally easily in every direction. So new factories develop in suburban locations where land is cheaper and more plentiful than in the old city centres. People, and later their shops, follow. Meanwhile, much of the old small-scale industry, which used to give employment in the inner areas, is dying out. We regret this and we are working to revive it, but, except for a few specialist trades, we cannot hope for very much success. Those people who can do so, especially young families, are moving away from city centres into the suburbs where they find cheaper new homes, often with gardens, increasingly better education and more choice of employment if they are mobile. Therefore the inner areas gradually become derelict, as we have heard this afternoon, and house the poorest sections of the community, especially those immigrant populations who are forced to start at the bottom of the economic ladder.

What I have just said is the standard diagnosis of urban ills today and is probably completely familiar to noble Lords; but I do not believe that it is the whole story. The decay of inner areas affects many British cities, some catastro- phically, and is increasingly common; but it is not universal. Those cities which were capitals—Edinburgh, Dublin and London, despite all its problems—have maintained a degree of vitality at their centres. So have university cities—Oxford, Cambridge and Boston in the United States. Possibly, therefore, urban decay is not, after all, an inevitable consequence of present-day patterns of economic activity and transport. But if so, the question is: what has made the difference?

The answer, I think, lies in something that I touched on earlier: the shift in the weight of human activities from things to ideas. Perhaps the new role of the city is going to be as a centre for the exchange and development of ideas rather than products. If this is so, it would explain the unexpected survival of so many German cities. Historically, nearly all of the principal cities in Germany were the once capitals of tiny, independent States. Each had a royal or ducal palace, a cathedral, an opera house, a theatre, a park, often a zoo, and generally a university at the centre. Their inhabitants felt that sense of urban identity which has been referred to this afternoon; they felt that they belonged to their city. This gave some of these German cities a better chance to adjust themselves to the new role of central areas in the 20th century; that is, as a social and cultural exchange point.

If I am right in this reasoning, then in the long run I believe that city centres have to change their role: to accept that manufacture and commerce cannot be forced back in significant quantities and endeavour to expand and to attract medical centres, universities, libraries, museums and theatres—every kind of cultural and intellectual activity which benefits and depends upon that superior accessibility which is the central area's sole but absolutely vital asset.

Before I close, I should like to say something about new towns. It has been argued that new towns have contributed to the problems of inner areas. I think this is not so. Two arguments are brought forward. One is that the financial resources devoted to new towns could have been better applied to supporting inner city renewal. The other is that new towns attract employment and people away from central areas, and thus accelerate their decline. But the facts do not support either of these arguments.

The outward movement from the old centres is a reaction to real social and economic forces. The outward movement in a metropolitan region will be just as great, whether or not some of this movement is collected into planned new towns. The new town organises the movement of people into a concentrated, compact and economical form, otherwise it would simply be the familiar suburban sprawl. The cost of providing roads, sewers, water, schools and other necessary services is certainly less for a given population in a new town than it would be for the same number of people spread out in a suburban pattern. It may come from different Votes in each case but that is not the issue. The issue is the total cost to the nation. Over 90 per cent. of the people and jobs leaving London in the 1960s went to suburban locations; less than 10 per cent. into new towns. So even if the new town population were in some way additional to the general outward movement—which I do not believe it is—even then, the effect on London as a whole is absolutely negligible.

It is my belief that part of the movement out of our city centres is inevitable, and indeed beneficial, and offers a better life to certain groups of the population. I think there is a possibility of maintaining a vital role for city centres in most of our historic cities if they can accept and vigorously welcome the new role focussed on ideas rather than products and the exchange of goods. New towns are better than suburbs; they will save money, save agricultural land and protect green belts for recreation, but they can never compete with the range and culture offered by a true metropolitan centre.

Many aspects of public policy will need to be brought to bear if this long-term approach to urban problems is to be achieved. The debate has brought forward some and will no doubt bring forward more. I believe the single most important issue is land policy. National land policy must be capable of helping cities to write down the high land prices prevailing in central areas, even where decay is already present. Land values linger on at levels which are prohibitive for redevelopment long after the economic reality has made them "hope values" rather than real ones, and the revived city centre in its new role will not come about until this issue is resolved. We should all be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for raising these vital questions for our debate today.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, I entirely endorse the remarks made by the last speaker about our gratitude to my noble friend Lord Sandford. I should also like to say how very much I agree with nearly everything said by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson of Kiddington. I hope to give an example of the sort of things she wanted to see happen being put into practice in one particular inner city area, but before I do that I should like to quote from a book by a major American author, Mrs. Jane Jacobs, which is simply entitled The Economy of Cities. She said this: Solutions to most of the practical problems of cities begin humbly. When humble people, doing lowly work are not also solving problems, nobody is apt to solve humble problems. I believe this throws a lot of light on this debate, and I should like to produce evidence from the Isle of Dogs in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets which will show lowly people beginning to solve problems. This part of London was very severely affected by bombing during the War. After the War, it was rebuilt in perhaps a slightly unfeeling way which gave little scope for a genuinely mixed community, with the result that managers and professionals still tend to live off the island. On this point I should like to question whether "area management" by local authorities will be really effective if the managers themselves are non-resident.

That aside, dock closures and reduced port employment have very badly affected the Isle of Dogs, which in addition has poor access and not very adequate public transport; and the position was that by 1976, with a population of just under 15,000, the unemployment rate for men had reached 14 per cent. and for women it was no less than 25 per cent., while there were some 240 acres of disused or vacant land. That was not a very promising start, but a year ago last March there took place in the Isle of Dogs a consultation which lasted a week and involved just over 100 people, an adequate proportion of them being local people, which I think was just what the noble Baroness meant when she spoke about involving the city dwellers. In addition, four European countries and seven other countries from the rest of the world were represented and, as a result, there came into being something called The Isle of Dogs Human Development Project. It began life with a document of some 100 pages, but since the publication of that document there has been real progress and actual results. I will mention some of those results, and I do so in a random order intentionally, because I believe these varied results show that one needs a complete mix if one is going to awaken the whole of a particular district.

A social club has come into being on the island, which has done things such as organising football matches, children's parties, film shows and considerable fund raising for a pre-school project; it has produced an island song book, and it has even painted up "welcome" signs at the entrance to the island. An historical brochure is in preparation, and plans are well advanced for a clubhouse, providing leisure activities for whole families in one place. The quite well-known Bridge House near the entrance to the island has been restored, and a start has been made on rehabilitating other derelict historical buildings.

On the industrial side a small start has been made with, surprisingly enough, a cottage industry producing leather moccasin shoes. This industry employs a full-time organiser, two other men working full-time and six women working part-time in their own homes. Other small businesses are being planned, and here I should like to say how very much I agree with my noble friend Lady Hornsby-Smith in all she said about the importance of repair businesses, craft businesses and the use that can be made of large old warehouses if they are properly sub-divided and reorganised.

Returning to the Isle of Dogs, a nursery pre-school is functioning from nine in the morning till four in the afternoon, with some 25 children and 14 parents involved, while other parents are going through play group leadership training courses so that additional whole day pre-schools will follow from this pilot scheme. There is a youth action corps in existence which gives training to young people in vehicle maintenance, and a former Port of London Authority building is being repaired by teenagers for future use as a youth centre. The young people in this corps are helping with all aspects of the Human Development Project. At least one town meeting for the whole town has been held and local residents' interest groups are emerging from that later consultation, and they have carried out practical work, which is very much needed, on cleaning up the incredible weight of litter to be found on some of the residential estates.

On the question of transport, informal co-operation between vehicle owners was started, and London Transport has arranged a 20 per cent. increase in the number of buses serving the area. An Industrial Development Advisory Board has been formed, bringing together industrialists, trade unionists and local residents. Together they have surveyed existing industries and vacant land and buildings. They are preparing a brochure to encourage investment in the island. They are also consulting with the Intermediate Technology Development Group on appropriate new industries. At the same time 43 shopkeepers are being consulted about trade development and what they can do to help not only themselves but also the total local economy.

That is a great deal to have been achieved in the course of one year, and I believe we can draw quite a number of conclusions from all this work. The first I would point to is that when you take a particular delimited area out of a whole inner city you must look at all the problems simultaneously. Having done that, you must try to get social and economic development at the same time, and here I think I can quote in my support the mayor of Tower Hamlets. You must, if you can, get contributions not only from the public sector but also from the private sector. Obviously, you need local interest, local activity; but you should also strive, if you can, to get some outside participation as well. Finally, to get this whole process moving, I believe it will be found very helpful to have an organised community resident on the spot to act as catalysts. This idea is nothing new at all, because it was exactly the principle on which the old familiar settlement houses in London, and no doubt elsewhere, operated for a very long time.

My Lords, I believe this experiment I have been describing is significant, if only because it is taking place within the constituency of the Secretary of State. I hope that he, and the noble Baroness who will reply to the debate, will monitor it very carefully. I ask for this because it seems to me that such things as educational priority areas, housing action areas, urban aid and sports priority areas, all these things that have been tried in recent years, have been far too much a matter of remote government, of civil servants and local authority officials spending sums of money without sufficient involvement, and comprehensive involvement, of the local people. I believe it is necessary to motivate whole groups of people and to raise the morale of all the residents in a given inner city area. It is necessary to do this because, somehow or other, we must reverse the collapse of individual responsibility, which is, I believe, very much at the root of the inner city malaise.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to echo previous speakers in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for initiating this extremely important debate. I am sure that he will not be very surprised that the course of discussion has strayed fairly wide beyond the reports of the three consultants on which mainly he based his speech.

I rise to take part in the debate with some diffidence, but I have three perhaps rather disparate claims for speaking today. First, for the five years that I was at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government I had a close responsibility for town and country planning, with some concern with the new towns; and, later on, it was in my time at the Home Office that we started up what were then the pioneering projects of the urban programme and the community development projects which, whatever might be thought about them, did at least make up the first specific assault by central Government on the problems of urban deprivation. Secondly, as the chairman of the National Council of Social Service I have a particular interest in the contribution which the voluntary organisations might make in all this. Thirdly, I am a native son of Sheffield, a forgotten city when there is any talk of special help.

I fear that much of what I want to say serves to underline the difficulties. I should like to begin by saying that there is one difficulty which is really of our own creation, and that is the problem which those involved find in writing intelligible English. I am not referring particularly to the reports of the consultants, but rather to the great mass of articles and comments and reports which come pouring out in such profusion. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, in his very interesting and thoughtful maiden speech, referred to the speech which the Secretary of State for the Environment gave at the Bristol Conference in February. I noticed at the time that The Times correspondent, in referring to this speech and the associated press conference, said that Mr. Shore was being opaque. I happen to think that this was a little unfair; hut I confess, anyway, to a very lively sympathy with Mr. Shore who, before he spoke, must have waded through a great deal of the literature written on this topic, and can readily be forgiven if at the end of it he felt slightly bemused. Much of this literature is written in the jargon which is so favoured by social scientists on both sides of the Atlantic. There abound strange words like "dysfunction"—spelt, my Lords, with a "y". One has to pause over the misprints which occur to make sure that they are indeed misprints and not some horrible new words invented for the occasion.

I will resist the temptation at this stage of the debate to comment on the machinery of government aspects, issues which always seem very much easier to those outside than to those who actually have to work them out. But I should like to repeat the point which has been made before: that it is important to remember all the time that there are limits to what central Government can do. Obviously, the central framework of planning and of industrial policies, and the distribution of resources, are of the very first importance. But nothing very much is going to happen unless there is real local involvement.

In saying this, I have two things in particular in mind. First, it means the full concern of the local authorities—and I mean the local authorities. My heart sinks a little when, through the fog, one finds looming up suggestions that yet more pieces of local machinery should be created, perhaps yet another tier of elected representatives. There may be a need for doing something more; and I certainly would not quarrel with the thought advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, that there may well be a case for a new inner city committee in certain areas, but I hope within the existing framework of local government. I certainly hope that those concerned will think very carefully before creating yet more pieces of organisation outside the existing local government structure. I should like to say, too, that my experience suggests that local hierarchies involving the day-to-day direct commitment of Ministers are troublesome to organise and to keep effectively in being for more than a short time.

Secondly, local involvement means looking to the voluntary organisations which already exist and which are ready and willing to play their part. This is a good way in which to get value for money, but it is simply not a way of getting things done on the cheap. These voluntary bodies cannot help without receiving more money for training and basic administration, and without some guarantee of continuity. What they can do, with any luck, is to help to counter the disturbing picture we get of local people with little sense of belonging, who feel remote from authority and probably antagonistic towards authority. These voluntary bodies have a real role to play in giving disinterested advice, in helping to instil greater self-reliance, and in encouraging neighbourly care.

It seems clear from the broad hints that Ministers have been dropping that the Government are thinking about concentrating special help on just a handful of arbitrarily selected areas, although this has not emerged very sharply from the debate so far. We have all seen in the Press the names of the five cities which are thought to be the favourite runners. The modest £100 million promised by the Chancellor yesterday, primarily, from the way he put it, to help the building industry, is destined for a few areas, as yet unspecified. I can clearly understand the reasons for selecting some areas when nothing worthwhile would be achieved if the limited resources available were spread too thinly. However, quite apart from the point made in the leader in The Times of today—with which I have much sympathy—that it is dubious whether it would be right to add to the available resources by cutting down on the new towns, I begin to hesitate over the assumption which seems to underlie the proposals—and which is certainly often made by the commentators—that the worst problems are necessarily to be found in the hearts of our big conurbations. I do not believe that that is so, for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Radcliffe-Maud, touched on a short time ago.

Whatever may be the demerits of the community development projects, they showed with painful clarity that acute problems arise in areas which are often assumed to be rural. I have in mind the projects at Cleator Moor in Cumbria and the Upper Afan Valley in West Glamorgan. Then there were the reports on Batley, which is not an area within a large city, but all the same shows up problems I suspect just as serious as those to be found in, say, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which we read is likely to be one of the favoured areas.

We are bound to ask ourselves just what this inner city policy, in the form in which it seems to be emerging, is trying to achieve, and what the implications are of giving priority to just five or six projects for areas inside the biggest cities. Projects on this scale will not make much of a dent on urban deprivation across the nation. As I have said, I quite understand that there are not enough resources to go round. I also assume that it is hoped to learn lessons in these areas which can be put to more general use, although experience suggests that it takes a very long time for lessons to emerge, that considerations vary very much from area to area and that by the time the lessons have emerged, political beliefs about priorities have quite likely changed. But to divert special resources to particular areas in Liverpool or Birmingham will not be of much comfort to the Batleys, Cleator Moors and the Brightsides of this world, which have problems that are just as serious.

This is a real dilemma and, so far as far as I know, no very clear policy has been propounded. I hope that, in reply, the noble Baroness may be able to tell us a little more about the benefits which are expected to accrue to a wider community by putting resources into just a handful of selected schemes, although I should not be surprised if she went on to say that we shall have to wait for the White Paper for the answer. I, personally, find all this quite puzzling and should greatly welcome—now or later—some further illumination.

I should like to make one other point before I sit down. It concerns the urban programme to which I have referred but about which we have heard very little so far. This programme is designed to help local authorities to alleviate special social need in urban areas by relieving the plight of the most disadvantaged in those areas. The programme stems from the Local Government Grants (Social Need) Act 1969 under which a 75 per cent. grant may be paid towards approved local expenditure. It is a modest programme. As I understand it, the £23 million available this year hardly allows for anything but the continuance of a number of projects. I appreciate that it has become rather fashionable to scoff at the programme as providing trivial palliatives which deal with the symptoms rather than the causes of deprivation. However, as no one knows with certainty what these causes are—as our debate has shown—and even if the diagnosis skilfully set out by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, in his opening speech was accepted as comprehensive, it is difficult to think that acceptable policies could be divised within our total resources to remove these causes altogether, I think that there is much to be said for palliatives. Even a small amount of money can make a great difference locally, and without this programme there would certainly be fewer day-nurseries, language training schools for immigrants, adventure playgrounds, hostels for battered wives, legal advice centres, holiday schemes for deprived children, and so on. The programme has the merit that it firmly involves the local authority which has to find a quarter of the cost and fit these projects into its wider policy for tackling deprivation in its area. Voluntary bodies can also be brought in, although admittedly only if the local authority wants this and is prepared to pay its share. I believe that about a third of all local authorities have benefited under this programme.

I speak with prejudice. But I should not have liked this opportunity to pass without saying that I believe that the programme has done more good than is sometimes appreciated, and that I should be sorry to see it go or to see it even more starved of funds, so that instead money can be spent on just a tiny number of chosen areas. There are serious issues here affecting the lives and wellbeing of many of our fellow citizens; nor are they problems which will go away with increasing national prosperity, as the experience of the United States so starkly demonstrates.

I am sure that we all look forward this evening to the speech from the Government Front Bench, and to the forthcoming White Paper, in the hope that we shall get clear and persuasive answers to what are admittedly the extremely difficult questions we are posing here today. I am not competent to express a view on the idea which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, threw out about some form of committee of this House to keep a continuing monitoring look on the situation, but I certainly think that the issues here are of such gravity that in one way or another this House ought to return to these problems on future occasions.

6.31 p.m.


My Lords, I join everyone else in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for giving us the opportunity for this debate. I join everyone else in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, on his impressive and informative maiden speech. The only thing I want to say is that if we are going to have the Olympic Games in dockland, London, we had better start recruiting our security squads now!

I do not share with my noble friend Lady Gaitskell any embarrassment about this being called the heart of a city. It at least reminds us that we are looking in this case for a pacemaker of some sort, but it also reminds us that this is part of an organic problem and not purely the kind of mechanical, physical, structural problem which we have been thinking of so consistently in our planning, I am afraid to say, in recent years.

We must not romanticise the inner city. All the world over the inner city is the Casbah, the ghetto, the Bowery, the Dickensian slums of London. As a crime reporter I knew the inner cities of Dundee, Glasgow, and London. I knew the slums of the Overgate, the Gorbals, and London's East End slums—in some cases worse than in Dickens' time because they were 100 years older. I sometimes thought on those sorties with the crime squad that the real criminals were not the ones we were hunting but those who exploited and tolerated the conditions that we were seeing; and those responsible included the neglectful city fathers.

Like the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, which once housed, before we started to convert it some of the worst slums in Scotland, an inner city may be picturesque and properly converted, can become gracious and inspirational instead of a social mockery and a community reproach. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Robson of Kiddington, I am all for preservation and restoration of the worth while. One of my most moving experiences was in Warsaw immediately after the last war when, in the total and systematic devastation, I saw the Poles in their thousands among the ruins of the Old City of Warsaw sitting chipping the mortar off the bricks of the debris so that they could be put back brick by brick as they were before. And so they have been. The buildings have been replaced architecturally, externally, as they were, and internally with modern amenities.

So too in the city of Kiev; a city in a garden in the Ukraine. It was deliberately devasted by the Nazis by fire and explosives. The trees of the boulevards were burned by flame throwers. Where the facades of the dignified old buildings remained they were restored and the blackened scars painted over—as remember the White House in Washington was painted over after we burned it. The shells behind have become habitable, useful, modern buildings. Then you have a city of two and a half million, planned and zoned so that the parks and gardens and the open spaces are four times the extent of the built up areas. There the inner city has been retained as a kind of tabernacle to the past.

When we talk about planning and Communism, and so on, all I have to remind you is that if you go to Russia today you will see taken very seriously, I assure you, the kind of problems we are discussing today. For example, in the Leningrad Soviet they have a continuing 20 years' plan, and every day in every way that plan is looked at and reassessed and revalued. It is not a fixed plan; it is there to meet the kind of necessities or changes of attitudes which experience will throw up.

I hate to use this word, but I think both my noble friend Lord Llewelyn-Davies and I can be described as interested in the science of ekistics. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Allen, but that, if, my Lords, you forgive the word, is the science of human settlement. And it is a science; and if you consider what has been done and thought all over the world—and not just in this country or in the Western countries—about the nature of human settlement, and not just in the demonstrations of the Habitat Conference and so forth, you will realise that there is a great body of knowledge and experience which has somehow been overlooked or neglected.

Knowing this, I wonder why we, the British, of all people, are today reproaching ourselves, and rightly reproaching ourselves, for our handling of the inner city. We were pretty enlightened. We were an example to the world in town and country planning. When I was a young reporter in Dundee sensitised by the slums, one of my inspirations was Professor Patrick Geddes, the pioneer of town and country planning, the mentor of Lewis Mumford and of his "culture of cities" —Geddes, who believed that bricks and mortar need not be an affront to nature, and that human settlement could be consistent with improvement and enhancement of the quality of life in a real sense.

During the 1930s I felt that we were getting somewhere. We had the Garden Cities movement, we had Letchworth as planned development, we had Fred Osborne campaigning for proper suburban development, and we had enlightened and forward-looking architects preaching not just about buildings—flats and so forth— to house people, but thinking about the social emphases and their meaning. We had an appalling problem then, as we have now, of sub-standard housing; intolerable, then as now, even on sanitary grounds. The problem which faced everyone then, in London demonstrably, was the problem of what was called "decanting". It was decanting in those days, which was the problem—where to put the people when the slum sites were being cleared for redevelopment.

The boroughs did not have elbow room; they did their best. I remember Riverside Mansions in Stepney; a block of working class flats as high as the building regulations then allowed. They had lifts and laundry facilities and a general community within the building. I welcomed that, without the premonitions of high rises and Ronan Point, and so on, which we had later on. There was Bermondsey, where casual dock labour had to be on the spot to suit the tides, and which had an appalling slum called Vauban Street, which the right reverend Prelate may have known in the old days. In those days it was below the level of the river so that regularly with high tides the water of the river sluiced through the Victorian terraced houses, bringing water rats and river slime. Bermondsey, within the restraints of that situation and its limitations of elbow room, converted a disused dock into a site for a block of flats to house the people of that street when they were being decanted.

The LCC began its overspill programme and built Becontree and Dagenham. People from the slums of the East End were moved into trim, semi-detached houses— the sort of thing Fred Osborne was preaching—and lessons were learned (some of them we have forgotten) the hard way. But the rehoused people started trekking back into the slums because although the rents of the houses were reasonable—I assure noble Lords that they were—family budgets were stretched. The children wore out their shoes walking to school, they developed healthy appetites because they were better placed and better housed and those sort of things caused a real strain. In addition, the women were lonely because they could not push their prams down the Mile End Road doing window shopping, admiring the things they could not afford to buy. There were no pubs, no locals, no community centres and no churches; they were just living areas. I remember on one occasion how Churchill reproached—very much as the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, is reproaching the official jargon of the housing programme after the war and chanted: 'mid pleasures and palaces I may roam; Be it ever so humble, there's no place like a living unit. It is to be hoped that we learnt a great deal from what occurred at that time, and certainly we put more imagination into the next generation of housing development.

Another point which we are discussing today I find particularly significant because it is demonstrably true: we have forgotten the city villages. During the war—many noble Lords here today will remember, and were probably involved in, what happened in London during the war—when we started to evacuate people from places called Stepney, Poplar and Bethnal Green we made an extraordinary discovery, though I do not know why it should have been considered extraordinary because it should have been self-evident. It was that when people were moved they did not know from which boroughs they were moving because they paid their rates hut did not identify with their boroughs. They belonged to a neighbourhood or a village, an area around a church or pub or whatever else it was. They were moving from a community and away from people with whom they had a real identity and were friends. There were city villages and until we learn the sense of that, a great deal of what we are trying to do will be sterile.

Then came the new town policy and agree with my noble friend Lord Llewelyn-Davies that there is no justification for the suggestion that the development of the new towns was responsible for the decay of the inner cities. It was in the first instance an attempt not only to produce new development in the industrial and community sense but of necessity to release the concentration of the cities and the suburban sprawl. It was a meaningless suburban sprawl with all the complications in terms of transport that that meant and has demonstrably resulted in confusion since.

The lesson to be learnt is that the people who move in those circumstances—they are not moved compulsorily; they are not put into a removal van like their furniture—leave because they have the enterprise, or see the necessity to move. But one of the problems which that throws up is the fact that they are, by and large, the younger people and the more enterprising. That means that, as they move, they are not only physically taking themselves as people away from the area but are taking the leadership and meaningfulness from the neighbourhood, and as a result the neighbourhood becomes bereft. Many studies have been made into this in the United States, where this is a manifest tragedy and where mobility is even greater. In other words, as people move from one part of the country to another they leave behind a ghost community, a community bereft of leadership.

That is the problem we are considering today. It is not just a physical and material problem. We are trying to find out how we can have neighbourhoods which are meaningful; we are trying to restore to these communities their lost leaders. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham, whose speech I greatly appreciated, pointed out that, in such circumstances, practically the only person left nowadays as an inner city dweller in any professional sense is the local clergyman. Teachers and doctors do not live in such a community. The only people who remain are the deprived, and I refer to the deprived not only financially but those who are deprived of inspirational leadership and indeed of human comfort. It is, therefore, not a question of structural or physical planning, for one of the tragedies is that when the bulldozers move in, they demolish an area not only in terms of the buildings but in terms of human and living relationships as well.

I invite Lord Llewelyn-Davies to come to Edinburgh now to see our devastation. It is not just a question of inner city deprivation, but of the fact that developers and others have conic in with bulldozers and have destroyed buildings before we have been able to do anything about it. We have great scars in our lovely city of Edinburgh. Even in Glasgow there has occurred what in my view is an atrocity. Certainly there was plenty to reproach in the city. It ma} have been rather soot-covered, but there was a Victorian dignity about it. Now we have spaghetti junctions, throughways and fly-overs, and I am told that people are coming from all over the place to look at Glasgow as a solution to the transport problem, this at a time when they are destroying and disfiguring the city, fixing technologically upon us the stranglehold of this sort of development. In San Francisco they are pulling down the fly-overs we are now putting up in Glasgow.

I support strongly the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, for a continuing Royal Commission. I would prefer, once we have reformed the House of Lords, that this House should be that continuing Royal Commission, making us the House of the future, responsible for the future and designed to protect the future against the kind of ravages which lack of imagination has created, generation after generation. What we are looking for is imagination, initiative and money. I was going to say "a lot of money", but "a lot" of money nowadays is entirely relative. What £100 million would do to repair the scars which have been created by the developers in their attempt to develop, one cannot say. Even that sum would do only cosmetic surgery. What I and, I hope, all of us want to see is that the lessons are learnt. Our native genius and the kind of resuscitation of the creative industries and the renewal of our city centres are matters which ought to be the concern of everybody, but they ought also to call for very careful monitoring.

I want to say how much I support the idea of the noble Lord, Lord LlewelynDavies, that we should look again at our cities to see what we can do to restore the beating heart of those cities—or, rather, than the heart, the brain. How can we bring back into the cities the sense of the fact that we have in these cities something which, culturally, we value? I believe that we ought to be pushing our universities hack into the heart of the cities. We have taken them out and left that form of inner city blight. We ought to be putting them back, and we ought to use much more imagination in creating in the inner city the living amenities for the people who ought to be there—the dwellers in the city—and we should, as the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, has pointed out, pay much less attention to the city users in the sense that they are the "corners and goers" and that they take their rates with them, robbing the local authority of what should be used in the heart of the city. These are the kind of things that now require deep thinking, social consciousness and a public will to see that the inner city will not only be a heart with a pacemaker, but will again be a part of a living organism.

6.53 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Sandford for giving us this opportunity and, further, my appreciation of the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Ashdown. I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, that I hope he will agree that the developer has a very particular role in the regeneration of our cities. I understand his criticism because I speak as chairman of a preservation society and also as chairman of a housing association. However, I believe that to understand the developer, we must understand what he is trying to do within the context of planning. That will really be the substance of my few remarks this evening.

Last year, barely 12 months ago, Dr. Alice Coleman gave a particularly important address to the Royal Geographical Society. It was entitled, Is Planning Necessary? As she was director of the second Land Utilisation Survey, which was begun in 1960, she was able to point out some very alarming statistics in regard to land use. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Llewelyn-Davies, has left the Chamber temporarily, because I was going to attach some of my remarks to the final statement of his speech, in which he said that the single most important issue was land policy. In that, I very much agree with him because Dr. Alice Coleman, in her address, said the following: No planner creates waste land deliberately. Is it fair to hold planners responsible for the near doubling of waste land in the Thames area between 1962 and 1972? I think it is fair because the proliferation of waste land was one of the chief abuses of which Stamp complained and one of the leading arguments for introducing planning in the first place. The question is, how much waste land is there in the hearts of our cities? This seems to be a very important issue and one to which the Civic Trust has devoted its particular energies and attentions. The Trust is about to produce a survey of towns, cities and villages in this country. This will be produced in May, so, unfortunately, I can only quote from some very early reports that have come in to date. However, it appears from the initial study of 250 of these surveys that the corner site, the gap site in a row of shops and the street scheduled for development, demolished but never acted upon, are subjects in regard to which the planners should really look to their laurels.

Wherever one goes in the country one sees such sites and the Trust's study related to those areas. I believe that it would be beneficial to go to another city —Bristol—and to quote the experience there because there has been a very unhappy experience in that regard in Bristol. The Health Authority was asked in the 1950s and 1960s to centralise its hospital provision. It took over an area of 15 acres and knocked down a large number of Georgian houses, some distinguished, some not. In so doing, the Authority discovered what a particularly difficult site it was going to be to develop. In addition, its experience was that it did not need all the site, and those houses that remained standing on the site were left to decay further.

I believe that there is a tremendous object lesson to be learned from Bristol and what happened there, because a whole area was blighted in the way which we know all too well. I believe that the lessons to be learnt can be drawn from what the Civic Trust said: It said: Looking back, one wonders whether the change in official attitudes might have been achieved much earlier if more people had made a fuss years ago: without pressure from local groups, it seems highly probable that the site would have festered indefinitely. It is hoped that more land will be released and that perhaps two multi-storey car parks could take all the cars now parked on the surface". The lesson remains most strongly and I believe that the action of local groups in rehabilitating those houses not required is a growth point in the housing industry and I particularly commend to the Government's attention the very effective publication issued two years ago by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and called The Economics of Conservation.

Perhaps I may dwell for a moment on economics. Despite the fact that the cost of building is rising so sharply, I believe that we may say that, today, the cost of a 900 square foot living and working area house at a rate of approximately £17 per square foot takes one into the bracket of over £15,000. That is a house built as new from ground level. I think that it is true to say—and certainly, as chairman of a preservation society, this has been my experience—that an equivalent area could be rehabilitated for approximately two-thirds of that cost.

Prices change every day. The cost of paint rose only recently or is about to rise by a factor of no less than twenty per cent., so I shall not stick out my neck too far. Nevertheless, there are very appreciable savings to be made from rehabilitating old property and, despite the effort, both mental and physical, which is needed to do so, the return in terms of the environment is incalculable.

I should like to refer to a publication which my noble friend Lord Sandford will remember, as will the noble Baroness. It is called, Tommorrow's London and was published at the time of the Labour Government in 1969. I should like to refer to a particular sentence in Chapter 8, which deals with participation. It said: We will preserve our heritage, our good buildings and our trees, but we will not allow the city to choke in a welter of antiquated rubbish. I am on the side of the "antiquated rubbish", which I assume graphically describes those houses which the planners feel to be of insufficient architectural merit for preservation. I believe that there are very real causes for anxiety, which I think the Government are now appreciating, that the decaying property is well worth while rehabilitating.

I was particularly glad to read in the Birmingham study, referred to by the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Birmingham, that the study suggested that there was too great an emphasis on new housing; a disproportionate amount —I think the Budget was £34 million as opposed to a rehabilitation budget of approximately £6 million. It may well be that there are good reasons for that disproportionate amount. I do not know how this budget has been scheduled or whether there is a special problem here. Often it happens that the structure of old houses in an industrial area has been affected over a very long period by in-industrial pollution. If one takes a single brick and taps it, its whole structure will decompose, will fall apart, and one realises that one cannot preserve every building one would like to preserve. Nevertheless, there is a strong case for a re-examination here.

I should further like to draw the Government's attention to a problem which I believe is a real one in the preservation field, and I have said so over many years. I refer to the building regulations of 1966. Of course I am aware that they have been changed and varied from time to time, but I should like to draw the Government's attention to one particular factor above all others in the building regulations which demands a ceiling height of seven feet six inches in living rooms. There is of course a relaxation procedure, of which I am well aware, but I believe that a great many buildings are unnecessarily demolished because of the requirement to have living room ceiling heights of seven feet six inches. If it were possible either to provide a more easily obtained relaxation procedure, or further to relax the standards by even a matter of inches it would be of great importance. As I have previously said, I strongly support the building regulations so far as they enable old houses to be made safe, or safer, from fire risk. I believe that the building regulations fulfil an important function. Nevertheless, their application by both the fire authority and the local authority needs the sensitivity to which, I think, in other areas, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchic-Calder, referred. It is sensitivity which is required in this field.

I should like to refer to the situation of the small shop in the city centre, which has already been referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson of Kiddington, and my noble friend Lady Hornsby-Smith. Small traders in blighted areas have a special grievance. I have in mind the tobacconists, the newsagents, the shoe repairers and the street corner greengrocers. On reading an article in The Times on 21st March I felt that Mr. Ken Peters, the secretary of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, put the matter very well. I quote his words: Whole areas of towns are being wrenched down leaving in their wake a trail of small shops, deprived of suitable premises and without means to compete against the multiple and trendy boutiques for the new plush sites in the High Street. This is a real need, and we will see ourselves progressively deprived of those very valuable small traders unless we are particularly aware in the planning stages.

I refer finally to a publication which I hope is in almost universal distribution in the Department of the Environment, though I regret that it has not to my knowledge been quoted from sufficiently frequently. It is a book called Goodbye London, written by Mr. Christopher Booker and Miss Candida Lycett Green. There in graphic form are the planning lessons which we should have learned. If we have not learnt them by now, it is about time we did.

7.5 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to those already offered to the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, on the occasion of his vigorous and informative maiden speech. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who ecclesiastically is my noble friend, for the opportunity he has offered to us of discussing this imperative matter and not least for the suggestion he made in his own speech that probably the way in which we could second that debate in the other place would be to inquire fairly deeply, if we could make such an effort, into the causes and the nature of the kind of problems that belong to the hearts of the great cities. I believe that that is probably the best course that could have been taken, and I am glad to have found that in the course of the debate that indeed it has been taken.

I want to suggest that there are two areas in which these problems lie. One belongs to the nature of the city itself, not alone its heart, but its lungs and every other part of it, whereas the other belongs more existentially, so to say, to what has been happening in the past years to some of the conurbations in some of the inner cities of this country and of other countries. I offer as a contribution initially the kind of examination that the Churches have made into the condition of the inner cities, particularly such inner cities as are listed in the favoured programme of the five. Ted Wickham, the Bishop of Middleton, has written I think the authoritative treatise on the fact that the most mortal enemy of organised religion is the modern city, and he adduces the various reasons for which he comes to that conclusion. I would in parenthesis remind myself that there must be a modification of this general assertion, particularly in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Llewelyn-Davies, has already said, and the fact that there is no uniformity that can be attached to the great cities even of this country.

Nevertheless, I think that it is informative and relevant to remind ourselves in examination of why it is that organised religion has so far declined, and the facts are, I suppose, something like this. Within many an inner city area the proportion of those who go regularly or frequently to church is about 1 per cent., whereas in the general area the proportion of those who still have attachment to organised religion must be about 10 per cent. Why is this? In the first place, there is an artificiality about the modern city, particularly that which has been fertilised out of the Industrial Revolution and still retains the nature of that kind of city, which is very different from the traditional general cities to which the noble Lord, Lord Llewelyn-Davies, referred particularly when making a reference to Germany. The artificiality means that the natural rhythms are destroyed by the coming into being of electricity, by the nature of the conurbation, by the destruction of night and day, by the eradication of the seasons, and the various natural processes; and this must have a deleterious effect. Although it can be argued that the countryside may breed superstition, it at least cherishes wonder, and it is the element of wonder which is very largely lost in the great conurbations, and, being lost, one of the great props or one of the great safeguards of a religious background goes with it.

Therefore one of the elements with which any attempt to deal with the problem with the inner city is concerned must be a preparedness to look at some method whereby a renovation of the naturalness of life can be reintroduced in what has now become so fundamentally artificial. In that artificiality another of the elements is the lack of community. I know very well that there is a kind of community that belongs to the Gorbals, and still belongs to the Gorbals, and it is a community of deprivation. I have no disagreement at all with the sense of neighbourhood that children have, particularly because they play in the streets, but I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, that probably that sense of belonging to a neighbourhood tends to be dissipated as the child grows, and I should have thought that it is very much less likely that the adolescent and those who have grown up into that environment possess still that sense of involvement in the neighbourhood, least of all, of course, in the urban district.

Finally in this regard, those who have looked at the question of why the Churches have failed, or why people have failed to support organised Christianity, have been impressed by the fact that it is general and not particular. Once upon a time, we Methodists used to say, "We are doing badly but, thank God!, the Baptists are doing worse"; but now the problem is across the board or, shall we say, across the aisles, and is no longer confined to any one particular creedal statement or one particular Church. The delinquency which was so eloquently referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, is a matter upon which those who work in the inner city, as I do, or try to do, are well aware. I had occasion to mention when I last spoke in your Lordships' House that in our hostel for boys the life expectancy of a television set was about six weeks. It had just disappeared; and I have to tell your Lordships now that the coin-box of the telephone system in the house was "whipped" last night, and I am giving the widest publicity to this in case anybody should know anything about it. These are facts which underline the inevitable consequence of the artificiality and lack of community in the city as such. There are variations and modifications of this general theme, but if there is to be any renovation or reclamation of the inner city, that inner city must recover both a sense of living in a real world and a sense of belonging to a real community.

My Lords, added to these fundamental questions, which are subject, as I admit, to certain modification, there are of course the matters to which reference has been made over and over again in this debate: the decay, the miserable and dreadful decay, sometimes due to sheer neglect, sometimes due to inefficiency, sometimes due (as I rightly suspect, I am sure) to a wrong sense of priorities—the driving of great arterial roads through the heart of a city—and, in fact, the failure to recognise that there are three areas in a city, and that decay has belonged to all three of them. There is the central area, there is the inner city and there is the suburb.

My Lords, I work in what is called Camden. I would suggest that Camden has now come to be a tripartite local community. You could think of Holborn, which was one of the original parts of Camden, as being part of the centre of the city; you could think of St. Pancras, which is the second constituent, as being part of the inner city; and I suppose you could think of Hampstead, the third constituent, as being part of, shall we say, the urban or suburban area rather than the inner city itself. Now if there is to be any attempt to deal with the problem of the inner city, it must cut across the unnatural boundaries which hitherto have activated the local administration and, indeed, the local authorities in general.

However, I want to refer for a little longer to some of the other evils. It is a fact that poverty is attracted to the inner city. It is a fact about which there can be no doubt, though there may be various reasons which can be attributed as being responsible for that fact. It is a fact, and it is a fact of increasing importance and of increasing severity. It is also a fact—and here again I have some evidence of it, and would pass it on to your Lordships if I may—that within the area of many inner cities there is no concordant programme and no sense of what, after all, should be done with them.

What has not been asked this afternoon is whether or not what we know of the inner city in a particular set of circumstances ought to be preserved at all. I can quite sec the value of preserving the cultural city, which has a history and which is capable of attracting, not only attention, but love and fellowship. I can believe in the residential needs of certain areas which are now more or less derelict because of the depredations of those who have knocked a great deal down and built very little to put in its place.

I can see the value of a particular area which is now very largely bowdlerised by the wrong sort of industrialism and could be recovered for a healthy suburban or inner city area. What I cannot believe in is that it is necessarily possible to take some of the areas that I know of in London and other places and redeem them; and though to demolish them and start afresh from scratch is an impossible dream at the moment, yet I believe that a great many of the expedients to which we ought to attract the attention of local authorities must he fairly short-term. But I am not at all satisfied that when some kind of better civilisation dawns upon us we shall necessarily want to preserve what we now call the inner city.

Finally, my Lords, may I make one or two suggestions? I heartily agree with what has already been said by a number of noble Lords that the end of the process is to put the responsibility much more upon those who live there and those who are in the natural neighbourhood, which would mean, in my case, in Holborn. I am on the edge of Holborn, and a great deal of the responsibility that I have belongs to Westminster. But there must be some kind of inter-relationship as between the various local authorities, because the boundaries are not natural and do not necessarily belong to the inner city at all.

Secondly, I am quite sure that there is need in some cases for neighbourhood committees, and already in this debate this afternoon evidence has been put before your Lordships of the way in which neighbourhood committees have indeed made great progress and have astonished those who felt that such enterprises would be shortlived end based mainly on emotion rather than on common sense. I refer, if I may, to one in which I am interested, the day centre at Kingsway, in which we have found how possible it is to create and maintain a sense of community by people living in a great deal of the poverty of that part of London.

Finally, I am always attracted by that magnificent last line that Carlyle wrote in his English translation of Martin Luther's hymn, "Ein fest' Burg". Your Lordships will remember that it goes like this, The City of God remaineth". Your Lordships may prefer to put that in a less ecclesiastical frame, but I am satisfied that the only kind of city which is likely to remain is that which conforms to the pattern which is found in the created universe as we know it—and the countryman knows it far better than we do. But in fact it is only possible to maintain any prospect of a city which is likely to persist if we can persuade those who are invited to live in any part of it, whether in the lungs or in the heart of it, that by so doing they are embarking upon a progress to a full life, and not merely maintaining a particular kind of economic or industrial civilisation.

This, I think, is the ultimate problem: it is the ultimate solution. One thing which is beyond any question is that you cannot wait for the millenium when you are concerned with human beings; and I heartily endorse the enthusiasm and the effort which has already been put in the speeches which we have heard this afternoon as to the need immediately to do something to recover from the poverty, the artificiality, the lack of community and the sense (to use that "in" word) of alienation which is a mark, I think, of so many an inner city and could be removed by an application, not only of money and resources but, still more, of a common spirit of enterprise.

7.19 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of SOUTHWARK

My Lords, I must first apologise to the House for not being here at the start of the debate, but an inescapable engagement made that impossible. I particularly regret that I was unable to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown. In fact, I would not have thought it right to intervene today were it not for the fact that I feel very strongly on this subject. I began my ministry just over 40 years ago in one room in a foul slum, a condemned house, where I lived for a good many years; and now, for 18 years, I have been the Bishop of what is virtually South London. So, really, for 40 years, apart from four wholesome years at Cambridge, perhaps the most beautiful city in the British Isles, I have lived in the whole of the inner city, and not in just part of it.

I am not going to generalise. I want to confine myself to the sort of problems I have experienced in South London. When I say "South London" I mean just over Westminster Bridge and along the riverside. We could start on it in five minutes and be in the heart of it in about twelve minutes. I want to put what I have to say under three headings: housing, poverty and the environment—not just negatively; but to state the problem and then put before you what I believe is a way towards a partial solution.

First, with regard to housing. Look across the river. There are too few houses. It is difficult to estimate exactly; but we need to think not in terms of hundreds or of thousands, but in tens of thousands. That is the first thing about housing. The second thing is that there are too many bad houses and sub-standard houses. The other day, I got the figures of people on the waiting lists in the boroughs on the other side of the river. In Wandsworth, 35 per cent. of the applicants on these lists have no living rooms; in Lambeth, 46 per cent. share a bathroom; also in Lambeth, 50 per cent. share an inside lavatory; whereas in the borough of Southwark, 40 per cent. have no inside lavatory at all. The third thing about housing is that much of the new housing not only leaves a great deal to be desired but encourages anti-social behaviour at an enormous cost. Come and visit some of our new housing estates, with their bleak corridors, their vandalised lifts and their appalling sense of isolation. Much of it is so badly planned, much of it so badly maintained and much of it, alas!, so badly managed.

There are three items on the agenda showing why the housing position is desperate. That, in all conscience, is enough; but I have to add a fourth: the lack of rented accommodation which makes life difficult for single young people or one-parent families or immigrants. Yet the latest figures show that there are 50,000 properties empty—30,297 being in Southwark borough alone. Some of these have been empty since 1973. What an appalling state of affairs! Is there any way towards a solution? I can only suggest steps towards a partial solution.

First, we must take seriously what is called a social mix. There is a crying need for middle income groups to come and live in the inner boroughs in their own houses. They should be encouraged to come as owner occupiers. Some of these houses could be built by the council or by private builders on council land. That is where I think we need to have another look at the political myths about the private ownership of houses. I deplore whole areas being taken over by a particular council or a particular group of people. There must be a mixture. What is so wrong about people owning their own houses? I know that this does not apply in many of the countries which are communist. I have been to Romania recently. There, the Government authorities boast of the fact that since there has been a communist régime, far more people own their houses than owned them before. There is nothing of which to be ashamed about that.

I have served on a housing committee in Bristol and in Cambridge. If people have council houses and then they get possession of them they might be encouraged, we are told, to sell them to other people for a large profit. There is a very simple solution to that; and we had it in Bristol. If you want to sell it, then you sell it back to the council. There is no question of there being exploitation. That is what I greatly hope is a way forward: a social mixture of people of all economic backgrounds and classes being encouraged to live together in the same area.

Secondly, if we look to the future, new houses should be more traditional. Most people want a terraced house with a small back garden; they do not want a flat in a high rise concrete block. I remember the horror of this coming home to me when I was visiting some sick people in Plumstead at the time of the electricity strike. It was not safe to go up in the lift; in any case, it was not working. I had to climb 15 or 17 storeys. I asked myself what this must mean for mothers and babies, to say nothing of old people who have to go up and down these stairs; and even when the lift is working, you must often wait for a very long time. No, they want more traditional houses where there is less vandalism, less litter and a greater respect for property.

Why is there less litter, less vandalism and a greater respect for property? It is because you can care for a small area which is yours and which you can see from your window and which you can, perhaps, defend. But there is no sense of responsibility, public or private, for vast anonymous areas with lifts, corridors and massive stairways. I realise that we cannot do away with what we have got; unfortunately we are not so wealthy as California. But housing units should be smaller and managed with the help of a tenants' co-operative. That, I believe, will bring about a tremendous change. People now feel, as was pointed out by one speaker this afternoon so helpless when they find that something goes wrong. To whom do you go?—To something called "management"; there is no one person on the spot to whom you can go with your immediate difficulty.

Problem number two is unemployment and poverty. In the inner ring, half the tenants of the Greater London Council have such small incomes that they are eligible for rent rebates. This may be because they receive low wages, because they have large families or because they are living on pension. Whatever it is, it is a disturbing fact. Another disturbing fact is the great decline in employment in the inner city because firms have moved away. That is one of the things I have noticed most since I have been a Bishop. Shortly before I came to Southwark there were 69,000 manufacturing jobs in the borough. In 1975, the number dropped from 69,000 to 30,000. In some areas, the rate of unemployment is 20 per cent. Youngsters with ambition have little or no opportunity; so they just clear off.

Is there a solution? Can we point to one?—I think so, if we can do three things. First, encouragement must be given by the Government to people to stay in the inner city or to return to the inner city. Planning has resulted in thousands of small businesses and shops being moved out or closed down. The small shopkeepers in redeveloped areas just cannot afford the rent. They might stay, they might return, if they are given subsidies for their new shops and factory premises. There must be more opportunities for training school-leavers in skilled jobs. Secondly, and this is very important and sometimes overlooked: when we train people for these jobs, we must think of the sort of jobs we want to create in the inner city. They are not primarily office jobs or services. They are in manufacturing industry. That is where help should be given.

Thirdly, the environment, which brings before us the whole problem of deprivation. My diocese extends to Gatwick Airport. My Lords, if you were to come with me from Gatwick Airport you would come first to Reigate—what we call the gin and Jaguar belt—and the lovely Surrey Hills; you then move into Mitcham and Streatham and things begin to get a hit grim. As you get down to Brixton you notice a very great change; you come to Kennington, to Elephant and Castle, then Walworth and Rotherhithe. The inner cities are coming in upon you— over-crowded street, noisy traffic, the dirt. I love my cathedral at London Bridge but I must say that as I move towards it my heart fails because of the squalor. I do not know how many noble Lords know Southwark. The sheer squalor and the hideous dirty buildings are a disgrace to any city which calls itself civilised.

As to health, twice as many babies die before the age of one in the inner London boroughs as compared with the outer London boroughs. Regarding education few children leave inner city schools with any qualifications, and very few go on to further education. I remember going to one school some seven or eight years ago and the headmistress told me that they had over a hundred changes of staff within a year. Another headmaster said, "Do not believe the figures put out about schools. I can tell you in this school it is between 25 per cent. and 30 per cent." Community decline: the younger skilled workers have left the inner city, leaving the elderly and the unskilled. Worse still, the planners have destroyed and are still destroying settled communities and family groupings, so in the end you get psychological deprivation and more people leave. Those who remain feel they are failures; they feel hopeless, lacking opportunities for themselves and their children. Unable to exercise responsibility or control over their environment they become apathetic, the problem becomes greater, and then even worse when racialism rears its ugly head.

Do not let us close on that depressing note, my Lords, because I think there is a way forward. Financial priority needs to be given to the inner city. I realise that money is short but matters can be improved without extra money. How, my Lords? It is by allowing a much greater flexibility when it comes to the uses to which money is put. If more were spent on decent housing and the provision of skilled jobs, far less would be needed for the social services which deal with the casualties of the decaying city.

With the decline of the population there are many half empty schools, halls and premises. These should be retained and imaginatively adapted for social purposes. More money should be spent through voluntary rather than statutory bodies. I know that may be unpopular with some members of your Lordships' House, but that is the result of long experience. Voluntary bodies are less bureaucratic, less distant, less wasteful and they involve local people. In other words, let us have more money for play groups and less for nursery schools; more for housing associations and less for the GLC housing department. That is difficult at the moment when we do not have all the money that we want. Local Government—and I speak as one who for years has served on two boroughs—is wasteful of money and time. In many areas in the inner cities it has virtually totalitarian power, controlling almost all the land and housing, and it makes nearly all the decisions affecting the environment. These powers should be curtailed; whatever happens they must not be increased.

Then my final observation my Lords: inner city problems cannot be solved by advice and financial help from up above, from the powers-that-be alone. In the last resort people must solve their own problems. People in the inner city must feel responsible for their own lives and must share in the decisions made for their future. In the past so much has been done with the best of motives by planners, architects and politicians. They failed because the people were not properly consulted. The help was often misplaced through ignorance of the local situation and the result has been greater apathy and lack of responsibility on the part of the people.

If I may give one illustration of this: in South London there is to be a second Hyde Park. This was decided many years ago but I believe it will he quite a long time before it is finished. How splendid to have a Hyde Park in South London! But if the mothers had been consulted it would have been found that they do not want their children to go off over dangerous roads to a distant park where they cannot keep an eye on them and do not know what may happen to them in some vast green area. They want small parks near at hand where they can look out of the window and see where little Polly or Betty is and shout down to them when it is time for them to come in. But the mothers were never consulted. I am quite sure that the people who were consulted had never lived in an inner city and have no notion of what it means to live in a high rise fiat. I believe that we must consult the people. If we take them into our confidence then the architects, planners and politicians can work with them for a nobler city where people can live in dignity and with hope.

7.38 p.m.


My Lords, I want to thank my noble friend Lord Sandford for initiating today's debate. I should also like to thank my noble friend Lord Ashdown for his notable maiden speech, but I expect your Lordships will thank me if at this stage of the debate I telescope my remarks instead of attempting to cover all the different points on this subject that spring to mind. I will concentrate on just one or two that have not been mentioned or not in the way that I want to mention them. I want to look at the problem from the other end of the telescope, at the function of central Government in considering and working out what should be done in the inner areas of our cities.

The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbey-dale, in a fascinating speech, reminded us that there were limits to what central Government could do. I accept that, but central Government is the source of the money, or most of it, even if it is only through the rate support grant. It is essential for central Government to know what it is that they are trying to do, and to be aware of the problems that those in the inner cities have to deal with. Of all the chilling facts and insights contained in this interesting document, Inner Area Studies, one of the most frightening, to me, was paragraph 38 of the study on Liverpool, which reads like this: Until very recently departments"— that is, departments of central Government— have pursued apparently independent policies. Some have operated in the inner areas through special projects (Department of Education and Science, Home Office); through social policies (Department of Health and Social Security); or through concern with housing and local government finance (Department of the Environment). But for two key departments (Industry and Employment) the inner area perspective has been missing. The first question I should like to ask the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, is this: do the Government feel that the mechanics of central Government enable them to know enough about the problem they are now considering? Far be it from me, my Lords, to call for a reform of central or local government—we have had quite enough of that—but do the Government really know about the problems? Are they satisfied that this dislocated machinery enables them to have a thorough look at what they are preparing a White Paper to solve?

I should like to suggest that one of the matters which could be done is to ask the Central Policy Review Staff to study and examine this problem of co-ordination of policy towards the inner city in the same way as they were asked to look at social policy. Perhaps the noble Baroness could tell us whether they have been asked to do so. If not, does she not think that it would be more useful to do that kind of thing rather than playing "tip and run" with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?

There is one other point I particularly welcomed in the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Allen; that was his comment on jargon. I always thought, loyal supporter of the European Economic Community though I am, that "Eurojargon" was the worst jargon, but that was before I discovered "piano-babble" when preparing over the last few months for today's debate. The communication gap that exists even among those who are trying to learn about these things is something that needs to be looked at.

Of all the different solutions to the many enormous problems which are contained in the subject matter falling within today's debate, T should like to spend a minute or two on employment which, to me, is the key—not just short-term palliatives such as the job creation scheme, which are of course important and worth while, but the longer-term prospects for employment. Employment brings fulfilment to people and decreases dependence on social secutity. It brings money into the area, which sustains the shops and all the other services and facilities that go to make up a genuine local community.

Most of what I had intended to say has been said already, much better than T could have said it, by my noble friend Lady Hornsby-Smith; but I feel that the need to examine exactly what can be done now to increase employment in the inner areas of our cities is one of the most urgent needs. We must have precise analyses and clear definitions. There is some disagreement, of course. Some commentators think that the most important factor in the decline of employment in the inner cities and the rapid loss of manufacturing jobs has been the death or the movement of large firms. That is referred to in the Birmingham study—one of the three studies in the report which was initiated by my right honourable friend Mr. Peter Walker. Others believe that the key is in the smaller businesses. Obviously, both have a role, but we should be quite clear as to which we should go for.

The Government have already taken a tentative initiative in dealing with industrial development certificates. I notice that the Department of Industry has changed the IDC policy in so far as it affects the replacement of obsolete buildings in urban areas. That has already been announced in another place, and I wonder whether the noble Baroness can tell us whether this "chipping away" at the issue of industrial development certificates is a prelude to a more wide-ranging and fuller examination. May we be told what types of employment the Government are now prepared to encourage or sustain within the inner cities? For example, I learn that Greenwich has its own employment development officer. Is that the kind of thing that the Government would like to see continued and expanded?

It seems that the planners are the new music hall butts and are about to take over from the tax inspector and the mother-in-law—everybody seems to have a rude comment to make about the planners. I do not wish to follow that policy in relation to those who do not seem to be too popular or who are not here—with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Llewelyn-Davies—to defend themselves. But whether or not it was economic growth which led to the beginnings of planning control and whether or not it was population growth that was one of the prerequisites in the thinking of planners, we must now admit that to some extent the planners have planned the life out of our inner cities. We must admit, whether or not their original assumptions were right at the time of the 1947 Act, that the whole structure of our planning system has become to complicated for a declining nation—or at least for a nation whose wealth is not increasing—and that this hits our inner areas very hard indeed.

I should like to ask the noble Baroness this: if the Government are beginning to admit that planning controls have an effect on our inner cities—and their action on IDCs with obsolete factories seems to indicate that they are—how are their considerations of the inner areas of our cities linked with housing finance? I am not asking for the secrets of either White Paper to be revealed today—of course not. But it is impossible to consider seriously that either can be examined exclusive of the other.

I should like to conclude by following up what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, about the need for continuous examination of this problem. Looking at the various seminars that have been held on this subject and at the articles that have been written, one becomes aware that this subject is something which suddenly becomes fashionable every few years or so, and explodes on us. I think it would help the public debate, and indeed the political debate, if there was a more continuous input of well-digested statistics and analyses of the kind provided by the studies which were the inspiration for this debate today.

It may be that the Standing Royal Commission, suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, would be the answer. Certainly, if your Lordships' House and another place are going to evolve, as I believe we should, a range of specialist Parliamentary Committees looking at particular areas of governmental activity continuously, that would be another way of doing it. But whichever way we do it, I hope that Parliament will have a role in examining what government, local government and central Government, is planning for our inner areas.

The phrase "the uncaring bureaucracy", which is not new, appears in these reports. But most bureaucrats are not uncaring people. It is their machinery and methods of work which make them so. If we are to sustain confidence in bureaucracies, be they national or local, we must make sure that their work is scrutinised and explained in public. I believe that, either through the standing Royal Commission or a specialist Committee of, preferably, both Houses of Parliament, this is something that we must try to do, if the problems of our cities, and particularly of the inner areas of our cities, are to be dealt with in a way that encourages local democracy, encourages local feeling, rather than takes away from it.

7.52 p.m.

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, I intervene briefly in this debate because I feel that it would be incomplete without a voice from Wales. I do so partly out of gratitude to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who yesterday, when he announced the £100 million of Government money which is to be spent upon inner city problems, included a reference to the Principality. This was particularly comforting, because from official sources, even as lately as two weeks back, we were hearing very discouraging noises. Therefore, it was especially gratifying to find that Wales, as well as the metropolitan areas of England and the City of Glasgow, more particularly I suppose, in Scotland, is to have some share.

I have an interest to declare, and I shall have to do my best to steer clear of the Addison Rules. But I have never found that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, whose voice I hope we shall be hearing, has been unduly inhibited in talking good sense about water simply because he happens to be chairman of the National Water Council. Therefore, the fact that I am chairman of the Land Authority for Wales will not, I hope, preclude me entirely from saying something about the land problem as it affects inner city redevelopment and rehabilitation.

In fact, the reason why I am not able to present to your Lordships tonight an elegantly turned discourse, as well phrased as some of those to which we have had the pleasure of listening today, is that I have been far too busy in this last week of our financial year in completing purchases of inner city land in Cardiff, our capital city of Wales. I should like to say just a word about our capital city of Wales, because although it is far smaller in scale than the metropolitan areas which are the subject of the reports, which have been the main content of our discussion today, it exemplifies just as clearly the problems of an inner city, where we have a dockland—very much smaller, of course, than the dockland of East London, but a dockland—which has declined steadily since coal ceased to be a great export trade.

We have a civic centre which is second to none, of which we are extremely proud. But not many yards from it we have an area, which I see from all the windows of the tower block in which I have my office, which is a picture, very largely, of blight, of squalor and of dereliction, and which has been in that state for a number of years and, of course, needs to be tackled. The City of Cardiff is doing its best but it cannot possibly undertake all that is required, and that is why the Land Authority for Wales is also taking a hand.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, to whom we are greatly indebted for having initiated this debate, said, very properly, that he wished to eschew Party controversy, but yesterday, he will recall, he made some rather derogatory remarks about the Community Land Act. I would draw his attention to the current issue of Planning, the journal of the Town and Country Planning Association, which has a column beginning with the words: The Community Land Act is alive and well and living in Wales. I draw his attention to this, because I think we have proved, or are in the process of proving, that we have a much more satisfactory organisation for the administration of this legislation in Wales than there is in England, or, so far as I know, in Scotland. We have one organization which is concerned with this matter of development land for the entire Principality. We work, of course, in the closest possible partnership with local authorities, but we can take a much broader view than any one authority, and we have a concentration of resources which is denied under the English system. I think we also have greater freedom of action.

Our purpose is, of course, to encourage private development, and here I very much sympathise with some of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, to whose speech I listened with the closest attention. I thought he may have protested a little too much about the need for assistance to the private developer, and perhaps there could be some occasion when we might discuss this subject. Nevertheless, it is extremely important that we should recognise the need for partnership between the private developer and the public authority, and I repeat that in the Principality, on our relatively small scale, we exemplify a pattern which might be studied with advantage elsewhere.

We have, of course, in Wales, as they have in Scotland, a Development Agency and, more recently, the Development Board for Rural Wales, which is hardly concerned with the problem on which we are engaged tonight. But I repeat that our Land Authority is working very closely with local authorities. I think that this is a good pattern, because I entirely agree with all noble Lords who have stressed the need for participation by the community concerned in the planning of its future. I am quite certain that the democratic processes of planning must be carried out by elected bodies; that there must be the structure plans, the local plans and so on, and that development must take place within a framework which has been determined by processes of consultation, and, ultimately, by the decisions of elected bodies answerable to the community.

But the implementation of those plans is quite a different matter, and I feel very strongly that the type of local authority which we have, which can carry out public services in many directions but is a cumbersome committee system, is quite unsuited to questions of land development. I am not, of course, speaking of land which is being built upon for the purposes of the local authority itself. That is quite another matter. But my brief experience has shown me that one needs to have an entrepreneurial spirit, and I was very glad to hear one or two tributes to the new town organisations, because I believe that they exemplify a combination of, and a balance between, entrepreneurial spirit and public responsibility. I am happy to say that a number of my own team have had experience in both the public and the private sector and in the new towns. You need a mixture if you are to succeed in the development of these inner city areas.

I hope very much that the Government will look very carefully at the way in which we should proceed and that they will also look, as the noble Lord, Lord Llewelyn-Davies, so rightly said, at our land policy. The noble Lord made it plain—it is fairly obvious to all of us, but he speaks with great experience—that land is basic and that the way you deal with it is the only basis upon which you can redevelop your inner areas.

The noble Lord also said, I thought so rightly, that you cannot have adequate and satisfactory inner city redevelopment unless you look at land values. This is what frustrates even those who, like myself, are extremely anxious that we should do all that is possible to use the land which is there already—much of it with services provided, even though the surface is blighted and derelict—instead of eating up our green fields on the periphery. We in the Land Authority have the most sensitive conscience about this matter, but we have to face the economic facts of current land valuation practice where, as the noble Lord, Lord LlewelynDavies, rightly emphasised, there is still by tradition a very large element of hope value which is nowadays, in many circumstances, quite unjustified.

I must admit that in the short time since I received it I have not been able to analyse the extremely interesting report, to which the noble Lord. Lord Ashdown, referred, of the Town and Country Planning Association which was published very recently and which is entitled Inner Cities of Tomorrow. However, may I direct the attention of noble Lords who are interested in the matter, and also that of my noble friend Lady Birk who is to reply, to the section on land policy which is contained in the report. I do not agree with it in every detail. For example, I do not hold their view, that you should hypothecate increasing land values for the benefit necessarily of the particular neighbourhood from which they were derived.

However, I think that the report has drawn attention very clearly to some of the problems which must be solved if we are to succeed in this programme of rehabilitation. May I quote a few sentences from the section on land on page 15 of the Report: The way in which land is held, valued and managed is crucial to any solution of inner area problems. In all areas, the present basis of valuation militates against the redesign of the inner cities on the lines desired… In all cases, land appears to have an unrealistically high book value, thus inhibiting its release for any purposes which will not realise that value". This is precisely what one suffers from. If one takes a district valuer's valuation, for example, one has the impression that every square metre of inner city land must be devoted either to luxury offices or to a superstore. The report continues: One will have to enable book values to be written down to the real market value of the land, which may be much less than their theoretical development value based on historic land use zonings". However, the report points out that if you use these inner areas for some of the purposes which most of us agree would be desirable, you reach the point where you ought to be valuing certain land in certain circumstances at current use value, not at market value.

Unless the Government are prepared to tackle the problem and find ways of dealing with it, we shall face considerable frustration, despite offers of help from the centre. The report goes on to point out that under the community land legislation the point could be reached, under the so-called second stage, where one would then be able to buy land at current use value instead of, as at present, at market value, less development land tax. In an inner city area, development land tax is not necessarily so helpful as one might suppose. It depends very largely upon the history of the site concerned. If the base value is too high, then the social value of buying it, less development land tax, is very much diminished.

I do not wish to go too far into these technicalities, because the hour is late. All I am trying to do is to impress upon my noble friend—and, I hope, through her upon her colleagues in Government—that unless they look with close attention at land policy their plans for the inner cities are likely to be very much longer drawn out than they need to be, and possibly very seriously frustrated. I repeat that I speak from experience of facing this problem in the inner city area of Cardiff. Very shortly we shall he telling the world about what we have been able to achieve in our first year of operation, and our land policy statements and rolling programmes will be published. The Town and Country Planning Association's report suggests that these are secret, but they are not secret: I trust that they will be published in the next few weeks. I am happy to say that we are working with housing associations on the sites to which I am referring, and that we are hoping either to keep people living in the centre or to bring them back to live in the centre. We are doing this because we are trying to hold a balance between other sites, from which we can make perhaps greater profits, and what we feel are the social needs of the inner city.

Finally, may I warmly support the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and others who have suggested that we are uncertain, groping and still tentative about what the pattern of our future cities is really to be. Therefore, before we spend too much of the £100 million, and whatever further funds may be coming our way, it is urgent that greater attention should be given to this problem. The whole problem has arisen very suddenly and sharply. It has been before our eyes for all these years, of course; but, for bringing the problem right into the heart of domestic politics, we owe a debt not only to noble Lords who have spoken and to various organisations but also to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. My right honourable friend has seen the obvious, but it is the obvious about which nobody has spoken before in a purposeful way; so it behoves all of us in our various capacities to apply ourselves to solving the problem. I repeat, however, that we should seriously examine it with the utmost urgency.

8.9 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say a brief word of thanks, first to my noble friend on the Woolsack for making it possible for me to speak, and then to my noble friend Lord Sandford for promoting the debate. I have to declare an interest. For many years I have been chairman of the Standing Conference of all the planning authorities in the South-East region. Therefore I rub shoulders with the planners who today have been referred to with some doubt, I think. However, I can certainly assure noble Lords that they strive, and strive gallantly and most skilfully, in my opinion, to translate into action what they believe to be the wishes of their masters. Nevertheless, the fact is that all of us have rather confused minds, both at Government and at local government level, about just what we do want in this very complex field. May I put on record my tribute—I am speaking in particular of London—to the Greater London Council and the London boroughs for the immense efforts that they have made to grapple with this enormously difficult problem.

I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Ashdown on his maiden speech, which was entirely in line with the remarks I want to make. If we are to achieve a recovery in these decaying inner city areas it is absolutely essential to get a mixture of local government effort and private enterprise. These areas must be made attractive to bring private investment back there, because only in that way shall we create the new jobs that are needed.

I was enormously interested, as always, in the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Soper. I agree with him, of course, about the artificiality of urban life—I am a countryman myself and a churchman—but it is in the very long term that this situation will be put right. In the short term I am quite certain that Government and local government must do something to help the residue population who have been referred to today: the very old, who are still there; the young unskilled and, in the present circumstances, unemployable. We must help them. They will need every help they can be given for the next 10, 20, 50—probably 100 years. So here is an immediate situation about which we must do something.

In looking at this picture, which is a sombre one, I think—and I believe most planners think—of the immense success that we have had in the past 30 years in the development of the new towns round London and in other parts of the country. Here we have been able to create really successful new developments: pleasant residential areas for new homes—some rented, some owned, but mostly rented; pleasant industrial estates which are prosperous, pleasant playgrounds. The whole delightful atmosphere is one where people are obviously happy and prosperous and employment is high. What is the lesson to be learned? It has been made attractive, and obviously the new town corporation is a very suitable instrument, and I shall return to that.

So, without going into the analysis which I should have liked to go into, I will shorten my speech and turn to some of the solutions and the action which I think the Government really should now take in order to make these inner city decaying areas attractive enough to get new investment coming in, new businesses starting and existing businesses beginning to expand, and to bring back skilled workers who will want to live there, buy their houses there and send their children to school there. Until we get that we shall never get the rest employed.

The first thing that sticks out a mile for London is that the Government really must abolish IDCs, ODPs and the LOB. These bodies have done a splendid job in the past but they are now completely superfluous. These are things which I am sure the Government could do immediately, with no loss to anybody. What we are trying to do is to reverse the flow, not to keep it going out. The second point on the planning level has been referred to by many speakers today; namely, that we need a more flexible approach.

There is a feature called the nonconforming user with which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will be familiar, which in all planning strategy we all wish to eliminate; that is, industry or business in the middle of residential areas. For very good reasons it has always been the purpose of planners to get rid of these, but in the inner city areas this has been done to a large extent and of course the result now is clearly disastrous. We want them to stay there; we want to bring them back. There may be a certain amount of inconvenience; they may be a bit noisy; they may even make some smells but, God bless my soul! they do provide the jobs. I am glad to see the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, nodding her head and I hope she will feel that in these special areas that particular strategy of planning, which is absolutely right generally, is wrong there. It should be relaxed; a much more flexible attitude should be taken to the non-comforming user, and indeed to the man or woman who is enterprising enough to start up a little business in the back yard. These things should be looked at flexibly, and the planning authority should be there to help rather than to restrict and to regulate. I was interested to see that the consultants recommend this, and I am sure it is right in this area—I would not say for everywhere.

On the question of land use and development, I very much agree with the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady White. There is no doubt that there are large, decaying, derelict areas where there is nothing happening at all, no development —and there is not going to be any because they are not worth anything to anybody. They are in the book, so to speak, at very high nominal values, which I feel absolutely certain are quite unrealistic and need somehow to be written down to existing use value. They are practically worthless.

I come here to a point which has already been made. I think the Government really must consider a new instrument for the administration of these areas. The new town corporation concept has been talked about today. It appeals to me very strongly because it has had a great success. It has somehow the right philosophy to get public authority and private enterprise working together, which is what we must get in these areas; and I should have thought it not impossible that some way could be found to transfer these areas into the possession of, perhaps, inner city corporations, which will take them over and make them available to developers who would develop them for industry. Part of them have to be developed for private housing in order to attract back the young skilled workers which we must get back if we are to get any employment going there. With that kind of machinery I should have thought we might be able to get the kind of development that we want.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark has now returned to the Chamber, and I should like to say that I agreed with almost every word he said. I do not always agree with him, but I do on this occasion. It interested me very much that he, from his point of view, saw this problem so much as I do, but from a completely different point of view. I am sure those are the lines we have to go on. Turning to his next point, education, it is obviously urgently necessary to get training facilities for school leavers, to give them a skill. There are plenty of vacancies for skilled workers but there are no vacancies for the unskilled workers. The schools must be improved. We shall never get skilled workers to come back from wherever they are, and to take houses in these areas, unless the schools are attractive enough for them to send their children to them. So here again a special effort must be made to make these areas more attractive.

I entirely agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady White, on one point: here are these areas, doing nothing, fully serviced with roads, electricity, gas, water, sewerage—everything that can be wanted. Obviously, in terms of land conservation, it is so much wiser for us to use those areas for development rather than to take green fields from agriculture, which we cannot afford to do and which are immensely more expensive. I join with the noble Baroness, Lady White, in hoping that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will be able to sympathise and perhaps be receptive to the notion we are putting before her.

The only other point I should like to make concerns the question of creating new businesses. It really is the responsibility of Government to create conditions which will stimulate the creation of new businesses. With high taxation, high inflation and restricted prices, we have seen so many businesses going out of existence in the last three years; and yet this is the lifeblood of the country. New businesses and expanding businesses create wealth; they create jobs, and we all live on them at the end of the day. So I ask the Government, with all their preoccupations and with the many things they have to think about, to take on board that the creation of new businesses in these areas is essential. This is the fever spot of the nation; this is where new businesses must be created to give jobs and to restore an economic life to the community. This will make life better there immediately, and then perhaps all the other things that need to be done there can happen gradually afterwards.

8.20 p.m.


My Lords, we must all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for bringing this debate before the House. I think most of the things I wanted to say have been dealt with, so I will be short. The problem is now well recognised, and I hope that today's discussion will perhaps persuade the Government to give very careful thought indeed as to how this £100 million is going to be spent.

I want to talk first of all—because I do not think the question has been dealt with very thoroughly—about people. In recent years there has been a continuous movement of people both in and out of these inner areas. I am quite certain that many skilled workers have gone and unskilled workers have moved in, and this includes, of course, a great number of immigrants. There is also, I am afraid, still the attraction of the inner city to the flotsam and jetsam, the people who prefer the anonymity of inner cities and prefer the shady side of the street. These will always be a problem in large conurbations, and I do not know how we deal with that.

For some time now I have been involved in an organisation called, "Full Employ". This was started some years ago by a group of people from the City because of the need to find jobs for immigrants. We were not successful. It was an employment agency oriented towards immigrants, but I am afraid our results were most disappointing. So a year ago we stood the whole thing on its head. We decided that we ought to train people in the inner city areas and then see whether the jobs would come of themselves. So we started something called "Project Employ". We have run two 12-week courses, purely for under-educated and alienated young people, in order to try to show them what it is like to live in an office environment. The accommodation and the bulk of the training staff was provided by a bank, and generous help was given by the TSA. So far 50 students have come out of the first two courses. The third course is still going on. Forty per cent. immediately found jobs.

Not only were they adept at learning new skills, as we had suspected; the important thing was the change of attitude. Halfway through the first course we realised what we were doing. We were not just teaching them some skill; we were teaching them to work with a team, to work in an office with other people, and even to welcome the mild discipline. This was something which changed their attitudes completely. I believe that not only have we helped the students who have jobs, but those who do not yet have jobs have learned a great deal about attitudes, about the community, about what the world outside is, and so on.

The majority of the students were West Indians. All or almost all were unqualified, seldom possessing—and entirely irrelevant to us—qualifications of any kind, apart from a few low grade GCEs. All were poor, all had a history of unemployment and failure at school, many had domestic and social difficulties, and some actually had criminal records. The project has shown that concentration of care and attention on those who have had little or no chance at home or at school can produce the most astonishing results. More than the career prospects has been the complete turn round in attitudes, both to work and to the community in which they live.

The instructors in this particular case were career people in the bank, not trained to teach, but people who had been used all their lives to bringing up people to learn in training, in service, and most of them in point of fact had been working overseas with coloured people, which made their job rather easier. This is not the time and place to examine this organisation in any detail, or to describe the cost, which is fairly heavy. The cost in this particular case, as most of the accommodation and everything else was donated, was very light. But supposing it was about £2,000 per head for a 12-week course, spread over 40 years of a life of fulfilment and decent living and so on, this sum is absolute "peanuts". If they had not had this opportunity, they were already drop-outs and they would have lived with all the misery that goes with that condition. So this is an experiment which I hope the TSA will continue to help. It is being evaluated in due course, and there will be a report which I hope people will be able to see. In the inner city areas, I think this kind of experiment is worth all the tea in China.

On the other side of the coin, of course, is the question of jobs. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, on what he said, in which I was very interested. I in my business have financed two developers. One works inside London and on the outskirts; he does nothing but take secondhand commercial properties and rehabilitate them, or take larger ones and divide them up into about 1,500 square foot size. He has absolutely no problem at all in letting them. People are coming back into them. He gets a viable proposition with a commercial return, sufficient to pay me my requirements as well. This has also been done by some boroughs. The classic example is at Woolwich, where a large factory moved out. The local authority, Mr. George Prince and his colleagues got it going again. There were 6,000 people unemployed, and already 5,000 are back working in that area. There have been other cases of local authorities converting and restoring small areas, and entrepreneurs appear from nowhere and little businesses start up. This is something that I think must be pressed ahead very hard.

Other speakers have talked about the planning authorities, and I think they must come down from the clouds. They must accept some businesses previously classified as undesirable or unpleasant; they must accept the fact that industry and living quarters are in the same area. One East Londoner I spoke to the other day said that everybody ought to be allowed to walk to work, and I think he had a point there. A fortnight ago I chaired a seminar on this subject in Southwark. It was greeted with considerable enthusiasm, and at the end it became perfectly clear to everybody there that what is needed now is for business, particularly large business, and the local authorities, to form a partnership in order to carry out major experiments; they should include the chambers of commerce, the Small Business Advisory Service and, of course, the voluntary organisations, such things as the Action Resource Centre and such things as Jumbo-Jobs. They must all be brought together.

Each local authority has entirely different problems. Some have no big business in them at all. Some have an entirely different ethnic problem. They should form their local advisory committees bringing in the voluntary bodies, bringing in the local businesses, and working out plans as quickly as they can. I have been invited to take a team of businessmen from that conference to meet the Borough of Southwark, which I am doing. I have had another invitation from Islington. I believe the thing is on the boil, and I think now is the time to strike. I know that it is perhaps a short-term outlook. I believe that the kind of plans put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, may be absolutely first-class, but they will take time, and we have not got time. The problem is very urgent indeed, and I hope very much that if there is to be £100 million to spend it will be in supporting local initiatives. As the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, said, we should help people to help themselves, and they are ready to do it, given very little support. In my business, we say that a very little help makes a nearly commercial proposition commercial. I believe that this is a chance to do it.

8.28 p.m.


My Lords, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, will have thought this debate as worth while as we sitting on these Benches have. She has not really a very difficult task in winding up this debate, because although the noble Baroness, Lady White, remarked that this matter was now at the forefront of domestic politics, it would certainly not appear to be a matter of Party politics. From all sides of the House there have been contributions made, some of them indeed slightly surprising contributions we might think, but nevertheless all telling the same tale, and coming from the inevitable wealth of expertise and expert knowledge of all types which your Lordships always produce on an occasion such as this. We have had two organisational suggestions from my noble friend Lord Sandford and from the noble Lord, Lord RedcliffeMaud, which may also assist in pursuit of a solution to this problem.

My Lords, it so happens that what I wanted to say, in so far as it is possible now to say anything fresh in this debate, approaches the matter from the side of private enterprise and the private citizen, as indeed did my noble friend Lord Ashdown in his maiden speech, on which I join with other noble Lords in congratulating him. However, I have also seen this kind of problem through the eyes of a local authority or a number of local authorities in different parts of the country. I recognise and welcome the "mixed economy" approach which has been explored in this debate. Indeed, the inner area studies recognise the need for a great mass of different agencies and types of people to take part in the solution of these problems. We shall look forward to the Government's White Paper on this matter, which is due to be published shortly. I daresay that the noble Baroness will be hampered a little in her speech tonight, in that she will be unable to tell us in advance what that White Paper will contain.

I want to examine two aspects: first, the way in which planning has had an impact upon inner city areas and, secondly, briefly, the role of the volunteers, which the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, has already mentioned in a fascinating speech. When I first met the world of town planning, about 15 or 17 years ago, there were in existence highly detailed development plans. A number of inner city areas contained things which are now long out of date; they were called comprehensive development areas. Then there were—and there still are—primary zones where residential, commercial or industrial development was to be encouraged and where, as my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford said, nonconforming users were to be most heartily discouraged.

In those days the planners and the local authorities, who were their masters and whom they were trying to serve, saw the opportunity to redesign and redraw the map of a town, and to recast its structure. Those grandiose approaches were not at that time prohibitively expensive; nor were the disadvantages and the dangers inherent in them nearly so clear as the glorious gains that appeared to be attendant upon them. Some areas have gone in for wholesale clearance of centres, and certainly these matters were widely planned. With them, of course, there went the actual or the threatened disappearance of the small shop-keepers and the small businesses, for the simple reason that, although there was a theoretical protection for them and the opportunity for them to be relocated—they were there because they were round the corner from the prime shopping area so their rents were low or, indeed, sometimes they had freeholds—there was no question of their being able to afford the high rents in the only relocation areas that the local authority could offer them.

The other aspect—the clamp-down on non-conforming users—had exactly the same effect. In particular, it had the result that when any non-conforming industry or commercial activity outgrew its building, it was never allowed to grow because that merely consolidated, in planning terms, the non-conforming use and made it, in theory, even more expensive in the end for the local authority to buy it out when it came round to it. Therefore, those businesses were stifled.

Time has greatly changed the situation. Comprehensive development areas disappeared towards the end of the last decade and, nowadays, as my noble friend Lord Sandys was anxious to point out, we are far more keen to see whether we cannot use to good effect most, or at any rate some, of the existing buildings that we already possess. We may have to find new uses for them, but we are much less anxious to pull them down and build afresh in some completely new organisation. That, indeed, is what the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, has just told us. If we do that we would find that, after all, a perfectly good use can be devised for those old buildings.

It may be that the economic crisis and the lack of money in this field has come in the nick of time and has saved us from making many further mistakes which we would otherwise have made. I remember what was proposed for Covent Garden; indeed. I promoted the scheme for the Greater London Council. That was the first time that the voice of the disorganised action group has been heard at a planning inquiry, at any rate on a large scale. That group asked about the activities and the possibilities for which the existing buildings could be used. If one goes round Covent Garden today one sees many premises on offer; some are being converted and sonic have been sold.

The other feature that has been mentioned by my noble friends Lady Hornsby-Smith and Lord Hylton is the warehouse type of scheme. There are a number of these schemes, in addition to the ones which my noble friend saw in the paper. There are some in the diocese of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, which are being instigated by the local authority there. They are providing a very fine new use for old buildings, some of which are of historic and architectural value, and a place where craftsmen and other small enterprises may take root and start again. Therefore, there has been a fundamental change in our approach and one which certainly makes sense in the current financial climate and also from the point of view of social policy. I shall return to this matter in a moment.

I now deal with the question of volunteers. All of us who have spoken in this debate and thought about this problem must want to enliven and reinvigorate the dead and dying inner city areas. Plainly, local authorities have a prime role to play here. I was interested to hear my noble friend speak about their organisational problems. It is very true that the departmental and committee structure does not readily adapt itself to the coordinated approach that is needed. They tend to operate in watertight departments. Various local authority departments are involved—for instance, housing management. architects, planners, social workers, parks and, indeed, the refuse-collecting department, to name but a few. They should he working together and there is a need for some method of devising this.

It may be that the experiment in Liverpool has not been particularly successful, but other local authorities are experimenting with joint sub-committees reporting back to the main committees. Perhaps that is a more suitable method to fit in with the way in which local authorities operate, both politically and from the management point of view. However flexible and adroit they may become, no degree of support for voluntary service is likely to be unrewarding. In saying that. I do not mean that every project must he blindly backed, but volunteers can try things which officialdom cannot or dare not try, and they can drop projects very much more easily than local authorities if those projects fail, because they do not have to answer awkward questions in the council chamber or in the local Press.


Or in your Lordships' House.


Or indeed, as the noble Baroness says, in your Lordships' House. I have seen at first hand what volunteers can do to prove in the most forlorn and dead-beat neighbourhoods that people are filled with far more ability and initiative than anyone would have dared to hope. I suggest that a partnership between the volunteers' enthusiasm and some modest, perhaps even temporary, sanction by the local authority—for instance, for its property to be used—could achieve a great deal for the spirit in a run-down and apathetic community. It is extremely hard for central or local bureaucracy by itself, or even councillors, to instil a spirit to survive into that kind of place; a will to rebuild a community and an area where once more it is worth living, and in which people will positively make a choice to go and find a house, or start some small job-creating enterprise. That is one of the ways in which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark will get the start of a new social mix coming back into the areas about which he spoke.

A hundred factors and influences can be detected in this matter, but I want to draw out from those two matters, the planning and the volunteers, a single and perhaps over-simplified lesson. As society becomes more complicated, run by increasingly large and remote organisations, I believe people will perish if they are not allowed to retain some personal control over their lives, their way of life and their destiny. It was the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, who reminded us of the physical size of the buildings and the environment in which some people have to live, and the daunting effect that has upon them.

I was thinking in terms of the nonconforming user, the small businessman compulsorily to be expropriated because his business happens to be in an area zoned for residential purposes and redeveloped under a local authority housing scheme. He is worried not only about the high rent that he will have to pay—of course he had a freehold previously—in the council owned flatted factory that, if he is lucky, he will be offered; he wants his freehold hack. He does not much like being in an industrial estate anyway. It is almost certain to be tucked away in what used to be the railway sidings. There is no pub to go to at lunchtime, and it is certainly not within walking distance for two-thirds of his workforce, as his old place used to be.

Some of them will go, but most of them, or at any rate a number of them, will feel that what is being offered is not satisfactory, is not part of the community at all, and that will be the end of that enterprise. It may be that it will be a specialist enterprise. I can remember one concern in a specialist trade, and people from the arts and museums all over the country came or wrote to the public inquiry to say that if this concern closed down it would be a national loss, yet the firm was going for precisely this nonconforming user reason in a compulsory purchase order. I regret to say that I do not know what happened, but it was a classic example of the sort of danger that can occur.

Then there is the problem created under the Housing Acts. There is now a choice in a local authority between redevelopment and rehabilitation if they make a clearance order to redevelop, or at any rate contemplate redeveloping a site which is subject to unfitness, or some of the houses are subject to unfitness. Of course, if all the houses are pulled down it is a statutory duty that all the owners and the tenants who currently live in them and all their families should be rehoused. But in practice that is not what the people who live there want. They really would like to stay in their existing houses, and moreover they cannot believe that the building upon which they have cherished their attention, which they have decorated, and to which they have done such repairs and maintenance as they are able, can be said to be unfit for human habitation. They have been living in it.

The truth of the matter is that although, technically speaking, a number of those houses after a few days of the builders' work will be put back into perfectly good order and will be just as good as many of the houses in which your Lordships and I have probably lived in our time, it is only a small technical failure to comply with the requirements of the Housing Acts which has enabled them to be classified by the medical officer of health.

Those are opportunities for a local authority to make a choice whereby it can make the best—and it is probably not going to be very much more expensive, if at all—of the existing fabric not only of the buildings, but also of the human society, of the people who live there; and increasingly this is being done. I would say, in parenthesis, that one of the troubles about this process is that the decision takes such an infernally long time that by the time it has been made half the houses are empty, or have squatters in, or have had to be wrecked in order to prevent the squatters going in. Therefore, if a little more speed could be instilled into the process it would be no bad thing.

I am not saying that there should never be any relocation of industries which are in the wrong place, or any redevelopment of unfit housing areas, but I would say that we should not perhaps be too tidy. Too tidy a house is, at any rate in my humble opinion, not such a pleasure to live in; and perhaps the haphazard and rather more human type of a city may be more comfortable and reassuring for those humble citizens who have to live in it.

What I have to say about the individual's approach does not apply solely to the rights of property—and this is where I come to the lessons to be drawn from the volunteers; it also relates to people's ability to take some positive part in furthering their own wellbeing and so raising their morale, the very point that my noble friend Lord Hylton made. Here it is that volunteers can show how it can be done, and how to lead. On this, I am so glad to have heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Allen, because in the time that he has been at the National Council for Social Service it is quite clear to me that he has absorbed the true wisdom of the situation and is really giving your Lordships the best possible advice about how we should all proceed.

I remember going to Liverpool and seeing a few oft he things that the volunteers were doing there. It was a little while ago and I will not give too many examples. There was one area of quite ill-repute where the boys were not allowed to play between the tenement blocks because the footballs broke the windows. They said that they could not go to play in the park because the local authority would not allow people from that district to book the football pitches, and they had nothing to do. The local authority gave the volunteer organisation a pub which they had compulsorily acquired and would eventually pull down. This the boys had turned into their own club. They were decorating it and doing what they wished with it, and they had at last got something to do, and the opportunity for the first time in their adolescent lives to keep out of the trouble in which they had incessantly been before that. They were very proud of it. and one volunteer leader was doing it all.

There was the adventure playground where use had been made of a local authority cleared site, and also of the rafters and other building materials from the houses that had been pulled down round about. The parents in the street had turned this, with one volunteer leader, into an adventure playground where all the children could play in such safety as one can have in an adventure playground. At one stage the nearby tenement block had been planted by the parks department with shrubs and trees. They had lasted a very short time because the vandals had had at them. Then somebody thought of the idea that the tenants' organisation which had been created in the tenement block, should be allowed to choose their own shrubs and trees and to plant them, which they did. After that, so far as I know, the vandals left them alone because they were their trees and not any more the local authority's trees and shrubs.

There were a number of other examples of that sort which required a little assistance from the local authority—the building, the materials, the flat for the volunteer leader in the tenement block; but by comparison with the results, and by comparison with the uplift that it gave in those areas, remarkably small expenditure was required. That is the sort of participation that I believe we should be encouraging. It is not negative. I do not think that the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, suggested that it was. It is a positive force to be harnessed.

Although I entirely agree with those who have said that there should be public participation in the planning process when you decide what to do with an area—although it is often rather bewildered when it looks at the plethora of schemes between which the people are asked to choose in their somewhat untutored way—I believe that the public participation that we are really seeking is in harnessing the energies and activities of the people, which are latent even within these very depressed areas, to help them to help themselves to find their way out.

Lastly, I should like to say this. The noble Baroness and her colleagues in the Government are about to produce the White Paper on what the Government are going to do, not only with the extra £100 million, but presumably, with all the other money from the other different schemes which are already available to them. I imagine that she is collecting ideas in the course of this debate, and it may well be that, as has been forecast, the extra money will go to five individual places.

Would the noble Baroness consider, maybe running in parallel, one other possibility? It is that one or two places should be found on which all the available resources of Government from all the different Departments should be concentrated—from the Home Office, the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Health and Social Services, the Department of Employment, and there may be others as well—to see whether, if one concentrated all the different facets of aid in one or two places, it would really make a difference. In other words, would the concentration of all those things which we have thought to be so fine and forward-looking produce scintillating results? It might be that, even if that is rather eclectic and tends to starve the palliatives about which the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, talked in another context, perhaps we should then be able to see the value of these working together rather than as at present (and in the past, I regret to say) working individually between the efforts of different Departments.

I leave that for the noble Baroness to think about. It may be that policy is too far advanced to do anything about it. Of one point I am certain: today's debate has shown the Government that something must be done and, from the point of view of your Lordships' House, it is clear that if the Government come forward with sensible schemes they will have the wholehearted support of all noble Lords.

8.52 p.m.


My Lords, this has been not only a long debate but an extremely interesting one. However, it is not aseasy to reply to as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, suggested because it has spread across such a wide area. I say with sincerity to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that I am grateful to him for initiating it, because although it seems that our debates result in my having to say, "I am not in a position to anticipate what my right honourable friend is going to say —and the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, was right about that; he is too old a hand not to know that I was about to say that—I can tell the House that my right honourable friend will be making a Statement on inner cities as soon as possible, he hopes before Easter.

It is important for me to say that, when I was speaking to my right honourable friend about this issue, he showed himself to be extremely interested and anxious to see what came out of our debate today. I do not always find all my right honourable friends wanting to read every word in ourHansard,but that has been my right honourable friend's reaction to this debate. Although on this occasion it would have been nice for me to be able to announce something positive and definite, because it has been such a useful debate and has covered such a wide field, it will be of tremendous use to the Government.

A great deal of argument has gone on throughout the debate—indeed, this argu ment has run through all the meetings that have taken place—about whether there should be a concentration of resources on a small number of towns or whether, so to speak, the financial butter should be spread rather more thinly over a larger area. I was interested to note the differences of opinion which were expressed in today's debate; for example, with the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, taking one view and other noble Lords expressing different attitudes. It is clear, therefore, that what my right honourable friend will announce will certainly not please everybody, and clearly this is a very difficult subject. The noble Viscount, who usually has something original and interesting up his sleeve, produced what I might call his Colville Plan, his pilot scheme, which was very interesting, although I will not go into that.

We are all aware that the inner city problems overlap and reinforce themselves and, while I may go over some of the ground, let me separate the basic components. We have heard a great deal—I do not want to go over all aspects of it—about the physical environment, and what came out clearly was not only the functional side of the matter but the fact that this is the visual image which the expression "inner city" creates; and when this is dismal and depressing, the effects go devastatingly deep and inevitably it conditions the outlook and expectations of those who are living in it. For many, it must be the mainspring of their will to leave the inner city as soon as possible. It is also a major deterrent to the advent both of people and economic investment which the inner areas need so badly.

It is on the economic decline of inner city areas that I wish to comment. This was raised by many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, who made an extraordinarily good maiden speech in which he concentrated to a great extent on this side of the matter. In his September speech in Manchester, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who at that time had just been given special responsibility for urban affairs, gave the economic aspect as the main priority. That gave the whole problem important political clout and, as my noble friend Lady White said, it brought the issue right into the heart of domestic politics.

The people living in these areas and who suffer from the results of the economic, physical and social decline are extraordinarily vulnerable and are made into very frail human beings in the whole aspect of their lives. I thought that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham, when he referred to the "never 'Will haves ", was identifying a very sad and, at the moment, hopeless group. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark also rightly pointed to the devastating effects of poverty in these areas. Those with additional problems, like single parent families, find themselves in poor quality but accessible housing in the inner city and there we also find the casualties of our society; those with drink or drug problems, the homeless on the doss-house circuit and the squatters.

Of course, not everybody in the inner city fits into these dismal categories. But even for the majority, living in reasonably adequate housing and with jobs, there is a penalty in living in the inner city; it is what the Birmingham inner area study described so aptly as collective deprivation "which everyone suffers. Poor environment, lack of confidence in the area, a sense of decay and the decline in community spirit; it was that to which my noble friend Lady Gaitskell was referring when she highly praised the Birmingham study. On top of that is the stigma which attaches itself to particular localities and which reduces the chance of getting a job from an inner city school or a mortgage from an inner city address.

Then, many inner city inhabitants face an additional handicap: the colour of their skin. I am not suggesting that the problems of race and of the inner city are identical, but there is often a substantial overlap. Where ethnic minorities are concentrated, we know that they suffer these additional handicaps in terms of jobs and housing. Those are, briefly and broadly. the main components of inner city problems, but they are not present in similar proportions in all cities or even in all the inner parts of one city. However, I believe they are at their worst in the biggest cities, which beget the biggest problems. The housing problems of big cities, the scale of their employment problems which extend over wide areas, and the concentration of their social problems, all pose difficulties on a macro-scale. When the Government announce their plans on this matter, the great problem will be to decide where the need is greatest because what we know and what I can anticipate is that it will be pointed out that resources are limited at the present time.

So there is no point in us thinking that everything that any of us would like done will be able to be done. In the physical environment, the reason why these problems come about is, I believe, the age of the housing stock. My noble friend Lord Llewelyn-Davies was of course absolutely right—he is such an expert on these problems—when he highlighted the 19th century aspect of the fabric of our cities today which we see especially in the cheap buildings which were put up in the late 19th century booms and which are corning to the end of their natural life.

The way that redevelopment has been carried out is certainly not very pretty. It has split up communities and effaced familiar landmarks which gave neighbourhoods their identity. Massive road schemes, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, referred, have created blighted swathes right through many inner areas.

The roots of the economic problems go very deep. In the bigger cities, the movement of people out of inner areas and the decline of jobs have been going on for a long time, but it has not been a balanced movement. A high proportion of the people leaving the inner city have been skilled, while the unskilled have stayed behind. The noble Baroness pointed this out, as did other noble Lords. Now, many of the unskilled jobs have disappeared as firms have moved out to better sites, or have frequently closed down altogether. The noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, particularly emphasised this point. Other firms have been swept away by large-scale redevelopment, which was another example of insentitive public policy. The result of all this has been a growing imbalance between the labour demands of industry and the skills of the residents. This, coupled with a chronic lack of new investment is, I believe, at tire heart of these inner city employment problems.

I should like for a moment to turn to the new towns, because there is a link here. Again, my right honourable friend is hoping to make a Statement as soon as possible, though this, too, I cannot anticipate. Here, we have to keep a proper perspective in talking about the relationship between the development of the new towns since the war and the problems of the inner cities. I was very glad that my noble friend Lord LlewelynDavies stressed this point and took this view, as did my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder. Most of the migration out of the inner cities has been voluntary and the new towns have taken only some 10 per cent. of that migration. At the same time, there is scope for them to take a broader cross-section of people—more of the elderly, the unemployed, the disadvantaged and the unskilled. That is what we are absolutely agreed on: the new towns may have been, if you like, creaming off the population rather than taking a cross-section. For the future, it is necessary to look at the balance of investment between the new towns and the cities which they were intended to relieve because circumstances change nationally and in each region. An example is the projection of the population. That is why my right honourable friend has been undertaking the review.

Now, we can begin to use the lessons from the inner area studies and to get a comprehensive grip on the problem rather than following one study by another which, after a while, can become a contagious endemic Governmental disease. It is for that reason that we moved quickly on the consultation based on the summary report, and the response has been really worth while. Already, over 150 local authorities and other bodies have given their views. Of course, there is a great deal of variation, but on many points there is a striking consensus. For example, there is consensus on the need for local government to equip itself for the job rather than set up new outside agencies. Discussion has arisen here as to whether there should or should not be outside agencies. I believe that the work can be done in a way that would link with the local authorities.

A second point of consensus was the need to enlist the energy of voluntary bodies, the Churches and other groups and, above all, of the people living in the inner areas. All these points were made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, by my noble friend Lord Soper and by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. However, the question still remains: How can we get to grips with the inner city problems? It is clear from what has been said—and my noble friend Lady Gaitskell stressed this—that it will be neither quick nor easy to improve the state of the inner cities. It is a long job reversing powerful and long-established destructive trends. It is true that inner areas need to change, but change must be on a human scale and must respect the need for both continuity and identity. If one snatches away what is there, even if it is something that some of the planners do not think quite right, one may not be doing anything good in human terms for the people who are living there.

The time has come to make a positive start on getting policies, both central and local, working in the right directions. This calls for a lasting commitment to tackle the gross inequalities between the inner city and outer areas, which is the only way in which we can create a sense of confidence in the people living there and in those who are willing to invest. It is this mutual confidence which is vital to the regeneration of the inner cities. What is needed now is effective action. That means harnessing the main policies and programmes of local government to the special needs of the inner city areas. Here, housing, planning, education, employment, transport and all the other services are involved. It also means employing these programmes in a different way from that in which they have been employed before, not only as providers of individual services but as contributors to an all-round improvement of the areas so that what is done in one programme fits and reinforces what is done in another.

In housing, this means placing greater emphasis on mobility so that people can move easily into or out of the inner city in order to take up a job. It also means a mix of private ownership and public sector housing. My right honourable friend has stressed this is his speeches, and it is really not true that it is not part of Government policy that there should be this mix or that there should not be an acceptance of private ownership. One has to have a mix.

It also means—and about this I feel passionately—the rehabilitation of housing wherever possible so that this housing can be added to the stock at a lower cost, hopefully, and also more quickly. I must admit that I am often very distressed to see the numbers of houses that are taken over sooner than they can be dealt with and which have to be boarded up and remain empty for long periods. Whether it be Conservative or Labour councils that are responsible, this is really bad housing management.

We come now to planning, on which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and many others commented. Here it means finding temporary use for vacant sites to improve the environment. It means allocating good sites for industry where there is a chance of generating employment, and allocating sites for moderately priced private housing to attract skilled workers back to the inner city. So one wants a range for manufacturing industry, for small businesses, and for a mixed amount of housing. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, was extraordinarily interesting on the question of employment when he described his project "Full Employment". I think that he is absolutely right when he differentiates between what can be done fairly quickly in the short term and what has to be part of a much longer term process. Several noble Lords have stressed the importance of small businesses in the inner city and the need for collaboration between local authorities and industry. I absolutely agree with this, though it is a matter of preserving the big firms as well, as other noble Lords have pointed out, and without any doubt there will be a role for the private sector investment in the inner city. In fact my right honourable friend has mentioned this in his two major speeches on the subject.

I should like to turn for a moment to the importance of community facilities—which have also been frequently mentioned—in regenerating community life in the inner areas. The noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, particularly emphasised this point, and I think that he will be glad to hear that the Government have already discussed with the Sports Council how they can help in the inner cities, and a specific sum of money is now set aside for grant-aid for sports facilities in deprived urban areas.

Of course, what all these programmes require is money. We all know that at present we cannot afford to increase the public expenditure total. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, appreciated this, as does everybody else, and I should add that any extra expenditure for inner cities must be found elsewhere. I know that everybody was pleased that in the Chancellor's Budget Statement yesterday, £100 million was allocated for construction activities in the inner areas. The noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, is right and I can assure him that it will need very careful consideration as to how the money is spent so that the best result is obtained. Both my noble friends Lord Llewelyn-Davies and Lady White referred to land prices as an obstacle to fresh investment. This is a highly complex question and I do not think that now is the time to go into it, but it is certainly being considered as part of the inner city review.

Having made the point about money and resources, we should not regard this as only a money problem. It requires recognising the needs of the inner city. It requires often reallocation of resources and redirecting of priorities. This is why I have talked about the main programmes. But it also requires a funda- mental attitude change by local authority councillors and officers, and it involves them in finding new and more flexible working methods between central and local government.

The noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, made the interesting suggestion that there should be a Royal Commission on cities. I should certainly like to think further about that and pass the idea on to my right honourable friend. I think that it must be the proliferation of committees and commissions which we have had over the past few years that makes me slightly allergic to the idea of them, so if I have time to think about them that might pass off. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, raised the point about a Select Committee of this House. What rather worries me about this is that I have an awful feeling that we have a demolition order over our heads. However, this is a matter which should be considered. I believe that we should find some way of getting a monitoring system, but there again I share some of the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, over the Royal Commission—

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that we might be rehabilitated?

Baroness BIRK

We might very well be restored or rehabilitated, my Lords. So far as central Government co-ordination is concerned—about which the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, questioned me—the distribution of Government responsibility is a matter for the Prime Minister, as I am sure the noble Lord knows. But I should emphasise that the Committee, under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State for the Environment, has brought together all the relevant Departments that are concerned in this whole question. This is the first essential step towards a corporate approach within Government, and it is the first time that it has been done. I think the noble Lord will appreciate that beyond that I cannot go. One of the examples of where there has been close co-operation and link-up is in the docklands area in East London, where the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, suggested we might have the Olympic Games.

This is an example of redevelopment which the Government have endorsed. The Government have endorsed their commitment to the redevelopment of the area; and the cohesion and sense of purpose shown by the local authorities working together in the joint committee, with close links with industry and my own Department, is very encouraging. One example is the local plan for Wapping, which is a good example of a local authority recognising and sustaining the identity of a particular locality. This has been approved by the Joint Docklands Committee, and we support it; but it is, of course, a matter for the local authority rather than Government.

The question of a new town type of corporation set-up for inner cities has been raised in its different aspects by different noble Lords. I think the point here is that if local authorities want to set up this type of organisation, or something similar to it, there is simply no reason why they should not set up any agency of this sort that they want which is working for them on specific tasks. But that, I think, is up to the local authorities. It must be up to them, and it could, indeed, be useful. But local authorities themselves will need to find new ways of working, especially to get closer to the local community so that they can tailor their service to the different needs of different neighbourhoods.

I believe that if local government can get closer to the communities, this will bear rich fruit. It will make it easier to tap the energy and enthusiasm which exists in the communities themselves, and the valuable variety of voluntary organisations and individual men and women—and their help is urgently needed. The inner area studies have shown how ready voluntary bodies are to take a share of the burden, whether it is finding work, patching up old houses for unemployed youngsters, as in Birmingham, or finding a bed for the single homeless, as in Liverpool. But I think we have to take as a warning that this has to be harnessed together with the professional work. I think it would not only cause an imbalance but we would not get the right results if this went too much on the volunteer side. I think volunteers must he harnessed into this section, but not running it; and I felt that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, had tipped the balance perhaps a little too much.

But closeness makes it easier to take account of the priorities of local people themselves, and this is something on which everybody is in absolute agreement: that some way must be found whereby things are not done for people over their heads but in which they participate because they want to and they do not feel alien, they do not feel helpless and they do not feel so desperate about it. There has been a reaction against end-state planning in recent years, and a move to see planning as a continuous process; and there has also been this reaction against imposing objectives on local communities who may have different, and even surprising, priorities—but if they are their priorities then they should be able to work them out.

Surveys carried out for the inner area studies have in fact shown the concern of people about vandalism and crime in, for example, Lambeth, and the appearance of the area in Small Heath, Birmingham. These are their expressed priorities of which we must take account. The neighbourhood management schemes, sponsored by my Department, should help local authorities to get closer to the local communities' needs. Particularly do I hope that they will be a means of showing the local councillor how he can have a more effective role; and the elected neighbourhood council movement also has a valuable part to play by acting as a focus for local opinion and in enhancing the sense of community. This is what I would call the corporate approach at local level.

May I take my last example from a field of personal concern to me, which also serves to demonstrate, I think, the range of policies and programmes which have an interest here. This is the conservation dimension of inner cities. In several areas already the authorities have combined a Section 10 conservation grant with housing improvement grants to tackle run-down areas. The Canning Street area of Liverpool is an example. Sometimes a building no longer required for a previous purpose can be converted to another use, and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, is also very interested in this aspect of it. Here I think the Dutch have done some good work. I have seen some very successful conversions of this kind in Amsterdam. Sometimes conversion to community use is more appropriate and the building comes alive again and makes its contribution to the vitality of the area. I have seen warehouses in Southwark which have been converted to craftsmen's workshops, some by the local authority but others by a group, almost as a type of co-operative. Another example is the Bristol dock area, which I have been to and which is now used as an arts centre. That has built up its own vitality and attracts a great many young people, both to visit it and in order to work in it.

My Lords, we have had a very interesting debate. I am quite aware that I have not been able to reply directly to all the points, for which I hope noble Lords will forgive me. I shall certainly pass them all on to my right honourable friend, and they really will be, I think, of great interest, both now and in the future, because we are starting on both short-term and long-term aspects. On the longer-term aspects I was fascinated by the speech of my noble friend Lord Llewelyn-Davies, particularly in his reference to the new role for the production of ideas, rather than the other things we think of when we talk in terms of production. My Lords, I have tried to make it clear that we should not think of the inner city just as a collection of problems—and I think we have all agreed on that—but as living communities with severe problems, but also presenting opportunities to Government and to themselves to play a new role in urban society. That. I believe, is the challenge before us.

9.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords would like me to thank the noble Baroness for making that very comprehensive response to our debate. She began by apologising that there was not anything that she could say, but she went on to say a great deal that was of great interest to us. I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and to add my own congratulations to my noble friend Lord Ashdown.

My Lords, in framing my Motion I used the word "heart", the seat of our emotions and affections. This was to suggest that our debate should not be merely a technical and environmental one, but one which recognised the organic and personal character of cities; how they were, as one noble Lord said, once a cluster of villages; how we should cherish their untidy fabrics; and how we should revive the informal and local community care and initiative. I am very glad that so many speakers have responded in that way. But there has been a tragic theme running through the debate, sounding a note of disappointment, of disenchantment, not to say dismay, at the state of our cities. But speakers have also offered a wide range of remedies which the noble Baroness was gracious enough to acknowledge and which I hope her right honourable friend will find useful. There has been also a very positive wish to see the Secretary of State using these studies of the inner areas to good effect and devising new strategy for the regeneration of these areas and also, I think, a fervent hope that he will produce measures which all of us can support, as we earnestly wish to do. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.