HL Deb 04 April 1990 vol 517 cc1409-72

3.4 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey rose to call attention to the social, financial and environmental problems facing the inhabitants of our cities; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in relation to the remarks just made by the Government Chief Whip I am bound to say that, much as I welcome the participation of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield, the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, two noble Lords from the Cross-Benches, the noble Lords, Lord Northbourne and Lord Broadbridge, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, from the Liberal Democrat Benches, the debate bids fair to become a seminar within the Labour Party.

The Motion was deliberately drawn extremely widely to reflect the concern which we have on these Benches for what is perhaps the most serious and worsening range of social issues facing a very high proportion of the people in this country. It is a matter of some surprise to me that noble Lords other than those on the Opposition Benches do not feel that these issues are of sufficient importance for them to join in the debate. Only last week when we were discussing similar matters I was moved to observe that many noble Lords seemed to be more concerned with problems of salmon fisheries than with the problems facing the majority of our people, including that majority who are in the most financial, social and environmental difficulties. I am sorry to see that my observations on that occasion have been borne out by the speakers' list for today's debate.

However, there is always some levelling of such problems in that we have on these Benches, both behind me and beside me, a range of expertise on the problems of our cities which I think is unequalled.

I very much look forward not only to the sparse participation from other Benches but also to the participation of my noble friends. All I can hope to do with such a wide Motion is to set the scene for the debate to which they will contribute with far more expertise than I can.

The Motion is about the cities of Britain. But is is appropriate that we should put it into context because cities are not a new invention in our society and they are not peculiar to Britain. Indeed, cities have existed for thousands of years. I do not know how well known it is, but the Republic of Sri Lanka had a city of over 1 million people, Anuradhapura, in the centre of the country in 500 BC. The city was self-sufficient in the sense that it looked after all the needs of its citizens in an agrarian society, with a series of what were in effect allotments and common land holdings and a very complex irrigation system which was so perfect that the drop in water level over an area of several square miles was less than one foot. The relevance of that fact is greater than may appear at present.

If we look at Shanghai today, it will be seen that its boundaries, which I saw a few years ago, have been so drawn that the townships surrounding it are responsible for all of the food needs of this city of 5 million or 6 million people. The relevance of this information is that cities can and have survived and that they are a necessary and natural part of our civilisation but that they require organisation, co-operation and some degree of planning and understanding if they are to succeed. That is not to say that the cities in this country are conspicuously worse than those in other countries.

Anyone who has realised that Cairo has increased its population from 4 million in 1970 to 12 million in 1989 and that at least 1 million of its people are today living in the cemetaries— that is, living on top of the tombs in the cemetaries— will know that our cities are not the worst. Similarly, anyone who has seen Caracas, where the middle classes live in the valleys and those who serve them live in huts dangerously perched on the steep hills, with no water or power supply, will know that there are indeed other cities that are in a worse condition.

Moreover, anyone who has read Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities will know that many of the problems which face the city of New York are more extreme than anything we have yet to see in this country. Even closer to home, anyone who has witnessed the problems of the city of Naples will know that worse conditions exist in the world than are to be found in our cities.

Yet there is a degree of complacency about the problems of our cities on the part of the Government and of many people in our society which is actually making them worse rather than better. It started perhaps as a reflection of a principle which has now come to be called Thatcherism. Edward Banfield, the head of President Nixon's task force on model cities, over 20 years ago expressed the view that there was no major problem of the cities. The problem was only of inner suburbs close to the central area. It was only that there were poor people coming in who, because of the success of our cities, then became richer. Banfield said that: The city attracts the poor by offering better conditions of life— better food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, schools, and treatment from employers and officials: this is why it always has so many poor. The problem of poverty in the cities is seldom of the cities' own making; it is essentially a problem made elsewhere and then brought to the cities".

Banfield made a distinction between different kinds of deprivation in our cities: destitution, where people die as they have died in cities since the industrial revolution and are buried in paupers' graves, not having been able to support any degree of acceptable life. There are problems of want for people whose lives are defective in some major aspect, but they are able to stay alive. There are problems of hardship which are thought to be less severe and problems of relative deprivation, which Banfield argues is the major problem of cities in the 20th century. People are not really poor, there is nothing wrong, it is just that they are not as well off as their neighbours.

I suggest that far from moving up the scale with a reduction in destitution and an increase in problems of relative deprivation, in many respects because of government policies in this country the situation in our cities is getting worse. I wish to concentrate on two matters which are at the forefront of the problems that we see in our cities. One is the problem of housing, the other is the problem of individual poverty. They are closely related.

The problems of housing in our cities are fundamentally of defective thinking in official circles. I shall not restrict this to the Government because they are widespread defects of thinking. There is defective thinking about the nature of the investment which must be made in the public provision for housing for our people. It is assumed that somehow it is possible for the private sector to take over responsibility for a provision which has never, in any developed country in the 20th century, been able to be devolved to the private sector.

As a result of policies of shuffling off responsibility, in our housing policies in this country we have a grave decay in the existing stock because neither public nor private landlords have the resources to make the physical investment which is necessary to deal with a housing stock which dates largely from the 19th century. There is the virtual collapse of public provision of affordable housing for those most in need.

If we look at council housing over the period from 1976 to 1988, we see that council housing starts dropped from 105, 000 in 1976 to 15, 000 in 1988. If we look at provision by housing associations, which are supposed in government thinking to replace the provision by local authorities, we find that even there starts dropped from 24, 000 in 1977 to 9,000 in 1988. There is the shuffling off of responsibility from central government to other bodies such as the Housing Corporation.

I have a great deal of admiration for the work of the Housing Corporation in many ways. It has shown a businesslike approach to dealing with housing problems. But the restrictions under which it works force it to build where it is cheaper rather than where housing is needed. The result is that the corporation is like the drunk searching for his keys who looks under the lamppost rather than looking where he lost his keys. That will not solve our housing problems and I believe that the Housing Corporation knows it.

At the same time, over the past two years there has been a dramatic reduction in effective housing benefit as a result of changes in benefit policies which have meant not only that the provision on the supply side of housing in our cities is worse than it was, but also that the demand side is worse in the sense that fewer and fewer people are able to afford that which is already in short supply.

We have a housing situation in which we can see the sharp end— homelessness. Others of my noble friends will refer to this in more detail, but I do not think that anybody with an open mind can walk around this city in particular without seeing what happens when 120, 000 households— that is the total number of households in the city of Bradford— are accepted by local authorities as being genuinely homeless. That is even by the strict rules which are applied to homelessness under the 1977 Act. It means that last year one-quarter of a million people had to be accepted as being homeless.

I suggest to your Lordships that there has been no time, at any rate since the war, when so many people in our cities have been falling off the end of what is supposed to be— and in a civilised society has been in the past— the basic minimum of public provision. The result is that in London alone there are 33, 000 people living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and costing our local authorities £ 130 million per year to keep. That is not only a social disgrace, it is a financial scandal. It has been self-evidently proved that it would be cheaper for us to invest in more homes for those who need housing than to provide inadequate accommodation in bed-and-breakfast hotels with damaging results to the children and parents in the families concerned. The 1977 Act, which the Government tried to repeal on more than one occasion, has proved impossible to repeal. What is now required is that it should be improved.

Similarly we have seen in the past few weeks evidence that even those who are not homeless are being made to suffer because of the increases in council house rents being forced on local authorities. The matter has been debated in your Lordships' House recently. I shall not pursue the issue but it is evident that this is another example of the direction in which one of the most important attributes of the civilised city society is proceeding. Things are getting worse rather than better.

Alongside the decline in civilised standards in housing, there is the decline in civilised attitudes towards poverty. Banfield and many other people have argued that poverty is not a serious problem, that the trickle-down theory from the increased disposable incomes of the better off will in the end reduce and finally remove poverty. If ever there were an occasion where Karl Marx has been proved right, this is one. He forecast not that there would be absolute immiseration, that people would get absolutely worse off, but that the gaps between rich and poor would become greater.

In every one of our cities we can see the justification for what Karl Marx said about relative immiseration. We may go to the South Bank, or to the arches under Charing Cross Station or to the bed-arid-breakfast hotels in North Kensington or Paddington. We may go to the employment offices in the East End or in the North East of London or to many comparable places like the housing estates on the outskirts of Glasgow and Toxteth in Liverpool. Those of us with eyes to see and minds open to learn can see that this is happening in those places. People are getting absolutely, as well as relatively, worse off.

We can see the way in which— as has been made clear by my noble friend Lord Rea— people come on to the streets from our mental hospitals under what is called by the polite name of community care. It results in homelessness, suffering and agony on the part of people who in a more civilised society would have been dealt with by the community in a real sense within the hospitals which are qualified to look after them.

I shall not dwell on this matter as several of my noble friends will speak on it later, but I should say that in the past few days we have seen the effect of the changes in local authority taxation. We have seen where a programme of reform— I should put the word "reform" in quotes— of local authority finances has resulted in the poor in our cities becoming poorer and the rich becoming richer. That is clear to all of us now. Within the past 24 hours the Government, having failed to achieve a conversion by conviction, are now attempting through poll tax capping a conversion by the sword. That is the reality of the poll tax as it is today. The Government have given up any attempt to claim that it is fair or accountable. They are merely saying that the calculations which are reached in Marsham Street are superior to the wishes of the people who live in our cities and to the wishes of those who will have the responsibility for re-electing their local authorities in just over four weeks' time.

We have seen the effect of all those policies in the increase in crime. Almost every year there is an increase in the level of crime in our cities. We have seen the effect of the disengagement by the Government from transportation policy. That has been most noticeable in London but it has also occurred in other cities. One might think that to move around was a basic right. However, that right is being taken away because the Government have the extraordinary idea that they are justified in paying 100 per cent. of the costs of road widening and what are called road improvements, while not contributing a single penny towards the effective improvement of public transport.

I know that the Minister will say that the Government have announced that they are abandoning some of the more dangerous of the proposed road projects in our city and that they have promised— but in rather vague terms— some improvement in the capital funding of London Transport. However, that does not take away from the fact that all of this Government's policies towards public transport are based on the false assumption that it is possible for public transport in our cities to break even on a day-to-day revenue basis. That is a fallacy and it has been seen to be a fallacy.

The Government's policies on education and training, as they are reflected in the funding of local authorities, are now seen more clearly to be discriminatory against those most in need and those living in our cities. In all those respects the Government have walked away from the problems of our cities. They have done so partly through theory and partly because theory in the Conservative Party is the handmaiden to enrichment of the richer parts of our society.

I am not saying that the remedy lies in the hands of central government alone. However, I believe that a meaningful collaboration between central government, local government and the private sector is an essential part of the road back from the disastrous policies of recent years. It is possible for us to get out of the vicious circle of deprivation which has been affecting more and more people in our cities; it is possible for us to turn it into a virtuous circle. However, I doubt very much whether this Government have either the will or the understanding to do so. I beg to move for Papers.

3.24 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, we thank the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for introducing the debate. However, I believe that he does noble Lords on Benches other than the Labour Benches something of an injustice. We on these Benches are deeply involved with the state of the inner cities and their future. It is a pity that I am the only person to speak on behalf of these Benches and that there are few speakers from the other side of the House. However, I am delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, is to speak. I know that he has a lot of expertise in his field and a great concern for the area on which he will speak.

This debate is, sadly, timely because it comes a week after some of the worst disturbances that have been seen in an inner city area, certainly in London, for some time. It is not surprising that anxiety and concern have spread beyond the ranks of the police and beyond the places where politicians gather. Everybody is concerned.

It is true that the demonstrations were based on an objection to the Government's community charge. It is also true that there were relatively small groups of active political demonstrators whose aims were clearly to create mayhem if they could do so. However, most people must be aware of the fact that running through this matter there undoubtedly is discontent, particularly among young people in inner cities. That discontent is particularly felt in inner city areas and it is becoming increasingly dangerous, as last week showed. All noble Lords in this House and everyone in all sections of British life should take great heed of the situation and ensure that the right actions are taken to correct those matters which obviously should be corrected in our inner cities.

The Government claim that over the past 10 years people in this country have attained a prosperity which has not been seen for many years. They claim that we are all better off for it. I do not disagree that the Government have brought in some good changes, but that is not the whole story by any means. The increased prosperity has been felt mostly by those people who are best equipped to deal with most circumstances, if I may put it that way. The deprived in our society are generally those who are the least well equipped to deal with any circumstances. It is the disadvantaged in our society who feel a simmering discontent and frustration. Many of those people live in our inner city areas. That discontent and frustration are building up all the time and are expressed in the kind of disorder that we witnessed last week.

I think it is too simplistic to say, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has just said, that the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer. I believe that the problems involved are not purely economic. Quality of life is not just a question of money, although it may seem easy and rather flip to say that. But it is a lot more difficult to develop socially and culturally if one does not have enough money to live a decent life. The emphasis in the assistance that the Government have laudably offered to the inner cities has been by and large economic. I suppose that that is understandable. I am thinking particularly of where the Government have offered to match contributions from business to new enterprise pound for pound. However, I wonder whether that is sufficiently imaginative or effective for the long term.

The term "inner city" is unfortunate nowadays. There is a negative idea connected with it. It conjures up a vision of a wasteland and of areas of deprivation and hopelessness— yet cities can be and often are good places to live. People like to live in inner city areas because they are central. Many inner city areas have distractions for those who live there such as parks, and they often have well organised amenities and services. Glasgow is obviously a good example of a city which has done a great deal to create for itself an international reputation. The university and the art school in that city seem to have become a top choice for young people. That is a great compliment in terms of what has been achieved in the city.

Cities are not always problems and have not always been problems. They have opportunities as well as needs. I do not wish to appear carping, but, in revenge for the fact that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, introduced us as an afterthought, perhaps I may say that the Labour Party controls vast swathes of our inner cities and we on these Benches do not regard with enormous delight what they have achieved there. Perhaps noble Lords on the Benches opposite will put that view in rather stronger terms.

In many areas— and particularly in the area in which I live when I am in London— the energies of Labour-controlled councils are too overtly political. That seems to be a facet of Labour control in the country generally and is at the expense of services. The ready solution appears to be to throw money at problems. I see no indication of any change in that approach. It has provoked strong and regrettable action by the Government. No doubt other noble Lords will agree with me that that has been one of the main reasons for the introduction of the disastrous community charge.

On these Benches we believe that for the inner cities the key is the freeing of the spirit of the people. That is a rather high flown phrase by which I mean that rather than decisions being imposed on people we should like to see more initiatives coming from the people themselves in the inner cities. We should like to see the people invite action. We should like to see consultation take place so that there is involvement and pride in the inner cities in their own development. That would be preferable to targeted assistance being aimed at them over a period of years. We believe that that kind of pride and community energy is a great creator.

All of that can only be achieved by the economic measures that I have mentioned being taken together with cultural and social measures. I have a particular interest in the film industry, and that interest spreads over into other areas of artistic endeavour. It has been very encouraging in recent times to see the amount of work that is being done in a number of inner cities, not just by arts groups but by activists on the ground together with arts groups, the local authorities and private interests. They have got together to introduce more cultural life into the inner city areas.

That is apparent particularly in an inner city such as Sheffield. There has been an enormous development around the station area. I have been particularly interested in the collaboration between the council, the regional arts bodies and Channel 4 to create a media zone. Such activity not only creates interest among people who live in the inner cities, it also creates jobs. That is an important aspect of such assistance. The same has happened in Birmingham, Nottingham and Liverpool, with slightly different emphases. That is encouraging because it shows that the overall view around the country now is that such a package of assistance is needed.

The Government do not oppose such developments but I cannot help feeling that they hang back and allow it to happen without giving the encouragement that is needed. I believe that they are frightened of being asked for subsidy. However, subsidy is not what is required in that particular area except in certain parts of it. For example, in developments such as those I have described injections of support over and above what might normally be considered necessary may be needed for disabled people, ethnic groups and so on. That is an aspect which has to be carefully considered. Generally speaking, the Government should provide the encouragement for such developments to take place.

In summing up, I should say that greater imagination is what is needed. I look forward very much to the speeches of all Members of your Lordships' House, from whatever Bench they speak. I hope that as a result of this timely debate the Government will provide a lead for improvement without delay.

3.35 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Sheffield

My Lords, I shall take your Lordships on an even longer journey in your minds than Ceylon and Caracas. The other day I instituted a new vicar in a parish in the inner city of Sheffield. That is a very short journey. I meditated on the curious dedication of that church to William Temple— a rare dedication for a church. At a time when archbishops were in the news I found myself wondering what it was that gave William Temple such a hold on people's minds and hearts in the war years when he sadly died. I came to the conclusion that it was because he expressed in his teaching and his ministry a belief that it was at least worth trying to build Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land.

William Temple expressed a belief that when we pray, "Thy Kingdom come, on earth as well as in Heaven," it was not simply a prayer for a never-never time of the future but an aim, which might not be fully achieved, but which was at least worth thinking about for the present. It was a belief that the claim of Lord Jesus that he came to preach to the poor, to release captives, to give healing to the sick and sight to the blind and to help the poor in every way was not something that was simply to be left to the mighty hand of God and an uncertain date in the future but was something that we dared to work for now. That was the vision of William Temple in the war years. I believe that it is a vision that we have laid on one side, to our loss.

There is an alternative view: that is that far from the Kingdom of Heaven, in some form, being capable of being built on earth, and this earth being a potentially God-centred place, it is really the playground of the devil, a vale of sorrows and a battlefield. If one accepts that latter view, then one's hopes for the world amount to little more than sending out Red Cross parties into the battlefield in the hope that they can put bandages on the most grievously wounded. Possibly, and that is a particular temptation to church people, one can send out snatch parties to rescue people from the world and find a place of security for them in churches or elsewhere, leaving the rest of mankind to its fate. I have to admit that of the two possibilities, despite the temptation that it offers for easy optimism, I prefer the belief that it is possible to work for the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

I am reminded of the remark of two old ladies at a time when Professor Maurice was sacked from his professorship at King's, London, for daring to teach universalism. They were heard to remark "Mr. Maurice believes that all men will be saved, but we believe something much better".

I am one of those who want to keep in the forefront of their minds the belief that we are meant to have some vision of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. It is for that reason that I believe that the report Faith in the City was of significance. It came at a time when, particularly in church circles— and I accept that what it had to say to the Church is of even greater significance than what it had to say to the community at large— the Temple type of thinking was being dismissed as dangerous liberal Protestantism, a worldly gospel that did not take seriously enough the problems of sin. It may be true, but, as I have said, the consequences of abandoning those hopes totally are desperate.

I accept that there are two dangers in that "kingdom theology", if I may use that rather unsatisfactory phrase. One is an easy optimism that somehow or other all will be for the best in the best of all possible worlds and we therefore need not be too distressed when things are so self-evidently for the worst. However, there is an equal parallel in what I call an easy pessimism; namely, that the gulf between that vision and the reality that we know is so great that nothing that we can do is worth doing, except praying in theological terms for divine intervention and in political terms for the revolution. I have always thought that the zealot who thinks that it is not worth doing something because you cannot do everything is one of the most dangerous of people.

I dare to quote, althoough it is a cliché now, the old slogan that it is better to light a candle than to curse the dark. The consequence of Faith in the City and its impact on the Church, particularly through the Church Urban Fund and many other parallel efforts in almost every diocese of the Church of England, has been the lighting of a candle replacing the cursing of the dark— the placing of the needs of our inner cities, of our areas of social deprivation, in a higher profile in the life of our congregations and, I dare to hope, in the life of the nation than they would otherwise have attained.

I have to admit that it is all small beer, as they say. The Church Urban Fund is setting out to raise £ 18 million from the people of England. It has raised £ 12 million. It has spent £ 5 million. The most it has spent in any one neighbourhood is less than half a million pounds. That is Birmingham, where 18 projects have shared over £ 400, 000. The figures are so trivial that I hardly dare mention them to noble Lords who are accustomed to thinking in terms of billions of pounds rather than in terms of hundreds or thousands. Alas, we think in hundreds and thousands and just occasionally in tens. We can do nothing else.

However, those hundreds and thousands of pounds have enabled a certain number of important things to be done. I was pleased that the noble Viscount made the remarks that he did about Sheffield and about giving people the chance to do things for themselves. That has been central in the response to Faith in the City. We are not from outside doing good. Somehow or other, we are here to enable those whom we support to find their own solutions [and to help] those in our cities who are poor, disadvantaged and feel excluded from the mainstream of our national and Church life", to find their way into that mainstream and to be able to take decisions; and to enable them to, implement ways of meeting the spiritual and material needs of their own communities. It is a disappointment that the expectations are infinitely greater than can possibly be realised, but I dare to record the fact that something is being done which, because of its method of working, can enable great changes to be made.

That is one of the reasons why the references to the Kingdom of God on earth which I made at the beginning of my speech are important. The temptation of another way of thinking is to look upon the inner cities, the poor and the mentally handicapped as people other than ourselves and to believe that we can leave their problems unsolved and ourselves untouched. However, if you have that vision of a kingdom on earth, you will realise that we are all affected by those areas of deprivation. We cannot leave them on one side without hurting ourselves. Here again, I believe that the impact of Faith in the City and what has followed from that has enabled— I quote the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool— comfortable Britain to become more aware of what that other Britain is facing up to.

I have the privilege of being Bishop of Sheffield. Sheffield is a fine city to live in, where, we have already been told, many good things are happening, brought about by co-operation between local and national government and between local government and business and the arts and so on. I dare say that in many ways it is a model, yet the most intractable areas of deprivation are largely untouched by the great buildings that we see go up. They are our plans and our hopes for the future, but they are not touched. I have no doubt that other noble Lords will deal with those matters in much greater detail, but I should like to mention one or two matters which, from a Sheffield perspective, I dare to believe are more candles that must be lit and more areas where progress could be made, which should benefit all of us.

One of those matters is the subject of debt. I was greatly interested by the report of the Policy Studies Institute on credit and debt.

As so often with such solemn reports, it ends by stating the obvious; namely, that debt is not a problem to the rich; it is a problem to the poor. I can add to that: credit is not a problem to the rich; it is a problem to the poor. I had elderly parents and grandparents. My grandmother would rather have died than admit that she ever owed anyone a penny. My mother thought that hire purchase was something rather shameful which other people did, but which we certainly did not do. I find it sightly puzzling that a Conservative Administration should be so keen to encourage people to be in debt, whether they are students or the poorest people dependent on the Social Fund and least able to cope with debt.

One sees that debt is a grave problem to the poor in the poorest parts of Sheffield. The sums involved are not the millions about which we read in the financial pages— we are again talking of tens and hundreds, hardly ever of thousands— yet, with some modest funding of people who can advise those in debt, considerable help could be given.

Debt arises from low wages. We shall increasingly see housing problems made worse by people's inability to pay even the rents which the Housing Corporation says must be set and maintained within the reach of people in low-paid employment. People in low-paid employment in Sheffield earn £ 100 a week and sometimes a little less. The new rates that will have to be set by the housing associations cannot be paid by those people, so there will be problems there.

It is hardly worth mentioning homelessness as so many other noble Lords will do so. However, Sheffield is a place where we do not expect to find homelessness, yet the Salvation Army claims that it has to say over and over again, "We're full up. Try again tomorrow". But where do those people go tonight?

I want to finish with the words of a doctor who works in inner-city Sheffield. He brings home to me the fact that, if we are to think in terms of a kingdom, it is the people who live in that kingdom who are crucial and whom we must enable to achieve their true worth. He says that the fundamental problem of people living in the inner city is that many increasingly feel trapped in a situation where they are unable to benefit themselves, there being no prospect of employment or of achieving self-respect and dignity. People feel that there is no place for them in society, no place to go and no purpose. They see no future.

What the doctor says is almost a cliche. There is a lack of personal worth because they feel that no one values them. The Social Fund, although it was not meant to do so, has made matters worse for both families and single parents who try to manage their affairs as best they can. Their concern about lack of money to feed the children drives them to constant irritability. They are so much less able to manage that they do not know where to start. I feel that it is inevitable that for that section of the community which somehow remains untouched by the good news of a burgeoning Sheffield the community charge will make matters worse.

I dare to plead that all of us— I do not consider this in any sense a party political matter— who have some vision of what a Jerusalem here can be should try to take at least some steps which give back to those people their sense of worth.

3.50 p.m.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, I hope that noble Lords will understand if I concentrate on London for my illustrations. I practised medicine in London for more than 40 years and was active in London's government for nearly half that time. It is therefore the city that I know best. However, from my knowledge of most of the larger cities of Great Britain, I am aware that much of what I shall say about London is also applicable to them.

London has a long and ancient history. It suffers very much from the consequences of the 19th century worship of growth when size was regarded as desirable for its own sake and urban planning was based on growth. Today we are reaping the whirlwind. We are faced with environmental and social problems inherited from the mad rush of over-rapid urban expansion. There is a legacy of urban blight and decay. London has an ageing infrastructure that has to be made to serve the changing needs of the present day.

I am afraid that we are undertaking that process at a time when many of our towns and cities are experiencing a decline in population and employment. From the 1930s onward the social stresses and inhuman conditions characteristic of uncontrolled urban growth were beginning to be recognised. The aim became to contain them and cope with them. Measures designed to check urban spread were devised. New towns were established to serve as counter-magnets. It was reasoned that they would ease the pressures on the large towns and cities and the conurbations that had grown up around them. They would provide scope for urban renewal. They worked.

But today the basic situation has once again changed. Ever since the early 1960s the cities and conurbations of Britain have been losing population. Very little of that has been due to planned movement. People have moved out from the towns of their own accord in order to find more pleasant living conditions for themselves and their families. That is one of the current headaches because with people goes wealth. Industry chases a workforce and as the process accelerates it leaves unemployment in its wake.

Moreover, it is usually the skilled workers who go while the unskilled and the aged stay. Those who move cut tend to be the people who are best able to look after themselves and their families. Those who remain are at the lower end of the income scale or those who for various reasons are unable to cope. The city is tiled of resources: it becomes more difficult to solve the problems of decay and deprivation that are left behind. Strangely enough the fall in population has had no noticeable effect on the scale of the social problems. On the contrary, in some parts of London the rapid rate of decline has created extra stresses as well as an unbalanced employment situation.

It is not only London's population that has fallen. There has also been a fall in employment. However, total employment has declined less than has the number of employed residents because of the growth of commuting. One effect of the decline in population and employment in London has been that in practice the burden of providing the resources required to resolve London's community problems has fallen on the shoulders of a decreasing number of people who are less prosperous and less able to provide those resources. In a nutshell, London's problem is that more money is needed to deal with the problems confronting those who are least able to provide the necessary resources.

London's problems are very severe. The housing situation is bad. There is overcrowding, homelessness, chronic shortage of accommodation, high prices and a deteriorating inner city housing stock. Many people are forced to travel great distances to work. As manufacturing industry closes down or moves out of London people face a decreasing choice of jobs to match the skills that they can offer. Traffic congestion and severely strained public transport make movement about the area increasingly difficult for everyone. The high cost of public and private travel places at a particular disadvantage people who do not have high incomes.

The broad picture of London is of an unequal and socially divided city which reflects the social and economic divisions of the nation. What is required is a balanced structure of population and employment which will enable Greater London to flourish economically and provide sufficient resources to improve the environment, build more good homes and give Londoners the public services and facilities that they need. That requires the co-operation of central and local government and the private sector with the support of voluntary organisations.

Unfortunately, during the past 10 years the urban areas of England have become worse than ever as places to live and work. While it is not fair to put all the blame for the situation upon the Government, it can fairly be said that they have pursued policies which have made the situation worse and have strenuously resisted policies which could be helpful. They have adopted a policy of strenuous opposition to local authorities and have endeavoured to exclude them from having any proper say in urban regeneration. What is worse, they seem to think that it is right and proper to play party politics with the central government/local government relationship. That is something that I think most of the country will live to regret.

During the past 10 years there have been more than 20 Acts of Parliament aimed at restricting the activities of local government. Those have reduced the powers of local government over finance and its ability to provide the services needed by the inhabitants. In many cases, local government activity in the restricted field was essential to success in tackling the problems of the area.

I shall give two illustrations; I could give many more if there were time. First, on transport, London's poor transport infrastructure is identified by the Henley Centre for Forecasting as a major constraint on the capital's growth and its cultural attractiveness. London has been grinding to a halt for more than 30 years. The London County Council and the Greater London Council were both concerned about the situation and were taking steps to cope with it. The consensus of opinion is that a combination of improved public transport, coupled with restraint on use of the private car, is needed if London is not to grind to a halt.

The Greater London Council introduced a policy of cheap fares which was to be combined with park-and-ride facilities through the provision of parking places at railway terminals so that commuters could leave their cars and use the trains. However, the Government have been carried away by their ideology and have refused to accept that provision. The subsidy to London Transport has already been cut by a third since 1985 and an extensive road building programme was planned and has since been scrapped.

In a penetrating article on transport in London in the Independent on Sunday this week headlined, "Confusion breeds a capital jam" David Nicholson-Lord and Nicholas Comfort stated that the Government seem to want the car option but cannot have it, have the public transport option but do not want it, and are stuck with an ideological jam of their own devising. For the foreseeable future, Londoners are stuck with it. I am afraid that I agree with the article.

We have had many debates on housing in your Lordships' House. My noble friend Lord McIntosh has already touched on the subject. I make no apologies for referring to it again. In all our debates we have been unable to make the Government see the error of their ways. The number of homeless households accepted by London boroughs has more than doubled in the past 10 years. The evidence mounts of continuing homelessness, including large numbers of people sleeping rough. In 1979 there were 2, 750 homeless households placed in temporary accommodation. Of these 1, 560 were living in bed-and-breakfast hotels and the remainder in council hostels. In September 1989 the number was 25, 577. The number of new homes built by councils in London in 1979 was 8, 600. The number of new homes built by councils in London in the first nine months of 1989 was 997. Output from housing associations has also declined.

The homeless in London now account for the overwhelming majority of new council lettings. The total number of households accepted as homeless by London boroughs has exceeded the supply of new lettings every year for the past three years. This means that even if all available homes were used for new homeless households, setting aside the needs of everyone else, including those on the waiting list or homeless persons already in temporary accommodation, there would still not be enough council housing to cope with the demand. And we continue to have a deteriorating housing stock.

The Government's objective is to get local authorities out of housing and to increase the proportion of private rented dwellings. The Government's approach to housing investment has made us the lowest investor in housing in the EC. In terms of public expenditure on housing as a proportion of our gross domestic product it has dropped from 4.1 per cent. in 1976–77 to 1.6 per cent. in 1988–89.

I could go further and point out the Government's approach to local authorities, their deliberate exclusion of local authorities from playing their proper part in the regeneration of their cities, and the steady reduction of the percentage of central government grant to local government as part of local government expansion. The poll tax has placed the burden for meeting local government expenditure on the poor rather than on the rich. The poll tax was the last blow. What happened before had a devastating effect on the situation in London. The poll tax will make it worse. Even the Audit Commission and the National Audit Office have criticised government policy in this area. I hope that we can find some way to persuade the Government to change course before it is too late.

4.8 p.m

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, like other noble Lords I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for tabling this debate. I am also grateful for the care with which he has worded it. The social financial, economic and environmental problems are too interwoven and too mixed to be examined in isolation. Therefore the solutions are also complicated.

The problem of inner cities is caused by and is to be solved by the people who live in them. It is not party-political and it is therefore right that it should be politically debated. Nor can it be solved by government policy alone. In Britain when anything goes wrong we have an unfortunate tendency to squeal that the Government must do something. But that can only ever be part of the solution. Governments can prod, push, motivate and we hope, lead. They can create a climate in which the business of day-to-day life can go on. But it is up to ordinary people to undertake that business.

In the days when we were a rural society village life centred around four institutions. We lived under the overall leadership of the lord of the manor; under the spiritual guidance of the church in the form of the local vicar; our children were educated in the village school; and we socialised in the village pub. That was all rather cosy. The squire, the vicar, the schoolteacher, the publican and later the doctor were well-known figures in the community. The family was still the basic unit with at least three generations living, growing up and working together. The communities were small and therefore problems were of a more manageable size. Because the communities were small and, it must be said, rather incestuous, problems were not allowed to run on but were dealt with quickly. Most importantly, there was a sense of security and with that a sense of self-worth which is vital to the survival of the individual.

However, all that changed with the growth of the city as the main habitation of Englishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen and Irishmen. The squire has gone and with him the leadership that most people need. The local councillors, or the mayor, are unable to make their mark as they used to. Most people do not know who their local councillor is and most care even less.

The Church too appears to have lost all meaning for most people. They still have the same spiritual needs but the established Church appears to have abdicated all responsibility in meeting them. The shepherd appears to have put away his crook and has ceased to train his dogs so the flock is wandering the hills aimlessly. Until we have a Church which is prepared to stand up and be counted, instead of carping on the sidelines, there will be a great gap in people's lives.

As regards schools, there is now a light at the end of the tunnel. I believe that the national curriculum is a major step forward in obtaining real and achievable standards of which we can be proud. The splendid argument now raging in the newspapers about the teaching of history is most heartening. History is vitally important because if a child has no idea how this funny little island became what it is today, and how it got here, how will he be able to see where he is going and take his place in the cavalcade? I congratulate the Government on the national curriculum and the placing of schools under local management, thereby making local people take the lead in their communities. The education support grants— both the existing and new grants— focus on inner city primary schools and social responsibility and they are exactly the right tools that government should use to create that responsibility and awareness.

I recently spent some time in several cities in the Midlands. I believe that what we have created there is wrong. In the daytime the cities are full of bustling crowds going about their business. But at night there are only pubs, clubs, fast-food joints and cinemas. As a result there are groups of young people milling around, drinking and taking drugs with all the trouble that results.

Lately I have had occasion to walk several times through the centre of the city of Nottingham late at night. I can only describe it as mayhem with few police in evidence. The problem as I see it is that no one actually lives there so there are no residents to put their feet down. By making our inner cities into places of work by day and of entertainment by night we have destroyed the communities. We must persuade people to live there again because that is the only way to retrieve them.

I have mentioned drinking and drug-taking and, as they are areas in which I have a great interest and in which I work, I must make further comments. Make no mistake about one issue: bad housing, bad schooling and unemployment do not cause people to take drugs. It is rather the other way round. People who take drugs are ineducable, unemployable and will turn their home, however nice, into a slum, and will do so very quickly. They also enjoy poor health thereby putting further strain on the services.

I know that that is the uncommon and unpopular view but regrettably it is correct. Therefore I welcome the Government's drug prevention programmes both in the inner cities and in the national curriculum. Widespread drugtaking destroys the fabric of a community, and thus its environment, possibly faster than anything else. It leads to crime, fear and to everything that is bad in our cities. Therefore the Government's policies on drug prevention are most definitely the right approach, albeit that they have just begun.

However, let me utter one important word of warning: one cannot teach drug prevention like French irregular verbs. In fact it is doubtful whether it can be taught at all. Children take drugs because of peer pressure and they copy the behaviour of the adults whom they respect. However, government can give a lead in the workplace. In the offices of central and local government there need to be comprehensive policies on drugtaking and drinking in order to set an example to businesses throughout the land, and employer assistance programmes to back them up.

However, that is only the tip of the iceberg. Research carried out in the United States and elsewhere has shown one overriding fact: those who abuse drugs and alcohol have a low sense of self-worth. Therefore, if you wish to stop people taking drugs in order to fill the spiritual void you must bring them up to have a sense of self-respect and a sense of belonging and purpose in their lives.

Government— that is any government— can clear away the rubble of past failures and inject resources, money and motivation to rebuild. In short, government can create the right climate; that is government's job. However, I believe that with urban regeneration grants, derelict land grants and, most important, the Urban Development Corporation, government are beginning to fulfil that role. It is a slow task. I believe that the many employment training schemes, particularly the YTS, will introduce the kind of grounding that will lead to a workforce which can have pride in its achievements. Last year's Local Government and Housing Act was a step— but only a step— towards better housing for city residents. The Housing Act 1988 will allow the private sector to provide more rented accommodation at a price that young people can afford.

Ultimately, it is up to the people who live in the cities, local politicians, local businessmen, schoolteachers and other responsible citizens to do their bit and show a little civic pride. That was greatly in evidence in our cities as are the wonderful 19th century buildings. It is that civic pride that we need to regenerate. Government can lead but it is up to the people to follow.

I made my maiden speech in this House on the Second Reading of the community charge Bill. With hindsight that may have been a little rash. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who probably did not agree with a single word, was kind enough to speak to me outside the Chamber. During my speech I made one political point, although perhaps I should not have done so. I used a phrase which, at the time, I was pleased with. I referred to "petty political posturing" by local councils. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, touched on the subject earlier. I have always believed that national and international politics should be kept in the forum of Parliament. The place for national and international politics is not local councils. Too much money, time and effort has been wasted outside the locale for which the council is responsible.

The classic and most horrific example was Liverpool. What took place there under Derek Hatton's regime was unacceptable by anyone's standards. It was certainly unacceptable by the standards set by all Members of this House. The events were nothing to do with Labour or socialist politics, although they took place under that banner. The tremendous contributions made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and his colleagues are destroyed when, under their banner, such events are allowed to occur. It was not politics but gangsterism, mobsterism and the destruction of a city under a political banner. It had nothing to do with the responsible politics that we see and hear in this House. It would help all Members of this House if noble Lords opposite dissociated themselves from such events—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wish to assure him that these days we hold both poles of the banner and all the supporting strings.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, I am delighted to hear that.

The Lord Bishop of Sheffield

My Lords, again, before the noble Lord sits down, I wish to assure him that my crook is firmly in my hand and at this moment the dogs are hard at work.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, I am delighted to hear that too. I hope that other right reverend Prelates will take the same view.

4.20 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, in my short time in this House I have become very conscious of the conventions and I respect them. Normally when I take part in a debate I try to be assiduous in observing the convention that if one speaks one should also hear the other participants. Therefore, I apologise to your Lordships for the fact that later this afternoon I must leave to attend a state function and I shall not be able to listen to the latest speakers, nor the winding-up speeches from the Front Bench.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, mentioned the recent disturbances in London. We should bear in mind that, while a large number of people there were genuinely concerned about the issue, various groups notably the Socialist Workers Party were using the occasion as a well-orchestrated attempt to destabilise society. They understand that as long as there are a government and a strong opposition, their dreams of revolution are a long way off. Therefore, they lie in wait for a genuine public grievance. They then move in in an organised way, which, believe me, has been in the process of being organised for the past few months.

It is not simply the Labour Party which is tarnished by that sort of effort but also the party opposite. I mention that only because of the last remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. When I was in the other place I went to the Minister for Sport to show him the statistics. They demonstrate that there is a direct correlation between the football grounds where there was substantial crowd trouble and the local vote cast for the National Front and the British National Party. Therefore, we should appreciate that, where there are genuine grievances in society or crowds gathered together, there are extreme elements at both ends of the spectrum which try to turn them to their advantage.

It is a sad commentary on our society today that some of the loneliest people live in the largest cities. In the old days when we were organised on a very much more rural scale the people in the village who needed help were known, as were those who were getting old, and there was a communication network so that everyone was aware of everybody else's problems. There was a feeling of togetherness which has to some extent been lost.

I am particularly aware of the problem. I am the deputy chairman of the London Docklands Development Corporation. One of our main tasks is to integrate as far as possible the indigenous people who have lived in the East End of London all their lives, as have their families for generations back, with the new growing community. That entails a wide consultative process, discussion and the integration of our projects as far as possible with training schemes and social housing. There is a natural apprehension among many people who have not only lived in the area all their lives but who survived the attacks during the war from German bombers that the investment in the docklands may bypass them. In microcosm, in the docklands we are trying to do what Members on all sides are asking the Government to do here.

I do not wish to dwell on the docklands because of my direct interest in the matter, but to turn to one aspect which has already been mentioned— the question of housing. As I have told your Lordships before, anybody who has held elected office in this country whether as a Member of Parliament or a local councillor knows that the bread and butter of the casework is to do with housing. Whatever else may crop up, there is a constant procession of people who are badly or inadequately housed, having grown out of their accommodation. That is the recurrent theme in all the casework.

I had the privilege of representing a constituency in Bristol for 17 years. I am very conscious of that. Both the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in his reference to defective thinking, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, in calling for greater imagination, touched on the theme which I wish to pursue. I say that I wish to pursue it; so let me point out that one reason that I held the office of Chief Whip in the other place was my obsessive nature, which manifests itself in various ways, and I confide in your Lordships that I have touched on the problem of homelessness before.

I was recently invited to an inaugural meeting of a local group that Shelter is setting up in Bristol. Figures were provided to show the needs there. There were 1, 000 homeless family units, approximately 600 people in Bristol sleeping rough and over 12, 000 people on the housing waiting list. The situation is not improving.

I mention those matters in connection with Bristol because as a former student of Bristol— if I may boast for a moment, a former graduate— I have constantly raised the question of the academic procedures for selecting students. Bristol is a thriving red brick university. From the 1988–89 intake, only 0–8 per cent. of the students lived at home. Eight out of 1, 000 is pretty poor. A number of students were in halls of residence, but 58 per cent. lived in accommodation outside university-owned premises. Bristol University students totalled some 8, 000 or 9, 000. Therefore, that is an enormous burden on the private rented sector.

Despite all the hand-wringing which has gone on both here and in the other place recently about the plight of students, they are very privileged people in society. They are receiving a good education and can proceed to jobs for which they are qualified. I do not believe that their lot is too difficult. In fact, the vast majority come from middle-class and upper-class backgrounds. Indeed, in Bristol 45 per cent. of student entrants come from fee-paying schools. Therefore, I believe that there is a presupposition that we are not drawing on the worst-off strata of society. Yet it seems to be accepted that it is perfectly natural for students to wish to study away from home. If they study away from home, they put a burden on local accommodation. It seems impossible to get people to relate one sector of provision to another. However, it is absolutely self-evident that, with some encouragement from the university authorities, head teachers and the Government, more students could live at home, thus automatically freeing rented accommodation for people in difficult circumstances without any great call on more public financial provision. Indeed, to somebody studying our society from scratch it would probably seem quite bizarre that, faced with this problem of housing and homelessness, we pay students more to study away from home than if they took the nearest available course.

I have already said that this is an obsession of mine. Some of your Lordships may have suffered before at my hands. However, in self-expiation perhaps I may establish something of a track record. I recently came across an extract from The Times Higher Education Supplement, which I hasten to add is not my normal reading. On 16th January 1976 there was an article entitled: 'Prefer the home-based student' plea rejected". The article stated that I was a local Member of Parliament and an ex-officio member of Bristol University court, and that at the annual meeting I had endeavoured to get the university to give preference to home-based students in order to alleviate the critical housing problem. Needless to say, my plea was rejected, but in much more polished and formal wording than that which I have used today However, that is one of the benefits of the academic world. I pleaded for this issue to be taken up as long ago as 1976, so I have been riding this particular horse for 14 or 15 years.

The answer is so obvious that I wonder sometimes why we cannot make progress. I have come to the tentative conclusion that as so many of the opinion-formers in society are successful products of the system, it is extremely difficult to get any other kind of thinking looked at.

I shall not weary your Lordships any longer. This is one of the major problems facing society today. There is not a solution to the problem but there is a comparatively straightforward easement of the problem that lies in the hands of the education and university authorities. I hope that my short contribution will have given one more little push towards obtaining some alleviation of the problem.

4.32 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I normally rise to speak in your Lordships' House on the question of housing, particularly at the lower end of the spectrum, and make a plea on its behalf. However, that subject has been adequately covered by my noble friend Lord McIntosh and the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, and therefore I shall not speak to it today.

I should like to spend the time available to me talking about inner city regeneration, not cities across the board. I have said in the past that when we talk about government schemes for regeneration of inner cities, we are in the main talking about redeveloping the city centre, the heart of the city. In my experience the centre of Manchester has never been populated by a great number of people. When I have spoken about the refurbishment of Manchester I have been concerned about the areas on the periphery of the city centre. There is the area from which I take my name, Beswick, and on the other side of the city there is Hulme. Those areas are dying of sclerosis and are not receiving anything like the government funding that the local authority needs in order to refurbish them. Finance for housing, rate support grant and anything else required to reprime those areas and to deal with the deprivation within them have been massively cut over the past 10 or 11 years. The figures prove that.

I should like to talk principally about the imposition of the urban development corporations, the way in which they were spawned by the Government and what they were supposed to do. I was opposed to them when they were introduced. I am not as familiar with London as the areas that I should like to talk about, but in a huge metropolis there may be a case for that kind of body to co-ordinate matters with local authorities.

Having said that, my party is on record as being opposed to the principle of urban development corporations, although reluctantly it came to accept them. I have heard the term "welcome" used, but that is not my view of what happened. Most of them were accepted as being the lesser of two evils. At that time there may well have been a case on paper for those bodies to be instituted because one or two local authorities were not behaving as well as they might be deemed to be behaving in redeveloping their cities. The picture changed very quickly. There was an acceptance that the private sector had to be heavily involved in the redevelopment of inner cities if the job was to be tackled, and that no government, whatever their colour, would be able to find the sums of money that were required from the public purse.

Something appears to have gone wrong. After the last general election success the Prime Minister referred to the fact that the Government would turn their attention to the cities. All I have seen in the areas with which I am concerned is a production of glossy brochures and very little in the way of bricks and mortar. The Government deemed it to be such an important matter that there has been a succession of Ministers dealing with inner cities in the past two or three years, almost as many as there have been in housing— and that would take some catching up.

The Minister presently charged with inner city responsibility has already been designated as the next Secretary of State for Wales, and he took office as the Minister for inner cities only in October or November last year. Nobody becomes an instant genius on any subject, and the fact that the Government have been switching Ministers around is an indication as to their priorities. I think that it is a cosmetic exercise, and that it has been shown to be just that.

The sooner the Government allow partnerships to be developed in the inner cities, the faster matters will proceed, and with more acceptance. There was an occasion when two urban development corporations cut right across major development contracts that were about to be signed by the local authorities and private sector investment companies. I should like to go on record as saying that it has already been proved that local authorities, in partnership with the private sector, can put deals together on a massive scale on the basis of mutual trust.

Are the Government really serious about the redevelopment of inner cities other than London? It is strange that, while the Government are poll tax-capping boroughs just outside the City of London, they seem to find bucketfuls of money to pour into other areas. The figures from the Department of the Environment calculate that £ 400 million plus will be made available in the next few years for development areas, but of that figure £ 359 million is earmarked for the London Docklands. A total of £ 41 million pounds will go to all the other schemes. When calcualted on a multiplier basis that figure is five times more than that for all other urban areas, including that for the Welsh and Scottish Development Agencies. Therefore is it any wonder that there is more than a little cynicism developing, even among the private sector, in cities such as Manchester and Leeds, which are the two cities that I know?

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. There is an organisation in being called the Phoenix initiative. It is not a government organisation but it receives some form of encouragement from the Government. It operates across the country with a tremendous amount of success. Phoenix provide a forum where local government and the private sector and anybody else who is interested can get together and produce schemes that are acceptable to the local population and the business community. A massive scheme has just been agreed in relation to the area where the centre of the city of Manchester meets the centre of the city of Salford at the Irwell near the cathedral. I know that that sounds a little odd.

The scheme has been put together on the basis of being co-ordinated by the Phoenix initiative which will redevelop the whole of that area, including the Irwell. People who are familiar with the area will know that it is time that was done. I have no doubt that the scheme will be a success because local and national finance is involved, as are the local authority, local builders, architects, and so on. There is a tremendous input of interest from local people. It has to be seen in the context of what is happening in the urban development corporation.

I refer briefly to an article in the business section of the Manchester Evening News which is headlined, "Just another big flop?". It states: The urban development corporations, launched after the brutal inner city riots of the early 1980s, were heralded as the new gleaming Thatcherite response to economic development. They were to be a complete break from the supposed woeful incompetence of the local authorities, which with more stringent financial straitjackets, were no longer in a position to influence economic regeneration. The new UDCs— there are now 11, including Trafford Park and Central Manchester— were to be run by hard-headed industrialists and developers devoid of the theoretical cant. But what has happened since then? The article points out that private sector investment is not being attracted. Local authorities were told at the time of the innovation of the UDCs that each £ 1 of government money would attract as much as £ 7 or £ 8 from the private sector. However, in some areas what is happening is that every £ 3 of government money is attracting only £ 1 from the private sector. One cannot claim that to be an outstanding example of an attraction which will keep people involved. I am not waging a political argument because the evidence is coming from wider areas of the community on what is actually taking place.

Mr. Rod Hackney, a man of not unknown capabilities and opinions, says that the UDCs are failing. He is quoted in some of the magazines to which I could refer. The building industry in the private sector holds the view that everything is not as it should be. I am told by the industry that the private sector welcomed the Government's initiative in the early 1980s to regenerate Britain's inner cities, and it is generally accepted that much has been done over the past few years. The industry is of the opinion that there is, however, a general belief that Government policies are too restrictive on both local authorities and the private sector. A general cynicism in the private sector has crept in.

That has arisen because of the situation where, in some cases, urban development corporations have interfered with schemes which, as I have said, are ready to be signed. In some respects it could almost be said that they have been sabotaged.

There are a number of problems within government policies, as the National Audit Office report recently pointed out. I give some of the reasons which should be taken on board. My brief from the industry states: Ministers are publicising the amount of money available for inner city regeneration rather than promoting and marketing the opportunities available to builders and developers. There is a distinct perception in the industry that not all is well with the frequent relaunching of inner city programmes and initiatives. Putting already stretched ministers in charge of city areas does nothing to improve things". On that basis, the system itself is in serious danger of breaking down.

The articles to which I have referred are not Labour Party political publications. They are from the private sector. I have referred to Mr. Rod Hackney. He is referred to in the 27th October issue of Building Design: Hackney told BD that the £ 34 million city grant allocated last year to the 57 'designated' areas was 'simply not enough money' to tackle urban decay in areas outside the urban development corporations". Incidentally, the 57 designated areas do not include the urban development corporations which get all the money. These areas need the money but cannot get it, or can get it in only small amounts.

I give one or two more items from a feature in the same magazine headed "Strange but true". They are: Twenty-eight of the 57 areas eligible for city grant received nothing last year". 'Thirteen London boroughs qualify for city grant. Last year nine got nothing and 75 per cent. of the £ 5–57 million awarded went to one project". Hackney, one of London's poorest boroughs received only £ 70, 000 in city grant last year". That is about enough to build one council house these days, and I should have thought that, by any standards, Hackney, as one of London's poorest boroughs, should receive priority. That is the measure of the Government's priority in putting money where it is needed.

I make my final point on this issue. I am totally convinced that we were right in the first place when we said that the UDCs would not progress as they ought to do if they were imposed on local authorities. All the local authorities of which I am aware are in need of redevelopment in their inner cities and adjoining districts. They know that they have to make agreements with the private sector and private builders. In my opinion it is nonsense to continue with the UDCs in these cities when the good will is present to do it without them. I hope that the Government will make time to rethink their policy and come up with some new answers.

4.47 p.m.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, this is one of the occasions when we can see exactly what are the interests of the party opposite. If we were discussing horse-riding, fox-hunting, salmon fishing, the City or stockbroking, noble Lords on the Government Benches would be here in force. However, because we are debating the problems of the inner cities, they are engaged elsewhere.

First, I thank my noble friend for so splendidly introducing this debate. It is a wide-ranging debate, as he meant it to be. One could have covered all of these problems— social, financial and environmental—but clearly that would be foolish because with so many speakers it is sensible to confine one's speech to a specific aspect.

I should however like to say to the noble Viscount that I am proud to be a citizen of London. I was born in the borough of Fulham and I still live there. Fulham is now to be heavily rate-capped, but I do not know why because the borough does a jolly good job and certainly does not waste its money. One of my grandsons is chairman of the planning committee so I can speak with some family confidence in the matter. It is a borough of which I am extremely proud. I am proud to be a Londoner. I would say that 98 per cent. of the population in any city, or indeed in any small town, consists of people who work hard, who go about their business and pleasure without any need for someone to control them. Sadly, we always have that very small percentage which upsets our standard of life.

This Government judge by results. Everything is calculated according to cost. We heard yesterday that in hospitals everything will be assessed on its cost-effectiveness. How that is to be done, I do not know. Only the hospitals can know. I am not sure that business gives us very good examples. I recall that certain banks have lost £ 4 million of my money in gambling somewhere in the world, so I am not sure that capitalism has much to teach the services of education and health.

But let us leave that subject alone because judgment is made according to results. I wish to ask the Government about crime and what they intend to do about it. In the Queen's Speech there was only one reference to it which states: My Government"— presumably that is a reference to Her Majesty and not to the Prime Minister— will vigorously pursue their policies for reducing crime". However, it was also said: My Government will continue to take action to raise standards in education". [Official Report, 21/11/89; col. 3.] As an ex-teacher, I take issue with the Government on that though that is not the subject today.

I turn now to the current crime situation. Figures were published last week from which we learnt that we have not quite as much crime as other countries. I have never been quite sure what consolation it is for your house to burn down and then to be told that a man's house in the next street, which was larger, was also burnt down. I am dealing with what is happening here. These days the papers are full of what is happening in Lithuania and China, but there is not enough information about what is happening in our own country. There is certainly not any good news about what is happening in our own country, but it is there to be found.

Crime has increased whether the Government like it or not. There is more theft from the person and more theft of property from shops and houses. On my own little estate, we have had six burglaries in about three weeks. On the last occasion two gentlemen—if I may so describe them—smashed a window with a hammer, climbed in, extracted the goods and carried them back out through the broken window. That occurred in a quiet peaceful suburb. A neighbour went to the shops at four o'clock in the afternoon and she was accosted by some people with a knife. They took her handbag. A boy's cycle also was stolen.

These offences may seem trivial. The Government are in the habit of describing them as minor crimes. Noble Lords have heard me say this before, and I say it again: no crime is minor to the person against whom it is committed. If someone breaks into your house and you are not there, that person has despoiled your house. Nothing is minor because there is a victim just as surely as there is an offender. Robberies are a daily occurrence and so are armed robberies. There is vandalism, assaults and criminal damage.

Let us consider the events of last weekend and the hatred and viciousness shown on the faces of those who were flinging things at the police. For heaven's sake, why the police? If missiles are to be flung anywhere, I know where they should have been directed, but they were not. The missiles were thrown at the police who were out there in front. Violent crime is on the increase. There is also vandalism in schools and in hospitals.

What has been done by the Government? It is no use turning to the Opposition, as they often do, and asking what the Labour Party did. I am asking. We are not in power and we do not have the figures which the Government have. Therefore, remembering their promise, I ask what have the Government done? I once employed a very cynical man who said that the best way to run anything was to flood the so-and-so's— that was not the expression he used—with paper. I believe that the Government are very good at that. We have had a number of documents from them and I have in my hands just a few of them. We have had Practical Ways to Crack Crime, which is a beautiful, glossy booklet. We have also received Business and Crime—a Consultation. We now have Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public. These are only three booklets and I could have brought along many more. One of them costs £ 6.50, if any citizen wishes to purchase it.

These booklets are examples of what the Government refer to as "doing something". They advertise on television at great expense, but what are they telling us? The Government are telling us that we have to prevent crime. The onus is back on the citizen. I am not suggesting that we should not do something about crime; but, in the end, you decide the kind of country in which you want to live by the kind of government you receive. If we are to judge Russia or China in that way, then we also have to judge ourselves in a way which allows people to live in harmony and peace. That certainly cannot be done in the inner cities.

I digress here to pay tribute to the police. Nobody really says enough about the marvellous job that they do. If anything goes wrong, it is their fault. It is suggested that in the events of last weekend they provoked people. I love that! According to a judge, a lady who walks down the street and who looks attractive has provoked a man to rape her. That is a very interesting analysis; but that is the way in which matters are moving. It is always the fault of the police. The British always look for a scapegoat. If a football team loses, you sack the manager: if something goes wrong with the Government, you sack the Prime Minister.

Lord Graham of Edmonton


Baroness Phillips

My Lords, there is no doubt that we are always looking for scapegoats, so we pick on the police. I pay tribute to them. We are jolly lucky to get police, ambulance drivers or firemen at the kind of rates of pay for which we expect them to work. I like gratitude, but you cannot eat it. There needs to be some kind of tangible example for gratitude. Crime Concern was created by the Government as a means for preventing crime. They poured a lot of money into the scheme, and a great deal of money was obtained from business. Two marvellous jobs were found for two Tory MPs, and that is fair enough. It is a very good rule that when you are in power you look after your friends and when the other lot are in they should look after their friends. However, we are not quite as good at that as the Government.

What has Crime Concern done? A great deal of money went into NACRO which was marvellous. One of the ideas was that if you gave ex-convicts the chance to go horseriding and yachting they would not offend again. I know many good young people who work hard and earn their money; but no one is ever going to pay for them to go horseriding. We make no attempt to prevent crime.

I was delighted to hear the right reverend Prelate say that we leave our young people vulnerable to all the kinds of problems that they will encounter. In my borough there are 75, 000 people, but there is only one swimming pool. As a teacher you encourage children to do all kinds of things; but when they leave school there are no facilities for them. Can we blame them therefore if they get into all kinds of mischief? Can we blame them if they rush into our football grounds in an ill-behaved way?

We have to return to the subject of crime prevention. Every citizen, whether he or she lives in a city or a small town, must be able to go about his or her business and pleasure without hindrance. It is a very simple proposition. I say to the right reverend Prelate that I still believe that Our Lord came to fight the evils of His time. That is what we should be doing. We are all concerned with these matters, but we want a practical lead from this Government. Let us crack crime in the inner cities; but let us do it with real leadership from the people who have the money and the facilities. We want their backing.

4.58 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, we should all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for introducing this very important subject this afternoon and for giving us the opportunity to debate it. In spending a good deal of time on the subject of housing, he was targeting well an important aspect of the subject. I am not going to talk about housing except to say that in the borough of which I have some knowledge, the problem is not so much a total lack of housing as a mismatch between the housing needs and the housing supply. Nearly all the accommodation consists of one- or two-bedroomed flats and houses. However, the character of the borough has changed and larger families have moved in, which is leading to appalling problems such as brothers and sisters having to sleep together long beyond the age when they should. I believe that this is one of the causes of child abuse and other problems which are occurring in some of the inner areas of London.

I cannot join with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in his swingeing criticism of government policies. There are a number of things going wrong which need a certain measure of refinement or fine tuning. I have said before in the House that I support the concept of targeting. The essence of targeting is that one must hit the target. There is increasing evidence that at present some of the targets are being seriously missed. I say at once that my information relates to only one group of London boroughs. It is not a Labour controlled group. I admit at once that one swallow does not make a summer and that I may be wrong.

There are three points of government policy to which I shall draw attention initially. The first concerns the policy of "go home to the family". I entirely approve of this policy being applied to young people wherever possible. But it does not work if there is no family for them to go home to. To some extent this consideration has been left out of the Government's reflection on the matter. The noble Lords, Lord Mancroft and Lord Cocks, referred to the wider community. There must also be a wider community for the young person to go back to.

My second point concerns the increased pressure on social services departments which seem not to have sufficient resources, in some of the inner city boroughs anyway, to cope with the enormous problems facing them. My third point concerns the Government's approach to the problems of the more deprived members of the community. Sometimes they may not give sufficient consideration to the people who are not able to cope with the system. We live today in an extremely complex society and there are people who just cannot cope.

In the context of those three thoughts perhaps I may quote one real life example. I shall change the child's name and call her Marie. She was badly beaten by her stepmother on her 16th birthday. A supervision order had been made on her when she was 11. No social worker had been allocated at any time during the intervening five years, presumably because of a shortage of resources, so she did not have the very minimum of support she needed. She was beaten by her stepmother, turned out of the house and left homeless. She tried to place herself in care. This was strongly resisted by social services because of the cost of putting her in a children's home. As a result of pressure from a voluntary organisation, social services eventually agreed to put her into care in a children's home, where she now is. She cannot go back to the family. She has not yet established herself adequately. She is not sufficiently grown up to cope with her life. Only last week she was badly mugged and had to be hospitalised. She is now under pressure from social services to move into a flat because it is less costly. The cost comes off the social services budget and goes on to the housing budget.

I fully accept that every case is different but this example illustrates the pressures under which the system is working. I refer in particular to the pressure, which I think is frightening, to get these young people into flats when they clearly need adult support in their lives for a further year or two.

More and more problems are having to be picked up by voluntary agencies which happen to be on the spot. This applies even to those whose job is quite different from the job of giving basic support. The organisation with which I have the privilege to be connected is concerned with giving country holidays to children. To an increasing extent, social workers, who themselves are frustrated and hurt by their inability to help their clients, are turning to the charities for help.

I suggest that the cost of supporting these young people until they are old enough properly to care for themselves is minimal compared with the cost of the health service, which we debated yesterday, and compared with the cost of the prison service, which we shall doubtless be debating shortly. Prevention in this case is not only better than cure, but almost certainly very much cheaper.

My next point concerns the Social Fund. The feeling coming through to us is that the Social Fund does not have adequate resources to cope with the needs of the inner cities and that loans are not really a solution. Most of those whose need is greatest do not qualify for loans because they are already deeply in debt. To an increasing extent charities are receiving appeals for financial help from people who have been turned down by the Social Fund. Indeed, social workers themselves are coming forward with cases. The charity with which I am connected has received more than 100 applications in the past six months for help with such basics as beds, bedding, clothing and even food, and above all for help with the repayment of debts: debts to utilities, rent arrears, debts to the back street money lenders, often against a background of threats to "send the lads round" to break the debtor's arm if he does not pay, and, worst of all, debts to catalogue companies which prey upon disadvantaged people.

Perhaps I may give the House an example which came in this morning. It is an application from a social worker on behalf of a single mother with four children aged seven and five and two year-old twins. The husband had left. She has a history of depression and is in a desperate housing situation. She has a two-bedroom flat which has been infested with cockroaches for the past four years. The children play with the cockroaches. Her friends have deserted her. There are not enough beds for the children. The children are becoming disturbed. She has a problem with the gas supply which she does not have enough money to put right. This is an application from a social worker to a charity connected with giving holidays. The social worker seeks a grant of £ 500 for household items to assist this lady who is keen to address her problems.

I shall quote one further case which occurred a little over a year ago. It is particularly harrowing. It concerns a mother who was so desperate to repay a moneylender that, having come to the charity and not having been able to raise enough, went home, locked her two children in the house and went on to the streets to prostitute herself for two days. She came back with an envelope containing £ 200 in greasy notes. She gave it to the leader of the charity concerned and asked him to pay off the debt.

I am not proposing solutions. I am asking for a little more help for the voluntary sector. I hope that your Lordships will not have minded my bringing these problems before you.

5.7 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I intend to address myself to only one issue. It concerns both the environmental and social problems of the city. It was introduced by my noble friend Lord McIntosh and dealt with at some further length by my noble friend Lord Pitt. The problem of traffic and its bearing on the environmental and social problems of our cities is universal. Of course it is worse in London than elsewhere because London is a bigger city. My noble friends spoke from different experiences in different parts of the country. I am speaking about all cities in the country although noble Lords will recognise that the problem especially attacks the health of the population of London.

It was no exaggeration when my noble friend Lord Pitt said that traffic in London is grinding to a halt. It is doing more than that. It is becoming so congested that it is directly and progressively reducing the mobility of people. It is becoming claustrophobic. Yet according to the Government there are now preparations for a very substantial increase in the number of private cars which will be owned by the population of this country. I believe the estimate is that the figure will double by the end of the century. Why is this happening, and why is it being allowed to happen? I do not think that I need to go into the social effects because we all experience them on a daily basis. However, it is not an accident; it is at least partially due to government policy.

The Government prepared a road programme which was to cost £ 12 billion. However, part of it has now been dropped, largely because of public protest. An expansion of roads means an inevitable expansion of traffic. Therefore, this was a plan— and what remains of it is still a plan— which would widen roads but also have the inevitable consequence of increasing the traffic. In other words, it would increase the use of those roads and the number of vehicles using them.

At the same time, as my noble friend pointed out, the Government are starving public transport. They are starving the expansion in public transport which alone could provide mobility without increasing the use of cars. The cuts in subsidies to British Rail have shown this to be true. So far as concerns public transport, it is being starved right across the board. I do not want the Government to give me the old story of how much more they are now spending than they did 10 years ago. The costs and the demands have increased and, as in the health service, there must be an increase in provision to keep pace with that.

I have said before in this House, although it has always been denied by the Government, that there appears to be a complete contradiction between the policies of the Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment. On the one hand, the Department of Transport is planning and encouraging the increasing use of private and company cars and road freight, whereas, on the other, the Department of the Environment is, at least in words, committed to the reduction of the emissions which the use of such vehicles inevitably produce.

I believe, and no doubt the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, that the Government are forecasting and providing for a 140 per cent. increase in the emission of carbon dioxide over the next 15 years. Why is that happening? It is not only because of the foolishness and perhaps the ignorance or ideology of Ministers; there is something more behind this policy.

I should like the Minister to answer this question, based upon advice which Ministers are being given today to form government policy. The Government boast that they have just appointed an officer to look after the needs of cyclists; indeed, they have been preening themselves on the fact. There are 15, 000 civil servants engaged in projects related to roads, yet— and this is the third figure— there are under 1, 000 civil and local government servants engaged in issues relating to public transport. As regards the advice which the Government and Ministers are receiving, does that contrast in figures not suggest— this goes back to "Yes, Minister"— that that is where the emphasis of their policy originates from? I have no respect for Ministers who just accept the situation. The figures show just where the emphasis is among the advisers who provide the material upon which government policy is based. Until those figures are brought more into line with each other I fear that, whoever the Minister is, the same kind of conclusions will be drawn.

I do not wish to make this a purely negative speech. I, therefore, have some suggestions to make. As my noble friend Lady Phillips said, it is not our responsibility, and nor is it in our power, to lay down policy. Until we get into office we do not have sufficient facts or the mass of advice which any government have; but we can make suggestions, and I should like the Minister to respond to them.

First, do the Government agree on the basis of my argument so far that it is important both environmentally and socially for the people who are living in our cities that greater emphasis should be placed upon supporting public transport through the bus services and the Underground? I hope that the Minister will not say that London Underground is always overcrowded. It is not. Indeed, there are many times of the day when it is not overcrowded. I suggest to him that it could be within the wit of Ministers to find the means of improving the facilities on the Underground and on the buses.

Secondly, I suggest that there should be a deliberate attempt to reduce the number of private cars allowed into city centres, especially into central London. One way of achieving that— and there should be many ways in which it could be worked out within ministries— would be to place a levy on drivers using private cars in the centre of cities. I am thinking particularly of central London.

Of course I recognise that the danger of such a measure is that it would penalise the poorer people and enable many of the rich, with their large cars, to occupy the roads. Therefore, in order to avoid what would be a socially inequitable situation, I suggest that the ministry should try to find out whether it is possible to base the levy on the size of the car. I leave it to the ministry to decide whether the levy should be in respect of the size of the engine or the size of the saloon. I am simply making suggestions from a position outside government in the hope that they will look into them and use the resources that they have, which we do not have, to work out some rational answers to these problems.

Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, why do the Government not seriously contemplate the installation of continuous bus lanes which can be used only by buses? There could be bus actuated signals so that they could travel more speedily and with fewer hold ups. It has been done elsewhere. I should like the Minister to respond and say whether this is being seriously considered in the Department of Transport and whether the Government are prepared at least to make some effort to try it.

Fourthly, a point which we have raised before is that the taxing of company cars at the full rate would play a part in the reduction of the number of vehicles on the roads. Fifthly, not just a substantial but a huge increase in the fines for illegal parking, plus restricting the times of loading and unloading for heavy vehicles in London— my noble friend Lord McIntosh is better equipped to put the point than I— as I believe the GLC did at one time. Unless that is done, anybody who drives round London, Manchester, Glasgow or any city in the country knows that there will be blockages. Literally hundreds of cars will be held up by one parked vehicle. Fines for illegal parking, plus restrictions on times for loading and unloading, are essential if we are to keep the traffic which we allow into our cities moving at a reasonable pace.

The Government may say, "But this would be very unpopular". I have news for them. The Association of London Authorities recently took a poll on what Londoners think about the use of private cars in their city. Nearly two-thirds of those polled expressed a desire to see more restrictions on private cars in the City area. Therefore it would be popular. The Government would be listening to the people who are concerned. It would enable the Government to put into practice what every environmentalist and everyone concerned with the social life of the citizens of our cities immediately recognise as essential for the quality of their lives. In short, we are entitled to ask the Government for a transport policy— not a road or rail policy— which is based on the environmental and social needs of the citizens of our cities.

5.24 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on the timing of his debate and on the way in which he has introduced it. I wish to make two comments about his opening remarks. There is a different interpretation of the absence of government Back-Benchers in this debate. It seems to me quite likely that there are not enough of them willing to support the Government's policies who are prepared to stand up in the Chamber and say so.

The second comment I wish to make on my noble friend's opening remarks concerns his generalisation about the sharp division between the rich and the poor. I have to say to him that this is not confined to the cities. Our debate this afternoon is confined to the cities; therefore I cannot say too much about it. However, rural deprivation and rural poverty are real. Quite often its effects are even greater on individuals in rural areas than in the cities.

I have two main environmental problems about which I wish to talk. One of them has been covered in some detail by other speakers. My noble friends Lord McIntosh and Lord Pitt and, more recently, Lord Hatch have all talked about traffic problems. Nevertheless, I wish to emphasise one or two of the points that they have made.

As we have gathered, our road systems are already overloaded by motorists who do not have access to a co-ordinated transport policy. My noble friend Lord Hatch made that point clearly. There are alternatives— buses and trains. However, there is no co-ordination. It is not quite so noticeable in London because the choices here are greater. But in any suburban city if one tries to make a journey by public transport that involves the use of both buses and trains, one is in real trouble. The journey will take several times what it would take if one went by car. This is at the root of many problems.

I wish to make one other suggestion. My noble friend Lord Hatch has drawn attention to poor traffic management, and I agree with him. I spent a considerable time as chairman of a traffic committee. The problems now seem to me to be much the same as they were then. The solutions that we found to some of our problems in Cambridge could well be applied elsewhere. This is one that we did not apply. The noble Lord asked why large commercial vehicles should be allowed to unload at rush hours. I agree with him.

I travelled by coach last week during the end of the morning rush hour. For much of the journey between the Palace of Westminster and the M4, moving traffic was restricted to one line because of the operations of delivery vehicles. Controlled delivery times are known to work in those areas where they have been applied. Why should they not become the normal way of easing rush hour congestion? It is perfectly possible to arrange for commercial deliveries to be made before 8 a.m. and after 9.30 a.m. That has been done, it adds a cost, but is that cost any greater than what we now pay in the loss of time of motorists held up on the way and of other drivers?

Traffic jams not only cause these frustrating and expensive delays, they also make a major contribution to the greenhouse effect. They add to the noise and pollution endured by city dwellers. There are other traffic management measures which could be used with little financial cost and much benefit to the environment. There is no need for the grandiose road schemes which can only make the quality of city life even worse.

It is not realistic to say that we shall prevent people from using their cars in a free country. We used to say that if ever petrol costs 10 shillings a gallon, people would cease to use their cars. It has cost £ 2 a gallon since last Monday. Still the roads are congested. It is not realistic to say that we can price the motorist off the road.

I walked along Victoria Street yesterday when it was closed to traffic for the visit of a head of state. I found myself looking at the buildings and the people instead of hurrying along with bent head, crushed by the noise and fumes. What a dreadfully low standard of life we have come to accept as normal in this city!

Most of our cities are filthy. I now come to the second of my main environmental points. To add to the chaos of litter, about which we have heard so much and which is bad enough in itself with its complement of greasy, fast food containers, plastic bags, cans and cigarette leavings, there is the growing menace of fouling by dogs. There is no problem from responsibly owned dogs whose owners obey the laws and by-laws. However, these are becoming a minority, outnumbered by those who acquire dogs as status symbols or as playthings for their children. These unfortunate animals are often allowed to roam uncontrolled and they are certainly untrained. They end up as strays and are put down in their thousands by the RSPCA. Many of our residential streets are nothing short of disgusting. It is clear that much stronger action is needed to control this nuisance.

In August 1989 the Department of the Environment launched a consultation paper entitled Action for Dogs. The press release issued by the Department of the Environment stated that the paper proposed: A new duty on local authorities in England and Wales to pick up, hold and if necessary destroy stray dogs; … a clarified duty on local authorities to enforce the existing requirement for dogs to wear a collar and identification tag in public. The Government will review local authority powers— to make byelaws and orders relating to dog fouling, dog bans in certain public places and requirements to hold dogs on leads … local authorities will have to keep the streets clear of dog mess". The document continues in a similar vein. That is all very admirable, but nowhere in that paper, or since, has there been any suggestion of from where the money that is needed to meet these new measures is to come. It is not realistic to expect hard pressed local authorities to divert funds from even more pressing matters to deal with this worry.

The Government refuse to employ the most effective tool of all which is a realistic licensing or registration scheme. A clause enabling the Government to introduce such a scheme was added to the Local Government Act 1988 by a majority in this House. However, the Government have specifically announced that they will not implement that clause. Registration has the backing of many responsible bodies that are concerned with public health and animal welfare. It could provide much of the finance for realistic law enforcement and would greatly simplify the task of local authorities in tracing dog owners when required. When introducing her Dangerous Dogs Bill in July of last year a Conservative Member of another place said: Whilst the Bill I am sponsoring is a useful addition to the law relating to dangerous dogs, I am still firmly of the view that a dog registration scheme is essential in order to enforce"—

Noble Lords


Baroness Nicol

My Lords, what is the matter?

Noble Lords

You should be paraphrasing not quoting!

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I beg the pardon of the House. Among the points made by the Conservative Member who introduced that Bill was the fact that while the Bill that she was sponsoring was a useful addition to the law relating to dangerous dogs, she still firmly held the view that a dog registration scheme was essential in order to enforce not only the existing laws but also the Bill to which she was speaking. I hope that that presentation is acceptable to noble Lords.

A useful example of a licensing scheme exists in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has, by any measure, achieved success with its animal licence fee. The Northern Ireland dogs order became effective in December 1983. The order is flexible enough to allow reduced licence fees for old-age pensioners. The standard fee is currently £ 5 a year. It is collected by the Department of Agriculture which maintains a dog fund to cover the administration costs and to assist with the provision of dog wardens for district councils. All district councils must have dog pounds and run dog warden schemes. The officers, who have various powers of entry, may require the production of dog licences for examination. They may also seize stray and injured dogs.

Since the order was introduced in 1983, licence applications have more than doubled. The greatest request for licences occurred in the first year following the introduction of the order. Collection has been aided by the imposition of a maximum fine of £ 200 for owning a dog without a licence. The number of strays impounded, together with both the number of penalties imposed for allowing dogs to stray and the prosecutions for livestock worrying, peaked in 1985 and are now declining.

The Northern Ireland dogs order appears to be a resounding success. The licence is not an aid in itself, but it provides the funds for dog wardens and is the foundation of a system of regulations and enforcement for dogs which has improved dog welfare and has minimised problems caused by dogs in society. It has also cost ratepayers very little. If such a scheme can work in Northern Ireland, why could it not work in England and Wales? No one disputes the need to reduce this dangerous and unpleasant nuisance. I make no apology for talking at length about it. Although this may not seem an important item in relation to the philosophical discussions we had earlier, it is something which is an everyday nuisance to those of us who live and move in cities and towns.

If a little common sense were applied to the transport system, it could bring great benefits. Likewise the tried and tested system in Northern Ireland could bring great benefits, if applied here, in removing the nuisance caused by dogs. If both of those areas were tackled, the quality of urban life would be improved beyond measure. I hope the Government can be persuaded to introduce the solutions to these problems as they have them to hand.

5.35 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, I speak in this debate as a citizen of Manchester and as a proud Labour councillor for the Brooklands ward in the town of Wythenshawe in the city of Manchester. I am angry at the way this Government have treated my fellow citizens in Manchester. Not only has Manchester been deprived of rate support grant over the past 10 years, but we now also have the imposition of the terrible poll tax. Not content with depriving the city council of about £ 90 million of business rate— that incidentally has not benefited businesses because of the transitional arrangements for the introduction of the national business rate— the Government are also forcing every citizen of Manchester to pay £ 71 to a government fund which the Government then disburse to Tory authorities such as Wandsworth and Westminster to maintain low poll taxes in those areas.

Not content with reducing wages and social security payments, the Government have also cut child benefit. However, apart from the financial attacks that we citizens have had to face from this Government, they have also interfered with our democracy in that they have interfered with our ability to control our own affairs in the city of Manchester. I shall give the House an example of that. A few years ago a Tory education Minister had the temerity to pick out three schools which we could not touch in our reorganisation of secondary education. He said we could not touch them because they were schools of proven worth. Every school in Manchester is of proven worth. We are very proud of our education system. Unfortunately that interference resulted in the death of a pupil in a stabbing incident in the playground in one of the schools. I personally shall never forgive that Minister for intervening in that way.

I am very angry at the way the health service is run in south Manchester generally by government placemen. In south Manchester two district general hospitals serve two distinct communities. The Government placemen have produced a plan which effectively would destroy both of those hospitals. I suspect that that plan has even embarrassed the Government by its pure ineptitude.

I am also angry at the lack of housing provision that we can make as a result of government policy, and at our inability to resolve the problems of three households living in one dwelling. That situation forces young couples to live apart. The wife lives with her baby at her parents' home in an overcrowded situation while the husband lives with his parents in a similar situation. The housing situation forces disabled old ladies to live in their homes, albeit with the support and help of neighbours and friends, when they should be in sheltered accommodation. Last night I was discussing the housing problems in Manchester and I heard of a situation where a terraced house is being let for £ 100 a week. Apparently that house is worth about £ 16, 000. The rent is. four times the cost of mortgage repayments. However, the people who are forced into that market cannot get a mortgage from a building society.

I am angry at the way in which the loan sharks on the estates can charge 1000 per cent. interest to people who cannot get money from a social fund because it is inadequate and who are living in poverty due to the inequities of the social security system. I am angry that the children in one of our local schools— in my own ward— have to go out into the elements every time they go to the toilet. I thought that outside toilets were a relic of Tory-controlled county councils. That school is one of the few schools in Manchester in which we have not been able to enclose the verandahs because we have run out of money. Because of the introduction of the poll tax this year we are only now able to find the money to finish the schemes that we started last year. We have no money to spend on new schemes. Work at that school was one of the schemes to have been started this year.

I am angry that because of the introduction of the poll tax we are having to close swimming pools. They also are part of the programme of modernisation but we know that the money is not there. We cannot continue to subsidise the poor conditions. I am angry that we shall have to close a college of further education in my ward because the brunt of the education cuts is being taken by the post-16 sector. We have insisted on maintaining the good level of provision for the primary and secondary sectors.

That is a legal requirement, but we are happy to do it. We believe that it is important to maintain our high provision for nursery education.

I turn now to some aspects of the environment. When one walks down the street and sees unkempt gardens and overgrown hedges one thinks that surely the people living there could cut the grass and trim the hedges. Then one realises that people may spend all their waking hours trying to cope with life. They may be living on minimum social security benefits and struggling to obtain their entitlements. They struggle to find the cheapest sources of food and clothing for their kids. They are totally worn out coping with inadequate and expensive public transport. They cannot afford the bus fare so they have to walk everywhere. That is exhausting. The mere process of life is exhausting. They do not have money and probably cannot afford a lawn mower, far less find the energy to push it to cut the grass.

Those problems are magnified when applied to the local authority. I went round one of our housing estates the day before yesterday. It was like a bomb site. Blocks of flats surround a courtyard of grass. Most of the flats are derelict because the council does not have the resources to do them up. We do not even have the resources to cut the grass in the middle of the courtyard. It is an overgrown jungle. It is diabolical. However, it is of more concern that people have a roof over their heads than that they cut the grass, keen as we are to improve the look of the area and introduce environment-friendly policies. Yes, we shall support the urban forest project, but so long as the Government contribute financial resources to enable us to do so.

As well as being angry I am proud that in the years of lack of government support the people of Manchester have dug deep into their pockets year after year to pay increased rate bills to help fund the provision of local services. I am proud that Manchester's provision in the nursery sector is among the best in the country. I am proud of the high standards of primary and secondary education. I am proud that the Labour policy in Manchester over the past few years has enabled a vast improvement in accessibility to council buildings for the physically disabled. I believe that now the city of Manchester is one of the most accessible for physically disabled people.

I am proud of the high standard of library services, the support for theatres and galleries. I am also proud of the support that we give to equal opportunities policies. They not only counteract discrimination in employment. To be honest, that occurs in our own establishment and we have had to develop policies to ensure that we do not discriminate against disabled people, women and the black community. We also have policies to counteract discrimination in society as a whole against the gay and lesbian community, the black community and immigrants.

I am proud that we have worked with the private sector to redevelop our inner city areas. We are all proud that Manchester is the British Olympic bid hope for the next few years.

It is not only Manchester that faces problems in the inner city. Those problems occur in every city in Britain. I believe that most of the problems faced by our citizens could be resolved by an improvement in democracy. By that I mean the ability of people to control their destinies. I am thinking particularly of the citizens of a city working together collectively to resolve their own problems. We can see that democracy is denied. First, there is financial denial. The Government's insistence on taxation policies that are regressive effectively increases taxation of the poor and transfers money to the rich by tax concessions. The imposition of the latest example, the poll tax, means that in Manchester— where services are having to be cut and people are being made redundant so that nothing is being improved— 77 per cent. of the citizens will be worse off than they were under the rating system.

Apart from those financial limitations our elected representatives have lost the power to control events on behalf of their fellow citizens. In 1985 we lost the metropolitan counties. Effective democratic control over transport, waste disposal, and the police was lost. Our control over the police was minimal at best but we have lost most of what control we had. Following recent Acts of Parliament put forward by this Government, we are losing control of education, housing and our ability to make changes to social service provision which will be hemmed about by Government restrictions. Those powers have either gone to unelected people operating locally or to central government.

Our cities need the return of powers taken from them. They need more money from the central taxation pot of government to be returned to them. Above all we need the abolition of the poll tax. Not only does it create financial hardship for a very large number of our citizens; it continues the creation of the under-class of the dispossessed, the people who have no stake in our society. That does the future of our cities and the well-being of the citizens who live in them no good.

5.50 p.m.

Lord Broadbridge

My Lords, the terms of this afternoon's debate are widely drawn, embracing social, financial and environmental problems. To analyse all of those is rather like peeling an onion, revealing successive layers as our debate proceeds. Our debate was started in excellent fashion by the noble Lord McIntosh. My layer of the onion is solely the environmental one and a segment of that; namely, traffic and transport in greater London, a subject which has already motivated several speakers.

There is now no elected transport body for greater London. The present situation is that that function is effectivly handled directly by the Secretary of State. Whatever its failings— and they were many— a principal function of the old GLC— (against whose peremptory abolition I called a Division on Amendment No. 2 at the Committee stage of the Bill) was to act as an overall creator, arbiter and co-ordinator of traffic and transport in greater London.

We now have a vacuum between the 32 greater London boroughs, plus the City, and the man at the top. His present situation is perhaps reminiscent of my first job in the vast combine, Unilever, when one of the directors, asking my opinion on something, complained that he was isolated at the centre— seemingly a paradox, but a real predicament in large organisations and an analogous position to that of the Secretary of State now.

I suggest that an elected transport body would be vastly more in touch with local councils and, through them, with the electors. The latter cannot always be expected to know what is good for them, but they are, after all, largely the people in whose interests traffic and transport policy is directed.

For example, it was obvious ages ago that the electors intended to mount the most concerted objections to the very principle behind the London road assessment studies, whose aim was to produce plans to build many more roads, whatever detailed proposals eventually emerged. Effectively, by analogy, the Secretary of State as managing director of London Traffic and Transport Limited has reportedly spent £ 8–5 million of his shareholders' money on a project which, if he had first put it in principle to an annual general meeting, would have been voted out.

If that is not believed, perhaps I may say that a large proportion of the residents in my borough put up window posters saying "No to the roads". I even went to a theatrical performance at the Tower Theatre, Canonbury, to raise funds for opposition, which emphasises the breadth and determination of the opposition to substantially more roads which simple generate more traffic. My point is that it was obvious that Londoners would not stand for extensive new roads even before the assessment study was started. It never should have been started.

I am not trying to make a political point against the Government, but to say that we must fill the vacuum between the Secretary of State and the disparate and widely diverse and competing interests of 32 boroughs and the City and their residents. As with one definition of a committee, those town halls now decide individually to do nothing and corporately that nothing can be done.

I warmly congratulate Her Majesty's Government on deciding last week to shift the emphasis towards public transport, but that is not the point. Five precious years have been wasted producing plans whose very terms of reference are invalid. As for the new proposals, many people think that the proposed traffic director will fill the vacuum of which I have spoken, but my understanding is that his remit is to deliberate only on a priority route system— the so-called red routes, the pilot scheme for which incidentally passes within 50 yards of my front door at the Angel. That individual will not conceive, recommend and implement an overall transport and traffic policy for greater London.

As a commentator said last week, slightly unfairly and inaccurately: A few new roundabouts and high priority red routes do not amount to a transport strategy and that is what is needed". Our present policy is what I call an Elastoplast policy, reacting only wherever there is trouble or difficulty, as evidenced by the dramatic events of last week. London, one of the great cities of the world and soon to be linked through Eurotunnel with the rest of Europe, deserves better. Her Majesty's Government should— dare I say, must— consider an elected, supervisory body for London.

5.55 p.m.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I too should like to join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey on initiating this debate. At the tail end of a debate it is inevitable that I have had to throw away bits and pieces and replace them with other bits and pieces.

It is sometimes a good idea to consider the effects of the legislation that we trundle through Parliament. It is all very well to look at the glossy reports and papers that come to us from time to time, but now and again we must stop to consider the effects. In today's debate we are talking about the effects on the people who are on the receiving end of what happens in this place.

I want to start with the financial regime in the recent Local Government and Housing Act as it affects council housing, which will in turn affect millions of citizens throughout the country. Like other speakers, I am more aware of and concerned about the situation in London. The aim of the financial regime of that piece of legislation is to force up council rents so that the pattern across the country resembles the pattern of house prices. It is argued that, if house prices in London are three times higher than in Lancashire, council rents should be three times higher. The aim is also to give tenants the extra incentive, if that is the right word, to consider transfer to other landlords or to opt for the right to buy.

The Government have been angry at the response to their proposals to implement the policy of alternative landlords in boroughs and to sell off huge blocks of council flats. Tenants have resisted that move and the Government's anger has now resulted in the move to push up rents. According to the Department of the Environment, the rents for 1990–91 have been damped. That is one of the latest phrases. Rents are not capped; they are damped. It has been assumed that the maximum amount by which rents will rise is £ 4.50 a week. That is a great deal of money to people who have to struggle for every pound. That is the figure to which most London boroughs have kept. The Government withdrew the subsidy to compensate for that increase before rents were increased. For most authorities that is a massive increase.

My borough of Camden is the borough most quoted by noble Lords who want to say something against the Labour Party. The borough has had to increase its rents by 20 per cent., which is a huge increase at this time. Although most Labour local authorities have decided to keep to the guidelines suggested by the Government, no publicity has been given to the fact that conservative authorities have not kept to them. There are many examples of Conservative authorities which have taken the opportunity to increase rents dramatically. I need only mention two such authorities which are not in London; namely, Redbridge and Canterbury. The average rent for Redbridge in 1989–90 was £ 35.63.

The DoE guidelines for the increase in Redbridge were 95p; the actual rent increase is £ 15.64. The tenants in Redbridge face an increase of 44 per cent. on the existing rent. The other authority is Canterbury, where there is an average rent of £ 22.88. The DoE recommended guideline is for an increase of £ 1.92; the actual increase is £ 12.29, which is an increase of 54 per cent.

There are many other authorities in the same category. However, there has been no publicity about such rents; nor is there any threat to cap rents in Tory boroughs where they have extended the increase far beyond what even their own party's government suggested would be a reasonable rent. The effects of those rents have to be considered together with all the other increases that have been mentioned: cuts in subsidies, cuts in social security benefits, increases in mortgage costs, water, rates, electricity, gas and heating charges— the list is very long. There are also bus fares, tube fares and train fares to pay if one is lucky enough to have a job. They have all contributed to the quite apparent increase in the levels of poverty and hardship.

The right reverend Prelate mentioned an increase in multiple debt in the inner cities. It is there for all to see if one takes the trouble to do so. The added burden placed on local authorities and voluntary organisations which attempt to pick up the casualties is a task far beyond the resources that they are given. The situation is grim for the ordinary inhabitants of our inner cities.

The subject of homelessness has been fairly adequately covered by my noble friend Lord Pitt and therefore it would be a waste of time for me to speak on it. There have been a number of excellent reports on the subject. They have covered the academic side. What is needed now is action on the reports, and that is the point at which one comes up against the Government.

Recently I read the latest report from the Rowntree Trust, a new report on homelessness from the AMA, the Government's own review of homelessness legislation and an excellent special edition of the Correspondent Sunday supplement entitled "Ignored— Britain's Poor and Huddled Masses", on the very first page of which appears: The breakup of a marriage or loss of a parent are two of the commonest causes of homelessness. There are men from service backgrounds, without roots in civilian life, women whose husbands have left them without support, children who have come out of care with nowhere to go. The Government prefers to lump them together as one huge statistic, but every one has his own story". I could not agree more. That is my experience of the homelessness situation in London.

I should like to make two immediate suggestions which I beg the Government to take on board. First, I beg them to listen to the people who know. It is absent from every facet of this Government's policy. The wide open fact is that they do not listen. I beg them to listen to people who understand the situation of those who sleep in cardboard boxes and the homeless. I urge them to accept one recommendation made by the AMA; namely, that local authorities should be given powers to take over empty properties rapidly for use as temporary accommodation for homeless people.

Many weasel words have been spoken about empty properties, but what powers are the Government prepared to give to local authorities or voluntary organisations to take over such properties? I have figures from 1st April 1988 which give the total number of vacant properties throughout the country as 709, 600. Of those, only 102, 900 are local authority properties. There are 579, 500 private properties lying empty, many of which are boarded up or sealed with corrugated iron. An urgent attempt is needed to get those houses occupied. One must be seen to be concerned practically in the problems of the homeless.

I am left with a few minutes to talk about the poll tax, which is the inevitable outcome of all the Government's failed policies. They now have to look around for something else. I say with no fear of contradiction that there was no mass campaign in the constituencies with which I am familiar (nor so far as I know in any others) for the abolition of rates. There was always grumbling about the rates. It came mainly from the business community. However, there was no mass campaign. There was no agreement even within the Conservative Party on a number of occasions when alternatives to the rates were debated. Always one came back with attempts to improve the rating system and there was certainly room for improvement. But no one envisaged that one would go back to the situation in 1377, 1378, 1379 and 1381 and try to introduce a poll tax.

The example which I give to make that point easily understood by everyone is that of two politically opposed boroughs: Camden and Westminster. They are two boroughs which are quite close to each other. We all know them. They each have a different approach to the poll tax. First, one has to understand the Government's estimate of the spending need of each of those two boroughs. The standard spending assessment is the basis of all the calculations. For Camden it is £ 151 million; for Westminster it is £ 172 million. That has not been arrived at by carefully totting up the spending needs of either council service by service, such as libraries, street sweeping, social work and so on. There is no figure at all for homelessness, although Camden will spend £ 8 million next year on the homeless. A crude set of indicators was used which was devised for whole blocks of services. There is no way to take account of the precise position of an individual authority in terms of either its needs or its opportunities.

It can easily be shown that Camden is one of the most deprived boroughs— apart from Hackney and Islington. It is certainly more deprived than Westminster. It ought at least to have been given the same treatment as Westminster and certainly not come below Westminster in the Government's standard spending assessment. There are a number of differences to which I could point but I am trying to be quick and jump over them. For the two service blocks called "Other services— district and county level", Westminster receives £ 21 million more than Camden, which is the equivalent of £ 160 per head on the poll tax. The reason is that the SSA is calculated on an enhanced population which allows for the influx of workers and visitors who do not live in the borough. The figure is calculated on the 1981 census. How up-to-date is that census for Camden, which has an almost annually shifting population? It is totally out of order to base the figure on that census.

Leaving that point, I next look at the opportunities which some councils have and others do not. Westminster makes a profit of over £ 30 million a year from West End car parking solely because of the location of London's shopping and entertainment centres. No other council has that facility. From that, it uses about £ 15 million to £ 20 million to run other services. That accounts for another £ 130 off the poll tax.

Let me go through the other points. Westminster has never been rate-capped as has Camden, so it has been able to take some of the reserves which it has been able to build up to use this year— an election year— in order to reduce the poll tax. The Government came to its assistance even further by taking away the burden of financing the English National Opera, to which Westminster used to pay £ 2 million. The Government have now taken that burden from Westminster and that makes another £ 15 of the poll tax. One begins to see, if one adds up all these things, why the Westminster poll tax should in reality be £ 500. Now that Camden has been rate capped— poll tax capped, subsidies capped and all the other caps one can think of, plus dampers— its poll tax is £ 500. That is an honest figure. Westminster's jiggery pokery and almost government-assisted fiddling has brought its poll tax down to something like £ 178, which is a ridiculous figure to anybody who understands local government.

In Camden and a good many other inner London boroughs thousands of people will be far worse off as a result of the poll tax. It is no good putting up nice coloured charts on the day that they launch the Conservative Party election broadcast, with glossy pamphlets, and Cabinet Ministers making soft-spoken speeches to the people telling them how good the poll tax will be for them. One cannot tell people who will pay twice as much in poll tax as they paid in rates that it is good for them. Even when it is capped and the transitional benefits taken into account so that the rebate will be £ 16, it will be £ 16 off what the Government think the council should have spent, not off the poll tax. If people can overcome the confusion of the massive documentation, forms and figures, they will find that they are still a couple of hundred pounds worse off than they would have been had the rates been increased by 30 per cent.

I join those people who say that they are angry. Can the Government understand this? If there is anger at this level where people can communicate, where we are able to do something, what must it be like at the cardboard box level where people have no chance of communication, where the frustration must be tremendous and where nobody in Government is listening? I ask the Government to listen again and to act on what they are hearing from the people of this country.

6.11 p.m.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, until a few years ago in such a debate I should have spoken with affection, pride, passion and despair about my native city of Manchester. But I have lost touch; I cannot do so. Furtunately, Manchester has been very well represented today by my two noble and Mancunian friends Lord Dean and Lord Monkswell.

Your Lordships have heard the word co-ordination often used on this side of the House during the debate. I can assure noble Lords that there has been no co-ordination of our speeches. Every speech that noble Lords have heard has been the product of free enterprise. If I had known that the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, would say exactly what he said, I should not be making a speech which repeals almost identically everything that the noble Lord has said. However, they were wise words. I therefore have no hesitation in repeating them.

During recent discussion on whether or not the quality of life had improved, somebody pointed out that London no longer generates the choking, blinding, killing fogs about which Dickens wrote, and which are within the living memory of even the youngest of us in the House. That factor is a boon, especially to us elderly bronchitics. It needed government courage to get rid of the fog by proposing a ban on our beloved coal and wood-burning grates. Even our garden bonfires became officially illegal. It was a brave interference with the liberty of people to bum what they wanted, when they wanted and how they wanted. It was a brave interference in the interests of a community which valued its right to breathe less impure and punishing air.

Although the age of the pea souper has gone, another and more surreptitious source of pollution has been growing. It is the pollution that comes from the exhausts of motor vehicles. Indeed, the new demand is a need for control of the pollution as firm as that that we imposed on the ugly pollution that used to come from our beautiful coal fires. The gases and vapours that pour out of our lorries, private cars and buses do not challenge only our health and comfort; they also challenge the atmosphere that forms the earth's environment. The pollution is, however, invisible. If it had been as visible as the pea soupers used to be, there would be a demand for its control that no government would have resisted.

Yet little by little we have all become aware of the danger to our health of the lead emissions from traffic, in particular since they affect the mental development of young children. The Government have therefore placed physical restraints on the use of leaded petrol. But there are too many cars that cannot use unleaded petrol, and there is a reluctance to oblige them to fit expensive devices which would make the use of unleaded petrol possible. Are we to wait then until all those cars have disappeared in the fullness of time to the automobile equivalent of the knacker's yard?

However, there are other pollutants being belched out on our inner city streets. They include nitrogen oxide, a major cause of acid rain which destroys trees, even in far distant countries. It is now claimed that 40 per cent. of the nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere comes from road transport. A new generation of vehicles is being developed with catalytic converters. They will reduce the emissions of nitrogen oxide but will bring an increase in the unacceptable levels of carbon dioxide which is alleged to be the biggest single contributor to the greenhouse effect. It is depressing. Are we in a no-win situation?

It will be a long, slow, difficult and costly road to ensure that we have pure air in the cities. Governments will have to be kept under continual pressure to carry out and improve their remedial programmes. We must retain our new awareness that every car, bus and lorry in our city streets is contributing to the pollution, whether they are moving at London's average speed of 11 miles per hour or idling in a traffic jam. We have to accept that technical improvements to engines are unlikely to make sufficient improvement within the foreseeable future.

The alternative remedy with which we are left is to reduce the number of vehicle miles travelled in our cities— fewer cars doing less mileage. Pollution is only one of the reasons that we need first to stabilise the amount of traffic on our London streets and then to reduce it. The Secretary of State for Transport has rightly been persuaded by the force of public opinion that the destruction of thousands of houses to create fast motor roads into London will not solve the problem but make it worse. The Minister is now left without a policy, or with only the ghost of it. Yet public opinion is coming round to recognise that the freedom that we all have to drive our cars into central London is a freedom of diminishing utility as the jams increase and threaten a total blockage. One has only to talk to taxi drivers about that. They believe that the great day will come when the whole of central London traffic will become stuck and it will take hours to sort out.

At this moment tens of thousands of London journeys are being made by private car which could be made on an improved and developed public transport system. Yet the Chancellor has failed to discourage the company car commuter by taxing that perquisite. He has made a small symbolic addition to it. Of course there must always be provision for those private car journeys which are necessary even at peak hours. But we can no longer regard it as part of the acceptable cultural pattern of our cities that everyone with a car uses it for every urban journey.

We should like to hear some indication that the Minister has heard the message that has reached him from all over London in the consultation period on the traffic studies. The Minister was right to scrap the unwanted road schemes, but now he is left with no policy or perhaps only the remnant of a policy. He must go in reverse. The Government decided to put most of their money and faith in the roads and to make life hard for public transport by cutting its expenditure by one-third in the mid-1980s. It was hoped that developers and private sector money would finance major schemes in London. However, there is a reluctance to invest in part of an unco-ordinated system which cries out for a comprehensive plan.

In recent studies it was suggested that improved public transport would have little effect in reducing the number of journeys made by car. That is what comes of trusting a computer rather than experience and common sense. The improvement of public transport is the easiest part of the solution to London's traffic problems. It takes only time, intelligence and money. Yes, money and loads of it; but worth every penny!

The harder part is traffic restraint. That will take brave government unafraid of the transport lobby or of losing a few votes from the motorists to whom the car is their god. But the Government need not worry because I do not believe that recent history will repeat itself. I do not believe that the AA nor the RAC will organise a riotous demonstration in Trafalgar Square.

As an essay in restraint, there is an immediate need to provide more bus and cycle lanes, close more streets, reduce the number of parking places in central London and make parking more expensive. And we must clamp, clamp and clamp again the offenders. We must also think about the practicality of road pricing. Nobody must pretend that what must be done will be easy, but there should be a political consensus around the theme "Don't let the car wreck London". We must destroy congestion and pollution, the two evil giants that threaten the good life of our great city.

6.22 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, by now almost everything that can be said has been said. As a practising GP who lives in inner London I am acutely aware of all the problems referred to by noble Lords. I wish to concentrate on transport, and on a particular form.

First, I wish to comment on housing. I am sure that it is the most pressing and serious problem faced by cities. Like my noble friends Lord McIntosh and Lord Pitt, I continue to be astonished at the illogicality of housing homeless people in seedy hotels and paying through the nose out of public funds. Surely homeless people need homes and not hotels. The empty buildings exist, as does the finance if councils were allowed to use it. I remain totally unconvinced that the use for housebuilding and repair by local authorities of the capital sums which they have acquired through council house sales would be inflationary. They should be allowed to use the whole of it on renovating old houses and building new houses for rent.

Homeless people are prepared to live in houses and flats which are less well decorated and more basic in their facilities than are full council house tenants. They should live in such halfway houses rather than in hotels while waiting their turn for more permanent accommodation. I consider that the Government have seriously miscalculated the scale of the problem and that the measures they have taken are insufficient. Other noble Lords have spoken more eloquently about the problem.

For my main topic I wish to speak about transport, traffic congestion and the atmospheric pollution mentioned by my noble friend. That pollution has penalties in economic and health terms. My noble friend Lord Pitt mentioned the fares fair policy adopted by the GLC in the early 1980s under which London Transport received an increased subsidy to reduce fares. I remember how much easier it was to travel about London during that brief period. Not only were buses and tubes cheaper but because commuters converted from cars to public transport the buses moved faster. So did the cars of those who continued to use them and I must admit that I was a car user. The delivery vans also moved faster. I am sure that investment in public transport will pay dividends. It should be accompanied by the introduction of improved priority routes for buses and an increase in the quality and quantity of tube trains and stations. We must also adopt a form of disciplinary restriction on the use of cars.

There is one method of transport which has hardly been discussed today. It is the most appropriate method of city transport; it is the bicycle. I do not suggest that it is a panacea for all our transport problems. However, more people would be encouraged to use bicycles if some of the constraints and dangers of cycling were eliminated.

I wish to look at some of the benefits of cycling and to quote from an unpublished paper by Imogen Sharp, co-ordinator of the National Forum for the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease. She states: Cycling is a purposeful and enjoyable form of exercise which could make a major contribution to better health, including coronary heart disease prevention. It also has a wide range of environmental benefits including cutting traffic congestion, saving traffic space, conserving fuel and reducing environmental and noise pollution. A bicycle travels 1, 600 miles on the energy equivalent of just one gallon of petrol. On a less altruistic basis, cycling is simply a cheap and convenient form of transport which can be particularly fast in cities". When she says "fast" she backs that up with figures.

Figures published in the Daily Cyclist in November 1988 show that in the London Transport race in 1988 it took a cyclist 21 minutes to travel from Brixton to Embankment compared to 29 minutes by public transport and 34 minutes by car. From Kentish Town to Embankment it took 16 minutes to travel by bike, 43 minutes by public transport and 90 minutes by car.

The health benefits of cycling are considerable. One of the major causes of ill health in our society is our relatively sedentary way of life. In a now famous study published 25 years ago Professor Jerry Morris showed that bus conductors had half the coronary heart disease mortality of bus drivers. That was related to their better physique, leaner body build and more active work. He followed that up with a wide study of civil servants which showed that vigorous leisure activity was also protective against heart attacks. The jogging movement in the United States, which has spread world wide, was based on that and similar research.

Cycling is a better form of aerobic exercise than jogging. Because it is non-weight bearing it is much kinder to joints, hence it is more suitable for people of all age groups. More particularly, it is a purposeful form of activity which can be built into daily life and can save rather than take our time. But, as we all know, there are serious constraints to cycling in cities. Any health benefits for an individual can be quickly wiped out by injury or death on the road.

Some 300 cyclists are killed on the roads each year and there are 5, 000 serious accidents as well as many less serious accidents— 26, 000 are reported but there are possibly 50, 000 or so which are unreported. Per mile travelled cyclists are 17 times more vulnerable than car users and cycle accidents are increasing. Between 1975 and 1986 the rate of cyclist casualties per mile increased by about 10 per cent. for fatalities and 30 to 40 per cent. for non-fatal injuries. That was entirely related to the increasing traffic congestion on the roads.

Reduction in serious injury could be achieved by a number of methods: first, by use of helmets. At present, only about 1 to 2 per cent. of cyclists wear them. They are subject to full VAT taxation. Could they not be zero rated for VAT? Another constraint used to be hills but with excellent gear systems especially on mountain cycles, that is much less of a problem than it used to be, although Amsterdam has an advantage over London in that respect, particularly if you live in north Londo— at least farther north than N6.

For me the weather is the worst constraint, but I am told that on average it rains on only 12 days per year between 8 and 9 a.m. I should like to see better facilities— for example, changing rooms and showers— at workplaces for cyclists. Sometimes you get dirty and sweaty while cycling. I should also like to see safe places to lock up bikes.

Your Lordships' House is quite adequately equipped for the small number of us who cycle here. However, it would be totally inadequate if more or indeed all of your Lordships arrived on bicycles. The Government, local authorities and employers could do a lot to encourage cycling. If it could be made safe it would not only be the young who would ride to work or visit their friends. Among my patients I have a 77 year-old professor and a 65 year-old with heart disease who are frequently to be seen on their bikes.

There is now a document published by the Department of Transport entitled Making Way for Cyclists giving guidelines to local authorities which, if acted upon, could make a great difference to the safety of cyclists and encourage more people to take up the habit.

I apologise to the Minister who is answering this debate for not warning him that I should be raising this topic. I hope that he will be able to write to me giving the department's most recent views on cycling and improving facilities for cyclists. In exchange I shall gladly send him the paper from which I have quoted if he is interested.

There is an increasing public interest in cycling. I am convinced that that should be encouraged. If the problems which I have mentioned could be overcome we could see a major increase in cycling which would result in less pollution, less traffic congesion and a fitter population.

6.33 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, it is my great pleasure to participate in this debate. I am sure that when the Minister rises, he can say truthfully that it has been a useful debate for him, his department and his ministerial colleagues. It is useful to hear your Lordships speak from knowledge of life's experience. Thus, your Lordships can plead, ever so gently, on behalf of people among whom your Lordships have lived and worked. My noble friend Lady Phillips said that she is proud to be a Londoner. My noble friend Lord Monkswell said that he was proud to be a Mancunian. When we detail and examine the terrible catalogue of situations, we must recognise that most people are proud of where they live and they are determined to leave that corner of the world a little better than when they inherited it. They do that not just for their family and their children, but also for the community.

Although the cities have enormous problems, most are vibrant places. The people who live there are not unused to being kicked in the face or pushed to the back of the queue. That has happened to those people time and time again. They never say die. They want sympathy and understanding from their politicians for their lot in life. Secondly, they want some of their problems eased. Thirdly, they want to feel that people who have it in their grasp to ease their problems are willing to listen sympathetically and to take account of what is being said.

I believe that it was my noble friend Lord Monkswell who said quite graphically that in our large cities an under-class has developed. That is a class of people who feel that they are dispossessed and not wanted; and that nobody listens to them. They believe that they have the dirty end of the stick. I think that is substantially true. I would not care to quantify those groups in percentages. However, I know that the number is growing. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in what I thought was a very fair resume of the problems, pointed out that the gap is widening between the haves and the have-nots. It is perhaps too graphic to say that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, but some people are becoming poorer and some richer. However, the gap between those who are comfortable and those whose life is a misery is growing and widening.

The purpose of this debate is not to beat the Government over the head with any convenient stick, although there are many of those. At this time in the Government's life, I am not one to intrude on private grief. They have enough problems on their plate, and I do not wish to add to them.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Speak for yourself!

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I speak for myself and not for my noble friend Lord McIntosh who, as we all know, is a stirrer.

Much of what I wanted to say has already been covered by other speakers in this debate. People outside this House want to hear from the Minister, his colleagues and, above all, from his Government that although their problems cannot be solved this week, this month, or even this year or next year, their problems are receiving attention.

What do I want the Minister to accept as priorities? First, I want the Government to say something about steps to eliminate poverty. Poverty is more prevalent and visible in our cities than I have ever known it. I was born on Tyneside. I know the 'twenties, the 'thirties, the 'forties and the 'fifties there. I am no stranger to relative poverty. However, in those days most people were poor. I lived in a community where it was nothing new that those people in our house, our street, our block and our part of Newcastle, were poor. Only a few were not. Now most people are out of poverty. However, I want to hear what the Minister is doing to help to eliminate poverty. I want the Minister to tell us about what he is going to do to tackle the great anguish which those who are well housed— and that is every noble Lord in this House— must feel about the people who live in dreadful conditions. One of the most sobering moments for me was when I met people who lived in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in Bayswater. I saw a scandalous waste of public money. I went to a room where a woman, her mother and three children lived. The sum of £ 22 a night was paid to their landlord. One might say that that is not too bad; but that figure of £ 22 a night was multiplied by five: that is, £ 110 a night— £ 770 a week for one room. Some of the money came from the national purse, but the vast majority of it came from the local council purse. Somebody was getting very rich.

It has been stated more than once this evening that the Government need to rethink their policy on housing. The situation needs to be reassessed. The Minister will tell us what the Government have done in order to help the homeless, but that kind of situation still exists.

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, made a sensible speech and referred to his hope that the Housing Act 1988 would do much to bring more rented housing on to the market. The Minister will be well briefed tonight, and I should like him to give the figures of how much additional housing has been brought on to the market as a result of the Housing Act 1988. At the time great play was made of the fact that the Act was the solution. We knew of the problems and how people would get around the Act, and that at the end of the day there would not be more housing but higher rents for the miserable people who have to live in conditions of the kind that I have mentioned.

We should like the Minister to state his plans for improving the schooling in our cities and whether the Government are doing anything to create more employment in our cities. What are the Government doing to bring peace of mind and absence of fear to the hearts of women, especially, in our cities? We have just experienced five days of terrible violence in two parts of the United Kingdom. Every day and certainly every night in all of our cities, large or small, acts of violence are perpetrated against our community by members of our community.

The Government must try to get the police to be a little more kindly disposed towards them than they are now as a result of the Government's action towards the police regarding their housing allowances. The Government must tell us what plans they have in order to ease the lot of people who are already living at the bottom of the pile.

Noble Lords from the Labour Benches have spoken not from textbooks and not from other noble Lords' speeches. I have heard every speech, and your Lordships know that they all spoke from the heart. Many of them spoke from experience in their constituencies as Members of Parliament. All of them were able to describe the conditions of the poor and the deprived from their experience of being born among them, working among them or currently living among them. We have heard an enormously satisfying debate.

The Minister will understand that on this side of the House we do not shrink from a charge that we would be throwing money at the problem if more resources are the answer to the problem. We do not hesitate to say that if there is an agony, a hurt or an injustice which can be put right by either local or central money, whether by poll tax payers' money or taxpayers' money, if money is what is needed, then it must be found. I believe that a future Labour Government will be more willing that this Government to face up to providing services and to easing detriment, even if it requires public money.

We made a very good start on this debate with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. He was pleading with the Government to use their resources. The resources are not just money but people and good will. I can see many faces on the Government Benches that are sympathetic to the point I am making: people who give hours and hours of their time to voluntary work.

There are organisations, counsellors, groups, industries and a swathe of people who would like their good will to be tapped by the Government. Time and time again my friends have said: "We want you to listen, and the people out there want to know that you are listening". When my noble friends ask the Government to listen, the Minister says: "We have consulted widely and we believe that you have not consulted with the right people". The Minister is advised by those in his department. There needs to be a revision of the situation whereby the people at the sharp end of the problem are consulted. I do not attach any maliciousness to the Government. They genuinely wish to solve the problems. There are tenants, workers, shoppers and ordinary people who can give light and guidance to the Government in many ways.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, charged Members on these Benches with a terrible crime. He said that at times we are too overtly political. We are guilty, my Lords, because at the end of the day it is by political action that either we in office or this Government when moved by public opinion will do things. Of course we prefer that politics is not brought into such matters, but at the end of the day how does one get the ear of the Government? How are they to be pressurised? The Government are moved more by results such as those in Staffordshire than they might be by any speech in the House of Lords or anywhere else. Politics is a legitimate use.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, has an interesting but curious sense of priorities in relation to money which might be spent. He spent a great deal of time speaking on the arts and the media, and I am deeply conscious of the noble Lord's desire to promote those subjects. However, if I had a choice between more houses, more jobs, home helps or homes for the elderly and art centres, I know where my priorities would be.

The right reverend Prelate did us a power of good. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said that the Church should stand up and be counted instead of carping on the sidelines. I think he was saying that in his view the Church had been carping on the sidelines and not standing up to be counted. I see that the noble Lord nods his head. In my view, the Church has stood up to be counted, but the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has interpreted their position as carping on the sidelines.

One of the sad facts of the past five years is that when the Church has stood up to be counted, peers from Lord Mancroft's party have not hesitated to try to rubbish what the Church has said. When the Faith in the City document was published, we had the disgraceful situation of Mr. Norman Tebbit describing it as a Marxist doctrine. I should like to quote a little from the introduction to that document. Poor people are at the mercy of fragmented and apparently unresponsive public authorities. They are trapped in housing and in environments over which they have little control. They lack the means and opportunity which so many of us take for granted of making choices in their lives". Can any noble Lord disagree with that statement? It is the nub of our debate. There are millions of people who could be encompassed in that description. So far as I am concerned, the Church is doing a very good job.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, made some very interesting points. He described the pathetic case of a struggle by council servants to meet problems when resources are being denied to them and they are under severe restraint.

Many speakers have raised the subject of transport. The Minister does not specialise in transport matters, but I know that he will be well briefed and prepared because transport in inner cities was a banker. We should like to hear the Minister say something helpful. Many solutions have been put forward. I have some here from the Association of London Authorities and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. However, it would take too long to quote from them. There are solutions and they do not need to cost billions of pounds.

I am glad to see that the Minister has got away from the roads lobby. My noble friend Lord Hatch was right to say that what we want is not a roads policy but traffic and transport policies which need to be integrated. My noble friend Lady Nicol referred to the detrimental effects of the environment and the kind of life in our cities. She majored—if that is the right word—on the problems that arise from uncontrolled dogs. She raised the valid point that public money may or may not be required. All these effects are being suffered by city dwellers who are in the main inarticulate and often unrepresented and who need people like your Lordships, and others, to stand up and be counted. I have said as much as I can about dogs and the motto is, "Leash said, soonest mended".

Noble Lords


Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I now move on. My noble friend Lord Monkswell repeatedly used two words as the theme for his speech. He was "angry" at a range of changes that had happened to the democratic fabric of this great city of Manchester. He is absolutely right. He expressed "pride" in Labour's achievements and he is absolutely right in that respect.

My noble friend Lord Stallard, and others, put forward the interesting point that the Government are rate capping—poll capping—in the main Labour authorities for exceeding what the Government wrongly laid down as their standard spending assessments. Yet here we have the Government laying down a proposed rent increase and Tory authorities are exceeding that with gay abandon. The two worst examples were given by my noble friend Lord Stallard but I can give others, including my own borough of Enfield which was invited to make an increase of £4 and blithely made an increase of £6 for party political purposes in hoping to hang on to power at the elections in May. The noble Lord needs to take those points on board.

I hope that the Minister has listened to this debate. He always does and I am sure that he will have learned from the passion of the speeches that what we want is compassion from him and his colleagues. I know that he will faithfully report back. The people outside this place who are living miserable, frustrating and impossible lives want hope and a vision—the word used by the right reverend Prelate. We want a great deal more good done for those who depend upon the public purse.

Many years ago the phrase was coined that we live in private affluence which flourishes in the midst of public squalour. I do not use dramatic words but something like that describes the present situation. We hope that the Minister will not only give us satisfaction but will give hope to millions of people outside the Chamber.

6.54 p.m.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in what can only be described, geographically, as a very wide-ranging address to the House, alluded to the fact that this afternoon could possibly be misinterpreted as a Labour Party seminar on matters concerning the inner cities. He went on to suggest that there was not enough interest on this side of the House.

It is important to put the record absolutely straight. This debate has had rather an odd career to date, if I may say so, in terms of its formation before arriving in the House this afternoon. Noble Lords will be aware that many supporters of the Government tend to make their arrangements for speaking in debates during the week beforehand. As of Friday night there were only three names down to speak in the debate. Encouragingly, the list of speakers later filled out to 17. At the end of last week certain noble Lords on this side of the House asked whether they should be speaking. I suggested that if there were only three speakers down to speak they may not want to do so. Therefore it is important to correct the noble Lord's suggestion.

That said, I welcome the opportunity presented by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, to debate this important issue. We are faced this afternoon with a substantial subject and I have listened with a great deal of interest to the comments of noble Lords. They show a very real and understandable concern for the problems facing inner city residents. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today to reinforce the Government's wholehearted determination to tackle those inner city problems and outline some of the real progress that is being made.

These problems of inner city decay and deprivation have, of course, not occurred overnight. They are deep-seated and complex and have grown up over many years. We are aware of the problems, but we are also aware that we have had substantial successes. I do not pretend that they will be cured either quickly or easily but we should not lose sight of where we were and what has been achieved.

I think it is worth spending a moment on the causes of inner city decay and deprivation. One factor is economic decline. Old industries close leaving derelict sites which detract from the environment. The loss of income in the area is reflected in declining property standards and land prices. Younger, economically active people leave the area to live and work elsewhere. The result is an erosion of community pride.

Then there is social decline. Again, there are many facets to this. Loss of community pride and a depressing physical environment have adverse effects on attitudes to work. We see more crime and the creation of a dependency culture. With family ties much looser than in the past— because of changing social patterns, more generally— there is less parental control and guidance and a greater tendency for young people to drop out. Social decline and economic decline feed on each other, leading to a downward spiral which is very difficult to reverse.

The Government accepted when they launched their Action for Cities initiative two years ago that there is no overnight simple solution to inner city decay. It requires a variety of measures tailored to deal with different aspects of the problem. It also requires a sustained and determined approach and a number of years to bring about long-lasting benefits. Merely trying to solve the problems by spending taxpayers' money on the symptoms achieves only transitory relief and does nothing to tackle the underlying, root causes. Those root causes must be eradicated to achieve lasting success.

The Government's Action for Cities initiative aims to promote economic regeneration and get the pride and commitment back into our inner cities. The priorities are all aimed at encouraging the involvement of everyone concerned; to encourage enterprise and development; to improve people's job prospects, their motivation and skills; to make the inner cities attractive to both residents and to business; and to make the inner cities safe and attractive places in which to live and work. I am sure that all noble Lords subscribe to those objectives.

They are essential goals but, again, I am sure that noble Lords will agree that the Government cannot achieve them in isolation. Lasting revival cannot be sustained without an active and genuine partnership between all those with an interest in inner cities— central and local government, private sector business, the voluntary sector and particularly the people who live in inner city areas.

No lasting regeneration is possible in the inner cities unless there is a healthy local economy. That is the essential foundation on which renewal must be based. The aim is to create the conditions in which business can flourish. It is business men and women who must take the lead in revitalising local economies. I will say more about the vital role of the private sector in inner city regeneration in a moment. I will deal first with the Government's role, which is crucial in encouraging and promoting recovery through a carefully targeted set of initiatives.

We are promoting inner city regeneration through a range of measures which fall within the Action for Cities umbrella, each targeted at a specific issue. I do not propose to describe the full list; there are numerous different programmes adding up to about £ 4 billion a year in 1990–91. They range from instruments designed to clear dereliction and bring about the physical regeneration of an area, such as the urban development corporations and city grant, through to measures to encourage small businesses such as the consultancy grants under the Enterprise Initiative and the Enterprise Allowance Scheme; and from measures to improve education and training such as the introduction of schools— industry compacts and employment training through to schemes to support the arts, recreation and sport under the urban programme.

Environmental objectives have always been an important part of the Government's inner cities policies. I have already said that one of the keys to inner city revival is to make inner cities attractive places in which to live and work. Many of the government measures are designed to help inner cities make a direct contribution to improving the environment.

Action for Cities was launched in March 1988. Many of the programmes within it had been running for some time, but Action for Cities brought them together and gave a new focus to the Government's drive to improve inner cities. We have introduced some new measures; we have improved and simplified others. There are frequent calls on the Government to tackle this or that problem. We are doing that where it is necessary.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and other noble Lords raised the question of housing policy in the inner cities. Around 40 per cent. of local authorities' capital expenditure on housing (some £ 1, 300 million) is spent in the 57 urban programme areas, as is 50 per cent. of the Housing Corporation's investment in new housing, which is some £ 600 million.

We take account of the needs of the inner cities through our standard needs assessment measures used in allocating local authority and Housing Corporation resources. But on top of that we give specific and explicit recognition to the problems resulting from concentrations of deprivation by way of additional allocations above what the needs measures indicate, amounting to a further £ 200 million— £ 100 million for local authorities and £ 100 million for housing associations.

The new local authority capital finance system introduced by last year's Local Government and Housing Act has given us much greater scope to target resources effectively on the areas in greatest need. In addition, a number of other housing programmes mainly benefit the inner cities. For example, the large majority of estate action schemes for reviving run down council estates are in inner city areas, as are most of the private sector area renewal schemes directed at the remaining pockets of bad private housing.

Overall, our objectives for housing in the inner cities are the same as they are throughout the country: to ensure that decent housing is within reach of all families and to promote choice not only for owner-occupiers but also for tenants. We recognise that some inner city areas face particularly intractable problems resulting from a concentration of poor housing, which has sometimes been made worse by the monopoly position of local authority landlords and their failure to deliver a proper maintenance service.

We also recognise that housing has a key role to play in economic regeneration. Employers will not move somewhere if their employees do not want to live there. We need to draw in private sector funds to supplement public expenditure, and we are gradually achieving this. But contrary to some of the charges we have heard, we are putting in the necessary public resources: £ 2 billion a year into the 57 urban programme areas which is a large sum by any standards.

I said earlier that we recognised that inner city problems will not be cured either quickly or easily. But there are encouraging signs that things are getting better. Public and private investment is taking place on a massive scale, providing new offices, factories, roads, housing and shopping centres. In 1988 the rate of new business formation in the inner cities was twice that in the country at large. In the UDC areas alone £ 800 million of spending has levered in over £ 7 billion of private sector investment.

New enterprise is creating new jobs. Unemployment in the 57 inner city areas has fallen by about a third over the past two years. Physical redevelopment and improvement and the removal of dereliction are making inner city areas more attractive for residents, workers and visitors.

In February the Prime Minister was in Bradford to mark the second anniversary of the Action for Cities initiative and launched a new report People in Cities. Such documents are important as a means of drawing attention to what is being done and how it is being done and to encourage others. Inner city revival is about confidence in areas and in the people within those areas. The report therefore emphasises two key themes: people and partnership.

It is essential that all those who live and work in inner city areas should benefit from the progress now being made. The importance of working in partnership with local communities cannot be overemphasised. If we do not work together we shall not be able to ensure that the wishes and needs of local people are reflected in what we do. It is central to Action for Cities that local people should have the chance to be involved with what is happening in their areas. Many are already benefiting as the People in Cities report shows.

Inner city problems cover the problems of a wide variety of people and organisations. The pace at which we make progress will be determined to a large extent by how well the various public and private sector organisations work together. If we are to see lasting improvements, it is imperative that all those involved, central and local government, private sector and voluntary organisations, co-operate fully.

Through the introduction of city action teams and the inner city task forces we have sought to improve co-ordination and liaison at the local level. Last December a new team of Ministers, drawn from a wide range of departments, was formed to help reinforce this partnership. Each city action team and task force now has its own Minister committed to advising and assisting it. The team of Ministers will act and be a catalyst for change and encourage community involvement at all levels. Each Minister has already been out and about in the areas with which he or she is involved, talking to people and listening to their ideas.

The introduction of training and enterprise councils also provides a way in which the various agencies on the ground can work in partnership. The new TECs will have as their primary function the delivery of the training programmes, but TECs also have potential to perform a much wider role of contributing to community regeneration by stimulating enterprise and growth.

I mentioned earlier the vital role of the private sector in inner city regeneration. Business is crucial to inner city revival. The Audit Commission has noted that, there is now little argument that private sector led growth is the main long term answer to urban deprivation". More and more companies are coming to realise that our inner cities offer a temendous opportunity for profitable investment. They can also help to regenerate their own local business environment.

There is a role for firms of all sizes. I am glad to say that industry and commerce are playing an increasing role in the development of their cities. Many firms are supporting local enterprise agencies and seconding personnel to help in the community. They provide training for unemployed people, work experience for pupils and support the schools-industry compacts.

Another welcome development is the creation of business leadership teams. Using their management and business skills, these leaders are working with the public authorities in shaping and inspiring the regeneration of their cities on a wider scale. I particularly welcome the joint CBI, Business in the Community and Phoenix initiative, Business in the Cities, to which the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, alluded earlier. It was formed specifically to encourage the development of such teams. I am pleased that a number have been successfully set up around the country; for example in Bradford, Bristol, Newcastle and elsewhere.

I shall now try to answer some of the questions and points raised by noble Lords this afternoon. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, drew attention to the importance of the role of the police and the worry concerning crime, particularly in the inner cities. The fact is that 50 per cent. of crime in this country is committed within metropolitan areas. The Government recognise the special policing requirements that are required because of inner city crime. It is for that reason that they have increased the number of police officers for the metropolitan areas for 1990–91 by about 8, 000 posts.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and other noble Lords drew your Lordships' attention to the problems of debt. There are two points that I wish to make here. The first is that the Government have substantially increased and doubled in real terms since 1979 to about £ 11 million the amount of money that they give to the citizens advice bureaux. Many noble Lords will also be aware that a report has been produced by a working party chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. It will be arranged for the pledging of money for further advice to be provided by the financial community. The Government look forward very much to being able to observe the impact of the implementation of that additional assistance in dealing with debt.

The noble Lords, Lord Pitt and Lord Cocks, and many others raised the question of homelessness and the situation regarding bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The Government fully share the concern that noble Lords showed for the homeless. We believe that our general housing strategy will reduce homelessness by widening choice and targeting increased resources. That said, serious local problems remain. For that reason, in pressure areas, particularly in London and the South-East, we have brought in additional resources of about £ 250 million which have been made available over the next two years to assist in dealing with that problem.

The noble Lords, Lord Northbourne, Lord Rea and Lord Pitt, drew your Lordships' attention to the plight of the single homeless. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred particularly to the voluntary organisations. The Government, having increased expenditure in this area by some £ 680, 000 to some £ 2 million, very much recognise the important and vital role that voluntary organisations play today and will play in the future. It is also worth remembering that some 21, 000 local authority properties are currently vacant within the greater London area.

The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, felt— I hope I did not misunderstand him— that local authorities were excluded from urban regeneration. We do not believe that this is the case. I should emphasise that People in Cities makes a point about the partnership with local authorities as well as with business and the voluntary sector. Under the urban programme, which is costing some £ 260 million in 1990–91, the Government provide a 75 per cent. grant towards schemes put forward by local authorities. That is true partnership.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the noble Lord was kind enough to tell the House how many council properties are vacant in the London area. The Minister knows that, nationally, 2–36 per cent. of local authority stock is empty. Government agencies have 6–47 per cent. of their stock empty. How many government properties are empty in London? The noble Lord would not have come to the House armed only with figures for public authority empty properties, would he?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am slightly surprised that the noble Lord has asked that question. He knows that very substantial amounts of government housing are owned by the Ministry of Defence and are situated in the middle of Salisbury Plain where they are not effectively able to play a constructive role— would that they were— in helping to solve the inner city problem.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, the noble Lord has tried to answer my suggestion that the Government were not co-operating with local authorities in dealing with the homeless by referring to certain grants. I pointed out straightforwardly that local authorities need to provide more dwellings for people accepted as homeless than they are allowed to build. I had hoped the Minister would say what the Government were doing to help local authorities to build more houses so that they can meet the problem. I said in my speech that in 1979 local authorities in London were building 8, 600 houses. They are now building 997 houses. That illustrates the problem. Will the Minister deal with that?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord is aware that the Government see the role of local authorities as enablers in housing. At the moment, there is a gap which is difficult to cross. The Government are extremely keen to eliminate that gap. At present, there is local authority housing. We are now introducing more and more housing association housing to provide a staircase so that people can move and have flexibility in the housing market. The noble Lord will not need me to remind him that, compared with West Germany, France and the United States, we have a deplorable record in terms of private rented housing. We have only 7 per cent. in the United Kingdom. To rectify this we have changed the direction of housing policy, not our commitment to providing housing.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, there is a decline even in the provision of housing by housing associations. There is no use saying that we are moving—

Lord Denham

My Lords, we must allow my noble friend to reply to the debate.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, the Minister gave way.

Lord Denham

My Lords, my noble friend gave way twice.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I now propose to move on to the questions raised by noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh, Lord Pitt, Lord Hatch of Lusby, Lord Ardwick, Lord Rea and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, about the environment. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, referred to the possibilities of the bicycle. I have a question for the noble Lord which I am sure he would be happy to answer outside the House later on this evening. If it takes 16 minutes to come down from Kentish Town, how long does it take to get back up, particularly if one is slightly overweight?

Noble Lords asked about infrastructure. In London, there is the Docklands Light Railway. In Manchester, there will be the Metro Link. The extension of the Jubilee Line into the Docklands will give a boost to the former docks. The cost of the project is £ 1 billion, of which the private sector contribution will be £ 400 million. Network South-East is spending £ 160 million on improvements to all stations, particularly in run-down areas. British Rail investment in real terms is the highest for a generation. Indeed, £ 3–7 billion is to be invested by British Rail in the next three years, which is 75 per cent. more than in the past three years.

Questions were asked and points were made. All the questions asked tended to avoid the nub of the problem. On the one hand, noble Lords said that they wanted fewer traffic jams. On the other hand, they said that they wanted no more roads. That is where we start running into a little local difficulty. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, said that the Underground is not full for most of the day but only during the rush-hour. I can assure the House that the Department of the Environment is more than happy to hear the noble Lord's proposals on how we can fill up the Underground during those parts of the day when it is not full.

The noble Lord then proposed a levy on private cars in central London and suggested that there was a problem about equity. He suggested that the answer would be to insist on smaller cars. I do not believe that that is the answer. The only thing that will reduce the number of cars, whether they are large or small, is price. The problem about equity will remain, whether or not the cars are polished Minis or polished Rolls-Royces.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, the noble Lord has misunderstood me. I did not say anything about forcing people to drive smaller cars. I said that a levy placed on cars driving into the centre of the city would be inequitable unless provision were made to make that levy higher for large cars than for small cars.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the crucial point is that the volume that has to be reduced to make a suitable reduction would result in there being fiscal inequity. One cannot get away from that.

Perhaps I may extend that point to the ALA poll, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hatch referred. There is a problem here which is rather like the problem with rural housing. On the one hand, people say that they want to have more cheap housing. On the other hand, they are the same people who resist the planning application when it appears. I wonder how many of those who answered the poll positively against the motor car would still say so if they were told that it would apply to their motor cars.

The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, referred to the few motorists to whom the car is God. I can only refer the noble Lord to a copy of the Financial Times earlier this week in which the Chancellor of Germany was interviewed. He said that he knew his Germans and that unification with East Germany would be good for the car industry because they liked cars first, beer second and travel third.

The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, referred to the inequitable distribution, as he saw it, of civil servants in the Department of Transport. I point out to him that there are 32, 000 kilometres of rail track in this country and 354, 000 kilometres of roads. On those roads there are some 18–4 million cars. That is why it probably requires more civil servants to attend to their needs.

I was very interested in the contribution of my noble friend Lord Mancroft and in his remarks concerning drink and drug addiction within the inner city. He dealt with the very intractable problems that they pose and the fact that there is no easy answer. I was also interested in the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, about Sheffield and the cultural contribution that was made there. The Government can be proud. He pointed out that Channel 4 and the regional arts have been two of the main contributors. Both of those initiatives were commenced by this Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, did not have very kind words to say about the UDCs. However, the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, made some rather nice comments about them. Therefore, sitting here on these Benches, I felt that we had probably got it right somewhere in the middle.

The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, asked why there was not such a mass campaign against the rates. I should like to ask him in return why there was not a revaluation for 17 years. He has clearly forgotten the marches which took place at the time. I remember the occasion well. Indeed, it was one of the first political acts in which I took part. The noble Lord also referred to the rent rises in Redbridge and Canterbury. I can only draw his attention to the remarks I made in answer to an Unstarred Question of the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, last week when I pointed out that this Government do not wish to interfere with local authorities.

The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, made a truly fascinating statement when he said that the community charge safety net was designed to benefit Conservative-controlled authorities. I find that novel. I could introduce him to many shire councillors who would have a long and meaningful argument with him on the point. I should point out to him that people in the North will be beneficiaries of the changes in the national non-domestic rating system. But in order not to impose too fast a rise in the South, there has been a reduction in the gain in the North. However, gain there is and there is no questioning that.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield made a very good contribution to the debate when he spoke about the voluntary sector and the programme of the Church. He mentioned projects costing hundreds and thousands of pounds, and he said, I thought rather modestly, that this House only discusses billions. Often it is the hundreds and the thousands that are used by people for what they wish to do, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, that actually make a much greater contribution because the people who are in control feel that they themselves have carried out the work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, mentioned dogs. As a Minister one always remembers the first Division one loses at the Dispatch Box. The first Division I lost concerned the question of dogs under the 1988 Act. There will be ample opportunity in the months which lie ahead for Members of your Lordships' House, and especially the noble Baroness, to put down a suitable amendment on the matter of dogs. At this stage I do not propose to detain your Lordships for a moment longer on the subject.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, gave us a grand tour of the world before he returned to England. We set off from Sri Lanka and travelled to Caracas and Cairo and finally he brought us gently back to the Bay of Naples. I listened carefully to what he said. However, the proposals were not there. That is what I was really waiting for. I was waiting to hear the suggested alternatives to the Government's policies.

However, I can assure the noble Lord on one point. He constantly accuses the Conservative Party and the Government of talking about theories and ideology. I joined the Conservative Party for practicality and pragmatism and for a liberal party. There is a conspiracy theory which exists on the Benches opposite. But it is false. The Government have made great strides not only on their own but also in partnership with people, with business and with local authorities in tackling some of the greatest problems that face us in this country today. There are successes that can easily be seen. For example, one can visit Canary Wharf or the Albert Dock in Liverpool. There are, indeed, significant signs of success and the Government intend to build upon them.

7.25 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am acutely aware of the restrictions which the conventions of the House place upon me in this position. I am also aware that much as I would like to do so, it is not permissible for me to respond in detail to the arguments which have been put by the Minister. If I were allowed, I should very much like to point out to him that it is very easy once you have taken away millions of jobs and removed billions of pounds of resources from local government in our cities to talk about carefully targeted programmes.

It is easy to talk about schemes, task forces and initiatives and produce glossy reports, although I thought that the last one with colour photographs of nine Ministers was a little over the top. It is very easy to do that when what in fact has happened after 11 years is that the damage done by the Government is only being replaced by a mere scratching at the surface of the problems which have been pointed out during the course of the debate.

If it were wildly possible that I should be accused of having a political motivation in putting forward this Motion, then, like my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick, I plead guilty. I am grateful to the tightly-knit group of politically motivated men and women on these Benches who have taken part in the debate. I am also grateful to all other noble Lords who have done so. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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