§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
The Lord Bishop of Southwark
My Lords, three debates in a year on the inner cities sounds a lot and, like the weather, some may feel that we have had rather too much of it. Nevertheless, I welcome this opportunity to draw attention once again to the 148 pressing human problems which face large numbers of people in our cities and conurbations, not least in some south London boroughs which lie within the diocese of Southwark.
Since it is not possible to deal with more than one or two of the needs of the inner cities in a short speech, I too intend to focus upon housing and then to touch more briefly on questions to do with community life and relations. I am afraid that there is an inevitable overlap with some of the important things which both the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, have said. But this is too important an area to ignore and I think I shall be able to cover the ground in a slightly different way.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester on my left tells me that he hopes to focus on the relationships of central and local government and on out-of-town shopping centres. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells will focus on why the more rural parts of Britain cannot and should not ignore the problems of the city. Let me just add that it is good to have this contribution from him shortly before he retires. We look forward to hearing what he says. I suppose a swan song is an appropriate description to use for someone who happens to have such famous birds in his moat.
I say without hesitation that next to employment the housing needs of the inner cities are the most urgent. Indeed I doubt whether anyone disputes that. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, drew attention to this particularly with reference to some of the derelict land and derelict blocks of flats. I am very glad that he did so. In London particularly homelessness is now at its worst for many years. Not only are millions of pounds being frittered away on so-called bed-and-breakfast accommodation, but the emotional and physical damage being done to adults and children through a prolonged stay in one room is considerable. I have had numerous reports from Church social workers and others which underline just how unsatisfactory and distressing the present situation now is.
The lack of accommodation for even homeless families, never mind those who are simply badly housed, is due in part to the deterioration of the housing stock, with many high-rise or deck access blocks of flats needing now millions of pounds to be spent on them. Few new houses have been built recently. The problem has been exacerbated by poor management and restrictive practices in some places, but this is certainly not the whole explanation. Anyone trying to manage and maintain the kind of housing stock that local authorities were urged to provide as fast as possible 20 or 30 years ago will have an exceedingly difficult task on their hands. There are no easy escape routes from Britain's housing crisis, as we discovered on the national housing inquiry chaired by the Duke of Edinburgh two years ago.
It was, therefore, with a mixture of hope and caution that I opened the recent White Paper on the Government's proposals for a new housing Bill. As your Lordships will know, four objectives are set out: to speed home ownership still further; to put new life into the independent rented sector, especially 149 through housing associations; to encourage local authorities to change and develop their housing role, which means effectively a smaller role than hitherto in many areas; and fourthly, to make changes in the financial management of local authority housing and to set up housing action trusts in places where the problems are particularly acute.
The second, third and fourth of these objectives are clearly relevant to a debate about the needs of inner city or urban priority areas, as we call them in Faith in the City, because it includes housing estates which do not actually lie in the inner city.
The first of these objectives is, of course, less relevant because few who now live in the inner city or urban priority areas have incomes which would enable them to buy or would wish to become property owners. They are, for the most part, people on low wages, the unemployed, pensioners and those on social security. They are the people who have gained little or nothing from the growing prosperity of recent years. Yet they are people: men, women and children who are not all wicked or useless as people sometimes seem to suggest by the way they talk about them. They too are among those who have a right to rent. But will these proposals satisfy that right?
Central to the White Paper is the plan to attract more private finance into the rented sector. I am all for that. We already have fewer houses for rent on the free market than any other country in Europe. We badly need to extend our house-building programme. But such investment will have to compete with the returns offered by the stock market or with the advantages of selling one's property, if one owns it already, and making one's income via capital gain. That means one thing: high rents—in London and the South-East, very high rents.
Of course, some people will be able to pay them without hardship. If they can, it will be rightly agreed, so they should. That is what free markets are all about. Thus the private or independent rented market may begin to expand again at the top. But for people on low incomes, subsidy of some kind will still be needed—just as it is often needed by and given to large numbers of people who are buying their houses with the help of mortgage interest tax relief. That relief is, of course, also given to people who do not need it, thus diverting precious housing finance to the wrong places and costing the taxpayer huge sums of money; but that is another story on which the White Paper is, not surprisingly, quite silent. You subsidise the person or the building, or you subsidise both.
The Edinburgh housing inquiry came down in favour of the first of those three, the person, though we recognise that in London and the South-East especially there will be particular difficulties because of the high cost of land. These new proposals seem to point in that direction: housing association grant is to be reduced; likewise, municipal building programmes cut back; private capital has to be drawn in; rents are to rise, and people are to have some help when needed—or that is what we are led to expect. Chapter 1, paragraph 15 says:Tenants on low incomes will continue to he helped in meeting their rents through housing benefit".150 But in Chapter 4, paragraph 8, one finds a more cautious note:The housing benefit system will also continue to be available in the Housing Association Sector and although it is expected that in general rent levels will he acceptable for housing benefit purposes, they will be subject to the same procedures for controlling subsidy and benefit as in the rented sector".That means, in less coded language, that they may not rise to the level of the new rents which housing associations in many cities will be forced to charge if they are to use 50 per cent. private monies and balance their books. That is even more likely to happen when you remember that housing benefit is paid by a different government department which is already desperately trying to control its budget.
The National Federation of Housing Associations has done some calculations which show that in the stress areas of London a three-bedroomed house with only 50 per cent. HAG, which is what the limit will be, will probably require a rent of almost £60 a week. A married couple with two children, earning say £165 per week—which is a great deal better than some—might get about £13 in housing benefit under present rules, leaving them £47 to find. That is about 28 per cent. of their net income, which is quite a lot.
I should like to ask the Minister this. What is regarded as the maximum proportion of net income which in general a family or person ought to be expected to pay towards rent? If affordable rents are to come out at a level which is above that maximum, will he or the DHSS be willing to increase the proportion of HAG or the amount of benefit, or both? That is really the crucial question for the families and people in our inner city areas who have no option but to rent and who are fearful that most of the new properties which may become available will be of no help to them because of the high level of rents demanded and the insufficient benefit.
Housing associations have traditionally catered for people on low incomes, as have local authorities. They do not want or intend to stop doing that. Both have made a tremendous contribution to the vast improvements of the past 50 years. We must shape the new housing Bill so that they can continue this work in future and put an end to the sufferings of the homeless and badly housed as soon as possible.
It so happens that I took part in the official opening of one of the reconditioned blocks of flats in Rotherhithe which comes under the London Docklands Development Corporation area. If my memory serves me right, there were five participants in that scheme: a large firm of private builders; the London Docklands Development Corporation itself; a local housing association; the housing corporation; and the local authority. Out of, I believe, 113 flats, 67 are being sold. In addition, 13 are for joint ownership, and the remaining 33 are for rent. The building and the land came pretty cheap by virtue of being in a derelict area already under the control of the corporation. Nevertheless, despite some cross-subsidy from the flats being sold there is still public money being used through the housing corporation grant and I believe that the local authority will have to subsidise those rents.
I stress that there is a peculiarly favourable combination of circumstances in that development 151 corporation area which often will not obtain elsewhere, where the need is just as acute. Further, until very recently the LDDC seemed much less willing to attend to the need for low cost rented housing than it does now as a result of a great deal of pressure.
To have a home is to be part of a community. It enables us to experience the support and love of our family and friends. It has often been pointed out that although life was much harder and rougher in our inner cities 50 years ago, there was nevertheless a very strong sense of belonging and caring. I remember reading some years ago the memoirs of a vicar of Byker, Newcastle, during the 1930s which vividly described the poverty and yet also the warmth in that community. That was true of many such places. I do not hear it said so often now, although vestiges of it remain, and many clergy still gladly choose to work in inner city areas precisely because there is still a spirit and vitality about such communities which the suburbs seem to lack.
When the members of the Faith in the City commission met people from such areas, they reported:many submissions made to us referred in one way or another to a 'disintegrated' society.Families have been widely dispersed through the operation of housing allocations and the growth of housing estates out on the fringes and miles away. There is much loneliness. There are high levels of crime and violence, to which the noble Baroness referred. There has been the difficulty of adjusting to a more multi-culture, multi-racial and multi-faith society. There has been polarisation between police and local communities and sometimes between local authorities and local communities. Above all, perhaps, there is often a deep feeling of frustration and powerlessness as people struggle to exercise some sort of control over their environment and their social life.
In considering the needs of the inner city, I believe that it is most urgent to do all that we can alongside the physical needs, which I guess we are mainly going to find ourselves talking about today, to re-create and sustain a stronger level of community involvement and local pride. In many places, both central and local government need to do much more listening, to make genuine responses to local opinion and feeling, and to enable people to act more easily together. When there is not much leadership, because potential leaders so often move out, it is all the more important to encourage those who are willing to try to represent their community. Task forces, housing action trusts, development corporations, town hall councillors and officers all need to make time and space for consultations with tenants' associations and many other community and ethnic groups. It will not help the true needs of the inner cities if Whitehall authority simply replaces town hall authority and both appear ruthless and at times remote and deaf.
Someone said:the pain of poverty is in being despised, not in having only two shirts. You have dignity when you can stand up and speak and be listened to.152 I know only too well that we in the Christian churches have not always had much to be proud of in this regard, and we have not always been very good listeners. I say this in no spirit of self-righteousness, but many members of our inner city churches understand that well and recognise that they have a responsibility to care about and speak for and with their fellow citizens. It is that more than anything that lies behind the anxieties and sometimes the criticisms which we may express from these Benches about government policies and proposals. I hope at least that that is not misunderstood in this House, however much it may sometimes be misrepresented outside.
Those who live in the inner city or the urban priority areas are people who belong to the community we call Britain, to that one nation we often hear about. They need to feel that they are valued, that they have a contribution to make, despite unemployment or what we call poverty, and that they are not being forgotten. That is why employment, especially for young people, remains the most urgent need. But hard on its heels comes an adequate home for all who need one, at a rent they can afford, and then enough community strength to enable the people of the inner city areas to turn away from what can become and sometimes already has become violent despair.
Someone asked me the other day whether I thought that there might be some kind of revolution or uprising in Britain because of things such as unemployment and the North-South divide. I said that I thought not, but that there might be an ever-increasing crime wave which would eventually make normal life as we know it a thing of the past, and which increasingly repressive measures by the police and others would only make worse.
America, with the highest churchgoing figures in the world, offers an alarming and sad model of what happens when we allow some of our population to feel completely shut out. I hope we all recognise the danger and recognise that more sustained and relevant help must be given to inner cities now.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Windlesham for putting down this Motion. My noble friend gave us a vivid description of the blight that has afflicted many parts of our inner cities, and he said he wished to strike a positive note, which he did. He also showed that such blight need not be inevitable, and that new life can be instilled into the inner cities.
My noble friend stressed the importance of physical improvements in reviving local economies. The Government have long recognised that the quality of the physical environment plays a key role in a healthy local economy; indeed, it affects the morale of the whole community. If the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark will forgive me, I know he said that he guessed we should be talking a lot today about the physical environment. I was also interested in what he said about other considerations, and if I may I shall try briefly to come to those matters as well.
153 First, on the physical environment, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that people and businesses are attracted into areas that have been successfully redeveloped and cared for. The Government's aim, through the range of mechanisms, is to encourage the private sector to invest in our inner areas, either by using government resources to lever in private finance, as in the case of the urban development grant, or indirectly by improving the environment and infrastructure so that the areas become more attractive to private investors.
We believe that the revival of inner city economies must be private-sector led, but that revival depends upon our ability to create conditions in which businesses and industry can thrive. We recognise that that requires public investment. That investment is being and will continue to be made available. In addition to the main programme of housing, training, education and so on, since 1979 £3.7 billion has been committed through the department's inner city programme alone.
To give a few examples of the initiatives which have an impact on the environment, derelict land grant has for some years been a valuable mechanism for reclaiming land damaged by earlier industrial use. The noble Baroness, Lady David, spoke about derelict land. I emphasise that 30 per cent. of the reclamation programme is now directed to the inner cities, compared with just 7 per cent. in 1979, and spending on derelict land grant is running at over £80 million a year-double in real terms the spending in 1979–80. It has proved to he a remarkably cost-effective means of attracting private investment.
The Wavertree Technology Park in Liverpool, which has been mentioned this afternoon, is a good example of this. With the help of £5.1 million derelict land grant, 61 acres of derelict land were reclaimed. About £10 million of private investment has already been attracted to the site, employing more than 500 people, with the ultimate hope of jobs for 2,000 or more. Let me draw the attention of the noble Baroness to how that scheme also demonstrates the benefit of close co-operation between government departments. The noble Baroness and several of your Lordships talked about that. In this case English Estates, which is the agent of the Department of Trade and Industry, has played a leading role in planning and managing an overall development which derives from a Department of the Environment grant project.
Then there is the urban programme. Since it was introduced in 1969 a multitude of new grants and initiatives have been introduced by successive governments. But the urban programme remains the largest single programme specifically directed at urban problems. Twelve thousand projects are currently supported and expenditure is running at over £300 million a year.
Two years ago Birmingham spent over £4 million on environmental improvement projects funded through this programme—developing the city centre canal walkway, modernising inner city parks, cleaning up buildings and vacant land along major road and rail corridoors, and so on, improvements which have undoubtedly made a major impact on those living in that great city.
154 There are two mechanisms which have been deliberately designed specifically to attract the private sector—urban development grant and urban regeneration grant. In inner city areas the cost of building can be very high because of difficult sites and the values of the completed development can sometimes be low. These two grants are designed to bridge the gap between the cost of a project and its value.
Priority for urban development grant is given to private sector applications routed through local authorities in the 57 urban programme areas. To date, some £126 million of grant has stimulated £523 million of private investment. The new urban regeneration grant is to be paid by the DoE direct to the private sector. As my noble friend Lord Windlesham said in his opening speech, the first approval of this grant was announced on Monday: £3.25 million of grant is to be paid for a project by the Richardson Brothers on the site of the former Round Oak Steelworks in Dudley. Every £1 of public money will bring in over £4 of private investment to this difficult derelict site.
There is also the increasingly important role played by the urban development corporations. The success of the London Docklands Development Corporation was referred to by my noble friend with admiration as an extraordinary reconstruction and will, I am sure, be spoken about with pride by the noble Lord, Lord Mellish. The figures speak for themselves. Over 600 companies started in or moved into the area by 1985; 10,000 jobs are estimated to have been attracted so far; 12,000 new homes have been completed or are under construction. As I understand it, half of the new homes—a little higher than the figure given by my noble friend—built on London docklands own sites have been taken by dockland residents.
The Merseyside Development Corporation is also making progress in less favourable conditions. Capital expenditure by the corporation is already £150 million, with more committed. The private sector is responding well and the results are there for all to see. Partnership with the private sector has provided high quality commercial development with the prospect of residential development to come and, with the opening of the Tate Gallery in Liverpool in 1988, will have transformed an area of gross dereliction. By the end of the 1980s private sector investment in the Albert Dock is expected to reach £40 million.
These developments mean jobs and they can mean fulfilment and happiness for people. The Government have set up five more urban development corporations this year, four in England and one in Wales. We feel that the positive response has been most encouraging. My right honourable friend intends to extend this approach by bringing forward proposals for yet further UDCs generally to cover smaller areas where we believe the same single-minded and co-ordinated approach is needed.
However, improvement of the physical environment by itself is not enough. We must also create the conditions in which the enthusiasm and enterprise of those living in these communities can flourish. That is why running through all the government's policies is the theme of trying to give 155 people a greater degree of control over their own lives.
Today our country is benefiting from policies which encourage people to seek greater opportunities. If the noble Baroness will forgive my saying so, I was delighted to hear that the Opposition are now converted to a policy of lower taxation. To bring these benefits into the inner cities, the Department of Employment and the Manpower Services Commission are providing massive support for training, employment and enterprise. Particularly important are the needs, we realise, of the ethnic minorities. The Manpower Services Commission is working with a major voluntary body, Project Fullemploy, to make its programmes meet their needs more closely.
To target these efforts the 16 task forces set up in some of the most deprived areas have a particularly important role to play. By concentrating attention on the particular problems of each of the chosen areas these teams are able to work with the community and with local businesses to put employment, training and enterprise firmly on the local agenda. Noble Lords have every right to ask me ab006Fut coordination, both nationally and locally. These teams are able to pull together the support from a wide range of programmes such as Restart, local enterprise agencies, small firms advice, the enterprise allowance scheme and so on.
However, we need yet more fundamental changes. The right reverend Prelate spoke about the strengthening of communities. To strengthen local communities by giving people more choice and influence over decisions affecting their lives is one of our aims; and to provide them with opportunity and encouragement in a context where opportunities are real. In some areas the local authority, however responsive or unresponsive it may be to its customers, is regarded by many as being the only source of all services and help, especially housing.
The noble Baroness, Lady David, suggested that working with the private sector could mean bypassing the public sector, and what have the Government to say about that? I welcome the opportunity to say that we believe in putting much greater emphasis on working with business and the voluntary sector, wherever possible in co-operation with local authorities. The urban programme and the Manpower Services Commission programmes are based on a very long tradition of co-operation between the public and private sectors. There will always be an important and continuing need for public sector provision in many areas of inner city life, but surely we must seek to ensure that this provision is made more responsive to people's needs and wishes.
We are therefore pursuing the twin aims of fostering enterprise and trying to strengthen communities, and these aims are reflected in our recent announcements of new policies. Earlier this month the White Paper on housing was published. It sustains our desire to extend home ownership but also sets about the transformation of the rented housing market in Britain. For too long many of 156 those living in inner city areas have been trapped in poor quality accommodation, with little prospect of improvement, and our objectives are to provide as wide a range of choice of tenure as possible and, as in other policies, to use the public sector resources available to attract as much private sector finance as possible.
We therefore intend to introduce measures to free the private rented sector so that landlords will not only be able to provide more accommodation but also to invest more in the repair and maintenance of what they already have available. There will be an enhanced role for housing associations in providing accommodation for the less well off. Council tenants will be given the opportunity to find another landlord where they are dissatisfied with the service of their local authority.
In those areas where social problems and housing disrepair are most serious we intend setting up new bodies called housing action trusts. These will take over responsibility for local authority housing. renovate it and pass it on to different forms of management and ownership, and tenants' interests will be a major consideration throughout this programme.
On housing, I shall try to reply to the question of the right reverend Prelate about the proportion of income which ought to go towards the cost of rent when I come to answer your Lordships' questions at the end. But meanwhile in the whole general area we shall continue to build on the work done by the Department of the Environment's estate action team, which works with local authorities (including incidentally the London borough of Southwark, I am delighted to say) in developing solutions to the problems of run-down estates in urban areas. These include bringing empty properties back into use. Since the estate action initiative started two years or so ago, some 1,200 empty properties have been occupied in up to 30 schemes. As essential element in virtually every estate action scheme is that there should be effective estate based management. This is to ensure that the physical improvements to an estate are safeguarded and sustained.
In passing I should say that another common feature in estate action packages is expenditure on improved security measures. These can take the form of blocking off unnecessary walkways which give criminals easy access and escape. caretaking arrangements, entry phones and so on. I like to think that the Department of the Environment through this programme is taking to heart what the noble Baroness. Lady David, recorded as being NACRO's views about improving security and the effects that can have. About £20 million of the estate action budget of £75 million for this year is expected to go on security measures.
In their new policies the Government will be introducing legislation this Session aimed at improving the quality of education in all parts of the country and giving parents greater choice. However, the proposals are expected to be a particular benefit to those living in the inner cities. The city technology colleges will offer a high quality education, with an emphasis on science and technology in up to 20 cities. 157 We are determined also that in future parents will have a better chance of sending their children to the school of their choice which has in some cases been prevented by a local authority keeping popular schools below their capacity for administrative reasons. Parents and governing bodies will also be able to apply for their school to be taken out of local authority control altogether, if that is what they want, so that they can have more say in how it is run.
Our reforms of the rating system and the introduction of the community charge, as well as directly helping inner city businesses, will, I believe, help considerably in changing attitudes. We shall no longer have a situation where local councils are voted to power on the basis of promises to spend, for which businesses pay half the cost of increases in spending and fewer than 50 per cent. Of local electors pay anything at all. The community charge will give all local electors an incentive to consider the true costs of dependency on councils and the alternative opportunities which are open to them. The unified business rate will give much more certainly to commerce and industry, which have so often borne the brunt of high increases in rates in inner cities.
The Government's urban policy is not only about ensuring that we make full use of the vital physical resources of our inner cities. It is also about ensuring that everyone has a stake in society. Today very many people are sharing in increasing prosperity, but it is vital that everyone who is able to, should have the opportunity to participate in this and so make life better for all. At any rate that is our objective in our inner city policies. That is our determination for the future.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, following the Minister in this debate I am in some slight difficulty. I had hoped that he would be announcing some new policy initiatives and things of that kind. Instead of which I am forced to ask the question: if the policy is so excellent, why do the problems persist? Why is everything actually getting worse? Why is this so when there is this broad and non-political agreement that inner city problems are of major urgency and need to be tackled? To be told that the problem is being tackled seems to me to fly in the face of all experience and all reality. I am sorry to introduce a slightly acerbic note into what has been a rather less than acerbic debate, but it is an important point to make.
The second preliminary remark I should like to make, which I make to myself in some respects, is that it is vital when discussing the inner cities to remember that there is more than one inner city. This is not a problem just of London and, dare I say it, it is not a problem primarily of London. However, I speak as a Londoner and someone who works not too far from the docklands project, which I obviously favour and support. But I hope that in considering these matters we do not neglect the fact that the essence of the problem is some distance from us and in a way one would hope, without detracting from London, that some priority will be given to places more or less in direct proportion to their distance from the capital.
158 There is another point which again I make to myself in a way. I do hope that one does not approach the problem of the inner city as one narrowly of economics. It seems that we are discussing the revitalisation of whole communities, across all age groups, across all races and I hope across all socioeconomic classes. In that sense I am very sympathetic to some of the remarks that have been made, that one wants to see as part of the solution and perhaps the main part of the solution the participation of those who are affected. One does not want to see them become more dependent. One wants to see them become less dependent and very much more concerned with the decision-making that is involved.
Having said that and having been slightly nasty to the Minister, I accept that the problem is complex. Indeed if it were not it would have been solved and it is clearly not easily solved. That leads to one very important conclusion: that is, the policies in this area really must be experimental. We do not know the answers so we have to try to find them out and that means trying many different experiments, not just one. It means that we must be open-minded rather than doctrinaire. A wide variety of initiatives must be encouraged. We therefore have to recognise that some of them will fail. If the criterion is that everything must be successful, nothing will be done at all. We shall have some failures but we hope we shall have many more successes.
One of the problems of our whole way of life—I accept that this is longer than the period of the present Government—is our extraordinary negativism; the fact that people take enormous pleasure in describing any initiative that has failed and that seems to dominate many other initiatives whether or not they have succeeded. I am quite clear in my mind that if we move forward in this area not everything we do will work, but that does not mean that we should not move forward and it does not mean that we should not emphasise the bits that do work.
As I said that we must be non-doctrinaire, I am bound to say that clearly we require a mixed economy approach to the whole subject. In that sense of course large-scale enterprise will be involved and the existing financial institutions have a major part to play. Equally government, both central and local, has a major part to play. I am glad to hear the new emphasis, which seemed to have gone away, that local government still matters in our country. But I strongly believe that central government also matters. The main area in which central government matters, and it is unavoidable—I shall return to it in a moment—is that it must be a major source of funding in this area. The problems will not be solved without funding. I am not saying that funding is the solution but it is part of the solution.
Having seen developments in many places—I am not sure whether it counts as an inner city development—in the Covent Garden development, which many of us enjoy visiting, one is struck by the benefits of small-scale enterprise, of devoted people trying to do specific things. I do not believe that small-scale enterprise can solve the whole problem, because enough jobs cannot be created that way, but one can create some jobs and one can create the spirit that is required if we are to get anywhere.
159 In connection with small-scale enterprise let me add that what is vital is easier access to funds and access to funds, in my view, at lower than normal market rates less adjustment for risk as it is applied to them. I believe that tax concessions are relevant and I should like to see at least one major initiative. I refer to the removal of the employers national insurance contribution in the inner cities. That would be enormously helpful to employment creation in those areas.
I was surprised to hear the Minister's remarks on the poll tax. I have to tell him—and I should be interested to know what the economists in his department say—that all my analysis of the poll tax shows that it will be disastrous for the inner cities. I cannot see at all that the poll tax can possibly be beneficial in the way that it will work in the inner cities. I should be very interested to hear the economic argument that says that the poll tax will somehow encourage initiative and economic enterprise in these places. I cannot see that argument at all. What I can see is an argument that tax relief more generally is the way to help in this area.
The RIBA inner cities committee has been mentioned. It suggests the setting up of a national urban renewal agency with special access to funds. It believes that if it has some initial access to funds it can multiply them up. That proposal is well worth considering and I hope that the Government will at least show some sympathetic interest in it.
Let us ask as economists: why is it right to provide special assistance? Why does not our old friend the market mechanism—we all agree that it is important—do the whole job? The answer is that the problem arises in the first place because markets do not work. It arises from market failure. The reason that it arises from market failure is a classic argument in economics. The private costs and returns differ significantly in a case of this kind from the social and public costs and returns.
To take the obvious examples—and these are not contemporary or what might be called socialist arguments; these go back to the very origins of modern forms of classical economics—the essence of the argument is that the destruction of a community, which is certainly a disbenefit, if I may use that word, the ugliness of the depressed economic environment, the crime and anti-social behaviour connected with unemployment do not enter into the private calculus. Perhaps they ought not to enter into the private calculus. The key point is that they ought to enter into someone's calculations, namely, the Government's. That is the real foundation for why it is perfectly correct to use public funds in these areas.
We can give other examples of the benefits of rejuvenating the inner city which in themselves get transformed into private benefits. Rejuvenating the inner city will take some of the pressure off the police. Private individuals will gain in security and in due course their insurance costs will be lower, if one may be simply mercenary. In my view—and I think the evidence supports this—the children of a more stable community will be easier to educate; and with their improved morale and with the improved morale of 160 their families they will respond much better to their teachers.
Once again, I was quite amazed to hear the Minister refer to the new city colleges as if they were going to be a contribution to the solution of the inner city problem. They may have their merits, although I doubt it, but they will actually undermine the efforts to strengthen the inner cities because they will take away some of those children and the support of some of those families on which the education of most of the children in the inner cities will depend. In particular, I am bound to say—this is a prediction and we shall all live to see the outcome—that those colleges will lower the morale of most people involved in education in the inner cities and will not raise it. We can row about that point, and that is my contribution to the row. I say it in terms so that I can be told that I am wrong, but I do not believe I will be.
Equally, if we can rejuvenate the inner cities those pressures on the health service caused by depression and a general sense of hopelessness will be lowered and once again therefore the solution to the inner city problem will be, to use this ghastly expression, cost-effective. That is why public funds are perfectly correctly used in this area. In other words, the sums done correctly will show that investment in the inner cities will yield returns that will justify the investment as long as the calculation is done correctly. But the return cannot be captured by private investment and that is the case for public funds and public subsidy.
In listening to this debate—and there is more to come—I have felt so much good will and heard so much good sense spoken on this subject that we must believe (and I want to believe) that the problems are solvable. But in the end the Government are the responsible body and I at least look forward at some time to hearing something much more positive and something much more forceful from the government side than we have heard so far.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, not for the first time your Lordships are deeply in the debt of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, not only for focusing our attention on an extremely important social and economic problem but also because of his positive approach, his demonstration that the problem, appalling as it may seem at first sight, is not insoluble. I entirely agree, though, with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that it is unsafe to take the docklands experience as if it can be easily repeated everywhere. Indeed, as he said, the further one gets from London the greater is the need and the greater are the efforts called for.
Throughout the debate, but particularly during the speech of the right reverend Prelate, there must have come into your Lordships' minds the famous words:Ill fares the land, to hast'ning ills a prey,Where wealth accumulates, and men decay".Wealth has happily accumulated, and that enables us to deal with this problem, but wealth has accumulated in certain places. I think it is a dangerous over-simplification to talk about a North-South divide. However wealth has accumulated in certain places and men have decayed in others, 161 including the inner cities but not confined to them, as anybody who heard the notable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, during the economic debate on the Address will readily recollect.
"To hast'ning ills a prey", because where there is prosperity it spirals upwards. Shopkeepers have benefited by the success and profitability of the primary industries. New industries are attracted. The industrial town with which I was formerly associated in another place was only a small village at the beginning of the last century. By mid-century it was a thriving iron and steel producing town and then that very success attracted chemicals and heavy engineering. So one gets the spiralling up of prosperity. Equally, one gets the spiralling down where the men are decaying. The able young people leave. That was why the village was deserted in the quotation that I made. It was deserted because the young men left the village and went to work in the new manufacturing towns. As the late Lord Kaldor always reminded us, the decline in manufacturing started in the third quarter of the last century and with minor ups and downs has continued ever since.
I so agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, who moved from his Girondin position to The Mountain but has now gone, I see, that this is a manufacturing and industrial problem. I speak here with great diffidence, sandwiched between the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. If manufacturing is to be encouraged and sustained—this was the overwhelming theme of your Lordships' debate in the last Session—there must be easier investment and interest rates must come down.
I do not expect that the noble Lord in his reply will care to commit himself too definitely just before the Autumn Statement. Nevertheless, one bears in mind that recently interest rates in this country have risen. Even if the noble Lord is understandably a little reserved on the subject, at any rate it reminds us—and all of us have our favourite project of expenditure—that we are at present living partly on borrowed money. Moreover, every addition to expenditure increases the amount of interest that has to be paid to encourage the lender to lend to the Government and therefore promotes not the decrease in interest rates that we need but an increase in them. I do not intend to repeat what has been said so well by noble Lords who have preceded me. Therefore, my first point is the need to bring down interest rates so that the manufacturing industries, on which the inner cities once depended, may prosper again. But, of course, that covers the whole country, and one wants to pinpoint much more accurately the areas of deprivation.
The noble Lord, Lord Young, when I challenged him in two recent debates, accepted that it was government policy to ease planning procedures in the South to encourage the new technological industries to go there and set up. It is a good military doctrine to reinforce success, but in the context of the debate it seems extremely dangerous to try to attract more industry to an area that is prosperous and at the same time deny it to the areas of less prosperity. What was said when we debated Canary Wharf is absolutely true: by denying development in the South, one does 162 not necessarily promote it in the North, but one tends to do so.
I respectfully agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady David, said: it is essential that we should be assured that there shall be no encroachment on the Green Belt. Not only is the planning policy—as I have understood and described it—wrong, but it is also diametrically the opposite of what we need. What we need is that restrictions on the setting up of industry in the inner cities and other deprived areas should be relaxed.
The third major point I venture to make concerns the importance of local wage and salary negotiations. The right reverend Prelate mentioned and made abundantly clear the high price of accommodation in London. Indeed, that has been a common theme, particularly of noble Lords sitting on the noble Earl's side of the Chamber. If there is to be national negotiation, there is every disincentive for employers to set up where labour can be had less expensively while maintaining the same standard of living because accommodation and other expenses are so much less. That is the third point that I venture to make. The Government themselves can give a lead. In fact, their lead has been in the other direction: they have countenanced all too easily national wage negotiations. Wage negotiations should be local to encourage employment in the areas of deprivation in the way that I have described.
There is another matter that the Government can pursue—I hope that the noble Lord will deal with this—that is, the devolution of central government. For many years that has been government policy. When I was concerned with these matters, I found it extraordinarily difficult to implement. I remember trying to move the Forestry Commission out of central London. I only succeeded in moving it to Tottenham Court Road. I thought that it might he rather nearer a tree in its location. I ask the noble Lord to indicate the programme envisaged for the next three years in the devolution of central government. In these days of telephones and telexes, it is absurd that it should all be within one mile of the Treasury.
The noble Lord mentioned the Education Bill. Can he assure us that every encouragement will be given for the best schools and the ablest teachers to set up and maintain themselves in the areas of deprivation?
It was quite incredible that the Government should have decided to close departments of universities in the very areas that were suffering the most. A university can be a centre of excellence and an attraction just as a school can be. We all know of such examples. A very old friend of mine who was widowed in the war immediately took her young family to a place near an excellent school in Scotland where it could be educated. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to comment on that matter.
What is being done to mobilise self-help in building? A few expert craftsmen—and this has been proved and done—can easily train people to build their own houses. Those people then become expert and can go on to help elderly people like myself who are incapable of building anything except, perhaps, a low garden wall. I would suggest that that should be a priority in the re-creation of our inner cities.
163 Then they should be made leafy and garden-like. There was a time when I was young when garden cities were out of favour, but that has long passed. If we can make the new area of living propitious it will have the spiritual effect that was so notably referred to by the right reverend Prelate. If this debate has galvanised our ideas and our purposes, then the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, will have performed—as he has—a most valuable service to the country.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I echo the closing words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, when he says that my noble friend Lord Windlesham in opening this debate has performed a considerable public service. I hope your Lordships will not only agree with that but feel that the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady David—who I see is not in her place—that we had timed it badly because of the absence abroad of my noble friend Lord Young will not be taken seriously. I say that partly because of the most excellent speech we have heard from my noble friend Lord Belstead and partly—as the noble Baroness I am sure knows perfectly well—because party days are allocated at the beginning of the Session and those who have some share in choosing the subject to be taken have no opportunity whatever of changing the date.
It has been an impressive and rather surprising debate. The state of the inner cities and the appropriateness of particular measures to deal with their problems have been outside a matter of fairly brisk party-political controversy, yet your Lordships' House, perhaps once again, has shown its capacity to deal with these issues in a quite different way. Indeed, on the whole there was a surprising measure of agreement not on detail or on specific measures but on the general approach that we, as a country, and the government as a government, should adopt to these particular problems.
We had the advantage, I hope I may be allowed to say so with respect, of the superb speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, which I personally found extremely moving. At the conclusion of it he said something to the effect that what was needed was to re-create local pride and local spirit. These are almost exactly the same words as were used in a recent speech by the Minister concerned, Mr. Kenneth Clarke. I shall not weary your Lordships with a quotation, but he said almost the same thing. Also (if he will allow me to say so) did the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in his most interesting speech.
There is a general agreement that whatever we do by way of technical or financial measures must be done in a way which will re-create local pride and the wish and the will of local people to help themselves. Nothing could be more harmful than to suggest that you meet the problem simply by pouring in large quantities of taxpayers' money. Public subsidies are to some extent drugs of addiction. Once you get hooked on them, you find it difficult to dispense with them. Although obviously government money has to be involved in this operation, to suggest that you are 164 going to meet this problem—as is sometimes suggested outside—simply by lavish financial provision is damaging and misleading.
Surely what is needed—and this approach seems to have a considerable degree of support in the House—is the selective use of government money so as to attract private investment from both inside and outside these areas, and to secure that a stimulus is given to a general economic redevelopment. That is what we should aim at, difficult though it may be.
I disagreed with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, when he seemed to be suggesting that the great success of the Docklands Development Corporation could not be repeated in the North; that it owed something to the fact that it took place in East London. The noble and learned Lord may not know, though it was mentioned by my noble friend the Minister in his speech, that four more of these development corporations in England (and I think one in Wales) are being set up. These are all somewhat northward: the West Midlands; Teesside; and Liverpool. I forget where the fourth is.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
I mentioned the West Midlands. That is an indication that those responsible feel that this same mechanism can perfectly well be used in those areas. It would be a grave reflection on those areas to suggest that a system and scheme which has worked so magnificently in a very sad area, as East London was, is not applicable in other areas that are encountering difficulties.
The Docklands Development Corporation has been a triumphant success. I think the figures have already been given. A public investment of fewer than £300 million has attracted overall investment of some £2 billion. The whole area has been renovated; 8,000 jobs have been created; and a great many houses have been built. I am sure your Lordships will feel that we should pay a great tribute to all who have been concerned with that, and in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, who has put in such a tremendous amount of work both directly in the corporation and as perhaps the best public relations officer for the corporation that any organisation has ever had.
I should like to take up one point about the docklands corporation. The noble Baroness, Lady David, said, "Oh, yes, but the houses are so expensive". She quoted a house which I think was priced at £400,000. I do not know whether the noble Baroness has studied the report of the docklands corporation. If she has she will have seen that there are certainly houses in that price range because—in my view rightly—the corporation has sought not to make this an area for one income group only but to have the spread of incomes, the spread of levels of standards of life, from high to low, so as to get a properly balanced community.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, if I may I shall finish because I can give the noble Baroness what I think may save her the trouble of intervening. If she will look at the report she will see:Already 12,000 new homes have been built or are under way on land owned by the Corporation and on privately-owned land. Around 60 per cent. of all the new homes built on Corporation-owned land have been sold for £40,000 or less; and 40 per cent. of those on Corporation land have been bought by residents of the Docklands boroughs.Does the noble Baroness desire to intervene?
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I still think that £40,000 is out of the price range of a great many people and I think that the right reverend Prelate made that point in his speech.
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, before the noble Lord answers that point, is he aware that people have been queueing up all night to pay that price and they are all local people?
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I think the noble Baroness has been answered by the noble Lord on her own side. I would only add that if she thinks £40,000 is a high figure in the London area today, that indicates to me that she is sorely out of touch with the level of house prices. She has ignored entirely the second barrel to that gun, that 40 per cent. of the houses on corporation land have been bought by residents of the docklands boroughs.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, if I might come back again, I am very well aware of what house prices are. I am also aware of what incomes are.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I am delighted to know that the noble Baroness has her feet on the ground, at least to that extent. It was therefore really quite unfair of her to say, "Oh, the docklands corporation is only houses for the rich at £400,000" and all that, because if she had read this report she must have known that a far greater number of houses were being sold at precisely a tenth of that price. Does the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, desire to comment further?
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, I have nothing to say except to point out to the noble Lord that the houses which have been talked about at the £250,000 and £400,000 extremes have been built on land which has not—I repeat not—been owned by the development corporation.
The Lord Bishop of Southwark
My Lords, I am sorry to intervene but I think there is a slight danger in this kind of conversation between noble Lords that we might be giving the impression to those outside that there are houses or flats to be bought now for £40,000. I am afraid that my recent experience of the opening of the reconditioned block of flats at Acorn Walk in Rotherhithe is that, if I remember rightly, a one-bedroomed flat was going to be sold at somewhere around £55,000 to £60,000. We ought to 166 bear in mind that the figure in the report is an average over a period of time and the figures now are a good deal higher. I should not like people to be under any misapprehension.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I am obliged to the right reverened Prelate. Obviously the figures in the report relate to the past; if they were in the future or the present they would not be in the report. But we have had it from the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, who, with respect, knows more about this matter than perhaps any of us, that people are queueing up, including many normal residents in the dockland boroughs, for the houses even at the prices for which they are being sold at the moment.
Therefore, to suggest that this development is only a development for the rich (which is what the noble Baroness was seeking to do) is, I think, very unfair to those who have put in this excellent work in transforming areas of East London which had been very nearly derelict and in respect of which I think the local authorities concerned held a record of shameful neglect.
If I may continue with the noble Baroness, Lady David, she said, "Yes, it is true that the docklands corporation has attracted this enormous investment of £2 billion from private sources; but of course you would not get that amount in Liverpool."
My Lords, of course you would not get that amount in Liverpool! Perhaps the noble Baroness is aware of the situation in Liverpool, with the rates set by the local authority and stopped at 265 pence in the pound, with a deficit of £40 million and with heavy debts which sooner or later will have to be paid, and with an enormously expanded local authority staff of 31,000 people. Of course, such an area is much less attractive to investment than areas which are properly managed either by the docklands corporation or by responsible local authorities.
This leads me to what I think is the important question for noble Lords to consider. We have in general a prosperous community. The general standard of life of the British people is higher than it has ever been. We have done remarkably well as a nation as a whole, but we have these areas where there is real poverty and hardship. One must not exaggerate even that. It is nothing like as bad in any of these areas as I think Limehouse was when I knew Limehouse in the 1930s. I happened to be a candidate for the old London County Council in Limehouse. I shall not trouble noble Lords with the history except that I indicated to the authorities in my party that it would be fatal to my prospects as a young barrister to get elected, so they found me a constituency where that risk was minimal. But in Limehouse one really saw poverty of the kind we see now in Africa and Asia, where children were obviously ill-clad, inadequately clad. One saw people who had not had a decent meal for weeks—a really terrible poverty of a degree far worse than anyone sees today.
Part of the problem today is that the relativities have changed. The comparison in these areas today is with people on much higher standards than the rest of the country. This induces bitterness. But if one is to be realist— and I stress that not for one moment am I seeking to underrate the hardships of those 167 concerned and the damage to morale—it would be a mistake to forget that even their position represents a great improvement on the position in this country even 40 years ago.
We still come to the question why, in a country where this is the general position, there are these areas. Why is it? Why are they exceptions to the position in the rest of the community? Diagnosis is the first condition of cure. Obviously there is no simple or single cause; there are a number of causes. One is undoubtedly that some of these areas have held on to obsolescent industries, dying industries, industries which could no longer either compete with the low wage industries of Eastern Asia or produce a product for which people were prepared to pay; dying industries which have been preserved in many cases too long and where there has been an unwillingness to change over to the new developments.
We had a discussion at Question Time today about the relative position of heavy industry and service industries. I think it is true that some people in this county still do not fully appreciate the increasing role and importance of the service industries and that in a progressive, up-to-date economy there will be a shift from heavy industry into the service industries. We see that in other advanced countries, notably the United States. This is undoubtedly one of the causes. There is no doubt that another cause is the dominance in some of these areas of the hard Left local authorities. Whether they are the cause or the effect of the trouble is a matter about which we could argue at some length. But the fact that they are there makes them a real problem because of the discouragement which they produce to people who would wish to invest or set up a business there. It is very difficult to see how any responsible company chairman could set up his industry in a place dominated by such bodies as the Liverpool City Council.
Therefore there is a very real need, I think, to protect the people of these areas from the damage which a certain limited number of very bad local authorities can inflict. If noble Lords go over Westminster Bridge into Lambeth they will see a notice "You are entering a nuclear-free zone." I do not know what effect that has on the Kremlin and its planning teams. I sometimes think that there might be encouragement if, in some areas, one were informed that one was entering a local authority-free zone. There are local authorities which have done much damage, and one of the advantages of the development corporations is where local authority planning interference is largely eliminated.
There are a number of causes. It is plain that there is no simple, straightforward, obvious, across the board solution. However, the use of the various expedients of which my noble friend spoke in his speech, and in particular the use of the development corporations, can and will effect improvement. It is a great mistake to feel that there is any section of opinion in this country—certainly in this House—that is not desperately anxious to effect that improvement. No one can be happy when in a basically prosperous country (for the moment I except the City of London from that statement) there should be areas where people find it difficult to get 168 work and in which there is a good deal of squalor and poor living conditions. No one can he happy about that situation.
The answer must be that there is no simple, obvious, across the board solution or it would have been adopted. It must be a progressive use of the different instruments about which we have been hearing this afternoon. In addition, it must depend directly on maintaining the vigour and expansion of the British economy as a whole. After all, it is on the strength of the British economy as a whole that our power and capacity to improve conditions in these areas depends. Therefore we must avoid steps which could damage the economic recovery of this country, matters which may affect interest rates and so on, because it is upon the economy generally and the taxpayer generally that our power to improve matters in these areas depends. I ask your Lordships to accept that although, rightly, we may differ on the means we are unanimous as to the end.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, I do not intend to follow the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, because his conclusions come from a premise with which I do not agree and which I do not accept. However, I should like to correct the noble Lord. At the commencement of his speech, noble Lords shouted "West Midlands". I believe that the same mistake was made by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, when he used the word "Birmingham". Both noble Lords should have used the term "The Black Country".
The noble Lord on the Front Bench made an announcement in respect of the development agencies that are being set up by the Department of the Environment. I come from the Midlands and therefore I know exactly where the Black Country is. When I asked the Minister to define the area of the Black Country he shuffled his papers and said that there does not appear to be a geographical area. Of course there is not a geographical area. If one looks at a map of Great Britain, there is no area that is defined as the West Midlands.
There was a West Midlands County Council which did admirable work on rehabilitation and regeneration in the area. However, for some reason best known to the Government they decided that all those who were taking progressive steps to try to help depressed areas must go. I now define both areas so that both noble Lords will know where they are. The Black Country consists of two local authority areas adjacent to Birmingham, and their local authorities are entirely different.
I should like to focus on Birmingham and move away from the docklands. We have a lot of water in Birmingham; there are many canals and the Minister described one of the developments which is being assisted by the Inland Waterways Board. It is in the city centre among industrial development and is an attraction. Birmingham is the city in which I was born and have lived all my life. I accept the description given by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. If noble Lords read Hansard they will see that the Minister said:Birmingham, a great city".169 I believe that those are the words he used, and it is a description which I endorse.
The city has lost over 190,000 jobs mostly from manufacturing. Most of the manufacturing work carried out in Birmingham was located in the central core of the city. The large organisations such as British Leyland, Ford and Dunlop were on the outskirts of the city but the majority of the industrial strength was in the central inner ring of the city. It is traumatic for one area of the city to lose 190,000 jobs over a period of seven or eight years. Within that area is the inner city partnership where unemployment rates fluctuate between 30 per cent. and 38 per cent. of the population.
I do not speak from hearsay or from reading articles but from personal knowledge. During the whole of the time which I served on Birmingham City Council I represented an inner city ward. When I was elected to the other place I represented an inner city ward. I do not need to read because I can see and I know about these issues. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, gave information and dates of government initiatives.
The first White Paper was published exactly 10 years ago and was entitled Policy for the Inner Cities. Today we are almost celebrating the 10th anniversary of that first publication and are still talking about what must be done. We are still asking where the money is to come from, and we are still telling people in those areas that they must continue to wait. It is a dismal way for governments of whichever political party to operate when in 10 years they have not devised solutions to solve the problems. We hear much talk, there are many conferences and many words are printed, but we still see deterioration in these areas year after year.
Perhaps I may be cynical, but the Government showed concern after the election regarding the plight of the inner cities. There was a standing ovation at the Conservative Party Conference when the Prime Minister used the phrase, "Something must be done". What marvellous phraseology! It is not something that needs to be done: the phrase should be in the plural, because some things need to be done. Again, perhaps I may be cynical as regards the Government and the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, which he did not deliver in an enthusiastic voice. I was not impelled to listen. On some occasions I listened with great difficulty and I should have liked to say to myself, "Gosh, Lady Fisher, throw away your speech; you have no need to go on. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has fired you with enthusiasm and everything will he all right". However, I am somewhat cynical. I think that the phrase "Something must be done" should be concluded with the words "because we must get more Tory votes in areas that return Labour MPs." That is why it has to be done. It is a cheap and cynical way of trying to help the inner cities.
In Birmingham the urban development committee is responsible for the management and improvement of all private sector housing in the city. The main thrust of its programme is aimed at inner city areas and is based on the "worst first" principle, that is, the principle that the worst situation must be tackled 170 first. The local authority also pioneered enveloping schemes. When the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, spoke on environmental issues, he talked warmly about enveloping schemes and said that he had seen with his own eyes what they had accomplished. So enveloping schemes pioneered by the city council have an immediate effect on the environment. One only has to look to see the difference.
Five out of the seven schemes submitted by Birmingham for this year's programme have been accepted by the Department of the Environment. One of those rejected is a scheme called the Landsdowne project, and that rejection has aroused great concern among the people who live in the road and who face severe housing problems. From my personal knowledge of the area I know that race relations could become much more strained should the scheme not proceed. I say very sincerely to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that perhaps his officers in the Department of the Environment do not know the area particularly well. The scheme may have been rejected for other reasons, but it is in a part of the Handsworth-Lozells area which has already hit the headlines in the national press. In that area community policing is carried out to a very high degree. It works well but any sign of tension makes the job of the police very much more difficult. For that reason I ask the Minister to consider this area very seriously and to decide to include it. I ask him to give the scheme approval purely on those grounds, considering that the area might not he known in Whitehall.
During the Prime Minister's visit to the West Midlands she emphasised the problem of developing inner city sites. On television screens in the West Midlands one saw her examining the soil at the Black Country site. She spoke eloquently about soil contamination resulting from intensive manufacturing which produced toxic wastes. Since the Prime Minister now understands from her personal experience one of the problems of the inner city, perhaps it would not be too much to ask that the derelict land grant should he increased. If the derelict land grant for the inner cities outside the docklands area can be increased one could advance much more speedily.
In the past year the Government have introduced the Urban Management Initiative—UPM is another set of initials to put under one's belt. That initiative seeks to measure output in relation to national guidelines. I should like to be assured by the Minister that any comparison of output from other parts of the country with output from inner city areas will not be measured by the yardstick of the London docklands. That would be completely unfair to all the inner city partnerships, because, as the Minister is fully aware, all the inner city partnerships other than docklands and Merseyside include not only the Government, local authorities and private enterprise but also health authorities, the police and the probation service.
In those inner city areas health provision is important. If one looks at the West Midlands one sees that the infant mortality rate is the worst in the country. It is in those areas that there should be a concentration of expenditure, which cannot be 171 compared with the money to be spent in docklands which expends nothing on the police, the probation service, health or education.
I think it is also important for us to recognise that in cities like Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and the North generally, industry and business are still there. Houses also are still there. We must make quite sure that the business that remains in the inner city, whether it be industrial or commercial, is kept there and that the houses there are rejuvenated. There is no big, open space in respect of which one can say, "Ah, let's get a nice big plan and implement it". One has to plan and "pepperpot" all round the areas that are already built up. The job then becomes more difficult.
Birmingham has a history of municipal enterprise initiated and fostered by Joseph Chamberlain. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, will be pleased that I have mentioned someone of such outstanding merit. It was during that period of enlightenment in Birmingham that he encouraged the local pride of which the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, spoke. That local pride has been sustained by the elected councils in Birmingham whatever the party to which they belonged. They have always had a tradition of sinking political differences when working for the good of the city and its people. For that reason also the Government should very seriously consider the proposal of the Birmingham Urban Development Agency, which is the agency that will develop the Aston-Nechells-Washwood health district area, which is a core area of 200 acres containing the worst problems.
The Birmingham project is supported by all political parties in the city. It will embrace education, training, house modernisation, land reclamation, factory buildings and improvement and support for businesses. Some of the largest building companies in the country are closely involved in the project. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry claims credit for the concept of the urban development agency. It is expected that the agency will be led by a very eminent person in industry whose name is well known in government circles.
Of course the Secretary of State prefers urban development corporations. There have been speakers today who have said that there must be variation and different projects in different parts of the country. That agency represents an enterprise of the private sector with the council taking a backseat and it is worthy of funding under the urban regeneration grant. Those who read the article in the Guardian earlier this week know that it went into the scheme in great detail. Yet at present the Department of Industry is of the opinion that the scheme is not on. However, one can read what was said by Robert Davies, BIC's Director of Development—and this is important for us to understand—who argued that we do not want:Civil Service-led initiatives. Such a centralised approach … would he doomed to failure.Unless local businessmen are encouraged to become really involved and given some real sense of commitment, these initiatives could be short-lived".The thrust of my argument is that we should ensure that initiative of the scale which is being suggested by 172 the Birmingham local authority is given serious consideration and financial backing.
I come to one of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, mentioned when he talked about reasons for not investing. The man who has been given the job of the chief executive of the Black Country Development Agency, the new government agency, said when he was first appointed that one of the reasons developers would not go to that area was that they did not think property values would rise there. That is a different reason to the one given by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, but it is very valid.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, is there not a very close connection between misgovernment by local government and property values not rising?
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, I was just giving the noble Lord a comment made by the man who has been appointed by the Government to take over as chief executive of one of the development agencies. In his inaugural speech he made those comments. The noble Lord should get in touch with him if he thinks there is a conflict of interest.
In closing I wish to reiterate what the Prime Minister has said: something must be done. It is for the benefit of the people who live in those areas and who suffer the deprivation, the sickness, the unemployment and the misery of poor environmental surroundings. Something must be done, not just to get votes at general elections or any other elections but because it is morally and socially just that conditions in the inner cities must be improved very substantially.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Lord Grimond
My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords will have much enjoyed the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, with her great knowledge of Birmingham and her high hopes of the Minister, which we all share, although in the case of the noble Baroness she has been somewhat disappointed. I am sure she is right in saying that what is needed in the urban areas is an overall raising of standards not only of housing but of services, education and health. It was apparent long ago that children born in Sunderland had a far poorer chance in life in every way than those, for instance, born in Bournemouth and that continues today.
I wish to reiterate what was said by my noble friend Lord Ezra that this is not only a problem of the inner cities but of urban areas everywhere. In some cases the inner cities are comparatively well off. Inner cities in Scotland are much better off on the whole than are the housing estates. In Glasgow considerable effort has been made to improve the inner city and no one can complain about the inner city of Edinburgh or indeed that of Aberdeen, but the housing estates in some of the smaller boroughs suffer from all those troubles of which we have heard today.
It is fairly well known why this has happened in some ways though not in all. It is known that bad planning and bad architecture have caused problems. There is no doubt that the high-rise blocks have contributed a great deal to unhappiness in this 173 century. That makes me a little sceptical about new proposals and even proposals for new corporations that are put forward by architects. Architects should be carrying their heads rather low at their performance since the war but there is no doubt that a new look at planning is urgently necessary.
I have heard a certain amount today about complaints about local councils. Local councils are variable and I do not much approve of many of them. They are extravagant but when it is claimed that they deter industry from coming to their areas by high expenditure, it must be said that the people whose expenditure has been hopelessly out of hand since the war are the central governments. It is not the local councils which have constantly exceeded their estimates; it is the central governments. It is not the local councils which are pursuing Mr. Wright across the world at perfectly ludicrous expenditure of public money. It is the central government. Local councils arc no better or no worse than many other aspects of our affairs today.
However, there is no doubt that there is a place for these specialist corporations but we should be wary of thinking that the same policy can be applied all over the country. As I have said, the problems are quite different and the solutions are also different. The perception held by Corbusier that there was an ideal city which one could create on drawing paper and then plonk down in the countryside is wholly untrue. As has constantly been reiterated in the debate, the point about the troubles of the so-called inner cities is that they are troubles of human beings. They are not troubles of economics or of statistics. It is very good to hear that people can buy a house for £40,000 in the East End of London but that is not altogether satisfactory for a great many human beings, first because they cannot raise even £40,000 and secondly because many of them are much better off in tenanted accommodation. If we want mobility of labour and to get people to move about the country we must provide far more rented accommodation than is available in the country today.
Then again if we want to house people better, which is absolutely essential, we must give local authorities the right to retain, as was said by the noble Baroness, Lady David, a proportion of the money that they receive from selling their houses. That is a very simple solution and as simple solutions have never appealed to the British it has not been done. Instead they like to set up a corporation, but it is not necessary to do that on all occasions. We can give local authorities a proportion of the money that they raise from selling houses and we can support their efforts or those of the local housing associations to provide tenancies. By that we will encourage better housing and mobility of labour.
When it comes to employment, undoubtedly one of the troubles of deprived urban areas has been that the old industries moved out, that there was a lack of employment and that this combined with bad planning and bad housing led to the slums in which many of them still stagnate. The modern wisdom is that we must get new small businesses and new service industries into those areas. However, that is not altogether easy. I went to see the site of my 174 family's old works in Dundee. I am astonished and have been for many years that the site, which covers 30 to 40 acres, has stood more or less derelict and it has gradually fallen down until it has been taken down. There are many other such sites.
Why has that happened? It has happened partly because of planning restrictions but partly because no one wanted it. There are not even many service industries that are clamouring to go into the derelict areas of this country. They must have greatly improved services if they are to go there. They may have them in certain cases such as in those areas administered by the development corporations but they must not be deterred by very onerous regulations.
I have found as a Member of Parliament that, although there were people who wished to set up viable industries and who could not do so for lack of capital, on the whole lack of capital was not the great obstacle. The regulations and responsibilities of setting up a business and the amount of planning arrangements with which one had to comply in one's buildings, in taking on people in employment and in tax returns and VAT were what discouraged a great many small business people from going into business. I beg the Government to look at that side of the matter and to see what they can do to reduce the number of regulations and also to simplify taxation. It is absurd that everybody in this country who earns any amount of money at all has to employ an accountant. One of the great advantages of big businesses is that they can afford all this, but small businesses are greatly hampered by the tax regulations.
My main and last point is the question of derelict land. This point was stressed by the mover of the Motion, to whom we are much indebted for this afternoon's most interesting debate. It is a scandal that there are 330,000 acres of derelict land lying idle in the cities of this country. A great deal of that land belongs to public authorities and nationalised industries. Pressure ought to be brought by the Government upon them to sell the land, develop it, turn it into public parks or do something else with it. That matter is raised year after year and nothing is done. I favour compulsory purchase to get the land once again into some use which is of public benefit.
Apart from that, there is a great deal of derelict land that is in private ownership, which I believe amounts to about one third of the total. I understand that that is partly so because there was not a great deal of incentive (at least until recently) to develop such land. Companies which only trade on their balance sheet add increasing values each year and they are not under strong pressure to develop or use the land.
There used to be a policy of land value taxation. That has an old-fashioned ring and it was unanimously despised a few years ago. However, I am coming round to the view that there is something to be said for it. If land rather than buildings or people is taxed in urban areas, that will encourage its use. It is the only tax that I know of which actively encourages enterprise. All other taxes are taxes upon enterprise. Land taxation is designed to promote enterprise. You do not pay it if you make use of your 175 assets. Furthermore, derelict land is known to be derelict. There is no question of taking over gardens or golf courses.
Now that we may not have rates, the whole situation is changed. The Minister is very optimistic if he believes that he is going to be carried shoulder-high through London when his new local taxation comes into force. I suspect that he will be carried heels up within a tumbrel if he is not careful!
Looking at the whole problem of local government taxation, I do not for one moment claim that the taxation of land value will by itself either give local authorities sufficient money or solve the problems of the derelict areas in cities. However, I do think it is worth looking at again and I believe that it is a scandal that over 300,000 acres are lying derelict in inner cities, which are short of housing, parks, and recreation facilities of all sorts. So far as public authority land is concerned, either they ought to get rid of it or build on it themselves. So far as private owners are concerned, I do not see why they should not be taxed.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells
My Lords, your Lordships must be pondering why a country Bishop should be speaking in this debate, even if this particular Bishop worked for six years in Liverpool before going to Somerset. Since the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark has been personal, let me respond by thanking your Lordships for your many kindnesses during the years I have been on these Benches. I also apologise to your Lordships as I shall not be here for the close of this debate. I shall be reading it with great interest as soon as I can.
I feel impelled to emphasise that, as I see it, this debate calls general attention—not just urban man's attention—to the needs of the inner cities and to the steps which are being taken to meet them. I add my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for bringing this matter before us.
I believe that there is a strong echo—whether intentional or not, I do not know—of the second half of the terms of reference given in July 1983 to the members of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Commission on Urban Priority Areas which read:to reflect on the challenge which God may be making to Church and nation in the light of the problems of the inner cities and to make recommendations to appropriate bodies".What I particularly liked about the report which the commission published two and a half years later was that it did indeed make 23 recommendations to Government and nation but it also made 30 recommendations to the Church itself. I can never fully understand the frustration which that report caused in another place. It showed that the Church of England was and is vigorously seeking to put our own house in order in more respects than it is pontificating, was pontificating and continues to pontificate to those who hold national responsibilities in the matter. In passing, I should have thought that the dual role—a concern for the Church and for the nation—has long been played by the Church of England to the mutual advantage of both.
176 But why is the countryside concerned with the inner cities debate, one may ask. The first part of the answer must be the obvious observation that the days of self-sufficiency in the countryside are long over. Countrymen accept the Range Rover, if they are lucky enough to possess one, and even more so if they can pay for the petrol. The combine harvester and such things are seen about our countryside without a second thought. We are well aware that they are produced in the city.
The second part of the answer to why a countryman must be concerned with the inner cities is that inner city problems are as much the problems of those of us living in Somerset or Wiltshire as they are of the people of Teesside or Glasgow, simply because we belong together to Great Britain. If powerlessness is one of the main inner city problems which Her Majesty's Government have to face, the question must be asked, if there is a lack of power in inner city areas, a lack of enthusiasm and a lack of incentives, where is the power to get things done? How enlivened our debate has been by the noble Baroness opposite on that very subject of getting things done.
The answer is that the power lies mainly in the broad acres of the more beautiful parts of our countryside, because that is where the men of power live. For instance, in the Bath and Wells diocese we always say that we keep the great city of Bristol. a few miles to the north, going. We keep its wheels turning. The commuter traffic of those few miles to the north every Monday to Friday morning proves it. People go in to do their work in the city and they go out to the countryside to live.
There must be properly trained teachers in our inner city schools. What a tough job they have! Unlike the clergymen (who are about the only professional people still living in the inner cities) our commuting schoolteachers are the people who drive for 45 or 50 minutes from their country homes to the run-down and often multiracial areas where imaginative, reconciling teaching is so necessary. We admire them greatly for it.
What about the politicians—Members of this House and another place—so many of whom, to keep sane in their busy lives, are glad to have their real homes in the country rather than in the heart of London where they have to work for five days a week? The inner city is the concern of country people. My point is a very simple one, which for the unity of our nation none of us can ever forget. We in the country must never say to the town, "You have your problems; we have ours as well". It is true that there are deep problems for the 20th century countryside and some of your Lordships will know that by the end of this year the Church of England will be setting up a commission to look at them, not in a tit-for-tat and polarising way but with a complementary task to what the Church is seeking to do in the urban priority areas.
Meanwhile, there can be no question but that we in the country can often reach the people of our nation that the inner city cannot reach—those with power. It is in no spirit of condescension therefore from us on a lofty rural pedestal, however cold and draughty and wet it may sometimes be—and we have all 177 experienced that—to those in their urban deprivation, but rather together we must explore the needs of those without jobs. As we have been hearing this evening, together we must explore the needs of those who find it impossible to get decent housing. Together we must explore the needs of those with badly-funded or inadequate health or social services.
We need to listen and learn what is actually happening in our own nation. It may be only an hour or two away from where we live, but we must become more aware of the uncomfortable things rather than allowing ourselves—as it is so, so easy to do—to be cocooned in our private world. In a word, as we call attention to the needs of our inner cities and the steps which are being taken to meet them, it is to those of us who live in the country every bit as much as it is to the town dwellers that the challenge to have and to encourage a new faith in the city must be directed.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, it is a privilege for me to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and to say how much I enjoyed his swan song. I hope that we may still continue to see him in this House even if we do not hear him in the years ahead.
I am privileged to live in the countryside too—in a village where we have an active church and that plays the major part in the life of the village. I know just how much I owe the Church and therefore I hope and believe that we shall respond to the call for us to rally to the mission which is coming out of Faith in the City. I am sure that we shall play a good part in our community. That must be so over a very wide area not only in the right reverend Prelate's diocese but in many others as well. The need is there and the Church undoubtedly has a very important part to play.
In that context I wish to say something about the urban development corporations. I was a little disappointed that the Church group in Newham, of all the Churches, refused to give co-operation to the urban development corporation because they simply did not like what they regarded as an interloper. They felt that the elected body was the one they wanted to deal with. That is going to be the theme of the brief speech that I intend to make. I believe now that there is a new wind blowing not only on the Front Bench but perhaps also in some of the local authorities as well. I think that there may be a spirit of co-operation with the urban development corporations. The noble Lord, Lord Mellish, has told us before now (in Lord Scarman's debate) of the intense hostility which he and his colleagues met in the docklands area which made life extremely difficult for them. At the end of the day the urban development corporation can only succeed in partnership with the local authorities, and when their job is done it all goes back to them. I am most hopeful. And that, in a very few words, is what I wish to say.
I do not want to refer to any of the other great range of measures which my noble friend referred to in his very lucid and admirable speech. I must at the beginning thank the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for promoting this debate and for giving us such a valuable and interesting occasion. He has already 178 dealt so lucidly with the performance of the urban development corporations especially in London, and for that reason I shall not need to say about a half of what I had originally intended.
I should like to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, that it was the Local Government Act of 1981 which set up the urban development corporations. Therefore this Government were aware of the need for meeting in the most direct way possible the needs of inner cities and derelict areas long before this year's general election. I am sure that she, with her generous heart, would give credit for that.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that I said that it was in 1977 when the first White Paper was published on inner cities?
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, it was the noble Baroness's reference to the Prime Minister that I felt was not entirely fair. However, let us pass on. I think we are broadly in agreement. Nothing delights me more than the marvellous joint effort which has been made in Birmingham where there has been partnership between the Birmingham City authorities and the Government with the result that great progress is being made to the immense credit of all concerned.
As there are five new urban development corporations which are about to be created, I shall mention them again because none of us is entirely clear which they are. They are Greater Manchester; Teesside; Tyne and Wear; the Black Country—but not Birmingham—and Wales. I had not heard of Wales before, and I must thank my noble friend for that. I believe that this is by far the most important measure because these are being directed to the places where our problems are human problems and are most acute, and where help is most needed. I hope that the marvellous and spectacular success of the London Docklands Development Corporation will encourage the local authorities concerned there to see that this really does deliver the goods in getting thousands of new houses built—and even more important at the end of the day, creating thousands of new jobs. In fact 10,000 new jobs have already been created in the London docklands area and the number is expected to double. These measures have attracted jobs to these areas where before there really was no hope. What was happening was the young people were leaving and only the older people and the school children were remaining. The measure that can bring jobs on that scale is really wonderful.
It is interesting just to observe that the City of London—despite its present tremors—is one of the three great international financial centres of the world, and it is bursting at the seams with accommodation. It is now creating the Isle of Dogs as an extension of the City of London, using the Docklands Light Railway. In fact we get a perfect example of the decline of the old coming to the rescue of the new.
I see that the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, is back in his place. Let me say that it would have been quite impossible to have achieved what they did despite the vision and the courage of the Minister, my right honourable friend Michael Heseltine, in getting that 179 measure onto the statute book. The project would never have succeeded but for the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, and Sir Nigel Broackes. With their vision and courage they really have achieved what was regarded as the impossible. I would add this point: I see that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, is listening to me carefully. There is a tendency to think that the London docks corporation achievement was atypical and could not be re-created because of its proximity to the City.
I would remind your Lordships it is no bad thing to remember that during the long decline of the previous 20 to 25 years the Port of London lost 25,000 docks jobs and almost as many again in related trades. The local authorities there—namely, the London boroughs—were unable to check the decline, much less to reverse it, despite increasing financial help from both Conservative and Labour Governments.
During that period, I was chairman of the standing conference for London and south eastern regional planning, and for about 20 years I watched this deterioration with increasing concern. My function was only an advisory one. I was really alarmed at the tenacious independence of the London boroughs which made any co-operative attack on the problem impossible. At one point I made an informal suggestion for the creation of an independent body. That was dismissed as completely unacceptable. The fact was that immense and complex redevelopment was needed—and it was immense and complex. The sight of it, as the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, has told us more than once, this vast area of 6,000 acres of land of idle docks and decrepit, partially decaying warehouses, was just about as depressing as you could imagine. Redevelopment was needed and partially because of that immensity and complexity and partially because of the London boroughs' own policies towards private ownership and private enterprise, they were completely unable to attract in the new life needed. In that context I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who with me endured the marathon of the Select Committee for about two or three months, will remember that when a point was put to the witnesses from one of the London boroughs, a senior official, about houses for sale, the witness told us: "Our people do not want houses for sale. They want the council to provide houses to rent". Of course, we have seen now that as soon as people were given the chance to buy houses they bought them by the thousands.
Let me add a point about the controversy of the £40,000 house. The noble Lord, Lord Mellish, will remember that the first house built in the first tranche that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and I went to see was being sold at £23,500. It is true that the price went up to £40,000, but it still is jolly good value.
Therefore, this was the problem. For one reason or another these local authorities were completely unable to create the conditions which would attract in the people who would start up new businesses and who, incidentally, would all want their own houses. Apropos my noble friend Lord Windlesham's point about the wasted acreage and the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, in this dockland area of 180 6,000 acres the ownership was almost 100 per cent. in the hands of local authorities of one kind or another—either local government authorities, nationalised industries or the Port of London Authority—and they were not going to part with a square inch of it. A key feature of the urban development corporation is that the Secretary of State takes powers of vesting the land in the urban development corporation so that it can get on and develop it. That of course is a vital part of making use of these wasted areas.
Similar chronic problems exist in other big cities. The plea I make is that the local authorities there, having seen what has been done and can be done for them (perhaps not on the same scale but in the same kind of way), by bringing in men and women who have enterprise, who have commercial, industrial and financial experience, who have the ability with a start from government funds and vesting of the land in their hands, can attract private finance in the spectacular way of six to one, eight to one or nine to one or whatever the London Docklands Development Corporation has done.
I conclude my remarks because I have already gone on longer than I intended. However, I believe that this debate has shown that we can relieve the most acute areas in our inner cities by this method and that this is something which the Government are determined to do to the utmost of their power, but at the end of the day it depends on the co-operation of the local authorities. They know that eventually all this land will come back to them, we hope beautifully developed in 10 years' time. In the meantime, if they co-operate with these new bodies success is assured.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Lord Stallard
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, on giving us this further opportunity to discuss the needs of the inner cities and the steps, as he says in his Motion, that the Government are taking to deal with them. While I certainly cannot agree with some of what he had to say, I enjoyed his opening remarks and I will at least try to be constructive.
During the recess many government statements and publications such as the papers on education and the White Paper on housing have nearly all been aimed at local authority functions, especially those in the inner city areas. Indeed, if proposed legislation is to go through unamended, local authorities and particularly the inner city areas could have their finances determined by central government, could lose most of their housing functions and could have their schools largely directed by the Secretary of State. They could find themselves with development corporations, with no accountability to local people, making major decisions, and they would have little, if any, control over planning and development in their areas.
As has been mentioned, the imposition of the poll tax in the teeth of widespread and mounting opposition would create division and hardship throughout the country if the proposed legislation goes through unamended. Therefore, in my view the whole ethos of the Government proposals is going 181 in completely the wrong direction. I hope they are listening to this debate and to other debates that are taking place outside this House.
The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, as I have mentioned, spoke of the needs of the inner cities. They fall into two parts. They fall into the immediate, urgent needs, as has been mentioned by one or two previous speakers in this debate, and the longer-term needs. Because of the time I want to concentrate my few remarks on three areas of immediate need. First, I refer to the problems facing the inner city police forces. I do not think that has been mentioned this evening. They are real problems. I cannot cover the whole metropolis, but because it is fairly typical I can speak about the area in which I have lived and worked and had the honour of representing. If the right reverend Prelate was in his place I could assure him that it is my town and country home to this day and has been for the past 50 years.
I should like to speak about the problems affecting that area of Kentish Town and Camden Metropolitan Police Division which covers Kentish Town and Camden Town. This is a typical inner city area, which happens to he one that I know best, but it could be any other area in many other cities. The area is covered by two police stations. There is a population of 70,000. About 20 per cent. of the workforce is unemployed and the number of people in the 15 to 44 age group is much higher than in other parts of the United Kingdom. It is within those age hands that the majority of people likely to be involved in crime are to be found. We in our area, as in other inner city areas, have more than our fair share of every description of crime.
In 1986 there was an overall increase of 16.9 per cent. in crime in our area. Clear-ups declined from 19 per cent.—goodness knows, that is low enough—to 14.7 per cent. Burglaries are up by 16 per cent. to 2,640. Motor vehicle crimes are up 21 per cent. to 4,059. Street robberies are up 34 per cent. Drug abuse is up 24.5 per cent. Those are serious statistics. They are not my figures or those of my party but they come from the official Metropolitan Police report for that division.
In spite of those statistics and the difficulties they entail, since April 1986, 9,000 man hours have been spent on guarding prisoners remanded from courts because of overcrowding of prisons. That has nothing to do with the prison officers' dispute, which was raised in Question Time yesterday. This was before the prison officers were in dispute. The situation is much worse now of course because of the dispute. For example, prisoners on remand for medical and mental reports for three weeks are sent to police stations, two of them in the area I have mentioned. After that they go back to the court where of course, because they have not been in prison hospital, there are no reports. Therefore, they are remanded again for a further three weeks and no progress is made at all. Normal custody duties cannot he dealt with. Crucial initiatives which have been planned (and I have discussed these with local police officials) for dealing with street crime and issues like drink and driving have had to be abandoned or at least shelved. Morale suffers and public concern grows all the time.
This is an immediate problem in an inner city area and in many other similar inner city areas. It does not 182 have to wait for legislation or any new initiatives. It just needs an acceptance that if law and order is really a government priority resources must be made available to the police and the prison officers' dispute must be resolved—and it can be resolved with good will.
My second point is about homelessness and housing. No debate on the inner cities could leave out homelessness and housing. I dealt with those subjects at length, as did many others, in a previous debate, so I can dispense with the need to repeat statistics and some of the facts that I mentioned then. The Motion states,the steps which are being taken to meetthe inner city problems such as homelessness, housing and so on.
The Government recently produced a White Paper, Housing, the Government's proposals. In that document there was no mention of homelessness and the squalid living conditions which affect thousands of our people. It appears, therefore, that the Government are ignoring the biggest housing problem of all, especially in inner city areas and more especially in inner London. The Government's proposals are largely about transferring housing from local authority control into other types of tenure. But if housing departments are to be dismantled, as is implicit in the White Paper, and no one else has any statutory duties to deal with homelessness, how will it be dealt with? That question remains unanswered as do so many others that arise from the White Paper.
The proposals to reduce security of tenure in the private sector, the financial restrictions already imposed on local authorities and the proposed changes in housing association finance will dramatically reduce the availability of housing that can be afforded by people in need and will inevitably increase homelessness in the inner cities. The Government are moving in the wrong direction. It is to be hoped that the consultative process mentioned in the White Paper and forthcoming debates will convince the Government of the need for an about-turn.
The noble Lord mentioned land use in his opening remarks. I should like to mention a planning regulation which is already in operation and which in my view could worsen still further the employment situation in inner city areas, especially inner London. I am referring to the use classes order which was introduced in June this year. The combination of office and light industrial uses will have serious repercussions in inner areas. Circular 13½87 makes clear that the Government's principal concern is to protect "local amenity". It also says that the Government have discounted arguments based on the effects of such a change on the rental values of business premises. It claims that this is not relevant to the operation of the town and country planning system.
Most planners to whom I have spoken take the view that that is a narrow and unrealistic interpretation of the scope of land use planning and is an understatement. I shall use Camden as an example again because it is the place that I know best. 183 If quotations are anything to go by it is the place most of your Lordships know best. In Camden, office floor space rents are between £10 and £35 per square foot, depending upon the precise location. Light industrial floor space is more likely to be found in the range of £4 to £6 per square foot. Everyone will be well ahead of me. The pressure imposed on existing light industrial accommodation to change to office use will therefore be enormous. It should be patently obvious to anyone who knows the inner city scene. But the problem is even more acute than those figures suggest.
The capital value of commercial property is dictated not merely by current rental levels but also by the prospect of future rental growth. So while office rentals may be four to five times those of light industry, the capital value of a building used for offices may be 10 or 20 times its capital value as a light industrial building. Given that economic reality, what future is there for a viable stock of light industrial accommodation in Camden or any other similarly placed inner city area if this regulation continues?
The Government's view that that is not relevant is, to say the least, curious to those who understand planning matters. Local authorities have a responsibility to plan for the needs of their residents and high among those is the necessity to have a balanced employment structure, providing a range of job opportunities to meet the needs of local people as well as those who commute from outside the area.
Unemployment is still high in all inner London areas and in all inner city areas throughout the country. It is the decline of traditional sources of employment, especially light industrial work, which in large part has contributed to that. And it is that which will be affected by the regulation which I have just mentioned. The economic incentives provided by the changes to the use classes order will rapidly hasten the decline. That cannot be in the best interests of the local population. The Government appear to be acting contrary to their stated objectives in the order.
There will be more debates on those issues and many others. I hope that the Government will listen to the constructive criticisms that I and others have tried to make today, and will feel able to take some immediate and necessary initiatives so that we shall not have to wait for legislation. Such initiatives could ensure that our future debates will be even more positive than today's.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord Broadbridge
My Lords, the needs of inner cities have for a long time been on the political agenda. Education, employment, housing, traffic, deteriorating buildings and community relations are all key issues. The Government made a post-election pledge to tackle urban decay. Somehow the words "urban decay" seem to have come to symbolise all inner city needs rolled into one handy expression. Urban decay—oh yes, that is the problem of the inner cities. I suppose that it is a handy expression, but rather a dry and negative one.
184 Urban decay as an expression surely makes us think of physical things such as buildings. It does not bring to the forefront the fact that inner cities comprise, at the first level, real, living people, their needs, their hopes and their frustrations. I think that "urban revitalisation"—although we have heard the phrase "urban renewal" used this evening—coming from the Latin vitalis, meaning essential for life would be a happier expression. I suspect we are stuck with "urban decay".
It must be with people that the solutions to the needs of inner cities lie: their life, vitality, inventiveness and potential for good. In short, that means their unsinkability and their hopes for themselves and their children. Foremost among the needs of inner cities is the inculcation of hope for a better corporate life, and a strong feeling that people are the masters of their destiny, that many things are possible given the will and that desolation is not a God-given judgment.
If threats from foreign despots and dictators can be stopped in their tracks and overturned, it is surely possible to achieve much within the structure of a comparatively peaceful, ordered and what the computer people might call "user-friendly" society. But, as in most human affairs, leaders are needed to point the way and to make a start with new initiatives and to continue work already begun.
I believe that the identification of such leaders is the most important task to be performed in the challenge of meeting the needs of inner cities. It is one upon which too little emphasis has been placed. We are regularly told of the needs of inner cities but nothing much about the identification, promotion and encouragement of the people who are going to initiate and promote policy.
Vastly more coverage is given to the denigration of those currently in charge than to the announcement of the appointment or promotion of men and women charged with specific tasks. That is the reverse of the situation in, for example, Cabinet government where we are lectured to death with the names, personalities and responsibilities of our chief Ministers. Who, for example, knows who is in charge of the successful public-private sector co-operation in Sheffield? I freely confess that I do not. Is that not part of the problem? As the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said in his excellent opening remarks, "Everyone was involved; no one was in charge".
People are like flowers; they like to be watered. A man or a woman who feels, "Nobody knows my name or what I am trying to do", is walking beside the precipice of the temptation to say, "Oh, heck, what's the point? Who knows? Who cares?" Now that the Government have made a pledge to tackle urban decay I vehemently hope that they will set themselves the task of telling us not only the names of Ministers in charge (do we not know them already?) but also those of the people at local level upon whom their hopes are fixed. I recall the remark earlier of the noble Baroness, Lady David, that we are not entirely clear as to the Ministers who are in charge but whoever they are we feel we know them fairly well. I repeat this: give us the names of the people at a local level upon whom our hopes are fixed. It can be done. After all, we all knew overnight 185 that Richard Branson had been given the job of tidying up London. Who is tidying up Liverpool?
Let us consider the needs of inner cities and the steps that are being taken to meet them. Historically, the approach was via a municipal plan for local development largely keyed into using council direct labour. This is not meant by me as a political statement, but surely as one of factual truth. Many such plans are now being torn up in favour of first obtaining an independent report, mapping out options, and then working in concert with the private sector. Sheffield is a good example and a city about which we have perhaps not heard much this evening. This has happened with the needs of Labour-controlled Sheffield's scarred lower Don Valley where I understand that it is hoped to mount a revitalisation operation largely geared through the private sector provided that the Government have the imagination and trust in the council to provide the start-up resources.
Along the lines of my original theme, I am entirely in favour of encouraging local initiatives like this by allowing local people the responsibility for such a project's execution. The alternative is to say that they cannot manage it and to impose an urban development corporation—effectively government from Whitehall.
It is largely economics that are at the heart of most of the needs of inner cities and the ways that they are met. In a buoyant inner city economy, the needs of education, health, employment, deteriorating buildings, traffic control, and so on can be more realistically tackled. Simply throwing cash at the situation will not achieve much, any more than it does with a poorly managed and failing private business. That merely staves off the inevitable collapse. As with a new business, start-up or venture capital is often needed by an inner city, but this is largely to initiate a well conceived plan to be implemented by competent individuals whose names we should know. Emphasis and support should be given to an entrepreneurial approach involving the private sector.
To turn to Sheffield again, the city has this year set up a council-run Sheffield Development Office providing a one-stop shop for industry and business offering advice on how to tap available funds. Big retail schemes, including a £200 million out-of-town shopping and leisure complex, are under development. A city centre shopping centre opened earlier this year. According to the Independent newspaper, development of a city centre science park is under way as another public-private venture aimed at adapting unemployment in the city's traditional heavy engineering sector to new technologies. David Blunkett, the former council leader and now in another place, argues that the city needs to take a leaf out of the book of 19th century entrepreneurs by joint action between private and public sectors.
Thus, Sheffield council struck an imaginative deal earlier this year which will create 2,400 new houses for rent. Under an agreement with the UK Housing Trust and the Nationwide Building Society 4,000 new homes will be built. Of these, 800 will be sold, 800 managed through housing associations, and the 186 balance of 2,400 managed and maintained by the council for rent.
Life is a spectrum from large undertakings to small. But they all make up the jigsaw. I have mentioned some large events. There is much in the middle which time precludes mention of. But two inner city needs at the smaller end I should like to see met. As background, I believe that people function best when inspired and elevated; one might just say, when they are cheerful. Irrespective of the tragic depredations of last Thursday's terrible storm I wish that far more trees could be planted, perhaps on the tree-for-a-tree basis with local residents and businesses which some councils already operate. I do not mean here, in what might be called the vernacular, the "yuppie" terraces and streets of that kind, but in the vast tracts of open estate land and so on where everything is rather gaunt. A speaker earlier said that inside a large block that he visited the homes were not magnificent but very well kept and comfortable and people were proud of them. Outside was the unfortunate desolation. Although our national propensity towards scattering litter is a curse, trees are large and make a bigger impact.
Secondly, I should like to see the abolition or severe restriction of that inner city eyesore, the estate agent's "For Sale" notice which so disfigures so many of our streets, and makes us feel rather depressed. I believe that there have been moves in the past in this direction but as one who lives in an inner city I cannot say that I have noticed any difference. Indeed, with the present seemingly endless property boom, new agents and existing agents' new branches are springing up everywhere and their signs are consequently more numerous than ever before. In parenthesis, I should like to see not more than one building society or estate agent's office per hundred yards of high street, but I suppose that this would be too dictatorial a measure for a free economy. It is in support of the entrepreneuralism of a free economy, in solving the needs of inner cities towards which I have hoped to speak, and in which I see hope for the future. However, to coin an American usage, tell us who has been "named" to do the job. We shall all be better for that.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, I am sure that we have all enjoyed the practical, and in many ways rather profound if understated, speech of the noble Lord. I wish to press the Government on the question of educational opportunities for adults. In practice how do they envisage ensuring that within the inner urban area strategies better basic learning opportunities are available to those who want and need them? I am not referring to training as such, nor to young people's schooling. My question and anxiety now are about adult basic education. We must remember that we are talking about those who are most disadvantaged and most trapped by the locality in which they live. It can so easily happen that the new and refurbished houses, the new forms of tenure, the new jobs appearing in an area, arc all snapped up by people coming from outside, simply because those people are better equipped, better informed and more confident people. That leaves existing residents no better placed than they were 187 before, or with having to move to other equally disadvantaged areas.
How can we ensure that local people get a chance to equip themselves? I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that it simply is not enough to ensure that the local education authority is included in each partnership. Some are enthusiastic about reducing disadvantage and dependence among their constituents. Others manifestly are not because they simply do not have enough councillors who have yet seen how they can encourage independence and prosperity and get elected. It will come, my Lords.
As the noble Lord said, the community charge will help. Schools legislation will help. In the meantime, the urgent education needs of adults simply must not he allowed to go by default. We must not underestimate the desire that exists among people living in the most dispiriting of environments to learn what they need to learn if they are to cope with new opportunities that come along for them and their families.
Only three weeks ago I had the privilege of presenting certificates to 360 people, the majority of them women; a sizeable group from the Asian community, all resident in the most deprived areas of the Glasgow part of Strathclyde. I doubt whether many had a zero grade to their name. They had each of them followed a course on subjects such as the bringing up of very small children, the bringing up of five to 10-year-olds, healthy eating and caring for the mentally handicapped. The courses were designed and packaged by the Open University. The local groups were organised and run and largely funded by Strathclyde Regional Council. Those 360 enthusiastic and satisfied people had been tested and had received certificates. A further 360 were coming likewise the next evening. That is no mean response and many were keen to do further courses next time round.
There are other local authority projects that I could describe, some linked with partnerships brought together by the Scottish Development Agency in Glasgow, the large urban burghs of Strathclyde, in Edinburgh and Dundee. I am sure plenty of examples exist across England and Wales. There is successful basic adult education going on in inner urban areas, but it is as yet a drop in the ocean and is often not available where most needed.
Are the Government content that the most basic learning of all—the opportunity to learn to read, to write, to calculate and to learn the most basic skills of ordinary living—is increasingly taking the form of groups of people studying under professionals in colleges and other centres? That may be a neat and tidy way and look good on paper, but if one is shy and a bit ashamed of one's problems, is a group or travelling to a college or a centre some distance from where one lives the best way? It seems to me that a recruitment drive is now called for. We need volunteers to train to help people locally in privacy on a one-to-one basis or in twos or threes, as was so successful in the early days of the adult literacy compaign.
The figures emerging from Jobstart suggest that over 25 per cent. of the long-term unemployed have literacy and numeracy problems. Many of those 188 people live in the areas we are discussing. Could a team of volunteers with perhaps one professional be attached to each inner urban partnership? I commend the notion to my noble friend.
I notice that in the Government's various consultative papers about schools there is scant reference to the possibilities for adults. Again in Strathclyde, where school rolls have been falling particularly fast and where there has been strong public resistance to closing schools, large numbers of adults are now attending during the day as well as in the evening; some learning with the children and some forming adult classes of their own. That is one way. There are of course others, but have the Government considered how surplus space in inner city schools might be used for learning by adults in the context of the subject we are now debating?
Lastly, there has been little mention of the need for innovative ways of learning by younger people, for the 16 to 20-year-olds, to develop their potential and to become more constructively enterprising. The Scottish Community Education Council has developed, in collaboration with the European Community and with backing from industry and other funding bodies, a youth enterprise package. It can be bought for £5 at the Post Office, and includes an information booklet, a discount card giving reduced rates for sports and leisure facilities, for arts facilities, for travel, for some shops and so on. A regular magazine of news and ideas is included. These are possibilities for special use in inner urban areas.
Likewise that council has proposed to Scottish Office Ministers the idea of youth information points to be tried out in selected libraries. There would be computer terminals where young people could seek the information they need and so learn to help themselves to become more enterprising. So far there has been no response to that from the Scottish Education Department, but in the context of this debate I commend that idea to the Government.
These are but a few thoughts. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has been kind enough to write to me this week and in commenting on the role of voluntary organisations it says:Public debate about the level of resources devoted to inner city areas has not paid sufficient attention to the resources that local people themselves possess".That is so true. But for many those resources can only be released if people have a chance to learn new things or to regain abilities that they have lost. I beg the Government not to allow adult basic education and the self-help it can bring to go by default.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I apologise that I shall not be able to stay until the end of this debate. Following as I do the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, I should like initially to endorse everything that she said about adult education. As she perhaps knows, this is a subject which is very dear to my heart, although I shall not talk about it this evening.
As many speakers have already said, the regeneration of the inner cities is one of the most important tasks that this country faces. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for 189 drawing our attention to it today. Anyone who has lived and worked in the deprived central areas of our major cities can only be shocked by the social conditions in which many of their residents struggle to survive, and be really horrified by the speed and severity of their economic decline over the past 20 years.
I must agree with what my noble friend Lord Peston said about the rather complacent speech from the Minister today. I was disappointed. For nearly 19 years I have lived in one of the most deprived inner city areas in Britain, the London Borough of Hackney. I have experienced those conditions at first hand. As a young mother I took one of my children to a playgroup in a community centre on a local housing estate. The mother of my daughter's closest friend, another three-year-old girl, had a baby as well as two older children. I offered to help by taking this little girl home from time to time. The appalling spectacle of the housing conditions that I discovered on the first occasion I took that child home still haunt me today. My noble friend Lady David referred to the conditions that the homeless have to suffer. I should like to add that the conditions of some people with homes in the inner cities are almost as bad.
This woman was bringing up four small children on the top floor of a 19th century tenement building with no lift—just a long climb up stone steps—with crumbling walls, only two small bedrooms, inadequate heating and absolutely nowhere for her children to play. Under such conditions she somehow coped. I would have gone under. In these circumstances is it surprising that many others do not cope?
Over the years I have also watched the collapse of small businesses, the hoarding up of local shops and the ever more depressing tattiness of the environment in these areas; and, perhaps most important of all, the grim effects of long-term unemployment on the unemployed and their families. The effects of shorter-term unemployment on young people can be almost as devastating. These are the conditions under which burglary and theft thrive. High crime levels, in turn, reduce the quality of life for everyone in the inner city but they hit the poor who are often its victims harder than any other group. I therefore welcome what the Minister said about his plans to spend more money on security on inner city estates.
These conditions in the inner cities are one of the most serious manifestations of inequalities in our society. I am sure that all Members of your Lordships' House will agree that these are intolerable in a civilised and humane society. Where there may be some disagreement is over what can be done to rectify them. Part of the philosophy of the Prime Minister's brand of Conservatism has been that little can be done about these inequalities without an improvement in our economic performance. Some of us on this side of the House do not accept that. However, even if we have an improvement in our economic performance it is foolish to believe that benefits from this improvement will percolate through to Toxteth, Handsworth, Hulme or even Hackey. On the contrary, what I fear will happen is that the gap between the well-off communities and deprived inner city areas will become greater than it 190 is already as the former become more affluent and the latter simply stand still.
It is for these reasons that I should like to welcome the new more interventionist policies of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I am glad that at least he has now recognised that national economic recovery on its own will do very little for the inner cities and that we have to make special efforts. Unfortunately, I do not think these efforts will amount to much unless there are some major changes to the Government's overall plans.
While the latest efforts of the Secretary of State to stimulate economic regeneration and private sector investment in inner city areas through the task force initiative are welcome, he is not being hacked with the resources required to achieve any real or long-term impact on these areas. The lesson from very impressive experiments in urban regeneration in the United States over the past 20 years is that substantial public pump priming is required to trigger private investment. The Secretary of State's £1 million for each of 16 inner city areas really looks like peanuts in the light of the American experience.
As the Minister will I am sure be well aware, the Secretary of State for the Environment has meanwhile reduced in real terms urban programme allocations to the same inner city neighbourhoods. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, asked whether he was painting too rosy a picture. I am afraid that I think he was with respect to housing. The Government have substantially reduced capital expenditure on housing, leaving the United Kingdom investing the lowest percentage of GDP on construction of any leading OECD country. I submit that to give with one hand and to take away with the other is hardly a desirable way of proceeding.
As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, the only successful approach to inner city regeneration is one that encourages partnerships: partnership between central and local government, business and the local community, the voluntary sectors and the churches. However, as a number of speakers have already said, the Government seem to be deliberately undermining and bypassing local government, parachuting new initiatives such as the inner city task forces into the inner cities without sufficient local authority involvement. The Minister referred to his wish to work with local government; yet he is setting up structures such as urban development corporations to cut out the local authorities altogether. While the President of the United States of America—yes, Ronald Reagan himself—gives awards to local authorities which are working in partnership with government and industry to regenerate downtown areas, the Prime Minister and some members of her Cabinet seem to heap abuse on them.
The Minister and his colleagues are also making proposals for changes in the powers and finance of local government which will decrease its scope for initiatives in local economic regeneration and training. Is this really consistent with a genuine government-wide effort to do something about inner city problems? Inner city regeneration requires social and economic policy to be developed hand in hand. Initiatives which just tackle the economic and physical problems of the area will simply result in moving the social problems—the concentration of 191 low income families, isolated elderly people and those with acute social problems—on to other areas. Surely that is not what we want.
What is needed is a comprehensive approach to physical development, environmental improvement, jobs and housing, and not a piecemeal approach to each symptom in turn. The Government's proposals for the large-scale removal of housing from the control of local authorities will not result in any improvement in choice or living conditions unless they are linked to a strategy for training and for job creation which involves local people in the rehabilitation and construction work that will arise from housing investment. In parallel, it is absolutely essential to develop better community care and support for those many inner city residents seeking and needing social services and not able to take up opportunities available to the economically fit and active. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, all this, I am afraid, requires money, and a lot more than the Government have set aside so far.
All the problems of the white community in the inner cities are felt by members of the black and ethnic minority communities too. As we all know, they are concentrated in large numbers in these areas. But the black population faces the further problem of racial prejudice and discrimination. As we know from the official statistics, their chances of getting a job are much poorer than those of their white neighbours. Black people are twice as likely to be unemployed as white. Even worse, in some areas Asian families are harassed and are subject to the most disgraceful violence. I do not believe that inner city regeneration can be successful without a commitment to tackle the injustice of racism.
Almost 20 years of experience under different governments in the United States demonstrates that public and private sector purchasing and contracting policies can be a major force for eliminating discrimination in recruitment for jobs and promoting new opportunities for the black and ethnic minority communities. These policies are now supported by the private sector in this country. Why is it that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is embarking on legislation to force contractors to eliminate discrimination on grounds of religion; yet in Britain the Secretary of State for the Environment, with equal gusto, is introducing legislation to outlaw measures by public authorities to achieve the same results through the positive promotion of equal opportunities in relation to race? Why is that happening?
Why is it that when there is evidence that progressive employers such as John Laing, Stewart Wrightson and Tarmac are willing on the grounds of both necessity and social responsibility to consider positive action to ensure that opportunities are shared with inner city ethnic minority communities the Government as a whole are not? Instead they seem to be divided between a small number of Ministers who recognise the need for positive action and—I regret to have to say this—the Cabinet reactionaries led by the Minister's Secretary of State who are not willing to take action on racist employment practices and, even worse, apparently 192 wish to undermine the efforts of those who want to do something about them. Unless they are tackled, blacks and ethnic minorities in the inner cities will be sadly let down and inner city policies will be doomed to fail for this important section of the community.
Indeed, without a more consistent, comprehensive and better resourced set of policies in which interdepartmental conflicts and ministerial rivalries are set on one side, the Government's initiative will come to very little. For example, much more money must be provided for targeted training to increase skill levels in the inner city. I was interested in what the Minister had to say about Project Fullemploy. I happen to be a member of the board of Project Fullemploy, which is trying to provide just such training. Many young blacks who could be trained are not being trained simply because of the shortage of funds. Perhaps the Minister will provide more for Project Fullemploy.
Affirmative action in hiring and purchasing must also be pursued, particularly to help the black community. The inner cities are potentially both enterprising and caring communities. I am sure we all agree on that. They have a great vitality, which has been sapped for far too long. To restore it and to release their energy is a noble aim. I am afraid that the Government will not achieve it with their present incoherent and underfunded policies.
§ 8.10 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, we are moving towards the end of a long debate. I feel sorry for those who are even further down the batting order than I am. If we had a captain of the side, I suspect that he would say: "Go and hit out; get out quickly and make some runs". How your Lordships interpret that remains to be seen. I do not think that any one of us would resent the time that we are giving to this vital subject in the life of our country. We are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for tabling the Motion.
In the North-West there are encouraging signs of some revival of economic activity. A recent issue of Investors Chronicle ran a special article on Greater Manchester in which it said:After the lean years in which headline news about Greater Manchester concentrated on industrial decline and redundancies, there is now a mood of optimism and confidence. On the economic front, it is all systems go".It even pointed to some regeneration in textiles and engineering and some fall in unemployment, although still 2.5 per cent. above the national average.
We have a long way to go in the older industrial areas of the country and in inner city London where the depth of inner city problems, particularly homelessness and unemployment, must be appreciated.
One speaker referred to the North-South divide as a myth. It is worth remembering that since 1979 94 per cent. of all job losses have been north of the line between Bristol and the Wash. I do not know how widely that staggering statistic is appreciated in your Lordships' House. Government policies must be seen in that context, with a warm welcome for the 193 concentration on the inner cities pushed to the top of the agenda. In the churches, as my episcopal colleagues have made clear, partly because of our Faith in the City report we have shown our concern and sympathy for what the Government are trying to do. Much depends on the way in which the problems are tackled.
I wish to make two points. First, there will be no proper solution of the problems without good and increasing co-operation between central and local government. The point has been made a number of times in our debate. I hope that the Minister, if he takes nothing else away with him from the debate tonight, will concentrate on that matter.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, is the right reverend Prelate aware that that train of thought is strongly reinforced by the success of the Phoenix initiative in Salford, Greater Manchester, in participation with local authorities?
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I intend to refer in my remarks to Phoenix and to weary your Lordships with a short quotation from its literature on that precise point.
The second point I wish to make is this. Proposals for building very large out-of-town shopping and leisure centres now under consideration in some parts of the country, if allowed to progress, will gravely damage what the Government are trying to achieve. I do not believe that the point has yet been made in the debate although I confess that while I was at supper I was absent for two or three speeches.
As to co-operation between local and national government, the country has a great heritage of local government in which men and women have been prepared to serve both as paid employees and as voluntary elected councillors. That tradition is now under grave threat, partly from the actions of some councils—notably, Liverpool—which in the past have not been prepared to accept the inevitable restraints under which local government must operate if a government is elected nationally with very different policies and priorities.
The greater threat is now from central government, who are threatening to bypass, or marginalise, elected representatives in many different kinds of authorities in implementing their policies in housing, education and, above all, inner city initiatives where partnerships between central and local government and private commerce and industry are vitally needed.
I welcome the response of the Minister when he said that the Government recognised the importance of co-operation with local authorities. I noted that he qualified it by saying, "where possible". That was a lukewarm endorsement of something fundamental. We should realise what has happened in recent years. It is true that men and women have been elected to councils, particularly in the older industrial areas, who came in very angry and bitter and not prepared to work within the existing parameters. Things have changed. New elections have been held.
It was unfair of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, to talk about Liverpool as though it was 194 the same city council that existed a year or two ago. Things have changed.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is plainly aware of the fact that, although the previous Liverpool councillors were disqualified and have now been replaced, their successors are still adopting the non-co-operative attitude of the previous councillors to rates.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, I do not accept that. I believe that the elected council is now prepared to work within the law. I am sure that the noble Lord will have noted the statements of the Liverpool church leaders on this very point.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, a new realism has emerged in many townhalls throughout the country. Even those with massive Labour majorities have been recognising publicly the need to work with private industry and they are increasingly prepared to co-operate with central government. My own City of Manchester, a part of my diocese, is an example.
The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, wanted me to refer to the Phoenix initiative, which I am glad to do. The Phoenix initiative, relating to Manchester, in its publicity states:It should be said that, from the outset, it must be the wish of a significant part of the community that the Phoenix Initiative becomes involved in the regeneration of that area. For the Initiative to continue its involvement, it must be the clearly demonstrated desire and commitment of all sectors that something positive be done. This includes local authorities whose involvement is crucial.When central government talks of the need to work with local communities, I should like to hear them couple that with the need to work also with elected representatives in local authorities. I hope that the Minister will say something about that. It spreads across Britain today. We heard about Birmingham; I think that it is true in other areas.
Is the desire to work together that is now being shown by many townhalls in the country reciprocated heartily by central government? The danger is that central government may be taking away the powers of those who represent people locally. I appreciate that they are elected by only a small proportion of people, but that is the way in which democracy works. Instead of that, we sometimes have a multitude of organisations that are bypassing, or marginalising, the efforts for community regeneration. None of those is bad in itself whether it be urban development corporations, city action task forces or inner city task forces. All initiatives are needed. However, they should be integrated with local government policies.
If local government initiatives towards co-operation—I do not suggest that it is always easy—do not meet with a response from central government, what will happen? Poor, sour relationships will damage the lives of people living in those areas. It will also be impossible in the years 195 ahead to find people of quality to give of their time to serve in local government.
A good and positive response to this has yet to be given. When the Prime Minister came to Manchester last year as the honoured guest at the annual dinner of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the then president, Mr. John Morris, made a speech pointing out that local industry and commerce were making a better job of working with the local authority—a Left wing authority—than were central government. I hope that the point went home.
I should like to underline two areas of special concern in regard to co-operation with local authorities. First, law and order and crime on city streets have already been mentioned in the debate. They are surely a vital matter for good, integrated policies with the police and probation services to develop suitable schemes.
One staggering point which has hit us very hard in the churches lately is that we have just had the figures for the amount of money paid out in claims on our churches damaged in many cases by vandalism and arson over the past five years. The amount paid out by the Ecclesiastical Insurance Office is more than four times as much as it has received in premiums for more than 300 churches over that period. That gives some indication of what is being suffered simply by church buildings in inner city areas. But it is far more than buildings; it is people with whom we are concerned.
The second point is that in regard to the distribution of the benefits of regeneration it is an important point of the involvement of the local authority that it is its job to make sure that the benefits are spread equitably over all the community in a certain area. If it is done through urban development corporations, or whatever it may be, it may well be a patchwork effect of benefits, leaving some people out. This should surely be a matter of deep concern to us all.
The last point I want to make briefly is about out-of-town shopping centres. We have about 10 applications in the Greater Manchester area, some of which are for huge shopping and leisure centres. It is a matter of deep anxiety to most of the local authorities—not all—as to the effects of these on plans to regenerate the city centres and to have a spin-off effect on inner-city plans as well. If these are allowed to proceed I believe that they will work right against stated government policy. The poorest will be still further disadvantaged, because these centres are all geared to the use of the motor car and nearly half the people in Greater Manchester do not have access to motor cars, and shopping not only in the city and town centres but also suburban shopping will be hard hit. It is in a rocky situation, as it is in many areas. Life will be drained out of our towns and city centres with a damaging effect on people's lives.
We are not any of us opposed to new things. We welcome many of the benefits of technology and changes in our society, but surely the new ought to grow out of the old. We need to take hold of change. If these large, super shopping cities are allowed to develop in the life of Britain—and here surely the 196 American experience is relevant—it will be damaging to the very people we ought to be concerned to help.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, as this debate, among others, has illustrated, it is characteristic of political debate that people who disagree question each other's good will or question each other's ability to imagine the problems that they are asked to confront. I suggest, on the contrary, that failures in politics—and to fail to deal with the problem we are dealing with today would be a major failure—come almost entirely from lack of an intellectual appreciation of what is involved. It is failures in thinking which underlie failures in policy.
We are also misled—and this has come up several times today—by vocabulary. We talk about inner cities, or urban deprivation or urban decay, and these conjure up images and in a way the images help to suggest the policies. But what we are dealing with is something rather different. It was alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, when he said that in a society which is more prosperous we still have these great areas of human deprivation.
It was also suggested by Professor Peston—I am sorry he is not in his place because I wish to reply both to him and to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone—that it is a failure of market economics, and that is the standard economist's reply. But what we are facing not only in this country—and there have been various references to the United States, but it seems to be characteristic of advanced industrial countries—is that at some point in economic growth a proportion of the population (perhaps geographically defined and often containing ethnic minorities) ceases to participate in the circulation not only of goods but also of ideas and the capacity to take part in the process. It is rather as though you were looking at the circulation of blood in a human body and it all seemed to be fine and suddenly you noticed that the left leg was not getting any at all.
I would maintain that the economists—and I am sorry that our one professional economist is not here because I would challenge him on this—and the social scientists do not know why this is happening. Therefore the problem of putting it right is made that much harder.
It is because it is so widespread, because it affects countries with different economic structures—certainly different political structures, different structures in the public services—that it obviously has considerable human roots. What we are talking about is how to reintegrate in the general community of the country a proportion of its population, not how to improve the economic circumstances of this or that particular geographical location.
It is therefore important that, even though many of the points that have been made, and the particular suggestions that have been made both from the government Bench and from other Benches in this House, are in themselves laudable, it is unlikely that progress can be made in something as fundamental as changing the attitudes of people and giving them different opportunities unless they are convinced that the effort that is being made this time is a genuine one; 197 one in which it is not merely a proclaimed aim of the Government but in which the Government's own conduct of affairs suggests that it is genuine. I must say—and I speak as a supporter of the Government but also as a professional student of public administration—that I do not believe in a major new initiative which has not got a single Minister in control and responsible to Parliament for carrying it forward.
I do not believe that a committee of Ministers—even a committee of Ministers chaired by the Prime Minister—can, whatever its merits and in whatever way it may help to overcome departmental rivalries or departmental difficulties, really at the same time convince the potential beneficiaries of these policies that the matter is being taken seriously. I remain puzzled by the fact that the lessons that we have in administrative history are not taken to heart.
I will take an obvious one. When in 1940 the crisis in our military affairs was thought to be the lack of fighter aircraft, the first Lord Beaverbrook was given charge of that particular sector of government. He misbehaved in appalling ways according to Whitehall legend; he may have overstated the case; he may have got people to give up their pots and pans which they could have retained; but nevertheless the fighter aircraft were built. Though I would hesitate to damage anyone's chances by suggesting that he is the Lord Beaverbrook to whom the Prime Minister should turn, I still think that that is something we ought to remember. That is the first point I would like to make, the seriousness of the centre.
We then come to a point which has been made in different ways. It was made by the right reverend Prelate, by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, and others. It is the crucial question: whom do you co-operate with on the ground? What is the role of local government? Clearly these are communities which must take part in their own regeneration. It is generally agreed that however much central government may contribute in finance or expert advice in the end the work is done on the ground.
I do not think that the analogies which were drawn by the noble Baroness, Lady David, and others with American experience are altogether convincing. There is one very obvious difference between the situation in the United States and in this country; you might say the United States is at least ideologically neutral. It is a very much bigger country and the cities are very much further apart. It is therefore much easier for an elected mayor, let us say of Chicago or Atlanta, to take a lead through the organs of local government and the various community organisations in the private and public sector. It is very much easier to do this in a way which imprints the mayor's image and policies on the minds of his fellow citizens. But it is more difficult for someone in a country like this, where not only a great deal of the wealth has been drained towards the capital, as has been pointed out, but where a great deal of talent is drained towards the capital and where access to the capital is all too easy.
It occurred to me that the very distinct success which the City of Glasgow has had in recent years, as 198 we are told on all sides, may be due to the fact that Glasgow is further from London than any of the other cities with which we are concerned. I think distance plays a role. It may be that we are witnessing a period in which in a way the whole of this country is a single city. That is one of our problems.
Nevertheless, it must be broken down and, as the Minister has said and as has been echoed, we must try to bring about a collaboration between government and the representatives of the local community. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and others have admitted that this is not always equally easy. There are local authorities which have been more willing to regard partnership with central government as essential and others who have for ideological reasons, if you like, fought shy of it or have so objected to particular policies that they did not wish to co-operate with the remainder. This again is different from the United States; there is no such ideological divide there.
It is true that most of the cities to which the noble Baroness, Lady David, was alluding, I am sure, have Democratic mayors, most of them in fact black. But the difference between them and even an administration like that of President Reagan is not as considerable ideologically as the difference between, let us say—because we do not want to get into the current controversy—the last elected council in Liverpool and Her Majesty's Government. This makes it difficult and I think it must therefore be carefully handled.
If I may go back to my original point, one of the reasons for wishing to see a single Minister is that I would envisage close personal contact with the leaders of the councils in question, which ought to be maintained in order that this should be not merely a partnership between central government and particular organs of local government but between central government and local government, in particular and in general. To build up, as it were, an advisory body of persons with authority in their local community, persons of the authority which I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, has in Birmingham, would again be a political task.
I do not doubt that Whitehall has a number of good administrators who could be lent to teams, urban development corporations or whatever you call them. But if we are right in thinking that this is a problem about people, not about bricks and mortar, then it is a problem of political relations. The political impetus is something which I feel Her Majesty's Government ought at this stage to reconsider.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
My Lords, three years ago in this Chamber on a Motion or a Question asked by a Liberal I raised the subject of Liverpool because I was compelled to speak in its defence. At that time we had what was known as the militant form of government there. I put forward the point of view that the Government should really understand that this was not just a matter of an awkward politician. There was something else much more fundamental behind the problems affecting Liverpool. Unless the 199 Government changed their attitude and were prepared to go along to Liverpool and its leaders with the avowed intention of understanding what was motivating people in Liverpool, they would run into trouble.
They would not think that they ran into trouble, but certainly one thing which led to trouble was the democratic form of government which this country had boasted about for a hundred years. We had the situation where elected members of a council were ultimately debarred from being members any longer, and the very great probability is that 47 of them will be made bankrupt. That was the situation, because what the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said was ignored by the Government of that day.
What happened? The Labour Party did its best, I did my best, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Archbishop of Liverpool, the Moderator of the Free Church all did their best. Finally, I thought I could see a glimmer of light and a man named Harry Rimmer who has worked with me in politics for about a quarter of a century was elected leader. What happened? We had a government spokesman saying, "Liverpool must stew in its own juice." Is it any wonder that Harry Rimmer's position was weakened? Why? It was not because there was something intrinsically wrong in Liverpool. It was weakened because of the dogmatic attitude of a Government who would not give an inch. That is how it was weakened. I was not going to mention Liverpool tonight, but it seems that if ever we talk about the inner cities it is absolutely impossible not to mention Liverpool.
What we should be talking about is not an inner city problem. We should be talking about a problem which affects the economy of this nation. The cities are so very close to each other, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, has pointed out, that they are interdependent, one on the other.
It is not even a problem of inner cities. There are urban areas affected and the inner city problems do not always affect places like Liverpool, Leeds and the North East. There is a tremendous inner city problem in London. I am not referring to the ethnic minorities; I am referring to the yuppies. Let me give two examples. In Liverpool a couple I know with two children are trying to buy a house with three bedrooms, an ordinary, decent terrace house. They are paying £12,000 and they are having a job. Here a couple with no children are prepared to buy a two-bedroomed flat for £58,000. This is a real example. They are having to find that money to buy the flat and they are having a hell of a job. They are having such a job that this Government compel them not to get married, because in that way they get a financial benefit from the taxman. That is the kind of society we are in. So the problems are not only in Liverpool.
The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, made a good speech about the London Docklands Development Corporation. He was puzzled and asked, "I wonder why it is so successful". Later he spoke about the Merseyside Development Corporation. He did not ask, "I wonder why that is so successful". The truth is that as compared with London it is not successful. I wonder why there should be a difference. The 200 answer is plain. Both boards were appointed by this Government; they are manned by efficient, decent people; they have the same powers. Compared to the jobs being created in London, Liverpool and Merseyside have none in their development corporation. It is true that there was a garden festival, now closed, and that an old warehouse was tarted up and some shops put in. However, there are hardly any permanent jobs.
I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, if he thinks about the matter, will ask why. The answer is quite plain. It is because of the economic desire of the powers-that-be in our society to expand in London. Why do they expand in London and not elsewhere? It is because their own particular interests are in London and not elsewhere. I was amazed to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, sitting on the Government Benches as he does, and his comparison of this situation with the medical state of a body with thrombosis in certain of its parts. The noble Lord asked, "I wonder why". We do not know the reason.
Why do governments not learn from history? In an excellent speech the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, graphically described the problem of a lady in Hackney looking after two children in a flat. I am sure it is a story known by everyone. We have hundreds of such stories in Liverpool in times which are supposed to be normal. We have them because of the operation of a so-called free enterprise society. There we have the reason the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, is looking for, in his intellectual capacity.
Must we stress that the lessons of history are that if one allows private individuals to pursue their own interests regardless of anything else, then, ultimately, one will arrive at a situation where parts of the community are divided from a decent standard of life, just as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said? Of course there is a thrombosis across the country. It is not marked by a geographical line; it is not marked by a river; it is not marked by a line from the Wash to the other side. It is marked by the area of activity in which the private sector decides to operate and only by that.
I recently had some correspondence in the Daily Telegraph with the bishops of Liverpool. I took them to task for saying:To understand the present situation we must outline the bleak financial inheritance of the newly elected council".One could not understand the situation from that statement and I accused the bishops of oversimplification. It has since been said that I was being unkind to them. If ever there was a simplification of Liverpool's problems, that is it. The fundamental problem is that Liverpool was once a prosperous city, even though, within that prosperity, there were circumstances as described by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, tonight. It was a prosperous city because the entrepreneurs were given the freedom to do what they wanted with the resources that they controlled. So they made the city into an efficient port. Of course the people who worked there were treated like slaves and serfs and hardly had the wherewithal on which to live. The prosperous people were those in power. And those in power were the 201 people who owned the docks, the ships and the trading concerns. To hell with everybody else!
When Liverpool ceased to have a reason for existence the powers-that-be moved out and left the city on its own. Does one wonder that there was a situation following the war when it was evident to any thinking person that nothing was being done to strengthen the foundation of Liverpool and that an alienated people should ultimately elect a militant city council? I give this warning. Harry Rimmer has gone because of the unfeeling antagonism of this Government. I hope that the next leader will succeed in establishing dialogue between central and local government. He may not, because it is not he alone. There are people in Liverpool who have come to the conclusion that they have been written off by this nation.
The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, asks why we do not learn from history. The answer is that if we are referring to this Government, then they have too much of a vested interest in the people whom they consider to matter. It would not be a bad idea if some of their supporters began to think about the problems of inner London. I wonder how many more so-called pillars of the establishment will finish up in magistrates' courts accused of cheating in order to achieve their own particular profit. Over the last seven years this Government have flatly decided to revert to the kind of society in which Government, with the responsibility of looking after all the community, are playing less and less a part in the issues that matter.
I made up my mind that I would not speak for too long tonight. I gave myself 13 minutes which is long enough for anyone. Over and over again, I have raised in this Chamber and elsewhere the fact that there is something that the Government can do, and I particularise it to Liverpool. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, made a statement about Mercury Court. Noble Lords may not know it by that name; it is Exchange station. The noble Lord said that it has been taken out of dereliction, has been created anew and is housing office jobs. It is doing no such thing. The Exchange station was taken as a going concern. In the plans for the city of Liverpool the Exchange station was done away with. Negotiations were entered into with central government; it was to be the home of 3,000 civil servants in the middle of Liverpool. Without consideration or consultation this Government cancelled that plan. Mercury Court is a shadow of what it could have been. It could have led to the wholesale rejuvenation of the city of Liverpool, but this Government stopped that and kept those civil servants in the South-East.
The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, heartened me considerably during the first part of his speech. When the noble Lord reads that tomorrow I am sure that he also will be heartened. Something needs to be done; there needs to be one person. However, first there need to be politicians such as ourselves to take an overall look at the real problem that has caused the thrombosis spoken of in our society.
The first place we should look is where there is most thrombosis; that is the South-East and the City of London. With yuppies and people from the 202 provinces coming into London, obtaining jobs and denying the ethnic majorities in London those same jobs, the congestion is becoming unbearable. Two-bedroomed houses are being sold for £48,000 compared to £12,000 for a three-bedroomed house in Liverpool. For the ordinary people of London, commuting time is one to two hours. That is not civilisation, and the sooner we start taking the fat out of London and giving some of it to the people in the provinces the better we shall be. And the nearer we shall come to answering the question: "Why is it that this thrombosis is affecting the life of our nation?"
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, I hope that I shall be understood when I say that I cannot follow the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, in his discourse about Liverpool. I know as much about Liverpool as he knows about London, which is nothing.
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, if we are talking about football, I cannot argue about that. I can tell the noble Lord who is going up into the First Division next year though, so he can shut up.
I want to start by complimenting the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. I thought that his opening speech was first class and that his Motion was of great value to the nation. Before I go on to tell the House of some of my experiences with regeneration in London, I should like to say to the Government something about the problem of the inner cities as I see it. I know something of the inner cities because I was born in London, and, believe it or not, I was chairman of the London Labour Party for 21 years. I know a little about local authorities.
In my view the biggest heartache facing us in London today is homelessness. It is only reflected in certain boroughs, however. Let us take the borough of Camden, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard. I beg the Minister not to ignore the remarks of the noble Lord. Camden is the hub of the railway termini. People come from the North, thinking that London is a Mecca, with plenty of jobs, homes and so on. But arriving in Camden, many of them do not go any further. So Camden, for example, has a greater problem of homelessness than probably any other London borough. I have great sympathy with those people. I beg the Minister to cut out party politics and talk about humanity itself.
If I possessed the authority and the power I should set up a regional authority for the whole of London to deal with only one problem—homelessness. With that authority and power and money I would grant the power to take away empty flats from local authorities and empty properties from private enterprise. I would want to deal with homelessness as a problem in itself which could be dealt with in that form.
I spoke before about the regeneration of the inner cities, which means a great deal to me. As I said, I was born in London. I was in the other House for 37 years and I know something of the problems of the area in 203 which I live. I say modestly to the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, that although I know nothing of Liverpool, I know a little about London.
The whole life of London lay in its dock industry. What went wrong? Let me tell the House. It is no good passing resolutions; we have to be realists and face the facts of life. It was the last war that destroyed the dock industry of London. Our bombers absolutely wiped out the Germans and all their docks, but the Germans did not wipe us out. When the war ended we started again with the same old material—in London it was the Surrey Docks, St. Katherine's and the Upper Pool. All those areas were the pre-war docks. After the Germans had suffered the humiliation of defeat, they received Marshall Aid and started again from scratch with brand new docks, quays, warehouses and sheds, with motorways alongside them. The whole thing was new. We had no hope of competing.
Then containerisation was introduced and it affected Merseyside as well as London or anywhere else. The result was that those of us who had lived there all our life knew that the dock industry in London would close down. That is exactly what happened. Trade moved away. There had to be new areas of work and those were built outside London. Tilbury was one of the "greats" where £27 million was invested to make a great containerisation port. The result was that the London docks closed down.
There are no party politics in my remarks. I beg everyone to understand that from the word go, when the docks started to close, I cried out for one body which would deal with the whole of the area. My cries were ignored. A government of my own party were in power and I went to them on my bended knees but I got no joy. There was no hope.
Believe it or not, it was not until a Conservative Government came to power—a government for whom I certainly did not vote—that a certain man named Michael Heseltine came into office. I want to put on record, although I may be accused of doing him more harm than good, that I believe Michael Heseltine to have been a Minister with more courage, pluck and principle than many I have known in the past. He had the guts to do what I personally—and perhaps that is why I like him so much—wanted to do and had prayed to see done for many years. He set up the London Docklands Development Corporation. He said, "Bob, I shall make you vice-chairman". I know why he did that. It was because he knew that there would be a shocking political row the moment the corporation was set up. That is why I was given the job. He put me in as a buffer.
I have had a lot of experience in the other House but I do not know of any Bill that has been so heavily debated. The part that dealt with the setting up of the development corporation was found to be hybrid by a Select Committee of this House. A great friend of mine, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, were members of it. They spent months and months on that committee listening to every possible piece of evidence and finally the organisation was set up.
204 In my view the key from the very beginning—and it has been spoken of in this debate—was co-operation between the local authorities and any board that was set up by the Government. That was essential. I understand why that should be so. I am in a sense a local government man. Much of my life has been spent in local government. What does one do with authorities such as Southwark? I must say to your Lordships that we have to stop praying about it and be realists. What does one do with a borough such as Southwark that refuses even to answer letters but issues an edict to say that none of its officers will be allowed to talk to the corporation officers?
On my bended knee I went to the previous leader of the council and eventually he agreed as a person to become a member of the development corporation board. I wanted the views of Southwark to be heard and I did not want to do anything that would separate us. He was not the leader of the council then and they got rid of him, saying that he was a Right-wing fascist. Of course he was, because he had not agreed with them or their arguments! He said that it was about time there was representation. He came on the board.
I went to the leader of Tower Hamlets and personally begged him to come on the board. He agreed as a private person. His council dissociated itself from the move. In Newham I begged the leader of the council to come on the board. Personally he agreed, but the council dissociated itself from him. That was Right-wing reactionary fascist stuff, was it not? I get mad when I hear such jargon and realise the potential and what could happen. I wanted—and it came about—the three representatives from Newham, Tower Hamlets and Southwark on the board. They were all members of the board.
We are now told that what we did and how we did it was wrong. We made no attempt to say anything about Tower Hamlets without taking the advice of its ex-leader. That applied also to the ex-leader of Newham and the ex-leader of Southwark. However, the authorities themselves absolutely refused to have anything at all to do with us. Therefore, I say to all critics that we should have this matter out in the open.
Some time ago the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, tabled a Motion for debate in the House arguing that co-operation was essential. I asked him a question. I am sorry that he is not here today because I would ask him that question again to see whether I could receive an answer this time. I asked him, "What happens when one cannot get co-operation and when the people concerned refuse to co-operate?" I did not receive a reply from him then and I doubt whether I should get a reply now.
Let me tell your Lordships what should be done. What one should go on and do is what one thinks is right and what one thinks is right in the name of the people that one represents, or thinks one does, at any rate. But then there is the problem of co-operation. Co-operation with whom? One uses terms such as "the people". Who are the people? Are they professional groups that are established? Are they the body called the Southwark Campaign for Riverside Democracy, which held a special meeting at which eight people turned up and elected themselves as a 205 committee? Are the people a committee that then applied to the old GLC and obtained a grant of £8,000 a year? Of course one can run a committee on £8,000 a year, can one not? It gave that sum to the secretary. He says he spoke for the people of Southwark. He is a liar if he says that. He did not. He spoke for himself and for that handful of people only. I knew that.
I could relate incident after incident about the dirt that one had to put up with and the arguments in order to achieve what is essential, which is co-operation of ordinary people. At the end of the day one is judged by what one does and not by what one says. That is really what this is all about.
In the short time available I wish to back up one or two of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, made and disprove some of the guff and rubbish that we have heard about the London docklands. We hear rubbish about the London docklands, which is backed up, if I may say so, by some church leaders who should know better.
We hear such things as this is the land of the yuppie. We hear that people must pay £250,000 to buy a flat; this is the place where the people are utterly and completely ignored and where the price of housing is so steep and vast that only rich people can move there or those who are working in the City and earning a few bob. I do not know what they have been doing during the past few days but that is another story.
Let us get the position correct. I took over in July 1981. I went around the dock area which had been part of my world and after a whole day's tour I returned in tears. I saw 8.5 miles of devastation over 56 miles of riverfront. Not a thing had been done about that. Consequently we had to do something about it. Housing was my job and I concentrated on that. I shall give noble Lords some figures on this subject. The number of houses built in docklands up to March this year is 6,928. I am saying that figure very carefully so that the figures may be taken down and recorded in Hansard. The total number of houses in docklands is 6,928. On the land owned by the London Docklands Development Corporation the total number of houses built is 4,210. That leaves a balance of just over 2,000. That is where the yuppies come in.
The yuppies have moved into houses on land not owned by the docklands. That land was purchased by speculators as warehouse units and transformed into flats. That is private enterprise. There is no law against that. If people are stupid enough to pay £250,000 for a silly flat in the docklands that is their business. But that is nothing to do with the LDDC. Whatever the yuppy phenomenon is meant to be, it has nothing to do with us. Will the churches understand that? Will they recognise that the criticism should be thrown at the speculators who have moved in on what they now see as a good thing?
It may interest noble Lords that we hope ultimately to build in docklands 25,000 new homes. All my life I have believed that the vast majority of people wanted to be property owners, to own their own houses, and here was a chance for me to try to achieve that. I was given that chance. Nigel Broakes told me 206 to get on with the housing and do what I wanted. I received no instruction from him at all. We built the first 300 to 400 houses in Beckton. We put them up at what was the market price of £15,000 to £20,000. People started queueing for the homes. I did the same thing down at Rotherhithe but the condition was that no one could apply to buy one of those homes unless they produced a council rent book.
Of course land prices have gone up dramatically. For land that we bought from the PLA for £56,000 an acre we are now being offered more than £1 million an acre. That is an incredible situation and it is a grave embarrassment and difficulty for us. However, we overcame part of the problem by saying that because of the price of land the price of the housing would be that much higher and on the profit that we made from the land we would help to subsidise the people who were buying.
Let me give an example of that. A house which costs £60,000 is beyond the reach of the ordinary person. However, we say to people that we shall give them £20,000, that we shall not charge them interest and that they will not have to meet any repayments until they resell the property. Then they must pay the £40,000 out of their own pockets or take out a mortgage. I can only say that people are queueing to buy. They are queueing all night. There is no question about that. It is a fact of life.
How many of the houses which we built are now in the control of housing associations? Out of the 3,263, more than 1,000 are under the control of housing associations because we brought them in.
When your Lordships' House discuss such matters some lessons must be learnt. One is that we need a Minister with the courage of a man like Michael Heseltine. It is a tragedy that he is not in a position to influence the Government's thought on this matter now. We need a man with the courage to introduce such a thing. The Government must seek co-operation with all their might and they must be as patient as they can. If they find, as we found, that Southwark would not co-operate at all, then let people know about it.
Does any noble Lord wish to know about the political position in Southwark? Does any noble Lord wish to know how many local councillors have been returned in Southwark? The answer can be found in the record books. The situation is a disaster and I am throughly ashamed of it because of the ineptitude that it reveals. Co-operation in housing is essential. However, the Government must do exactly what Heseltine did. In the first year he told us to buy the land and become the landowners and he gave us the money to do it. We spent £24 million of government money in the first year. Having bought the land the next thing we did was put in a superstructure. We put in drains, sewers, roads, the lot. Having done that we then turned with all our impertinence to private enterprise and said, "Come on boys, have a go". We set up the first of our sale departments and it never stopped.
Anyone who wants to see the position today should go down there and see for himself what is happening. If one takes the Isle of Dogs alone, at the height of the docks industry 1,900 people were 207 employed there. I know a little about that as I used to be a trade union official. I used to go down to Heron Quays and discuss the position with the workers. Today the Isle of Dogs under the control of the London Docklands Development Corporation has 9,000 people working there. But the problem is that there are not enough people from the Isle of Dogs working there, but then there never was under the old docks situation. I have gone far beyond my time and I apologise to noble Lords who have to follow me but that lesson must be learnt.
The Lord Bishop of Southwark
My Lords, I wish to make one point as I may have been misunderstood. I never mentioned yuppies in my speech and in case I am confused with whatever church leaders the noble Lord was speaking about I must say that I never made any public utterance about yuppies. I am fully aware of which houses they buy and that many of those houses are available from land which does not belong to the LDDC.
In my speech I was not defending any London borough and not the London Borough of Southwark. If the noble Lord reads my speech tomorrow he will find that I made one or two fairly gentle but critical comments about the stance of some local authorities. I am well aware of the problems that have occurred. My concern is the positive, forward-looking one that in the future there must be co-operation sooner or later, whatever difficulties we have had. My primary concern is that sooner or later provision must be made for people who will never be able to buy.
§ Lord Mellish
Yes, there must be rental accommodation. I accept all that. You must be a progressive Prelate!
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Lord Basnett
My Lords, this debate has illustrated that the challenges of the inner cities are the most severe that face society in Britain today. The debate has identified all those challenges. There is the challenge of unemployment on a scale unmatched even by today's high standards. There is the challenge of some of the worst housing in a country where bad housing is all too common. There is the challenge of resisting racism, both direct and unintentional. There is the challenge of effectively combating crime without alienating local communities. There is the challenge of giving people the skills and the education they need.
Those six challenges are the ones which must be met by any government who are serious about dealing with the regeneration of the inner cities. However, as your Lordships have recognised, they are not challenges for the government alone. They are challenges for both sides of industry—trade unions and employers; they are challenges for the voluntary sector, for the churches and for all of us who must do our part.
The trade unions are ready to play their part and to respond to the challenges. But they fear that the present Government do not recognise the essential 208 and vital role that they themselves must play. To say that there can be no more public money for the inner cities is to fail to recognise the difficulties, the scale and the urgency of the problem. It is not enough to say that private investment will do the job. Private money cannot and will not come into the inner cities until public investment has cleared the way. If the London Docklands Development Corporation showed one thing, it is that large-scale public investment must lead if the physical and commercial regeneration of rundown areas is to take place.
I recall that in 1982 Government Ministers, attended a conference at Durham University on urban regeneration, called "Whose town is it anyway?" I think that that is a question which we may be in danger of forgetting today. Regeneration which does not deliver real benefits to the local community will lead to even greater alienation and social tension. Some Ministers have shown that they realise that. For instance, they have tried to get construction contractors to take on local labour. Yet all their commendable work is about to be undone by the Government's move to outlaw contract compliance procedures. We shall see more absurdities, such as the proposals to house outside building workers on ships moored in the Thames to rebuild docklands while local employment is already at 20 per cent.
I also recall that when the Government first came to power they were very much against quangos. Now they seem to see inner city regeneration in terms of nothing but quangos.
§ Lord Basnett
Yes, but I am speaking of the quangos that were criticised by the Government at the time they came to power. I am talking about the creation of bodies which were not themselves directly responsible to government.
If we are really concerned about answering the question, "Whose town is it anyway?" then local people must have an effective voice. That voice comes through elective and accountable local authorities, through community groups and through local organisations. By all means set up new bodies—quangos, if you life—if that is the best way to bring in new resources. But unless they work in partnership, they will not deliver what we want: regeneration of the cities to the benefit of the people who live there.
Another issue of concern is contained in the Government's White Paper on housing policy. They seem to believe that Britain's housing problems can be tackled without more public investment. That is not the view of the building industry and it is not the view of local authority associations whose members are responsible for coping with the homeless. The Government must realise that there are many people in the inner cities who cannot afford to buy no matter how generous are the discounts. They must also realise that the free market private rented sector is no solution for housing for the poor, the socially disadvantaged and those in need. There will be for the foreseeable future a social need for housing which only public provision can meet. In rejecting this I am 209 afraid that the Government's approach to this aspect of housing seems to owe little to the realities of inner city life.
What can be done to regenerate the cities? No one can pretend—and their Lordships have emphasised this—that they have the complete or instant answer. I should like to suggest three basic principles. First, any approach must be based upon a partnership with the local community which should bring together local authorities, local community bodies, local employers and local trade unions. Secondly, the approach should be made flexible to meet very different local needs and circumstances. Let the urban development corporation lead where it is best, but let the local authority lead elsewhere. Thirdly, inner city regeneration will need more public resources committed over many years. It cannot be done cheaply. It can be done in partnership with the private sector by all means, but public investment must lead the way.
I know that the trade union movement will be giving a lot of thought over the coming months to how it can continue to play a positive and constructive role in inner city regeneration. It already does this by working with local authorities and local enterprise boards, by supporting co-operative developments as in Wales, by developing the trade union role in business and the community, and by helping to set up regional development bodies such as the northern regional development company. They will continue to do so and they will continue to seek an expanded role in which they can assist with this most serious of our problems.
Let me close by re-emphasising a key theme. Inner city regeneration depends upon genuine partnership between Government and the local communities. We look to Government to measure up to this challenge with an Autumn Statement which shows that they are willing to put resources as well as rhetoric into the inner cities.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Viscount Mersey
My Lords, there is a joke going around Liverpool at the moment and that joke is me. It is in fact in my name, not so much in the first part of my name which is '"Mersey" but in the territorial part which is "Toxteth". The average Liverpudlian regards this as frankly incredible, for how could any Peer of Tory persuasion choose what is frankly the worst slum in these islands? Yet noble Lords will know—and some may even remember—that when my great-grandfather was ennobled in 1910 Toxteth was no slum at all but a respectable white-collar area with fine Victorian terraced housing. My great-grandfather contested Toxteth as a Liberal Unionist and later he became member for Liverpool Exchange.
Of course I welcome my rt. hon. friend the Prime Minister's initiative on inner cities, and I say to her simply this. If she can solve the problem of Toxteth, she can solve everything. I was there last Friday and I was nearly moved to tears. I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, was moved to tears, as he said, when he started his London docklands scheme. I felt that it might perhaps be of maximum use if I describe 210 conditions there in a little more detail. The black heart of the area is the Granby triangle. It is bounded by Kingsley Road, Princes Avenue and Upper Parliament Street where the riots were. It houses some 40,000 black people in the worst conditions that I have come across in this country. The main artery is Granby Street. The shops in it are all boarded up and it is not possible to make a living as a retailer within the triangle.
Were I to be asked to label the most prominent characteristic of the Liverpool black it would lie in the one word, "fear"—fear to leave the triangle and fear of white people. Fear has awful consequences because it leads to hatred—predictably, I am afraid, hatred of this Government and, I would imagine, hatred of myself when I was up there. But less predictably there is hatred, for instance, of the honourable Member for Liverpool, Riverside, Mr. Bob Parry, who is of a different political persuasion. There is a hatred of everything South. The two names "Thatcher" and "London' are more or less interchangeable and I dare say that in the 1960s and 1970s the names of Wilson and London would also have been interchangeable. It is not a party political matter. These names are just handy pejorative labels: labels of the fount of all evil, which is government by remote control. It is not so much (as they say up there) that government has an inner city problem as that the inner city has a government problem.
Of course, there is also hatred of the police; so much so that there is now a second police force in the triangle. These are called the Granby Wardens. They are black and their uniform is a black sweater with a red hoop around it bearing the Granby Warden lettering. The consequence of the fear, as other noble Lords have said, is 85 per cent, unemployment. What makes this 85 per cent, figure even more remarkable is that all round Toxteth good things are happening. I feel that the Albert Dock is booming and employing very many people. I feel that the Wavertree Technology Park, as other noble Lords have said, is a great success story and it is bang next door to Granby. I see signs that the City of Liverpool is becoming a major conference centre and tourist attraction. It is even forecast that the Port of Liverpool will revive with the opening of the Channel Tunnel.
However, mention not such things in Toxteth because the response will be identical to each one. It will run, "The scheme is irrelevant to the Toxteth blacks. The scheme will benefit only whites". They produce as evidence of this thesis the fact that the great Liverpool Garden Exhibition of a few years back provided hundreds of jobs, true enough, but only two of them went to the Toxteth blacks. What I could not find out was how many Toxteth blacks applied for the jobs. It would not surprise me if the number of applicants in itself was rather low because the blacks are so frightened of walking even a mile outside their ghetto.
As I talked to the people of Granby I was naturally searching for ways in which any of us could help. Every idea I put up was shot to pieces. I asked the obvious questions. I asked "How about money?". I received the reply, "We have already had your 211 money. We have had half a million and it was all wasted on sprucing up the central reservation in Princes Avenue". That quote came from the warden of the Methodist Centre in the Granby Ward who is called Mr. Carl Speare. Mr. Speare is black and he derides government money as "Band Aid". He is a proud man who does not wish to be the object of charity and of course his price is a virtue. Many people have made this point from every part of this House. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, the noble Lord, Lord Peston, my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, all make the same point, that it is inner city pride that is going to drag the inner city back up more quickly and better than anything else. In any case, Mr. Speare, the warden, regards outside money with grave suspicion and he describes it as interventionist.
Above all, the people of Granby really dislike outsiders, probably including myself, coming and talking to them. That is because it has happened so much in the past, with no concrete results. "People come to gaze at us", they say, "as they might at animals in a zoo". There came a point when I said, "Well, you have shot down all my ideas. What are yours?". They replied, "We would like the right to choose. We would like the right to lead a decent life. We would like the right to do as we wish. We would like the right not to be blighted". Such desperate pleas can only come from people who have hit rock bottom. Rock bottom in the Granby triangle means many evil things—knifings, mugging, stealing—and not so much from outsiders as from your own kind. There is stealing within the extended family. It means drugs. Ganja is traded quite openly in Granby Street and crack, as they now call it, in Northill and High Park Streets.
The young women in the triangle like to have children as this gives them status. They become mothers. That is a label. Without children they are just nothing. They are just a statistic at the bottom of the social heap. All of this is possibly too desperate and too general for my noble friend on the Front Bench, for what can he do, what can any government do, about a population that says merely, "We are blighted"? How does one legislate against blight?
One tries to legislate on the specific issues that cause the blight, and so I looked for specific issues and it was extremely hard to find anything, apart from such generalities, but there are one or two. This is the type of worry that they have. The Beatle Care Centre has had all its equipment stolen three times. It would like new equipment and it would like to expand and hire more black trainees. There is a worry that the DHSS, under the exceptional needs payment scheme, will in future only lend money to buy cookers whereas in the past it has given the money for the cookers. There is also a worry that those on supplementary benefit will have to contribute to the new community charge. There is also the worry that the librarian at the multiracial library will be made redundant next February. That is one of the 212 important youth learning libraries mentioned by my Baroness, Lady Blackstone. Some of those problems noble friend Lady Carnegy and by the noble must be for the local authority and some for central government. What must be avoided is a game of political ping-pong in which the buck is passed from one to the other.
So far all has been doom and gloom in my speech. Let me now list the rays of hope in the Granby ghetto. The first is the Methodist Church. It is emphatic that the rekindling of the inner cities must start from within. That point was also made by the noble Baroness, Lady David. The negative activity of Granby must be turned into positive activity. To that end there is a hive of positive activity in its centre in Beaconsfield Street. Pensioners meet for lunch there. There is a thriving créche, and in the evenings a boisterous combination of disco, snooker and five-a-side football for the teenagers.
Another Methodist centre houses the Liverpool Appropriate Technology Organisation. It was there that I felt for the first time that it was possible to achieve liftoff in Toxteth. It has raised a lot of money—about £250,000. Half of it came from the European Social Fund, 37.5 per cent, from urban aid and 12.5 per cent, from the Liverpool City Council. With it the organisation has bought sophisticated machine tools and it runs courses in general engineering. Three-quarters of its trainees found jobs, or at least did so for the last year for which figures are available which is 1986.
While most Liverpool schemes, which I regard as good schemes, seem irrelevant to the Toxteth blacks, the sunrise industries do not. They are welcome. Next door is the 61-acre site of the Wavertree Technology Park, which was mentioned by my noble friends Lord Belstead and Lord Windlesham. I see with pleasure that my honourable friend Mr. David Trippier has just positioned the first girder there for the new Barclaycard Centre. That will employ 800 people. Surely to goodness the Granby inmates must get jobs in Wavertree now? The danger is of course that they will be too fearful to get onto their bikes and travel the half mile to work. I wonder whether the Government could give an added incentive. It is a big one. Could they move a department to Liverpool? There is plenty of building land, as many noble Lords have said. There is much precedent. The DVLC has gone to Swansea. Large elements of the DHSS and the Inland Revenue have gone to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, so why not for instance move part of the DoE to Liverpool?
The picture I have painted is a gloomy one, with just the odd shaft of sunlight piercing through. There is some hope for the blacks of the Granby ghetto. In particular there is hope for the young. I mentioned the awful truth that all of us down here are regarded with suspicion by the black Liverpudlians. That is all of us in all parties and in both Houses. I am wrong in only one respect. The people of Granby like and respect just one of us: that is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, perhaps I may begin, as many others have done in this debate, by very sincerely thanking the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, not only for initiating the debate but for attempting, and I believe succeeding, to set the right tone for the debate.
There has been a tendency to decry the good works of various bodies and authorities. However, much of what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said was positive and constructive. If I have a criticism it is that he spent too little time on the nature of the problems and was keen to point out the successful solution to some of the problems that were within his ken. Those of us who are taking part in the debate know in substance all the questions. We know the situation. We know the terrain.
One of the welcome aspects in this debate was the absence of statistics. We do not need statistics to understand the problems of the inner cities. When we talk about homelessness, unemployment, the effect on health, crime, lack of education and poverty, those are all understood as the problems. Many noble Lords who have spoken have experience of all those problems. I am one who can recall poverty on Tyneside. I was the eldest of five with a father on the means test, with all that that entailed. I can recall being a councillor in Enfield. That is not a deprived part of London or of England, but I represented a deprived part of Enfield. Not all noble Lords who spoke were elected democratically, but those of us in this House who were elected realise the great bond that exists between those who are elected and the people they represent.
I was very impressed by the speeches of many noble Lords who spoke tonight, in particular those of the noble Lords, Lord Stallard and Lord Sefton, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Fisher and Lady Blackstone. I thought they spoke very movingly, emotionally and tellingly of the problems they knew about in the inner cities. They were not reading a brief or a speech. They were not culling something they had seen somewhere else. They were telling it as it is, and how they know it.
One of the benefits of a speech tonight is that the Minister—who undoubtedly has influence in the right places and who has been in his place throughout the debate—can convey to his colleagues our anxiety and concern, and that we want to work with the Government. When I say "we" who do I mean? In my case, I declare an interest. I am proud to represent the Association of London Authorities. There are 15 authorities in London. I wish to tell the House of their experiences in recent weeks in their attempts to work with the Government. The Minister will not be unaware of the situation. This will provide him with an opportunity to explain to the House how this Government encourage authorities which want to talk to them and how in this instance they have responded to the desire of 15 Labour London authorities to talk to them.
When the Prime Minister was interviewed immediately after the general election she said, quite 214 fairly, "We must do something about the inner cities. We want them next time". We know the context in which she said that: they wanted the political support of the inner cities. If the electoral map showed anything after 11th June it was that the Government did not have the support in general of inner city constituencies.
I can tell the Minister—but he knows it, because he is diligent in these matters—that the London Labour authorities recognised that this was a new ball game. Whatever had happened before, the political reality was that this Government would be in power for at least another four years. So the association wrote immediately to the Government and told Mr. Nicholas Ridley, the Minister, that it recognised the Government apparently had something fresh to say about how to solve the problems of the inner cities. It said, "We, the Labour authorities, have a contribution to make and would like to meet you" (that is Mr. Ridley) "to discuss these matters". Although the request was made in July it was not possible for the meeting to take place—and I understand that—until last week.
At the meeting last week, 15 Labour authorities told the Minister that they believed there needed to be discussion, talk, participation and decision not only among the Labour authorities and the Government but also to bring in the local people, industry, commerce, voluntary bodies and the Churches. They proposed a forum in which the problems of London could be discussed. It was not a question of an agenda. The authorities wanted a basis and a modus operandi for those who represent the people of London at local level. They were elected only last year. They went to the electorate. Just as the Government are proud to say that they have a mandate, they too have their mandate supported, however one wishes to look at it, by those same people. They said they wanted to talk.
What we had was an astounding response from the Minister. I remind the House of that which the press indicated last week and which I have confirmed today by speaking to those who were present at the meeting. When that proposition was put—to start with a clean sheet, to discuss the problems—the Minister said that there would be no co-operation "until you accept the Government's policies in total, until you accept each piece of legislation". When that was received with incredulity he was asked to spell it out and he confirmed that what he meant as a precondition to discussing the problems of London was that the 15 London Labour authorities had to accept the Government's legislative programme: in education, in housing, in privatisation, the poll tax and the urban development corporations.
When the Labour authorities could not believe their ears he said, "You must go away and think again". That is what they are doing. I invite the House to consider the enormity of what happened at that meeting. Here you have a Minister saying to authorities—they happen to be Labour; he could equally have said it to Conservative authorities in 215 London (on the poll tax and education there would still be a dispute)—"Before I discuss your problems you must indicate to me that you will accept my proposals". But they are not even legislation; they are proposals.
The Minister, who is listening very carefully, no doubt will have an answer. Neither he nor I was present at that meeting, but he will accept from me that I have spoken to those who were present. The Minister has spoken to others who were present. My friends and colleagues on the ALA who were present at that meeting are quite categoric that they came away from the meeting astounded and dismayed. They want to discuss with the Minister how together they can help the people of London. However, there are one or two inconsistencies in the whole situation.
When the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, was making his speech he took us across the Thames into a London local authority where he said there was a sign which said, "You are now entering a nuclear-free zone". He said—and no doubt he meant it—that he sometimes wished that it was a local authority free zone; in other words, that there was no local council. What the Minister and his colleagues must understand is that they are treating local government, and in particular the 15 London Labour authorities, with nothing less than contempt.
It is a scandal and there are constitutional implications which the Minister should heed carefully. I believe that he wants to do a good job of work while he holds that post. But he will not be able to do so if he marginalises or bypasses democratically elected councillors. It is not that they can do everything or that they can do very much on their own. However they are the representatives at local government level of local people and they are entitled to be treated with care and consideration. In this instance, following an election there is an opportunity for a new approach. Whatever the term used—"change of heart" or "olive branch"—there is a new opportunity for the Government and local government, especially in London, to do things in the future which have not proved possible in the past.
There is the same Minister. He has heard from around the House that there is a great need for dialogue to continue. We recognise in local government that we need government support. Millions of people in London and in other great cities cannot get out of the troubles and mess they are in without government support. Perhaps the Minister may be able to say something helpful. I hope that he can go back to his colleagues and say, "Let us invite the ALA back into this room and let us start afresh". Unless that happens we shall be driven back to the situation described by the noble Lord, Lord Mellish. "What do you do", he said "when you want to talk to people and they refuse to listen? You ignore them". When local government attempts to ignore central government it is a very dangerous situation indeed.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, when the subject for this debate first appeared on the Order Paper some of us queried its position in the light of the fact that we 216 debated the inner cities on the day before we rose for the recess. I believe that the debate has proved timely. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, is to be thanked for once again drawing attention to this most important problem. No matter what may be our political positions we are all sincere in wanting to tackle it. The question is: how? Are we tackling it the right way? The noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, referred to Mr. David Blunkett, now a Member of the other place, who has led so well Sheffield city council. Mr. Blunkett, who is prominent in Labour Party local government circles, has said:It is no-one's interest to make the future of our inner cities the subject of a gladiatorial contest between councils and central government. Councils must seek the best deal for their areas. But they must be in the frame from the outset and not added as an afterthought when everything including the 'infrastructure' is set in concrete.That is the major theme coming out of the debate. Noble Lord after noble Lord has stressed the need for contact and proper co-operation between central and local government. Various outside organisations influential in these matters have also stressed this need.
I note that Mr. David Trippier, the Department of the Environment Minister responsible for the inner cities, said in an article in the Town and Country Planning magazine:Local authorities will continue to have an important part to play in providing local services and in creating a climate that is not hostile to private sector initiative and investment. But the local authorities will no longer be able to monopolise the provision of housing, education, services or jobs.I was worried by that and hoped to ask the Minister whether he could tell me what it meant. I listened to the Minister carefully when he said tonight that the Government believe in putting greater importance on working with the private sector and voluntary bodies,and where possible with the local authority".I urge the Minister to explain what he means by working "where possible with the local authority". The point was also raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester.
In the same issue of the magazine there appeared an article by Mr. David Hall, director of the Town and Country Planning Association, who said:The worst feature of the Government's proposals is its continuing blind prejudice against local government".He concluded:If the Government believes it can revive the inner cities without the co-operation of local authorities, its policies will certainly fail.Before deciding what to say in this debate, I read the debate of 21st July. The Secretary of State, Lord Young, said:I should be the very first to say that resources are important, and of course the right structure of government is important too … the most important step forward is the recognition that the key to tackling the problems of the inner cities lies in people and in participation … Both depend upon what actually happens on the streets of the inner cities. But each is fundamental to any durable approach to inner cities."—[Official Report, 21/7/87; col. 1332.]Reading that, I can assume only one thing—that the noble Lord, Lord Young, also believes that there must be the fullest co-operation with local bodies and local councils.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said tonight that we must encourage local people to help 217 themselves. That again must surely mean the fullest co-operation with local bodies and local councils.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, that policy cannot be the same throughout the country. That is surely another reason why there should be the fullest consultation with the respective local authorities in the areas concerned and why we should not decide that, in view of what has happened in London docklands, urban district councils are necessarily the answer to all the problems in many of the other inner cities.
I urge the Minister to give careful consideration to what my noble friend Lady Fisher of Rednal said about Birmingham and the Birminham Development Agency. I lived in Birmingham from 1948 to 1960. Even in that short time I learned to appreciate the civic pride there. Whenever I go back to Birmingham, I feel that sense of civic pride. Will the Minister heed carefully what my noble friend said; and will the Secretary of State give his approval to finance the Birmingham Development Agency on the same basis proposed for the UDC in the Black Country?
What my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton has said about the meeting on 13th October between the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Association of London Authorities must give all of us cause for concern. He has asked the Minister for his observations upon it.
I should like to go just a little further not only as deputy leader of the Labour Opposition but also because I happen to be president of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. Will the same attitude that was adopted at that meeting towards the ALA be the attitude that will be adopted to any other authority in other parts of the country, bearing in mind that the AMA has, among its affiliations, practically all the areas where there are inner cities and areas of deprivation'? We should be interested to know whether this attitude displayed by the Secretary of State at this meeting of the ALA will apply to all those authorities, and that unless they decide to accept the proposals of the Government there will be no consultations with them.
Before the Government discussed the question of inner cities—if they have discussed it apart from just making a statement—this document was issued by the AMA in May last year. It was prepared as an urban policy statement on programmes for partnership. Since then I am assured—and I checked only this morning—that the AMA has sought a meeting with the Secretary of State for the Environment to discuss matters in this document and the matters that we are debating tonight, and so far Mr. Ridley has refused to meet representatives of the AMA to discuss the matters contained therein. And this document was published in May 1986! I hope that the Minister will convey the concern felt about that failure to do so.
Since the Prime Minister's statement on election night I am informed that the Prime Minister and Lord Young have both been approached by a number of local authority leaders both in the north and the south of the country with a view to constructing an agenda for regeneration. I understand that there has been no definite response. 218 I ask the Minister again: can that dialogue be arranged? Surely that is what is so vital if we are going to have a proper policy towards regeneration of the inner cities.
My noble friend Lady David referred to the confusion as to which Minister or Ministry will be responsible for what. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred to the Financial Times article under the heading "Too Many Fingers In The Urban Pie". Which Minister, and which element of policy, is to be given priority, if any should be given priority?
Moreover, my noble friend also referred to the enormous bureaucratic mess that we have with the proliferation of incentives. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, in his opening speech, referred to the bewildering range of policies, programmes and initiatives. What is to be done to sort out the position of the large number of ministries involved and also the proliferation of plans, initiatives and programmes?
I noted that on 26th July the Prime Minister said:Yes, I have taken over the chairmanship, and there may be a need to bang a few heads together. One of the main things is to get co-operation between departments.Can the Minister tell us tonight whether the heads have been banged together? Whether there is to be co-operation between departments? Exactly which elements of policy are to be considered as the priorities to tackle?
I also noted that Mr. David Trippier, to whom I have already referred and who is the environment minister for inner cities, said that the Government'svision is of towns and cities where those with enterprise and initiative wish to live.I am certain all of us will appreciate that statement; but what about the position of those already living in these areas? This will include the aged, the unemployed, the ethnic minorities and many disadvantaged groups of all kinds. Surely we have some interest in them as well as enticing the new people who would consider it very nice to live in these regenerated areas.
Reference has been made both by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and my noble friend Lord Mellish to the fact that Lord Nugent and I were both members of the select committee which recommended the establishment of a London Docklands Development Corporation. When I started on that very long drawn-out committee, I was hesitant as to whether to give support to a UDC as I could see problems. One of the main factors which caused me to support the establishment of the London Docklands Development Corporation was because the departmental witness made it absolutely clear that government finance would not be given to the docklands joint committee—that is, the local authorities—but only to a development corporation if one was set up.
I considered, rightly or wrongly, that governmentt finance was absolutely essential to bring in private capital for the regeneration of the docklands. I do not regret having taken my part in recommending the establishment of that urban development corporation.
219 We have heard of the injection of £300 million which caused the attraction of private capital and allowed the development to take place and I have read the docklands annual report. Thanks to the co-operation given me by the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, I was given figures of housing development in the docklands area. I have also read the report of the Docklands Forum and although there has been excellent development co-operation by the corporation in the docklands, I am becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of adequate proper housing accommodation for people already living in the docklands area. I think there is general agreement that something must be done in particular about the rental.
I am also concerned about the high level of unemployment which still exists in the four local authorities in the London docklands area. Therefore, whilst we may have succeeded in attracting certain jobs, other jobs have been lost. The position is that we are not really providing jobs for the people who are the original residents in that area. I have certain figures here, at this time of night I do not propose to give them but I am concerned about that.
After the Prime Minister's first statement that something had to be done about the inner cities, she made a second statement that the Government would not provide one extra penny to help resolve the crisis in our inner cities. This afternoon the Minister said in his opening address that the revival must be private sector led. Surely if we take the Urban Development Corporation as an example, public investment is necessary in the first place in order to attract private capital. That surely is an essential and it is why so much praise has been given to Mr. Michael Heseltine. Only recently he has said that a new spirit of hope and achievement could only be set on its way with the stimulus of public money because social and economic problems were so profound.
We all know that the Archbishop of Canterbury's Committee in 1985 which presented us with Faith in the City stressed, in considering the setting up of urban priority areas—which is really the same matter as we are talking about tonight—that the rate support grant must be increased in real terms with a greater bias to provisions for the urban priority areas. Almost every organisation, including the housebuilders federation, has urged that more public money must be put into these areas if we are to attract private investment and private capital.
However, we have the situation that under the present Government the inner cities have to a great extent been starved of resources. The urban programme allocation to the worst affected areas was increased by £25½ million between 1981 and 1985. In the same period the rate support grant to those areas was reduced by approximately £428 million. I believe, as more than one noble Lord has said, that it is no good saying we shall increase the figure by this small amount of money and then taking away a far greater sum by the reduction in rate support grant, rate capping or any other such measure.
I shall not weary the House with the figures for rate support grants. Your Lordships know that since 1975 220 there has been a drastic reduction in the amount of local government expenditure which is now met by the rate support grant. I must emphasise, as did my noble friend Lady David at the outset, that the Government have encouraged and enforced assets sales. We now have the situation where local authorities are sitting on £3 billion cash realised by the sale of assets, of which they are allowed to spend only 20 per cent. Perhaps noble Lords will picture the position if some of the deprived areas were able to use some of that money in their development work.
I heard Mr. Kenneth Clarke, the Trade and Industry Minister, speaking at the Conservative Party conference. For my sins I listened to a greater part of that conference while sitting at home during the recess. It served me right! Minister after Minister speaking from the platform did what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, did today and repeated all the Government's proposals for legislation as being the answer to the problems of every single Minister. We heard that today during the debate.
I was disappointed that the Minister put forward no new initiative, no recognition that we cannot carry on in the same old way, that we cannot have this mass of different initiatives and programmes without any real direction in where they are going. Mr. Kenneth Clarke appealed to business leaders to help the inner cities with resources, management and money. He said:You choose your city. You choose which policy you want to support. We will identify the government department which will work with you".Is that the way in which to work? Again there is no reference to real co-operation with local organisations or the local council.
People may ask what the Labour Party propose. A statement on inner city policy was accepted by the Labour Party Conference. In conclusion, I should like to read a couple of sections from that document:Inner cities need a comprehensive strategy and a real concentration of resources. That is why Labour proposes to establish public action zones with the powers and resources needed for comprehensive social and economic regeneration and a commitment to plan with local people".In a later section it reads:Above all we need to develop a new partnership for action between national government and local government, and between the private and public sectors. Private investment is crucial. But it will not happen without sustained and planned public investment".I should be happy to hear from the Minister not only answers to the points that I have raised but also that he accepts that viewpoint and that such will be the policy followed by the present Government. We cannot wait another four years before the Labour Party has an opportunity to put into practice the policies that I have just mentioned. The problems need to be tackled as quickly as possible. I hope that the Government will accept the objectives that I have set out, which are those of the Labour Party.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, once again I thank my noble friend Lord Windlesham, and all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, for what has undoubtedly been a very wide-ranging discussion. Inevitably, when a debate covers such a wide 221 spectrum of issues, as this debate has done, it is difficult to respond fully to all the arguments. I do not think your Lordships would thank me if I attempted it at this time of the evening, but I shall do my best to respond in a reasonably short time.
First, I must admit that I find myself in some difficulty with the attitude of the noble Lords opposite. At the beginning of the debate, the noble Baroness, Lady David, in a characteristically interesting and varied speech, complained that too many policies were involved and that people did not know where they were so far as the Government were concerned. Yet just now I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who winding up in characteristically competent and interesting fashion, gently chided the Government for not announcing any new initiatives. I am surprised to hear that the policies for education, housing and reform of the rating system that we announced in the gracious Speech are not initiatives enough to go on with. I believe that these policies will have a major impact on the problems that we have been debating today.
I listened carefully to the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher. And it made me a little sad. Despite the noble Baroness's great experience—in fact her unrivalled experience—of her home city, I felt that she disregarded the fact that over the past year the fall in unemployment in the Birmingham travel-to-work area has been greater than that for the rest of the United Kingdom as a whole. I felt that the difference between us was that on this side of the House we believe that we are in process of making things better and that we can build on such a movement in the right direction.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, perhaps I may say to the Minister that the travel-to-work area about which he is talking goes as far as Ross-on-Wye. It is not the core area in the city where the deprivation lies.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, I take that point from the noble Baroness. However, if I may say so, her intervention proves to me something that I have suspected during the whole debate; namely, that much as I enjoyed listening to the noble Baroness she did not realise when the election was taking place a few months ago that things were beginning to get better in the manufacturing areas of the country. They are not getting worse. And people are in favour of a Government beginning to look on the bright side of things and not constantly peering at the difficult side of things.
I was particularly grateful for the speech of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter who made the point so clearly that we can do what all of us want by attracting private sector investment into the inner cities. In simple and human terms it means attracting those who believe that they can run businesses and employ other people not only for the good of themselves but for the good of the economy of the whole area.
The noble Lord, Lord Mellish, and I sit on different sides of the House but I felt grateful to him for explaining at first hand how such an approach has succeeded in the London docklands. Because the 222 Government believe in that approach we now want to extend the number of UDCs. We hope to have them for smaller targeted areas where the single-minded and co-ordinated approach that they represent can solve the inner city problems about which my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford spoke. My noble friend showed from his experience of planning in South-East England how important it has been in the London docklands to have a body which has single-minded determination as well as the necessary power and how important is co-operation with local authorities.
That point raises the first of the issues broached by many of your Lordships including the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester. My noble friend Lord Beloff spoke very interestingly about that, and the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, very effectively put the whole thing in context by pointing to the difficulties when there is no communication. On behalf of the Government, I say that I believe there is an element of self-interest here for everybody. Both central and local government have a distinctive contribution to make.
One of the main thrusts of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Basnett, was that efforts are most likely to be effective where both are working to common objectives with a good mutual understanding and in ways which reinforce each other's activities. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked what I meant in my opening speech when I said "where possible". Where favourable conditions do not exist progress will always be difficult and frequently others will be deterred from investing their resources in those areas. I give an assurance this evening that the Government will not be deterred from bringing their resources to bear when those kinds of difficulties arise.
That leaves me with the question which the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, asked me. There is a clear distinction between a willingness to discuss specific practical action and reluctance to enter into an offer of unlimited time to discuss the principles of policies for which the Government have a very clear and recent mandate. The details of those policies will of course be discussed in your Lordships' House and in another place. They can also be discussed at bilateral meetings, but I do not think that the proposal which was being put to my right honourable friend was a reasonable one. I shall try to answer some questions about housing.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I apologise if I misunderstood. Will the Minister comment directly upon the statements made by the Secretary of State that until the London Labour authorities accepted the legislative programme of the Government there would be no discussion? If that is wrong perhaps the Minister will tell me and I shall tell others, but if it is right I consider it to be a constitutional outrage.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, if I may say so, the noble Lord is being less than reasonable, which is unlike him. The noble Lord made quite clear in his speech that what was being asked of my right honourable friend was the setting up of a forum. It is in that 223 context that I gave the answer which I gave the noble Lord this evening.
I shall try to answer a few questions about housing. If I may say so, the right reverend Prelate's question on housing is almost incapable of an answer. The question was more or less: what is regarded as the maximum proportion of income that a family should spend on rent? If the right reverend Prelate will forgive me for saying so, I shall try not to get wound up on that one. I realise that it is a serious question, but it cannot be answered. However, the question which can be answered and which I shall do my best to answer is that which concerns the anxiety revealed in part of the right reverend Prelate's speech that housing benefit will not cover the new higher housing association rents which we may see under deregulation.
Under the proposed arrangements for housing benefit after deregulation, maximum rents will be set for housing benefit purposes but they will be set at market rents. Although housing associations following deregulation are likely to be charging rents higher than at present there is no reason to suppose that those rents will be set at market levels as housing associations are not profit-making bodies and will continue to receive substantial grant which will assist in holding rents down. That is about as far as I can go on that matter this evening, if the right reverend Prelate will forgive me.
At the moment we are in a position where we have had a White Paper, but it is being accompanied and followed by several consultation papers and I think that they will form the basis for yet further discussion. We shall also be moving towards legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Mellish, suggested that a regional body should be set up to deal with the homeless in London. He made the very interesting point that one is not just talking about homelessness in a general kind of way but that there are specific hot spots, as it were, in London which occur for very special reasons because people have been in transit and end up in particular parts of the capital city. I accept that the problem is much worse in some London boroughs than in others. In some cases there may be special reasons for that. However, I wish to make the point that there often is the case where the boroughs are not making full use of the opportunities available to them.
I remind your Lordships that the Government are providing extra resources through the estate action scheme and through our mixed-funding housing association initiative with a total of £30 million in investment in better interim accommodation for the homeless last year. Yet we find that there are about 100,000 council house dwellings still going begging. I shall draw the attention of my right honourable friend to what the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, has said concerning the London problem. But on my side I should like to say that we are very worried about that empty housing. We are trying to put some resources towards making that housing good. It does not seem to be helping much.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, normally I get along very well with the noble Lord. However, at this hour and when the noble Lord has not taken part in the debate, perhaps he will forgive me for not pausing.
The noble Lords, Lord Ezra and Lord Grimond, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, asked why the Government do not relax the local authority capital control system to allow authorities to spend all their capital receipts from the sale of assets. As the noble Lords and the noble Baroness know, there must be a limit on the spending of capital receipts because of its impact on the public sector borrowing requirement. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of a point which may be familiar here but which I think is not often made outside. Authorities are able to use 20 per cent. of their receipts in any one year and they can use those without any restriction at all and at any time for redeeming debt, for capitalised repairs and for other forms of non-prescribed capital expenditure.
I now turn to answering some questions at random. The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, made an important point about the Birmingham UDA. At the meeting which my right honourable friend had with those who came from Birmingham, he was encouraged by the fact that the agency is going to be private-sector led, although he could not offer any open-ended financial commitment. Financial support could be available on a project-by-project basis under existing grant regimes such as urban development grants and the other sorts of grants which we have been talking about this afternoon. That is a second point which I shall certainly draw to the attention of my right honourable friend. However, at the moment, I do not think that I can go further than that.
My noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour, in a most interesting speech devoted entirely to education, asked how we can provide better basic learning opportunities for adults in inner cities. The Government are providing funding to support special initiatives in three areas. The first is the Replan Programme which gives local authorities extra funds to co-ordinate their activities for the adult unemployed. Secondly, there is what is called the Pickup Programme where funds are aimed at updating the skills of adults in employment so that they meet the needs of modern industry. Finally, the Government are funding courses aimed at providing basic skills in literacy and numeracy. Those programmes are all showing encouraging results.
My noble friend also made various other points concerning going to a one-to-one basis, which she will know is difficult from a funding point of view. However, she made the very human point that people often do not want to come into large groups in a formal situation. I thought that was an extremely interesting point, as was the point which she made concerning consideration by the Government for using spare space in schools for classes for adults. That is being done at the moment with the help of some Urban Programme money.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, asked what the Govenment will do to 225 encourage good schools in inner cities and persuade good teachers to teach there. We feel that the forthcoming legislation will help all good schools, whether in the inner cities or elsewhere, by giving the governing bodies more powers. We intend that they will be able to make their own expenditure decisions to match their priorities and to benefit from efficiency savings. They will also be responsible for the employment of teaching and other staff.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
Is the noble Lord saying that there will be a preference in favour of the inner cities?
§ Lord Belstead
No, my Lords, I am not saying that at all. I am saying that one of the good things about the forthcoming legislation is that the inner cities are on an absolute par with other parts of the country. They will find that the governing bodies of their schools will have more power. I think it is as important for parents for the inner cities to feel that they have got a real hand in running schools as it is for parents in other parts of the country.
Specifically so far as concerns inner city areas, I remind the noble and learned Lord that local education authorities have discretion to pay extra allowances to teachers where they think it appropriate, and this can include allowances to persuade teachers to take up or to stay in inner city posts. All teachers have benefited from the pay settlement which was made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science only a few months ago. The noble and learned Lord also chided the Government concerning the closure of departments in universities in inner city areas. On that I say to the noble Lord that the Government do not intervene in decisions about the allocations of funds between individual universities. That is entirely a matter for the University Grants Committee and decisions upon the allocation of funds between departments are matters for the university concerned.
The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked whether a clause could be put into contracts saying that local labour should be used with particular reference to inner cities. The Government's task forces are working to encourage firms to recruit more inner city residents, to ensure that training is well matched to employers' needs and to develop the capacity of small local firms to win contracts. Our aim is to raise skill levels so that local people are better equipped to compete for jobs. But the European Community rules are designed to ensure equal conditions of competition for public works and supply contracts. These are rules which incidentally the Government fully support; but the rules do not permit the introduction of the type of measure which was referred to by the noble Baroness.
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, I think, also asked whether there should not be a national urban renewal agency as proposed by the RIBA. I think that we would sheer away from this idea because we believe that the approach of setting up agencies to tackle inner city problems in a single-minded way really is best carried out at local level, as so many of your Lordships have 226 said today. This is what the Government are trying to do through the establishment of the Urban Development Corporation.
§ Baroness David
If the noble Lord will permit me to intervene, I think he misunderstood what I was saying. I said that was what the RIBA was suggesting. The point which was made was that there should be central co-ordination. This would have been one way of doing it. We have not heard yet whether there is to be central co-ordination and which is to be the lead department.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, may I come to central co-ordination in just a moment?
The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, spoke about the need to do more for derelict land. The derelict land grant has been increased from the figure of £23 million in 1979 to 1980 to £81 million for this financial year and has been doubled in real terms. The noble Lord drew attention to the large amount of unused and under-used land in inner cities. The spearhead of the Government's attack on the amount of land owned by public bodies that is lying idle is the land registers. We are making some progress. Over one-third of all land entered on the registers since they began has since been removed.
The noble Lord, Lord Sefton, blamed the Government's unresponsiveness on the deposition of Councillor Rimmer, the leader of the Liverpool Council. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment (who has been mentioned several times this afternoon), expects to be blamed for many things because he has broad shoulders; but it is not clear why he should be blamed for the deposition of a Labour leader by his political group. I am not going to say more than that except that I do not want to prejudice any prospect that the city council will resume the path of reasonable dialogue that Councillor Rimmer certainly sought to follow.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
My Lords, does the Minister really believe that these kinds of things happen from an immediate spot that he selects? If he is going to find the real reason for the problems of Liverpool, then he must go further back than the one incident he is selecting.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, all I am saying is that Liverpool Council ought to sort out their own affairs.
I finally come to two points made by my noble friend Lord Mersey in a most interesting speech about the problems he had found in Liverpool. Certainly his speech showed that the problems in that city still very much have to be solved. He suggested that a government department ought to move to the city. This is something which has been knocked backwards and forwards in government policies over many years. I shall show that suggestion to those who ought to see it and we shall consider it; but, as my noble friend knows, it is quite a radical proposal.
That brings me to the last point. The noble Baroness pointed out that I have not said anything about government co-ordination—a matter to which my noble friend Lord Beloff referred. Action in the 227 cities involves several government departments, reflecting the need for a joint approach to urban problems. The Government are going to continue to build on a range of programmes and policies to bring land and buildings into use, to encourage enterprise, to support business and to encourage consumer choice. However, the complex nature of inner city problems makes it almost impossible to have just one department doing justice to all these policies. At local level, on which many of your Lordships put enormous emphasis, co-ordination in the urban programme partnership areas is ensured through the city action teams. That means, basically, the Department of the Environment, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Employment. Those three departments are directly or indirectly responsible for expenditure of over £700 million.
I emphasise that I believe there are grounds in this debate for optimism. Central and local government working with business, the voluntary sector, and most importantly with the local community can turn round areas which have too long been neglected and are in decline. Sometimes the turn-round is spectacular and sometimes it is less so. It is more a steady building up of foundations measured by an upward curve on a graph rather than a complete transformation of a locality.
I conclude by taking just one example of what I mean by that. If you take the number of people who, tragically, are unemployed in the areas covered by our main conurbations of London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle and look at the recent fall in unemployment in those areas and compare that with the national fall, the fall has been about the same. It is a sign that given the right conditions those people living in the inner cities can share in national progress, and we are determined to see that we have the opportunity for that to be achieved.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Lord Windlesham
My Lords, this has been a long, thoughtful, well-informed and largely constructive debate on a matter that we all accept is of profound public significance. I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part, especially those who have stayed until the final stages.
There were moments when it seemed that civil war might break out between London and Liverpool on the Benches opposite. There was a powerful contingent of right reverend Prelates to conciliate, but their services were not required. We accept the intensity of feeling shown, particularly by the noble Lords, Lord Sefton and Lord Mellish, about the areas that they know so well and have spent so much of their public life working for.
The final comment I should like to make is one that I am sure is shared by everyone in the House as we end our debate; it is to express our gratitude to my noble friend Lord Belstead. He has sat on the Front Bench for over seven hours and listened to almost every contribution. He had to deal with a Statement earlier today. He has spoken twice in this debate with 228 his customary patience and courtesy. For that we are extremely grateful. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at twenty-nine minutes before eleven o'clock.