House Of Commons
Monday 14th March 1977
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
Prices And Consumer Protection
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection which Minister in his Department is responsible for handling consultations on the proposed new prices policy.
I am primarily responsible. I have already had discussions with the CBI and the Retail Consortium and am meeting the Food and Drink Industry Council later this afternoon.
Will the Secretary of State accept that the reason why the prices policy is in tatters is that he applies different criteria to private industry and the nationalised industries? What assurances can he give the House that, under the new prices policy, there will not now be a repetition of the squalid ignoring of the prices policy on gas prices by the Secretary of State for Energy?
I do not accept for a moment that the present prices policy is in tatters. As to the future prices policy, which was the subject of the hon. Gentleman's Question, it is clear in the consultative document that the provisions of that policy will apply to nationalised industries as they apply to the private sector.
As the right hon. Gentleman has stated that workers who voluntarily take on austerity must be satisfied that the prices they pay are justified, in view of his right hon. Friend's decision to override the veto of the Price Commission on gas prices does he think that the increase in gas prices is what he would call socially accountable?
The increase in gas prices was part of a decision taken in December concerning the economy as a whole, which has clearly made the economy a good deal more stable than it was. Many of the decisions within that policy were regrettable although necessary. I think that the gas price increase comes into that category.
Would not my right hon. Friend agree that an increase in prices of this kind will affect working people in particular very badly? Will not the Cabinet reconsider this matter? This is something which working people obviously are not prepared to accept much longer, which means that it will have a very bad effect on phase 3 of the incomes policy.
I note what my hon. Friend says. Specific questions about specific details of the gas price proposal, to which I think he was referring, are not for me but for the Secretary of State for Energy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh! "] However, I also understand the point that my hon. Friend makes about the Cabinet in general having to investigate and inquire into these matters, and I am sure that my colleagues will note what he has said.
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if he has received representations concerning increases in the price charged for the cleaning or rental of industrial clothing during the last two years; and how many such cases he has referred to the Price Commission.
I have received the representations of my hon. Friend on this subject and I referred them to the Chairman of the Price Commission.
Does my hon. Friend agree that pricing policy in this area should receive special and sensitive consideration? Is he aware that the Price Commission is suspected of too easily rubber-stamping substantial price increases, including the case to which I have drawn his attention, in which two price increases were allowed in one year, bringing the charge for one garment from 28p to 38p? Does he not think that that is excessive?
The Price Commission is empowered to investigate such increases and only to permit those which can be justified by allowable cost increases. I have no means of knowing, but I must assume, that the Commission satisfied itself that the allowable cost increases made a rise of this order inevitable.
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what steps he will take to encourage the reductions of costs by better use of resources in the nationalised industries; and how he will ensure consumers share the benefits.
My proposals for prices policy after 31st July will apply to nationalised industry prices in broadly the same way as they would to other sectors. The new criteria will focus attention on cost reductions and better use of resources.
Will the Secretary of State please give some encouragement to the consumer in regard to the nationalised industries? How can the consumer believe that she will get a better share of the benefits of nationalised industries when, as in the case of gas, she is being forced to pay a price which is clearly not allowed by the Price Commission? Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that that decision runs quite counter to what is allowed in the private sector?
No, I do not accept the hon. Member's judgment about that at all. As for comforts to the consumers, the position is very clear. We have now largely corrected the errors made in nationalised industry prices by the previous Government, and we can look forward in future to increases in nationalised industries' prices, which cannot altogether be avoided, being at a much slower rate than in the recent past.
Why are there three Ministers, one Whip, one Parliamentary Private Secretary and only six Labour Back Benchers in the Chamber for Questions on prices and consumer protection? Have the right hon. Gentlemen's Back Benchers despaired of ever having their Questions answered?
Is it not clear that the impending increase in the price of gas is no more and no less than a tax on the consumer? If the costs of production are less, why should the consumer have to pay because the Government have failed to reduce their extravagant spending programmes?
The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He is implying that the gas price increase is intended to help deal with some of the economic problems, such as the reduction of the public sector borrowing requirement, that we successfully faced in December, when his party proposed more savage cuts. If we followed any of the suggestions that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have made, that would affect the consumer a great deal more.
Price Controls (Categorisation Limits)
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection whether the present categorisation of firms in the Price Code will remain the same under the new prices policy.
The present intention is that the categorisation limits in the present price controls should not be substantially changed when the new policy comes into operation. This question will, however, fall within the consultations on the new policy proposals.
In view of the continuing high level of inflation, does not the Minister agree that the qualifying level for category 1 firms should be raised a great deal, thus lifting a small part of the increasingly heavy burden that the Government have placed on small businesses and small business men?
The category limits were last raised in August to take account of inflation. Too frequent changes would be unjustifiable.
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what is the latest figure for the rate of inflation over the last three months expressed at an annual rate.
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what is the latest monthly increase in the retail price index, calculated on a year on-year basis; and by how much the index has increased since February 1974.
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what is the latest three-monthly rate of price inflation.
Over the three and 12 months to January 1977, the retail price index increased by 5·4 per cent. and 16·6 per cent. respectively. This brings the increase since February 1974 to 69·5 per cent. For what it is worth, the three-month annualised figure is 21·8 per cent.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman feel a sense of shame at that last figure as it has risen so much from the vaunted 8·4 per cent. of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the last General Election?
I do not feel very much about that last figure, except what I tried to imply in my answer, that it does not have much statistical validity.
As the Government's new anti-inflation policy appears to be to overrule their own independent Price Commission, would it not be better to scrap it?
In overruling the Price Commission, the Government would apply a provision in the Act for which the hon. Gentleman voted. He must make up his mind whether he was wrong in voting for that overruling provision. I think that it was right and necessary, and it can occasionally be applied properly.
Does my right hon. Friend understand fully that the £6 pay policy and its successor have not resulted in the dramatic fall in price increases and inflation that he and his fellow Ministers in the Cabinet supposed? What with unemployment almost doubling in that period, prices rising, the social wage being cut and there being no further investment, is there any reason to carry on with another round of pay policy?
I think that there is every reason to carry on. [Interruption.] Unlike some Conservative Members, my hon. Friend has asked a question believing, as I do, that it is a serious issue. My hon. Friend knows very well that the increase in the retail price index over the past six months has been largely the result of sterling depreciation. I have no doubt that, if we did not reach agreement on another wages round, sterling would again be in jeopardy and inflation would be a great deal worse.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it all ways. Does he not agree that inflation figures of 69·5 per cent. are a tremendous condemnation of what the Government have done in the past three years? Will he use this opportunity of expressing his abhorrence of total price freezes, which can do nothing more nor less than to increase unemployment from its present hideous level?
I have already made it clear that in my view a total price freeze would be injurious to our industrial prospects and bad for the economy in general and working people in particular. As for the overall rate of inflation. I have no doubt that, if we remain resolutely committed to the policies we announced in December, the rate of inflation will begin to reduce in the summer and thereafter. I am sure that that is a right thing for us to do.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the high rate of inflation has been partly due to the common agricultural policy and to the fact that we are members of the Common Market, where food prices are much higher than anywhere else in the world? Is it not about time the Government renegotiated the CAP and stopped talking about renegotiation?
It is time we got out altogether.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) will agree that the position being taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the negotiations in Brussels, which are concerned with prices next year, reflects our intention of being very tough during the discussions and having no price increases which would be injurious to our general economic policy. But I am sure that he also accepts that what has really affected inflation in this country over the past year is the sterling rate of exchange. I do not care to contemplate how sterling would have deteriorated in October and November of last year had we not been members of the Commons Market.
Does the right hon. Gentleman think that an inflation rate of 16·6 per cent., if he wants the year-on-year figure, or nearly 20 per cent., if he wants the three-month figure, marks a successful Government policy?
I believe that it marks a policy which will improve with the summer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which Summer?"] The Opposition must decide whether they want to support us in policies that will result in a gradual but continual improvement in the inflation figure. The effects of the December measures will soon work themselves through and there will soon be another wages round. When that is debated, the Opposition will have to decide which side they are on.
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if there has been a rise or fall in the rate of inflation in the United Kingdom in the last six months; and how this compares with the trend in the other EEC countries.
Over the six months to January 1977, the year-on-year rate of inflation in the United Kingdom has increased from 12·9 per cent. to 16·6 per cent. Exactly comparable information for other member States is not available, but to December the average rate of inflation for these countries was similarly on an upward trend.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, according to statistics from his own Department, inflation has risen every month in Britain for the past six months, a very different pattern from that in Belgium, Denmark, France, West Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, to name but six? Apart from the fact that we are unfortunate in having an ineffective Government, what is so special about Britain compared with the other countries of Western Europe?
I am simply relying on the information that the Treasury gave the hon. Gentleman on 3rd March. One of the things that is special about us is that on the December figures our rate of acceleration is a good deal less than that of many of our partners.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that what the other Common Market countries did when they participated in the recent IMF loan was to lend us the money in order for us to continue to buy their goods?
I think my hon. Friend will agree that that is somewhat of an over-simplification of what the loan provided. It also provided us with the wherewithal to go on selling our goods to Europe and to keep the British economy afloat. Without the IMF loan, the country would have been in a very difficult situation.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that in a speech at Blackpool last April the Prime Minister boasted that on the previous six months' figures the rate of inflation had halved? Is the Secretary of State aware that if one takes precisely the same yardstick as the Prime Minister took then the rate of inflation has not halved or doubled but has trebled? Will the right hon. Gentleman say how long he expects that this country can go on with rates of inflation which are double and treble those of our main competitors?
That extraordinarily selective use of figures does not excite me half as much as it clearly excites the hon. Lady. The figure is the year-on-year rate. The increase in the year-on-year rate has decelerated, and the hon. Lady will find that if she asks me or someone else that sort of question towards the end of the year the position will be appreciably improved.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the real thing that could damage this country would be if the prices of food, clothing and footwear which obtain in Common Market countries were applied here? We would be in a very serious situation indeed. That is why so many people from the other eight Community countries are prepared to come over here at the weekends in order to stock up and go back home because, despite our so-called inflation, the price of the goods that I have mentioned is much cheaper in the United Kingdom than in the EEC countries.
Of course they are, and many of them are so kept by the green pound, which is something that we have to maintain and preserve. My hon. Friend well knows that all those people who come here are earning EEC wages and paying United Kingdom prices. I hope that we can get to the day when we, too, will be earning EEC wages in this country.
May 1, unusually, come to the help of the right hon. Gentleman in his answer to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley)? Is not one of the reasons why our inflation has gone up more than that of our Common Market partners, certainly the old Six, that the CAP and the transitional stages have forced up the price of food?
That is certainly a factor, but statistically it is a small factor indeed compared with the major reason, which is the depreciation of sterling.
Price Commission Reports (Sales)
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection how many copies of the Price Commission's quarterly reports for the periods 1st June to 31st August 1976, and 1st September to 30th November 1976, were sold to the general public.
Separate figures for sales to the general public are not available. The latest figures available show total bookshop sales as 1,192 and 1,078 respectively.
Are not those sales rather meagre? Incidentally, the report now costs £1·65 compared with the original £1. Was the Minister surprised that the Commission said that new code changes had made it impossible to draw up comparative profit figures, so that it was no longer making judgments about the future movement of profit margins? Is not that an astonishing assertion from a Commission that is supposed to bear in mind all factors when drawing up its price control policy?
The Price Commission's general conclusions, reported in its quarterly reports, are given widespread currency by the Press and other media following publication of the reports. The increased price of the second report reflects increased costs of production, which I understand have been considered most carefully by the Commission.
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection whether his new proposals for monitoring and control of prices will be applicable to fuel; and, if so, how they will operate.
My right hon. Friend's proposals for prices policy after 31st July would apply to fuel prices in broadly the same way as they would to other products, with such modifications as are necessary to reflect our Community obligations in respect of coal prices and the Government's special responsibilities for the nationalised industries.
I am not quite sure how to interpret that somewhat obscure and ambiguous answer. Is my hon. Friend aware that if, under the new system, we have a repetition of what we have at present in respect of gas prices, the whole system of price control, such as it is, will be brought into total disrepute?
One of the principal aspects of the new prices policy, which is an improvement and a more effective method of price control, is that it will enable us to launch investigations to cover pricing practices and levels in all industries, including the nationalised industries. They will simply be judged against the provisions under the Price Code which enable the Commission to look behind the Price Code to the whole circumstances of the industry. I think that this will enable a more realistic check to be taken.
Is not the simple truth behind that bureaucratic answer the fact that the Government will monitor and control such energy prices as it is politically convenient to do so?
If political convenience were the sole consideration, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would concede that it might not have been the Government's desire to increase the price of gas. But the economic justifications for having done so have already been spelt out by my right hon. Friend.
Cutting through some of the waffle in the answer that we have just heard, may I ask my hon. Friend to state categorically that the new prices policy will not be subvented to the Treasury in the same way as with the present prices policy in regard to fuel?
The Treasury is responsible—
Yes or no?
—within the Government for the overall view of the management of the economy. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection will, within the collective governmental framework, ensure that the consumers' interests are taken fully into account when arriving at a collective position. My hon. Friend and Conservative Members who complain of bureaucratic answers ought to accept and understand that the principal interest of the consumer at this time is in obtaining a stabilised rate of sterling, because it is the decline in the parity of sterling which is directly responsible for the price increases which are being complained of today. My hon. Friend will acknowledge that the measures taken in December have strongly contributed towards establishing the stability of sterling. The package must be judged as a whole by that test.
Is the Minister aware that it really does not make sense for the Government to increase fuel charges across the board while at the same time subsidising a lot of people because they have put up prices too much at the same time as the nationalised fuel industries are not only making a profit but also profiteering at the general expense of the consumer?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that this Government have no intention of returning to the policies of the Conservative Opposition in subsidising the nationalised industries at tax-payers' expense and thus distorting their financial control.
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection how long he expects the present rising trend in food prices to continue.
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what he expects the rise in food prices will have been from July 1976 to July 1977.
The food index rose by 81·5 per cent. between February 1974 and January 1977. I am not prepared to forecast the rate of increase for the year to July 1977 or to guess how present trends may change.
Those statistics are worrying enough, as are the statistics which the Secretary of State gave me recently in reply to another Question. Can he reassure the country in any small way at all that the rate of increase of previous months and years will be decreasing during the coming year? Does he not appreciate that it is confidence in the present Government which is at the root of the price of sterling, and that the price of sterling is at the root of the price of food?
Certainly the price of sterling is the main determinant in the price of food. Of course, the price and the value of sterling have appreciated considerably between December and now. The hon. Gentleman must himself interpret whether that is the result of improved reputations abroad of the present Government. The comfort I offer the consumer is that, if we can hold sterling at or about the present level, the adverse effects of October, November and December of last year will not reappear and food price changes will not be as bad as they were during that period.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that food prices within the Common Market are on average considerably higher than world prices? Does he not find it remarkable, in view of the rather hypothetical concern expressed by the Opposition about prices, that the only idea of policy that the Leader of the Opposition has made herself clear about is opposition to any idea of a price freeze?
That is very true. My hon. Friend will have noticed, as the whole country has noticed, that while the Opposition have a great deal of criticism to offer about prices and prices policy they have nothing constructive to say about what they would do in its place. The Leader of the Opposition has said nothing positive during the six months that I have been in this job. If she has said it, it has been my misfortune to miss it. I hope that in the coming months we shall have a debate about prices and prices policy, if only to discover whether the Opposition have any policy at all.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people will hardly believe that the figure which he has given of 81·4 per cent. is the true figure for the rise in prices? Is not that an appalling indictment of what the Government have done and what the British housewife has had to suffer? When will prices stop rising?
When we get out of the Common Market.
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question of when food prices will stop rising covers a spectrum of facts from when there ceases to be a shortage of coffee as a result of frost in Africa to when there ceases to be drought in England and when the pound continues on its stabilised path. My view is that all these things are a great deal more complicated than any Opposition Member ever pretends he understands or is prepared to make out.
In view of the stress which my right hon. Friend has rightly put on the fall in the value of sterling accounting for price increases, may I ask whether he is satisfied that the public are aware of the impact of the sterling crisis upon prices? When there are major price increases in areas which directly affect the public most, will my right hon. Friend issue information explaining the extent to which that is the result of a fall in the value of sterling?
I shall try to do that, but it is sufficiently difficult to educate the Opposition on these matters and I think that educating a wider public, albeit a less biased one, might be very much more difficult.
If the purpose of consumer advice centres is realistically rather than, cosmetically to help to bring down prices, will the right hon. Gentleman consider extending these to rural areas, or possibly having mobile advice centres, so that people living outside cities may have the benefit of them?
I am not sure that the object of these centres is to bring down prices. Rather is it to provide information which is necessary and appropriate. The hon. Gentleman is right. One of the things that I have tried to do over the past year is to extend mobile centres that can go for a time each month to rural areas. The more we can do that, the better. We have extended the grant for a year, and I hope that local authorities which feel that they want to abandon the centres will think again, because I agree that they perform a valuable service.
Would the right hon. Gentleman care to comment, if not on food in general, on bread, which once again, according to TheTimes, has raised its head? Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the resolution of the Price Commission that only a portion of the price discount is an allowable cost? Will he comment on whether that is a change from previous practice? Is it not a fact that manufacturers may recover cost of production globally and not just line by line, as appears to be the case for bakers?
As I understand it, the Price Commission made clear to the bakers its position on recoverable costs. I discovered that the Price Commission made the position clear before the bakers adjusted prices after Christmas. That seems to be a decision for the Price Commission, and for it alone.
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what further measures he plans to take to keep down household prices.
My right hon. Friend has published proposals for a more effective prices policy to succeed the present control powers when they expire on 31st July.
As the Government have not had much success in keeping down prices, can the hon. Gentleman say whether it is his intention to allow the Post Office to go ahead with its proposal to increase the letter and parcels rates? Can he say how much traffic the Post Office expects to lose by increasing these charges?
The Price Commission has vetted these proposals, and I understand that they are not out of line with the Price Code. Therefore, there is no case for the Secretary of State to intervene.
With regard to the household price of food, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he has seen the figures produced by the National Consumer Council, in association with the Consumers' Association, which reveal that, leaving aside inflation, the Commission's proposals for this year—the last stage of the transition—will increase farm prices by 3 per cent. and that other measures that it is taking will lift the food bill for a family in this country by £600 million a year—that is, by 4 per cent. per household, or 70p on the average household? Ought we not to get out of the CAP, because those are the increases that we shall face, leaving aside inflation?
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is this afternoon engaged in negotiations on the Commission's proposals to which my hon. Friend has referred, and I shall be joining him there later. I think my right hon. Friend will understand that the proposals are still very much a matter for negotiation, and my right hon. Friend has made it clear that he believes that price increases for commodities which are in structural surplus are unacceptable to this Government.
Will the hon. Gentleman, on this one, deliberately eschew longwinded, bureaucratic and incomprehensible answers and say whether the new controls after July will be mild or severe?
If the hon. Gentleman fails to understand my answers, I am afraid that I am not wholly to blame.
Accidents In The Home
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what are the latest figures available for the number of accidents in the home; and if he will break these down according to age and type of accident.
Statistics provided by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys show that, in 1975, 5,081 persons died as a result of accidents in the home in England and Wales and 1,094 in residential institutions. I will, with permission, circulate details in the Official Report.Fuller statistical information about home accidents will be provided in future by the Accident Surveillance System recently set up by my Department.
Does my hon. Friend agree that home safety councils are operating on a shoestring, and that in view of the number of accidents there is an urgent need to provide greater resources here? Will he study the recent issue by the German Government of stamps dealing with home safety interests? Will he look at this proposal with a view to discussing with the Post Office the possbility of something similar in this country?
I shall look at that proposal, of which I have not heard before. We have recently increased the grant to RoSPA, and publicity on home safety is promoted by my Department, by local authorities and by many other bodies.
Can the hon. Gentleman give statistics of how many accidents have been caused by the linkage of cookery machinery, ovens and fires to North Sea gas? What steps is he taking to minimise these?
I am sorry, but I cannot give those figures because the accident figures so far have been analysed by injury and not by cause of accident. The new Accident Surveillance System will give not only the injury but the causes, and we hope to get meaningful information from the statistics towards the middle of this year.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that his Department is already broken down by age and accident?
Following is the information:
|ACCIDENTS IN THE HOME AND RESIDENTIAL INSTITUTIONS, DEATH BY CAUSE AND AGE GROUP—ENGLAND AND WALES 1975|
65 and over
|Accidental poisoning by drugs and medicaments||…||…||…||484||13||14||2||371||10||99||1|
|Accidental poisoning by other solid and liquid substances||…||…||68||3||3||—||57||3||8||—|
|Accidental poisoning by gases and vapours||…||…||…||…||123||—||11||—||62||—||50||—|
|Scalds and accidents caused by corrosive liquids||…||…||…||32||3||10||—||2||—||20||3|
|Inhalation and ingestion of food||…||205||99||72||1||92||47||41||51|
|Injury undetermined whether accidentally or purposely inflicted||…||536||26||11||1||400||13||125||12|
Consumer Credit Act
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if he is satisfied with the operation of the Consumer Credit Act.
I believe that, when fully effective, the Consumer Credit Act will provide the protection for the consumer in matters relating to credit and hire which was intended.
How soon will the Minister be introducing regulations requiring a full statement, when so-called 100 per cent. mortgages are being advertised, of the true rates of interest comprising such mortgage facilities? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this is a source of great concern to young couples in particular?
I understand that, and I have recently made regulations to determine the effective rate of charge for credit. I expect the advertisement disclosure regulations to take effect towards the end of the year.
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection in what way he intends to encourage investment among distributors.
The investment relief provisions of the present code already meet this need.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that is not entirely satisfactory? Will he take account of the fact that there are two aspects to this? There is investment, which improves shopping facilities both for customers and for the staff working in retail outlets, and, far more seriously, there is the problem of providing sufficient working capital to accommodate continual price rises in the costs of materials and food being bought by retailers. That has to be financed. The Price Code must accommodate it.
The Government recognise the force of some of the hon. Gentleman's comments. After changes were made to the Price Code in August, as a result of relief claimed under the investment relief provisions £355 million of investment expenditure was claimed. I think that the hon. Gentleman's point Consumer Credit Act has been met.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the new prices policy consultative document it is clear that the distributors have been discriminated against in a big way? There is no relief for them of the same order as is given to manufacturing industries. As distributors have not been making excessive profits, and as they employ a high proportion of school leavers, is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with the amount of unemployment among school leavers that is likely to be created?
I am satisfied that the proposals for the distributive trades in the consultative document will not impose a discriminatory or unfair burden on that section. I am equally sure that it is necessary to retain control of gross and net profit margins in the distributive trades at a time when working people throughout the country are accepting universally the need for restraint in their incomes.
Does my hon. Friend agree that in the past 40 minutes we have been listening to a tirade from the Opposition about rising prices? Does he further agree that if the proposal of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) is carried into effect it will push up prices even further?
I agree completely—
Yes, and yes again. My hon. Friend has underlined the point made by my right hon. Friend that the Opposition's performance this afternoon has been wholly negative.
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if he will introduce a statutory price ceiling beyond which additional price increases will have to be separately agreed with the Price Commission.
Any uniform price ceiling might allow some companies higher price increases than would be justifiable under the investigatory system we have proposed, whilst it could prevent many other companies from fully recovering cost increases and from raising the funds needed to support investment and safeguard jobs.
Does my hon. Friend accept that that reply will be considered by the TUC to be totally evasive because, although some companies might benefit in the way suggested by him, they would be a very small minority? Is he aware that there is an overwhelming feeling within the TUC that there should be a return to free wage bargaining and that the only way in which that can be accomplished in an orderly fashion for phase 3 of wage policy is by having a fixed ceiling above which prices could rise only if the circumstances were considered by the Price Commission to be exceptional? Therefore, it would be possible to have a system of free wage bargaining against price ceilings which would bring about the distributive element in phase 3 for which we are looking.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is looking forward to hearing the TUC's detailed response to his proposals. However, it has been made clear, and has been widely accepted, that the principal disadvantage of the Price Code as it stands is that it is not sufficiently selective, and it can enable companies which may comply with the provisions of the code to get away with exploiting consumers. The new policy will be much more effective in dealing with that situation.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain to a confused public why he does not propose to intervene to overrule the Price Commission in respect of the proposed increases in postal charges but has overruled it in respect of the proposed increase in gas prices?
I did not intervene to overrule the proposals in respect of gas prices, nor shall I in respect of the Post Office proposals.
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection how many representations he has received about the consultative document on prices policy.
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what consultations have taken place in relation to the new Price Code announced recently.
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what consultations he has held on proposed legislation involved in enacting the new prices policy.
I have already held discussions with the CBI and the Retail Consortium and shall be meeting the Food and Drink Industries Council this afternoon. My Department has received representations from a large number of interested bodies. Discussions and correspondence on my proposals are continuing, and the outcome will be assessed at the end of the consultative period on 18th March.
In view of the justifiable demand of the trade union movement for tougher price controls, instead of just tinkering with net profit margins, why not try at least a temporary freeze on the retail prices of certain basic essentials, such as foodstuffs, fuel, rents and mortgage rates? Why on earth is coal specifically excluded from the mediocre proposals in the consultation document?
I believe that a general price freeze would be wrong because it would not be in the interests of the economy and any prospect for expansion would be inhibited. My hon. Friend should not talk about a general price freeze as if it were TUC policy. It is not. The TUC's economic statement called for the ability to hold down prices by freeze on selected occasions, and that is one of the proposals which appears in my consultative document.
How does the Minister intend to prevent the new investigatory powers which he proposes in his consultative document from having an arbitrary effect on the firms which he proposes to investigate?
First, if the legislation is passed there will be some general criteria which the Price Commission must observe; secondly, by the character and quality of the Price Commission; thirdly, by the necessity for the Secretary of State of the time to approve what the Commission does; and, fourthly, by applying a parliamentary check to the Secretary of State.
Is my right hon. Friend looking long and hard specifically at the blatant gambling which is going on in the tea market and making sure that the consumer is not being rooked in the same way as he is on coffee?
I shall examine the possibility of the Price Commission considering the tea situation. But I am sure my hon. Friend knows very well that the main cause of the increase in the price of tea—as may turn out to be the case with coffee—is the increase in import prices, and that is something we cannot avoid.
Does the Secretary of State appreciate that he may well get the worst of both worlds with his proposed new Price Code? It will have no significant effect on prices, but it will make industries think that it will be used in a purely arbitrary way and, therefore, will frighten off investment in them.
I do not believe that it will frighten off investment. With the right sort of Price Commission, which is something I want to create, industry will have confidence in the common sense and objectivity of the Commission.On the other point, there is no possible statutory prices policy other than a general price freeze which can hold down all prices to a significant extent. As I do not believe that a general price freeze would be right, I do not even contemplate a prices policy which follows the rules that the hon. Gentleman has suggested. It is the general economic policy which must lower the inflation rate.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that many consumers believe that successive prices policies have generated more paper than benefits to them? Can he give those consumers a rough indication of the total benefits to them of successive pricing policies? Further, what steps is he taking to try to overcome speculation, in particular in the commodities market, which is in many respects undermining any hope there may be of getting popular support for prices policies?
The quarterly report of the Price Commission lists proposed price increases which the Commission prevented from going ahead. This, according to my hon. Friend's standards and mine, comes under the heading of benefits to the consumer which we could publicise. However, I emphasise that nobody should pretend or believe that a prices policy can reduce prices in the way that general economic strategy can do so. It must be the general economic policies which bring down inflation to tolerable levels.
Price Control Proposals
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if he will list in the Official Report those organisations which he has directly invited to comment on his new price control proposals.
I have written directly to the TUC, CBI, Retail Consortium, Food and Drink Industries Council, National Consumer Council and Price Commission seeking their views on my proposals. My Department has also written to over 250 representative organisations and individuals. With permission, I will circulate details of these in the Official Report. In addition, some 4,000 copies of the consultative document have been issued in response to inquiries.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that a number of hon. Members have been concerned that the representations made by consumer organisations as opposed to those made by producer organisations have not been weighed carefully enough in his Department? What steps is he taking to make sure that the views of, for example, the National Consumer Council are taken properly into account?
I shall be consulting the National Consumer Council tomorrow when its representatives come to see me. Their offerings and comments will be treated in exactly the same way as those made at meetings with the CBI and the Retail Consortium last week. The proper importance of the council will be accepted in the discussions and its views will be taken into account.
According to the Minister of Agriculture, the price of butter will increase this year to 72p to 75p a pound. Will not that offend against the prices policy? Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether British domestic policy or Community policy takes precedence?
I really cannot go on answering questions that are not for me. The hon. Member must put down that question to the Minister of Agriculture.
Following are the details:—
LIST OF THOSE CONSULTED ON FUTURE PRICES POLICY
CONSULTATIVE DOCUMENT 22.2.77
By the Secretary of State
- Retail Consortium
- Price Commission
- National Consumer Council
- Food & Drink Industries Council
At Official Level
- British Hotel Restaurant and Caterers Association
- Motor Agents Association
- National Association of Holiday Centres
- Kinematograph Renters Society
- Independent Film Distributors
- Scottish Newspaper Proprietors
- Retail Food Confederation
- Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies
- Cinematograph Exhibitors Association
- Association of Independent Cinemas
- Periodical Publishers Association Ltd
- Association of British Launderers and Cleaners Ltd
- Consumer Campaign Committee
- Association of British Chambers of Commerce
- British Importers Confederation
- National Federation of Consumer Groups
- Federation of Wholesale and Industrial Distributors
- Food Manufacturers Federation
- Equipment Leasing Association
- Federation of Manufacturers of Construction Equipment
- Electronic Engineering Association
- Ford Motor Company
- British Independent Steel Producers Association
- National Federation of Builders and Plumbers Merchants
- The Brewers Society
- The Publishers Association
- Cement Makers Federation
- Council of Iron Foundry Association
- Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders
- British Paper and Board Industry Federation ICI
- Chemical Industries Association
- The General Electric Co Ltd
- Issuing Houses Association
- Engineering Industries Council
- Road Haulage Association
- Multiple Food & Drink Retailers Association
- The Hundred Group
- Triplex Foundries Group Ltd
- Guest Keen & Nettlefolds Ltd
- British Aluminium Co Ltd
- Bowater Scott Corporation Ltd
- Kimberley Clark Ltd
- National Consumer Protection Council
- Women's National Commission
- Association of Certified Accountants.
- British Chemical Engineering Contractors.
- The Scotch Whisky Association.
- Law Society of Scotland.
- Alcan Aluminium (UK) Ltd.
- British Federation of Hotel, and Guest Houses Association.
- Institute of Cost and Management Accountants.
- Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland.
- British Bankers Association.
- British Plastics Federation.
- British Electrical and Allied Manufacturers Association.
- British Mechanical Engineering Confederation.
- Courtaulds Ltd.
- British Textile Employers Association.
- The National Chamber of Trade.
- Process Plant Association.
- National Federation of Engineers and Tool Manufacturers.
- Finance Houses Association.
- Incorporated Association of Preparatory Schools.
- National Association of Steel Stockholders.
- Royal Institute of British Architects.
- Royal Town Planning Institute.
- Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
- Bar Council.
- Association of District Councils.
- Scottish Courts Administration.
- The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
- The Senate of the Inns of Court and the Bar.
- Faculty of Advocates.
- Wholesale Grocers Association of Scotland.
- Albright and Wilson Ltd.
- The Timber Trade Federation.
- Multiple Tobacconists, Confectioners and Newsagents Group.
- Imperial Group Limited.
- Wholesale Tobacco Trade Association.
- Wine and Spirit Association of Great Britain.
- Retail Confectioners Association Ltd.
- Co-operative Union Ltd.
- The Gin Rectifiers and Distillers Association.
- Scottish Grocers Federation.
- National Association of British Wine Producers.
- The Vodka Trade Association.
- Belfast and Ulster Licensed Vintners Association.
- The Federation of Retail Tobacconists.
- National Association of Cider Makers.
- National Federation of Retail Newsagents.
- The Wholesale Wine and Spirit Association of Scotland.
- Independent Wine Merchants Association Ltd.
- Scottish Licensed Trade Association.
- Scottish Tobacco Trade Federation.
- The Law Society.
- British Veterinary Association.
- Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland.
- Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland.
- The Association of Consulting Engineers.
- The Faculty of Architects and Surveyors.
- The Landscape Institute (Incorporating the Institute of Landscape Architects).
- The National Association of Estate Agents.
- Glasgow Property Owners and Factors Association Ltd.
- Institute of Registered Architects.
- The Association of Optical Practitioners.
- Guild of British Dispensing Opticians.
- The Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.
- The British Medical Association.
- The Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers.
- The Incorporated Law Society of Ireland.
- National Federation for the Self Employed.
- Bank of England.
- Society of Industrial Artists and Designers.
- The Stock Exchange.
- Chartered Institute of Patent Agents.
- Institute of Actuaries.
- Faculty of Actuaries.
- Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.
- Incorporated Society of Valuers and Auctioneers.
- The General Council of British Shipping.
- Federation of Bakers.
- Leeds Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
- Branded Furniture Society.
- National Television Rental Association Ltd.
- The British Precast Concrete Federation Ltd.
- Bradford Chamber of Commerce Incorporated.
- P & O.
- Metal Box Ltd.
- National Federation of Wholesale Grocers and Provision Merchants.
- Federation of Optical Corporate Bodies.
- Manbre Sugars Ltd.
- Joint Committee of Opthalmic Opticians.
- 1972 Industry Group.
- National Association of British Market Authorities.
- Pilkington Brothers Ltd.
- Arthur Anderson and Co.
- Deloitte and Co.
- Committee of London Clearing Banks.
- Du Pont (UK) Ltd.
- The Wholesale Floorcovering Distributors Association.
- British Agrochemicals Association.
- Hire Purchase Trades Association.
- Committee of Scottish Clearing Banks.
- Shipbuilders and Repairers National Association.
- The Society of British Gas Industries.
- British Ports Association.
- National Ports Council.
- British Steel Corporation.
- Association of District Council Treasurers.
- BP Oil Ltd.
- Shell (UK) Ltd.
- Esso Petroleum Co. Ltd.
- Association of British Abattoir Owners.
- Association of Cereals Food Manufacturers Ltd.
- Association of Butter Blenders and Butter and Cheese Packers.
- Association of Fish Meal Manufacturers.
- Association of Malt Products.
- Automatic Vending Association of Great Britain.
- British Soft Drinks Council
- British Sugar Corporation.
- British Sugar Refiners Association.
- British Association of Grain, Seed, Feed and Agricultural Merchants Ltd.
- British Maize Refiners Association.
- British Oatmeal Millers Association.
- British Soluble Coffee Manufacturers Association.
- British Association of Manufacturers of Bakers Yeast.
- British Association of Plant Breeders.
- The Cake and Biscuit Alliance Ltd.
- Cocoa Chocolate and Confectionary Alliance.
- Compound Animal Feedingstuffs Manufacturers National Association.
- Coffee Trade Federation.
- Confederation of Fried Fish Caterers Association.
- Dairy Trade Federation.
- Federation of Oil Seeds and Fats Association.
- Fruit and Vegetable Canners Association.
- Federation of UK Milk Marketing Boards.
- The Grain and Feed Trade Association Ltd.
- Health Food Manufacturers Association.
- Ice Cream Alliance.
- Ice Cream Federation.
- Lard Association.
- Bacon and Meat Manufacturers Association.
- The Maltsters Association of Great Britain.
- Margarine and Shortening Manufacturers Association.
- National Association of Master Bakers Confectioners and Caterers.
- National Association of British and Irish Millers Ltd.
- National Association of Perrymakers.
- National Federation of Fish Fryers Ltd.
- National Council of Concentrate Manufacturers.
- National Seed Development Organisation.
- National Association of Creamery Proprietors.
- The Pet Food Manufacturers Association.
- Pre-Packed Flour Association.
- The Raw Fat and Bone Processors.
- Scottish Association of Master Bakers.
- The Scottish Association of Soft Drinks Manufacturers.
- Seed Crushers and Oil Processors Association.
- Tate & Lyle Refiners Ltd.
- Tea Buyers Association.
- Tea Trade Committee.
- The UK Association of Frozen Food Producers.
- Ulster Curers Association.
- Allied Grocery Distributors Ltd.
- British Potato Traders Consortium.
- British Poultry Federation Ltd.
- Cocoa Association of London Ltd.
- The Combined Edible Nut Trade Association.
- Spice Trades Section of the Food Manufacturers Federation.
- British Frozen Food Federation.
- British Association of Canned Food Importers and Distributors.
- Delicatessen and Fine Foods Association.
- Federation of Agricultural Co-Ops UK Ltd.
- Federation of British Port Wholesale Fish Merchants Association.
- Fruit Importers Association.
- Honey Importers and Packers Association.
- Imported Meat Trade Association.
- London Chamber of Commerce Inc.
- Mace Marketing Services Ltd.
- National Association of Health Stores.
- National Dried Fruit Association.
- National Edible Oil Distributors.
- National Egg Packers Association Ltd.
- National Egg Producers and Retailers
- National Federation of Fruit and Potato
- Trades Ltd.
- National Union of Licensed Victuallers.
- National Federation of Meat Traders.
- National Food and Drink Federation.
- National Union of Small Shopkeepers of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
- Retail Fruit Trade Federation Ltd.
- Scottish Federation of Meat Traders Associations.
- Spar (UK) Ltd.
- National Joint Council of British Potato and Vegetable Merchants.
- Wholesale Confectioners Alliance.
- UK Provision Trade Federation.
- National Federation of Fishmongers.
- British Flower Industry Association.
- British Grass Crop Dryers.
- National Federation of Inland Wholesale Fish Merchants.
- Herring Buyers Association Ltd.
- Association of British Salted Fish Curers and Exporters.
- Hotel, Catering & Institutional Management Association.
- Industrial Catering Association.
- Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain.
- Rusk Manufacturers Association.
- Scottish Trade Flour Association.
- UK Flour Importers Trade Association Ltd.
- United Kingdom Rice Millers Association.
- The Bakers Allied Traders Association.
- British Caramel Manufacturers Association.
- British Glucose Manufacturers Association.
- British Modified Starch Manufacturers Association.
- British Starch Importers and Dealers Association.
- British Pearl Barley Millers Association.
- British Association of Feed Supplement Manufacturers Ltd.
- Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association Ltd.
- Ulster Sea Fishermans Association.
- Fish Producers Organisation Ltd.
- Ulster Wholesale Grocers Association.
- Northern Ireland Fish Producers and Exporters Association.
- Northern Ireland Master Butchers.
- Northern Ireland Milk Alliance.
- Northern Ireland Retail Fruit Trade.
- Northern Ireland Retail Fish Trade.
- Northern Ireland Bakers Employers Council.
- Northern Ireland Hotels and Caterers Association.
- Irish Wholesale Fruit Merchants Association.
- North of Ireland Grocers Association Ltd.
- North of Ireland Wholesale and Export Meat Association.
- Northern Ireland Poultry Federation.
- Total 278 organisations.
Chancellor Of The Duchy Of Lancaster (Engagements)
asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will list his engagements for 14th March.
asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what are his official engagements for 14th March.
asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether he will list his engagements for 14th March.
asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what are his official engagements for 14th March.
Apart from my duties in this House, I have meetings today with ministerial colleagues and others.
As chief trouble-shooter and the expert on lavish handouts from public funds to the motor industry, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what advice he will give the Government today about British Leyland? Does he recommend another blood transfusion of taxpayers' money or the operating table, or does he intend to sit back and wait for a decent funeral?
I do not know whether the hon. Member was expressing curiosity about British Leyland or whether he was anxious to emit a stream of well-prepared sarcasms. I shall assume that he is curious to have my views about British Leyland. Like all Government Ministers I am greatly concerned about Leyland's problems, but I have nothing whatever to add to what has been said on this subject by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.
I get the impression that my right hon. Friend will be finishing up in Birmingham some time later this week as he seems to dabble in most of these matters. Will he go to the Treasury and ask his colleagues there how much money has been lost in taxes as a result of the setting up of the Bank of England lifeboat scheme a few years ago? Will he agree with me as an expert on financial matters that the clearing banks and others taking part in this rescue scheme are setting off certain payments under it against tax payments that otherwise would be paid to the Treasury? Would it not be a good idea to publish the exact amounts lost to the Treasury arising out of the scheme?
I do not know whether my hon. Friend is describing himself or me as a financial expert or whether he was referring to both of us. His question implies that he is dissatisfied with the operations of the Bank of England and the joint stock banks under the lifeboat scheme. In fact the scheme was organised by the Bank of England, and its most valuable and important effect has been to stabilise financial considerations in the City of London at a difficult time.
When the Chancellor gives advice to the Government later today on the future of British Leyland, will he take account of the fact that the company is too centralised and too large, and that its factories are too big? While these factors may amount to economies of scale on paper, will he realise that the diseconomies in human terms are absolutely shattering? If British Leyland is to succeed it must be broken down, if not broken up.
I will convey those views to the Secretary of State for Industry. The hon. Member will not expect exhaustive comments from me at the moment, and I hope that he will not be disappointed if his suggestions do not strike the Secretary of State with the shock of novelty.
May I refer my right hon. Friend to my letter of 9th February 1976 complaining of injustice to one of my constituents, a Mrs. Moyles—a view confirmed in the report of Sir Douglas Osmond? Will he guarantee that the forthcoming report on the actions of the Chief Constable of Lancashire will not be shelved?
This matter and any other matter will receive very careful, earnest and impartial consideration. None of these problems is ever shelved.
Has the right hon. Gentleman been thinking today of possible cuts in Government expenditure? If so, as he came in before the end of Question Time to the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection and saw the performance of all the Ministers on the Front Bench today, does he agree that that Department would be a very suitable subject for massive cuts in expenditure? Will he agree that by abolishing the whole lot of them he could achieve considerable expenditure cuts, as they have done nothing to keep prices down and they put up a thoroughly shameful show today?
I certainly do not accept the disparagement of my right hon. and hon. Friends in answering Questions today. The fact that they did not give the hon. Member total satisfaction is not, to my mind, any proof of incompetence. If the hon. Member is searching for significant and valuable economies, he will not find them by abolishing that Department, whose administrative expenses are negligible.
asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether he will list his official engagements for 8th February.
As well as meetings with my officials I spoke to a Financial Times conference on world banking.
Did my right hon. Friend tell the conference on banking that the four major clearing banks announced annual profits of about £700 million at the same time as the country was faced with a 17 per cent. rate of inflation and unemployment of 1½ million people, due largely to lack of investment in industry? Is it not time that the Labour Government implemented Labour Party policy by extending public ownership into banking, instead of setting up a "phoney" inquiry under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson)?
I gather that my hon. Friend is not satisfied with any impartial inquiry into the banking system. The only inquiry that would satisfy him would be one that guaranteed in advance a result that was palatable to him. I reaffirm, as I have done many times from the Dispatch Box, that it is not Government policy to nationalise the banks. The recommendations of the committee remain to be seen. It will be a very thorough and careful inquiry, and if my hon. Friend has any information that is very telling or compelling in the direction that he wishes the Government to go he will have an ample opportunity to submit evidence to the committee of inquiry.
Has the right hon. Gentleman had any time since 8th February to consider the unfortunate situation in which he appears to find himself in his Manchester, Central constituency? It appears that he is the latest Labour Member to suffer a putsch. Will he take comfort from the fact that, even if his new executive does not hold him in great esteem, many hon. Members in this House do, even though we do not always agree with him?
I am grateful for the expression at the end of the hon. Member's remarks. I assure him that there has been no putsch in my constituency, and relations between me and my management committee continue to be warm and cordial even though there are often ideological differences of emphasis on certain points. None of this will detract from the esteem that the hon. Member was generous enough to express. It is shared by people of very different political opinions to his in my constituency, as it can be within the traditions of our political life in this country. I hope that will continue to be the case.
Will my right hon. Friend recall that on 8th February, while he did not explain the Labour Party's policy on public ownership of the banks, I certainly did? The international bankers—and the British bankers for that matter—did not receive the proposals with any enthusiasm. Therefore, there will obviously be a tremendous political fight to get our case over.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) in his time has treated certain aspects of party policy as something less sacred than the tablets of the law. Therefore, he will excuse me if I take the official policy of the Labour Party as sometimes not being completely compelling and that I have a right to express a dissident opinion. In regard to the experience, which I shared with him, in addressing the world banking conference, it is true that my hon. Friend expressed forthright support for the line of the National Executive, which differs somewhat from Government policy as it stands at present. I did not perceive signs of immediate and urgent alarm on the part of the bankers at my hon. Friend's statement of his opinion. I must confess that I did not see any marked signs of enthusiasm for his proposal. That proposal is, none the less, one that can be debated, argued about and proceeded with or discarded according to the judgment of a wise Government.For my part, I fervently hope—and I am confident—that the Government will continue to regard as irrelevant to our purposes the wholesale nationalisation of our clearing banks. But that is a matter for democratic decision, via the normal democratic processes which I am sure my hon. Friend will do his best to shape in the direction of which he approves. I am sure he will not resent it if those with a contrary view fight as vigorously as he does in expressing his view.
In view of the differences between the Government Front and Back Benches on the subject of our democratic processes, will the right hon. Gentleman advise his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to hold a General Election so that the differences will be settled once and for all?
The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in supposing that there is any rancour or acrimony between my hon. Friend the Member for Walton and myself. It is possible to have differences of opinion on various items without in any way prejudicing the common agreement and purpose in seeking to improve economic and social conditions in our country. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) would be well advised to spend any surplus energy or emollience he possesses in soothing the interminable back-biting that goes on between Opposition Members. At least Labour has only one leader. The Opposition faces the difficulty of having one official leader and a number of unofficial candidates for the leadership. I recommend to the hon. Gentleman that he should look after the Conservative Party and let Labour Party Members resolve in discussion their own differences of opinion, wherever those exist.
Building Societies (Mortgage Rates)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
I regard this matter as urgent and important because the building societies have given no undertaking that they intend to reduce the interest rate, despite the fact that the minimum lending rate was further reduced last Thursday. Therefore, there is no reason at all why the mortgage interest rate should not be reduced by 1¼ per cent. Such a move would effectively reduce the cost of living for those 4 million people buying their own homes on mortgage. A person who is buying his house on a £10,000 mortgage over a period of 25 years would, if the interest rate were reduced by 1¼ per cent. save £9 a month. This is a time when all people—we in this House, and those in commerce, industry, trade unions and in the Government—are doing our best effectively to reduce the cost of living. I regard the building societies' attitude as blatant disregard of the national interest, and I think that the matter is urgent enough to be debated immediately in this House."the refusal of the building societies to reduce mortgage interest rates to 4 million people buying their own homes on mortgage".
The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter which he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,
I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman and have taken into account the several factors set out in the Standing Order, but the House knows that I am not called upon to give reasons for my decision. I have to rule that the hon. Gentleman's submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House."the refusal of the building societies to reduce mortgage interest rates to 4 million people buying their own homes on mortgage".
Statutory Instruments, &C
That the draft Transport Boards (Adjustment of Payments) Order 1977 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Tinn.]
Statutory Instruments, &C
Motion made, and Question put,
That the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) Order 1977 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Tinn.]
Are there 20 hon. Members on their feet?
There are a lot more than 20.
I am very slow in counting.
Not less than 20 Members having risen in their places and signified their objection thereto, Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Noes had it, pursuant to Standing Order No. 73A ( Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.).
Statutory Instruments, &C
Motion made, and Question put,
That the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No. 2) Order 1977 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments. &c.—[Mr. Tinn.]
Not less than 20 Members having risen in their places and signified their objection thereto, Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Noes had it, pursuant to Standing Order No. 73A ( Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.).
London Docklands (Expenditure Committee's Report)
I beg to move,
This inquiry was undertaken by the Environment Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones). The Committee interrupted a long inquiry into the new towns and set up a short inquiry into the development of the docklands. The Committee confined itself to three main issues: the public expenditure implications of redevelopment, the most suitable organisational structure for the purpose, and the implications for regional policy. The Sub-Committee took evidence between January and March 1975 from all the people with special knowledge and interest in the London Docklands, including the Greater London Council, and the five boroughs particularly concerned. It took evidence from the Dock-lands Joint Committee which co-ordinates the activities of the six local authorities involved. It heard evidence from the Minister for Planning and Local Government, now the Minister of Agriculture, and also from officials of the Department for the Environment. The Sub-Committee also heard evidence from two former Secretaries of State, the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), and the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). A number of hon. Members representing docklands constituencies also give evidence, including the present Secretary of State for the Environment, and the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. Therefore, one hopes that, since they take an interest in this matter and since the report contains a number of constructive suggestions, we shall have a short reply from the Minister today to the effect that sums of money will be made available following the Committee's re- commendations and that its suggestions will be acceded to. Almost all the Members of Parliament representing the area concerned gave evidence, including my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett), who now occupies the Government Front Bench. Evidence was also taken from R. Travers Morgan and Partners, the PLA, the Docklands Joint Action Group and the South-East Economic Planning Council.That this House takes note of the Fifth Report from the Expenditure Committee Session 1974 –75 (House of Commons Paper No. 348) on Redevelopment of the London Docklands, and of the relevant Government observations (Command Paper No. 6193).
My evidence was the best.
Since we heard so much excellent evidence, my right hon. Friend's claim is a slight exaggeration. All the evidence was of an extremely high order.
I thought my hon. Friend had forgotten to mention me.
I mention with great pleasure the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). I hope that he will intervene in this debate.
Yes, I shall—very much so.
The report was published in May 1975 and made these main recommendations: that the Secretary of State should give a firm indication of the amount of financial support he is prepared to give to docklands redevelopment; that planning authorities should be given guidance on priorities for major regional expenditure—that is to say, on the alloction of resources between new towns and the inner cities. We understand that a decision on this matter, and indeed a definitive statement, is fairly near.I should perhaps declare a vested interest—in fact, two of them in conflict. I have a great sentimental attachment to the docklands because when I was a young man—which was a long time ago—I took a university tutorial class at Toynbee Hall. I grew fond of my students. They were good students, and they believed in putting into practice the matters that they were discussing. Several of them went off to fight in the International Brigade, for the Government side against Franco. Some of them were killed. But their prescience was well demonstrated because, not long after that, others of my students were killed and their homes destroyed in the Fascist bombing that took place in the docklands. I was sad that, when I went back to Toynbee Hall after the war, practically all the students had gone, for one reason or another, and the whole atmosphere of docklands had suffered a severe blow. I do not mean that the great community spirit, of which I was privileged to be a part, had gone, but there was such physical destruction that it was almost as though the community had to start again. I did not have much to do with the docklands for many years after that. I used to fly over the area in a helicopter, and it looks better from the air than close up. I also took part, with the Sub-Committee, in a tour connected with this inquiry. I entirely agree with the comment that the Secretary of State has made in another document, in that he was appalled at the waste and dereliction in the heart of our capital city. That is one of the interests that I declare. I am in great sympathy with the people of the area because of the way in which developments have taken so long to get under way. My other conflicting vested interest is that I have a new town in my constituency and I can make a great argument—as I shall probably have to do—to the Secretary of State that this new town is unique. Most hon. Members believe that their constituency matters are, if not unique, at least rather uncommon, but I hope that any extra money for docklands will not come from this town. I should agree to a small slowing down in development, but I those towns that are to have continued hope that this town is firmly on the list of expansion I am sure that the Minister will agree that this conflict of interest is one that impartial people can solve.
No one is suggesting that money should be taken away from something else. The docklands area is well worth developing and there is no doubt that extra resources will have to be found. There has been a misnomer. Figures have been talked about by the Committee, and £2,000 million has been bandied about, but no one is suggesting that that money will be spent overnight. It will be spent over many years. Let us not get this out of proportion, because such an argument can continue and nothing will ever be done—not that we are doing much now.
I am not trying to push the argument into that course. But I am sympathetic to the argument made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and I hope that he will be sympathetic to mine.The third recommendation is that the costs and benefits of surface alternatives to the proposed Tube line, the River Line, should be re-examined. The Dock-lands Joint Committee should continue to be responsible for redevelopment plans for the time being but it should be strengthened by the co-option of more members. The land acquisition disposal functions of the parent authorities under the Community Land Act should be delegated to the Joint Committee in respect of the docklands area. The Secretary of State has made a Press announcement, saying that he is in the process of considering setting up a joint land board to deal with this. Perhaps the Minister can give us some firm information about that proposal. Another Committee recommendation is that retraining facilities for employment should be provided on a large scale. Again, a fair amount is already going on. Better bus and rail services should be provided as an immediate improvement, at a relatively small cost, to improve access to employment. The Secretary of State replied to the Committee's recommendation and report in a reasonable time. It took him only three months and that compares favourably with the time that is taken by many other Secretaries of State. In August 1975 he accepted the Committee's recommendations generally. The last sentence of the Government White Paper read:
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey agrees with that. In April 1976 the Joint Committee published "The Strategic Plan for London Docklands"—to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey referred—which envisaged the spending of £2,000 million over the following 15 years. After a short period of consultation, the plan was approved in July 1976. In August 1976 the Secretary of State announced his support for the Committee's proposals but was unable to promise any additional resources. From time to time, the Expenditure Committee as a whole, and several of its Sub-Committees, have made fairly serious criticisms and strictures about the way in which successive Governments—and this is not a party point—have dealt with the economy and the financial contribution that afflict us most of the time. A committee investigating hospital buildings said that quick cuts damaged value for money. Other committees have said that such cuts are extremely damaging to the construction industry. Here, I declare another interest, because I have a long-standing connection with the construction industry. There is no question but that of all the industries in this country that are going through great difficulties, the construction industry is having the greatest difficulties. It cannot work with stop-go—and mostly there has been stop. If all the recommendations of the Committee—that have been agreed in principle by the Secretary of State—were carried forward with more drive and supported by money, not only would great social advantages be derived in the docklands areas but there would also be great relief and help for the construction industry. The main point made by the Expenditure Committee—and I am sure that this will come up again during the expenditure debate on Thursday—was that the cutting of capital expenditure as compared with current expenditure is bad for the docklands and particularly bad for the construction industry. I do not think that those of us who have perhaps rather idealistic ideas about the types of buildings that we want for schools, hospitals, houses or whatever, and who want much more activity in building, will ever achieve those ideas until all Governments—and the civil servants who advise them—come to the settled conclusion that there must be a steady development of building and a slowly rising market. But this development, if it is at all possible—and perhaps we need a building Keynes—should be much more sheltered from the effects of economic strictures and difficulties. The effect of the present expenditure plan is that capital expenditure will be cut by 18 per cent. while current expenditure will rise by about 1 per cent. during the next two years. So much by way of introduction. I should like to thank Members of the Sub-Committee because this has been an extremely hard working Sub-Committee. We were most grateful to the hon. Member for Daventry, who chaired the Sub-Committee. Its report was completed in good time. Yet did not cut any corners. It has done what I have set out to do as Chairman of the Committee—to improve relations between the Committee and the Departments—with which it is particularly concerned. There is no intention to make the Committee the lackey of the Department, but rather to keep at them and to develop and keep the subjects is which the Committee is interested moving in the right direction. We say some severe things at times and there is sometimes acrimony between Ministers and the Committee, but generally, the Committee cannot function unless there is confidence between the Secretary of State, Permanent Secretaries and civil servants in the work of the Committee and in building up their evidence. If a Secretary of State digs in his heels and refuses to give evidence, or gives only muted evidence, there may be a row in the House, but nothing will come of it. Despite what has been written in The Guardian, I have been pleased at the way in which, with rather limited resources, the committees have been able to build up good relations over a wide area. I may have something more to say about that in the next debate. It is wrong to minimise the effort and results of the Expenditure Committee, which does not imitate the lavishness and careerism rampant in American Congressional committees that produce reports which are no better than those of ours."Within the limits of the resources at its disposal, the Government will do all it can to help the redevelopment of Docklands to go forward with all speed."
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) for the kind things that he said about the work of our Committee and I am sure that my colleagues on the Committee will wish to add their thanks. It is reassuring to note that the Sub-Committee has played some part in the overall objectives set by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland for the Expenditure Committee as a whole. We hope to continue to play a part in our future inquiries.The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland has set the wide scene of the debate, not only in terms of the Sub-Committee's recommendations but on the broader scene of the current economic situation. I shall be touching on some of these issues later. I am glad that the hon. Member mentioned the evidence of the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). It was characteristically lively and he brought to our deliberations a great wealth of experience. The right hon. Gentleman need not be apprehensive about those of his remarks that I am about to quote. It was characteristic when he said:
May I add that he spoke with more than a grain of common sense as well. The right hon. Gentleman also said"Therefore, I am talking very much from the heart and, I hope, with a bit of brain too."
Many of us would join the right hon. Gentleman in that comment. I hope that the Committee responded to the right hon. Gentleman when he said, a little teasingly:"here is a dramatic chance for a redevelopment of the area, not just for the people I have the privilege to represent but a chance for London, which I think is the greatest city in the world".
I am glad to say that he did not watch them too carefully and, in giving evidence, he gave us a thoroughly enjoyable hour or two. The Fifth Report of the Expenditure Committee arises from evidence taken during the early months of 1975 and is contained in House of Commons Paper No. 348 which was published on 28th April. It was followed by the Government's observations in Cmnd. 6193 in August. I agree with the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland that we were grateful to have such a prompt response to our recommendations and the observations contained in our inquiry. The Committee was fortunate to have as its special adviser Mr. David Starkie, a university lecturer at Reading University. We just got our report out in time before he went on secondment to Perth to advise on highway problems in that part of Australia. He was away for about 18 months and has now returned. I am in touch with him again and I hope that he will be able to help us with subsequent inquiries. The Committee undertook its inquiry in the context of the rising concern, both in London and elsewhere, about the increasing dereliction of the docklands area, which comprises 5,500 acres lying immediately beyond Tower Bridge on both banks of the river, extending as far down stream as Barking Creek. It is common knowledge that the redevelopment had been considered during the Conservative Administration of 1970–74 and we were able to take the views of both my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) and his successor as Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). The right hon. Member for Worcester in May 1971 commissioned the Docklands Report prepared by Messrs. R. Travers Morgan and Partners which was submitted early in January 1973—a commendable sense of urgency on the part of all concerned. It is well known that all five of the suggested alternative developments were rejected by the GLC and the five London boroughs involved with the docklands area. The strategic plan published for consultation by the Docklands Joint Committee, which was established in January 1974, was published in March two years later—some five years after the initial initiative of the Conservative Administration of 1971. There is, I understand, little to see as yet by way of development and construction work. The Docklands Development Team reported this month that the loss of the international trade mark at Southwark posed by the American company Messrs. Trammel Crow, which has deferred its plans for development, has been a considerable setback. Since the summer of 1975, a total of 72 development applications have been approved, with 29 being deferred or refused. In round terms, approvals have been given for 980,000 sq. ft. of industrial and commercial use, 45,000 sq. ft. for offices and 20 acres for residential development. About 1,100 local authorities dwellings are now under construction or due to start shortly and planning is well advanced for other sites which should yield 1,400 dwellings. In reply to inquiries, no indication is forthcoming of actual construction work, either in terms of a statement of completions or work under construction."With the knowledge that what I am about to say will probably be read by those interested I had better watch my words."
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he is quoting from something? He may be interested to know that more than 100 dwellings are under construction in my constituency, which represents half the docklands area.
I do not doubt that they are under construction. My information comes directly from the report of the Docklands Joint Committee and I do not think that I am underestimating what it has done. We have had no statement from the Docklands Joint Committee, in response to inquiries, about completions or work under construction. I am choosing my words carefully.St. Katherine's Docks and the London Docks were closed in 1968 and the Surrey Commercial was closed in 1960. Messrs. Taylor Woodrow is to be congratulated on its development at the former St. Katherine's Docks. It is an imaginative concept executed to an excellent standard, both in design and workmanship, on a site made available by the GLC. In commenting upon the present situation after a decade of procrastination, I do so, of course, in terms of my own judgment and I do not speak for my colleagues on the Committee. What I have to say is advisedly in the context of what has been achieved so far—so little in fact—and pays no regard to the optimism which has been a continuing theme down the years from those in charge of this vast undertaking. That is an optimism which in my view is incapable of fulfilment under the existing arrangements and in the present economic climate, unless new principles are accepted. Commenting on the Sub-Committee's report, the Government say in paragraph 3:
Paragraph 4 goes on to say:"The redevelopment of the London Dock-lands is, of its kind, the greatest challenge of our time, Docklands covers 84 square miles, and is the largest area in London available for redevelopment since the Great Fire over 300 years ago. It is the largest urban area for redevelopment in Europe."
That is what the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland emphasised. In a report which appeared in TheTimes of 6th April last year, Mr. Percy Bell, the Chairman of the Docklands Joint Committee, is quoted as saying:"Although the timescale for the operation, and the cost remain to be worked out, there is no doubt, even now, that both will be very substantial."
By that I think he meant the GLC and the five London boroughs, although it may involve other people including the Government. Sir Reginald Goodwin, the Leader of the GLC it is said, refused, on the previous day, to consider the alternative strategy for the redevelopment of dock-lands and, when referring to transport facilities including those in London Docklands and Thamesmead, is quoted as saying:"We consider that the money can be found to do it, but it is not the committee's money, it is other people's, and they must take the decisions."
More recently in the Evening News of 4th March, Mr. Horace Cutler, the Conservative Leader of the GLC, is reported as saying that County Hall should begin work on the £200 million Fleet River Underground line. He will know that when the Department of the Environment representatives, where giving evidence to the Committee, in answer to Question 184 Mr. F. J. Ward, Under-Secretary, London Directorate, told us that the Strand to Fenchurch Street line—of which the new line is an extension—is particularly expensive. It will cost £50 million for 2 ½ miles of Tube. Mr. Ward told the Sub-Committee:"I am not so pessimistic as to accept that the Government will not accept its transport responsibilities. We are waiting for the final document on transport strategy, which I understand is likely to appear next June, and I am optimistic that it will conclude that the Fleet Line is in the national interest."
He concluded:"… in terms of total public benefit it comes out with a ratio of benefits to cost of about 0·3 to 1 for that 2 ½ mile section. That means crudely that you spend £50 million on 2 ½ miles of tube and at the end of the day you have a public asset worth £17 ½ million. The following stage from Fenchurch Street as currently being favoured through the Surrey Docks, the Isle of Dogs and Silvertown to Woolwich and Thamesmead is still at the provisional suggestion stage. I do not think that the line has been fully investigated yet."
The vast resources required to meet the plans apparently laid down by the GLC and the five London boroughs must bring in question how provision is to be made. At the opening of our inquiry—in reply to the initial question—Sir Reginald Goodwin said:"Before one commits an act of faith of this sort one needs to see the hard figuring carried a stage further."
That seems to imply that London is prepared to go it alone but that surely cannot be a realistic appraisal. Considerable central Government funds will be required and, indeed, should be forthcoming in order to fulfil the high expectations of Londoners. All of us who live in the South-East, and, indeed, the nation, want to enjoy a sense of pride in the nation's capital and to raise from the present desolation an achievement for posterity of which we can all be proud. This vast venture cannot be seen in the context of a parochial outlook which I fear is in evidence in the reply given by Sir Reginald Goodwin to Question 19 in our inquiry. He was asked:"We, as elected members, were quite convinced that given the will to work together, and given the measure of support that Government would give to a body of its own creation we could achieve as good, if not better, results."
He replied:"Are we driven into a situation in which each area of docklands is to be considered in relation to the borough in which it lies?"
The excellent record of the administrative instrument—the development corporation—particularly in new town development and in expanded towns is well documented and acknowledged. Their introduction was on an agreed basis between the Government and the respective planning authority with representation by locally-elected members a common feature. Government funds totalling up to £2,250 million have been made available in the post-war years. The idea of a development corporation was rejected by the Secretary of State for the Environment in his statement and Press release on 5th August last year when he said:"Yes, I think so."
If that were true seven months ago, how much more immediate and restrictive are Government policies today. Some sacred cows are even being sacrificed. The emphasis by the Government, reflected in recent speeches by the Secretary of State, is now clearly on the rehabilitation of the disaster areas which post-war development has imposed on some of our inner cities. The social conditions in many places are a thorough disgrace, and in my judgment the major responsibility for those circumstances lies with the local authorities. They should have recognised from the outset that new town development and the extension of their urban areas into green-field sites would inescapably lead to the rotting of the core of their cities. Clearly they should have ensured that the cost of redevelopment elsewhere should have had regard to the necessity of funding the inner redevelopment. That is the total cost of an exercise in the movement of population, and almost without exception it has gone by default. In the case of London, population, industry and office development have been encouraged to move to the new towns. The serious position which has resulted is now recognised and belatedly steps are sought to redress the balance. We are faced with a situation in which vast assets have been created elsewhere at the expense of inner London. We should now be looking for a solution which has regard to the benefits, financial and otherwise, which have accrued in the new towns at the expense of job opportunity and environmental considerations in inner London. We should now be looking for "a shift of resources", to use the Secretary of State's phrase. In terms of the vast assets created in the London ring of new towns—eight in all—according to a recent issue of The Journal, published by the Town and Country Planning Association, over 31 million sq ft of industrial floor space has been completed since their designation, in each case, up to 31st December last. In Corby, Milton Keynes, Northampton and Peterborough a further 10·9 million sq ft has been constructed, to which should be added 7 million sq ft of office accommodation and 7·5 million sq ft of shopping space. Most of the new towns are thriving with prosperous communities living in a pleasing and socially rewarding environment, in contrast to so much of inner London and other cities. After allowing for infrastructure expenditure the asset value in the great majority of cases is far in excess of the capital sum expended. It would be interesting to see an exercise undertaken with a view to providing an estimate of the current market value of the assets that are so far in excess, in the majority of cases, of historic values and which should be realised over a sensible period of years by sales to occupiers and institutional investors using the New Towns Commission as the vehicle. The proceeds should be utilised for inner city renewal and redevelopment to make standards there acceptable in terms of job opportunity and living conditions, particularly for existing communities. I suggest that a policy on those lines could provide a means by which funds for redevelopment could be made available to London Docklands within the financial constraints that will be with us for the foreseeable future. I am suggesting a rollover of assets that would enable resources to be reused on schemes for which resources would not otherwise be available. In two of the Sub-Committee's recommendations it is suggested that the Department of the Environment should, where a significant Government commitment may be involved, give firm guidance at an early stage about the possible range and/or phasing of public expenditure. Paragraph 31 recommends that the Department of the Environment should give specific guidance on the level of public expenditure commitment for dockland and that the Government should state their intentions on the question of providing financial support. That statement is well overdue. I understand the dilemma which faces the Government, but let us look for alternatives. Surely that is what we are seeking to do. The Government's response to these recommendations deals with the eligibility for normal forms of Government financial support for transport, housing and other purposes, and it goes on to say that there are"We must all acknowledge present financial stringencies, and the fact that any shift of resources must be offset against expenditure in other areas."
So when it says that central Government funds will be available, that is not supported in the response to the recommendations of the Sub-Committee's inquiry. Assurance is given, however, that the"no plans for special forms of support over and above these."
I particularly took note of the point by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland that capital expenditure for the two subsequent years is 18 per cent. down on the figures for the current year. How in that context can we see any prospect of resources coming from central Government funds for the redevelopment of docklands? When the hon. Gentleman referred to the difficulties of the building industry I saw the Minister nod his head in agreement. But it is the Government's policy that is leading to difficulties for the industry. The Government are refusing to cut current expenditure and are crucifying the building industry as well as the whole of investment policy in Britain by not agreeing to substitute a reduction in current expenditure so as to maintain a level of capital expenditure in the two years ahead. When we hear therefore that the"Department is prepared to discuss with the authorities concerned the pace at which resources are likely to be available."
that is just pie in the sky, and everyone knows that to be the case. It is statements such as that which illustrate the continuing uncertainty of resources available for the docklands area and emphasise the absolute necessity for an overall plan under which the resources would be assured. How can the fulfilment of this vital and necessarily urgent redevelopment be contemplated against the background of a decade of delay and the inadequacy of resources at the disposal of the GLC and the five London boroughs? I hope that the whole question will be reconsidered on the basis of the realities to which I have tried to give emphasis."Department is prepared to discuss with the authorities concerned the pace at which resources are likely to be available",
I am sure that the whole House is indebted to the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) and the members of his Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee who have worked so hard to produce this report. I understand that they held 16 meetings and that they visited the docks area, taking masses of evidence. It is no easy task to compile all those facts into this very readable report. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on their first-class scholarship.It is said quite rightly that democracy is the finest system of government in the world. I do not quarrel with that, but I am getting fed up with being a democrat. Democracy provides an excuse for some people to do nothing for ages and ages. This debate is not the first on the subject of the docklands. I have forgotten how many times we have discussed it in some form or other. When I was the Opposition Chief Whip—and a very good democratic Chief Whip I was—I was allowed to break precedent. My right hon. Friend then the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), allowed me to speak from the Opposition Dispatch Box in a debate on London docklands. I said then—I think it was the first time it had been said at that stage—that I firmly believed in the establishment of a body like a development corporation in order to deal with this vast area. It is as well to put on the record the enormity of this area. We are talking about eight and a half square miles, or 5,000 acres, of mostly derelict land which is now to be redeveloped. I would have thought that there was a very good case for establishing a development corporation. It would have finance from the Government and its membership would consist of representatives from evey local authority. No one is or has been keener than I on local participation, but the idea that this corporation should be an abstract body consisting of strange people who knew nothing of London was never in our minds. However, the body was not to be established. I wrote on the subject to the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), calling his attention to this enormous derelict area. I said that something should be done reasonably quickly. He responded in what I regarded as a truly tremendous way. I still have the letter which he wrote back, thanking me, saying he agreed, and that he had instructed the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), who was then a Secretary of State, to do something about the matter. The right hon. Member for Worcester then established what afterwards became known as the Travers Committee. It took about two years to develop schemes which were all finally thrown away. I make no complaint about that. I do not believe that this argument should be conducted on a party political basis. We could have a lot of fun in that way, but that would be the wrong approach. We should not be trying to score cheap points when we have a chance such as this, a chance which we are missing badly. Is this debate today to be a charade? Are we to go over the same ground again? Are we all to repeat that this is a wonderful chance, that it is the greatest opportunity ever known in our history, that this is where we could build the London of tomorrow, that this is a great chance and we must grasp it, a chance that no other country has? Are we to say once more that the River Thames is empty of traffic and that we must make the most of that? Are we to go through all that again and then be told that the Government are still considering the matter and that no statement of policy is to be made? I am a very patient democrat, but if that happens it will show why I am getting fed up with democracy. Sometimes I think that I should have been made a benevolent dictator. You would have made a very good Parliamentary Secretary for me, Mr. Deputy Speaker—
Only on condition that I was the senior partner.
With your tenacity I have no doubt that that would have been arranged as well, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would certainly have made you my number one head man.When I broke precedent and spoke from the Opposition Front Bench as Chief Whip I saw that a development corporation was the only way to get the scheme off the ground and secure Government involvement. It was not to be. The St. Katherine's Docks fell empty in 1968. My part of the area fell empty in 1970. Here we are seven years later still debating and having our arguments. When I went before the Sub-Committee we had reached the stage at which we had to start getting some results, and that was why I bowed to the inevitable. There is now the Docklands Joint Committee. Let it now work and let us give it some real teeth, some genuine power. The comimttee has worked hard. It is made up of good men who have tried very hard to produce what is in many ways an admirable strategic plan. The intriguing factor is that the passage of time makes evidence false. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has not been a Minister for very long. I have had more experience on the Front Bench than he has, and I have lived with civil servants for a long time. I have great respect for them as a body, because they do a first-class job. But it must be understood that often they will give advice—particularly on planning matters—that proves to be a disaster in later years. I have suffered from that. Let us look at the evidence that the civil servants gave. But to whom was it given? To the very Committee whose report we are now discussing. What did these bright characters say only two years ago? They said that they could not support the suggestion that the principle of industrial development certificates should be revoked, because they claimed that London was still in a very fortunate position with an average unemployment rate of only 3½ per cent.. All this is there in the evidence to the Committee. I had intended to sort out the relevant parts, but the information is there for anyone interested. Unfortunately, London is no longer in that sort of position. The planners were wrong then and today's events have proved them wrong. That is the trouble. We have listened to too many stupid planners and theorists. All of us, both Labour and Conservative, have run London down as a result of taking their advice. They said that London was bloated and had too much in the way of industry and resources and that it had to be reduced. As a result we now have a unique situation. The Secretary of State for the Environment, the lord and master of the planners, now has an unemployment rate of 14 per cent. Is there any civil servant now who would have the nerve to go before a Sub-Committee and argue that the unemployment situation in London did not justify special treatment? That is what they said in 1975, but they would not say it today. I should like to reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden), who spoke about his little old new town and said "Whatever you do in London, do not affect us". My answer is that London is in special need today, and those of us who represent London will keep on saying so loud and clear. We have no vast resources to give to places elsewhere—we have already done that. No one can accuse London of being mean or ungenerous to our friends in the North, in Scotland and elsewhere. The whole story is one of a continual running down of London.
I can bear my right hon. Friend out on that, no doubt to his great surprise. I have been to numerous meetings with London people on this issue. Over the years they have been very generous to the North.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I was stupid enough to take the advice of the civil servants. Every time I think about it, I wish I could turn the clock back. I went on my bended knees to 700 constituents and begged them to leave my borough. How stupid can a person get? I do not suppose I shall ever be a Minister again, but if I ever am, the last people from whom I shall take advice will be my so-called planners. Instead I shall use what the Almighty gave me—a fair amount of common sense and acumen. If one does things on a theoretical planning basis, one can make many mistakes.The Minister who is to reply to the debate will recall a speech that he made when he was a humble Back Bencher, as I am now. I hope that he is using his own evidence today. He ought to be careful about the advice he receives from his civil servants. As a Back Bencher my hon. Friend rightly spoke out loud and clear for London. He was worried about his own borough of Greenwich. He was worried sick about the borough and its unemployment prospects. He saw the writing on the wall and said so, making his views abundantly clear. Since then, the problems have got worse, not better. I return to the basic statement of the case. If we are to have just another debate and to hear again everything that has been said before and we are then to be told at the end that this is all very well, but the Government are not promising any action, this debate will be a charade and a waste of time. I turn now to the subject of the Dockland Joint Committee. I screamed my head off in the past about wanting a development corporation, but I lost out. That is what happens once the old parochial politics gets going. Perhaps I should have carried on fighting, but I got out of the way and stayed out of the argument. I told the House at that time that of course I knew I was getting parochial. I have moved away from my old ideas. I know that I should be concerned and worried sick about the constituency of my right hon. and hon. Friends the Members who represent the borough of Newham. I am glad to see that the right hon. Member for Worcester has joined us. I was saying some nice things about him, so he need not worry. I know that I should care, but in fact I do not care what happens in Newham. I am concerned only with what happens in Bermondsey and Southwark, which contain about 540 acres of dockland, about one-tenth of the whole dockland area. But so far nothing has been built. We have acquired 134 acres, comprising 114 acres for housing and open space and so on, and 20 acres for industry. In that riverside area we own 1,200 existing homes. Looking at the history of that area, we can see that that was a planners' mistake of yesteryear. This part of the constituency is called Downtown and is separated from the rest of the constituency by swing bridges and appalling traffic problems. Everyone who lives there is referred to as a Downtowner. In the 1920s Dr. Alfred Salter, a very great man who was a Member of Parliament, because local authority powers of acquisition were very limited and this area had been flooded when the River Thames swept over a small wall—later the authorities built a very large wall—promoted a private Bill to acquire the land. He built council flats, which at the time were a joy to behold. People came from all over Europe to see them. These council flats had separate toilets and bathrooms, kitchens and the rest, and they are still very good flats. But it was a terrible mistake to build them there. They should never have been built in that location. They are right on the river front near to lead mills, oil refineries and companies dealing with the disposal of dust and dirt. Everyone said when the flats were built that this did not matter, but it was a planning disaster and I do not think that I have ever held a surgery without one or two Down-towners complaining about the problems with which they are living. I have seen the strategic plans for the area. The local strategic plan was to sweep away these homes and start again. I do not want to get rid of the lead mills or the refineries or the companies that dispose of dust and dirt. They are an essential and integral part of industry, and it is right that they should be isolated to do their jobs. Another thing that the local authority did in the remit of the joint council was to acquire 134 acres for the Trammell Crow International Trade Mart. I never went there and never took any interest in the matter. Some people went off to Texas and were convinced that it was a good thing. I was not concerned about who actually went, but whether they would make any noise and whether they would be successful, and whether they would attract the sort of industries that ought to be there. I understand that there was a possibility of the firm of Trammell Crow moving there, but this has been held up because the Americans who own the Company are not satisfied with the economic climate in Great Britain at the moment. I also understand that we are negotiating with the Port of London Authority for a further 90 acres. There can be no doubt that the Dock-lands Joint Committee has been working to acquire land. Much land is now within its grasp. Do no let it be said that the committee does not have the land. In 1970 I said that the problem was to acquire land at a price that people could afford to pay, but my local authority now has the land. We went in for a massive extension of public consultation—as I said earlier, I am getting fed up with democracy. I went to a few meetings. The first meeting that I attended was told that we would have a great marina. I told the packed audience that I was not opposed to a marina, but I had been running surgeries in a constituency for 25 years and every point of view had been raised, but there had never been a complaint that people could not moor their boats. So we dropped the idea of the marina. After that, I was more confirmed than ever in the view that we should have a development corporation. However, the idea of the marina arose so many years ago that I had almost forgotten about it and remembered it as I was speaking. We had a public consultation exercise. We now have the strategic plan. As I understand it, much of the land is now owned by the local authority. I have seen details of the type of housing that the local authority would put on the 134 acres. I am impressed to this extent: the housing would certainly conform to what I have always dreamed of for this area. I do not want people, long after I am dead and forgotten, coming down the river in boats, looking at the area and saying "Local authority housing". Let us cut out that possibility. Let us have houses with small gardens, houses painted in different colours. We do not want houses in the old council house brick style, so that a person who has opened one council house door has opened every council house door, so to speak. Let us have houses with roofs of different colours. Let us have gaiety and colour. After all, gaiety and colour do not cost much, pore money than drab housing. Let us not have council housing per se. Let us have imagination and houses built of such style and quality that people will really want to live in them. The strategic plan has convinced me that the local authority really has something of this kind in mind. I am excited by another detail of this scheme. It may be only a pipe-dream, but I like people who have dreams. There was a suggestion that a shopping precinct would be built in my area and that it would be accessible by boat. That is not so daft. Why should not people in the locality use boats if they want to use them? It sounds fun. Of course, the precinct could also be reached by roads designed and built. Why should not this be so? Would it not be tremendously exciting if Londoners were able to use the river? Most of us in Bermondsey never saw anything of the river unless we worked in the docks. After all, the industry and the area were built for the Industrial Revolution. However, there is hope in these proposals. I come now to the crunch. I have read very carefully the evidence given by the right hon. Member for Worcester two years ago and I fully agree with it. He said that there should be a development corporation. The right hon. Gentleman said—I fully endorse his evidence—that without a development corporation it would not be possible to have the type of schemes that my local authority wants, that the GLC wants and that, for example, Mr. Cutler wants. Incidentally, it is too early for Mr. Cutler to start playing party politics yet. There is another month before the GLC elections. We shall deal with that bright character when we get round to him. The right hon. Gentleman said that there should be a development corporation and that the solution was an injection of capital from the Government and guarantees of future capital from the Government. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) will get involved in an argument about the transport plan. Mr. Freddie Ward gave a ratio of 0·3 to 1. How I love figures such as that. If I had been there when he said that, I would have given him "0·3", because it is rubbish. London's Underground system virtually stopped dead at the end of the Victorian era. There has been little building since. It is a disgrace that there are vast areas of Lewisham, Beckenham and Catford with not one Tube station in sight. What experience of Tube stations have the constituents of my hon. Friend the Minister unless they come up this end? If they stay down where they are, they will never see one. The present situation is a scandal. We want a River Line. To get it we need a firm guarantee from the Government that the money will be found in the future. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland is worried sick, but nobody is suggesting that the £2,000 million, or whatever amount is likely to be spent—these are only rounded figures—is to be spent immediately; it is to be spent over a period of 20 years. It is absolutely essential that the Labour Government—or, if the Tories get in, a Tory Government—say to the Docklands Joint Committee "We will underwrite the transport system and find money for this year alone so that a number of essential works can be started." I am advised that if that were done a great movement would take place and that much more would be done. If my hon. Friend the Minister denies that, he will have to spell it out and tell me what the local authorities can and should do which they are not now doing. I do not come to the House and attack the Government without being aware that at the local level I could make attacks if I wanted to. Let us have a clear statement from the Government. If we can have an assurance that the Government of the day, conscious, as they must be, of the great chance that lies before us—there is no need to get too emotional about it again—will underwrite the transport proposals—the River Line—and be behind the Docklands Joint Committee, just as if it had been a development board, that will give these people the chance to do the job. I come to a point on which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South and I speak with a difference of emphasis. A short time ago we attended a meeting of the South-East Economic Planning Council. I was very impressed. The Committee is composed of very able members under the chairmanship of Lord Porchester. The Committee questioned my hon. Friends the Members for Newham, South and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis). They were in agreement with our sentiments when they said to us "We are the South-East Region. If there is to be a major contribution from our region to the docklands"—in other words, with a smaller amount of resources going to other parts of the region so that more resources could be found for the docklands—" we want an assurance that the body which will be running the docklands will be efficient and will be able to attract industry in its own right"—which development corporations always could and did. I hope that the Minister will deal with this aspect of the subject. The Dock-lands Joint Committee must be a body with sufficient authority and prestige to be able to attract industry. With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland, it must be able to tell industry that it can have premises in the dock-lands at cheap rents. Why should not that happen? Why should people be able to go to Bishop Auckland at cheap rents? Why should not we have a preference now? Some of us now have 14 per cent. unemployment in our areas. What is needed above all else is an injection not only of capital from the Government but of confidence from the Government that this scheme will now be started, that it will gather speed quickly, and that eventually we shall have the type of development of which we can all justly be proud.
It has become fashionable for ex-Ministers of all Governments to admit that their records while they were Ministers were less than perfect. The cries of "mea culpa" rend the air. But no one lays the lash upon his own back with so much relish as does the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish).If I may say so, the lash is well deserved. I think that he was Minister of Public Buildings and Works in those heady days in 1964 to 1965, when the Government actually introduced office development permits to drive office jobs out of London, because that was then the fashion. We were all persuaded to believe that there was an enormous concentration of work in central London and that we would have to push out work. Following the census in the mid-1960s and again in 1971 it became evident that London was declining and that job opportunities were declining at an increasingly rapid rate. In London industrial jobs are now declining at seven times the national average and office jobs at nine times the national average. I was not a member of the Select Committee and I do not represent a dockland constituency, but no one who represents a constituency in inner London can fail to be concerned about the fate of this enormous area in inner London—eightand-a-half square miles, or 5,000 acres—which has been described as the largest development site within a city in the whole world. As I read through the Select Committee's report over the weekend I sensed that its flavour was almost historic. It was an out-of-date document. The right hon. Member for Bermondsey has reminded us that it referred to unemployment rates of 3½ per cent. and 4 per cent. There was an air of optimism running through it that something was going to happen, that we were on the threshold of some great change. The Government went even further than the Select Committee, because in their conclusion on the Committee's report they said:
That was probably the high point of complacency of this Government. In August 1975 they said that the whole redevelopment of these 5,000 acres would take a mere 15 years to complete, yet now, two years later, work has not even started, as the right hon. Member for Bermondsey reminds us. If we look at some of the other things the Government have said we begin to see why. In paragraph 8 they say:"The redevelopment of dockland will take at least 15 years to complete."
That was the prelude virtually to telling the local authorities, in the words of Tony Crosland, "The party is over", and that is really what the debate is all about. I agree with what the right hon. Member for Bermondsey said about the Dock-lands Joint Committee. There were high hopes of it, but these hopes were all misfounded. I am afraid that dockland has become something of a political football. My right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) tried to do something about it, and he set the whole thing in motion. He tried to do what any senior Minister would do to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible, and he got the report quickly—indeed, I think that it was while he was still holding the post of Secretary of State for the Environment. As former Ministers will know, it is rare for that sort of thing to happen so quickly. After the change in power at the GLC, the report was quietly put on one side. The five alternatives put forward were rejected by the London boroughs and the GLC. There was a great deal of political motivation and bias in that."The Government is already taking steps to bring local authorities more into its forward planning of public expenditure."
The hon. Gentleman must speak for himself, but I do not think that the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) was very impressed with the report either.
I suspect that if my right hon. Friend had still been responsible in 1974 and 1975, something would have happened in the development of dockland because he was determined to get a proposal off the ground. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman's strictures about the delays of democracy and the attitudes of planners have a lot to answer for in the decline of the inner city and central London.But I believe that a sturdy realism should now dominate this debate. The figures for the redevelopment of dockland are somewhere between £1,000 million and £2,000 million over the long period. I do not believe that any Government of any complexion will find that sort of money for the development of dockland over the next decade. I say that because other hon. Members representing other parts of the country will demand their share of what is going around, and they will say "Why should London get more? It is still a very prosperous city." They will overlook the fact that unemployment in Tower Hamlets is 14 per cent. and that London is not one huge champagne belt where the lucky and idle rich live. They will overlook the deprivation and the fact that jobs are being lost in London at a great rate. But they will also point out that in spite of this London none the less still accounts for half of the nation's transport subsidies and one-third of the nation's housing subsidies. By those standards those of us who represent London must accept that we shall not receive a disproportionate share of the nation's resources even if it is to develop something which obviously needs development, such as dockland.
Would the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a possible way of doing this without affecting the development areas, namely, by transferring the expenditure plans for the South-East of England, which are in the Government's plans, to the inner areas of London, particularly dockland? That would not require any further expenditure and would not prejudice the health of any development areas.
The hon. Gentleman is looking for too simple a solution. It is simply not possible, with all the complexities and conflicting interests of local authorities in the South-East of England, to say that we shall not be developing any other parts of the South-East, that it will all take place in Tower Hamlets, Greenwich, or Bermondsey. The Secretary of State for the Environment does not have adequate powers to enforce that. However, I shall deal with that point more fully when I make some suggestions later.I was saying that I did not believe it was realistic to think that these sums of money will be made available in the course of the next 10 years or so despite the crying need of these areas. But what should be done? First, one of the principles to which we should try to stick in the redevelopment of dockland is that it should be a mixed development for social and cash reasons. I shall deal first with the social reasons. The first constituency I fought in 1964 was Poplar. I became very familiar with that part of dockland, including the Isle of Dogs, Bow and Poplar. It was quite clear to me then that that was a one-stratum society, and now all the demographers and the Socialists prove this to be so. They can show that only one in 20 of the people in that area live in owner-occupied houses and only 4 per cent. of those working in that area have A-levels. That is totally uncharacteristic of the rest of London. The sort of groups that are necessary in any society—the teachers, the senior local government officials—have almost abandoned living in this area. To be brutally frank, they commute, and this was the trend in 1964. I believe that the area of one-stratum society in the East End is about as representative of British society as is Belgravia. In the dockland, and in the East End, both north and south of the river, it is important to try to recreate a mixed community. This means a much greater encouragement of privately developed housing. In 1964 some of us tried to set up a housing association in Poplar which would take land from the then Poplar Borough Council and develop it on a joint basis. The council's attitude was "No. This is public land, we shall develop it ourselves." But the council was not going to do that for five or ten years. That sort of attitude has damned East London and is still damning it over the development of dockland. This includes the reluctance to bring in private sector developments with all their benefits. I think that there should be mixed development, public and private, for social reasons. There should be mixed development for cash reasons also because, as I have said, these vast sums of money will not be found by the Treasury. The Minister will not today pledge considerable sums of money over a long period, because he cannot do it—it simply is not there in the present economic situation. But I believe that a lot of money would be forthcoming in a mixed development. I believe that the State's money should go to the infrastructure of dockland—for example, filling in the empty docks, supplying the drainage and the piling, and building a proper network of roads. The right hon. Member for Bermondsey mentioned Downtown. It is the same with the islanders of the Isle of Dogs. To get to many of these parts of dockland is almost impossible by public transport and difficult by road. I believe that the Labour Party is thinking of moving its headquarters from Smith Square to Walworth, which is not all that difficult to get to. Yet one of the arguments against the move there is that it is too difficult to get to Walworth, although it is just across the river, turning left and going a bit south. But it is exceedingly difficult to have easy access to the dockland area, and we shall not get the economic regeneration of that area without easy road access. There is the question of priorities in deciding where State money should be spent—for example, on the Fleet Line or the River Line. It is an imaginative concept, but I believe that if the River Line is built, it will be used essentially by passenger and not freight traffic. What that part of London needs, if small businesses are to be started and economic activity regenerated, is good road communications that will take freight, not passenger traffic. Therefore, if there is there a question of priorities—and we shall have to make a selection—my first priority would be a better road network in North-East and South-East London along the river banks before a rail system. In any partnership between public and private money, the public money should be spent on improving infrastructure so that development could take place.
I do not want to overstate what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but surely he is arguing in effect that the State should build the roads, the drainage, the sewerage and the rest while private developers, when it is all done, come in, do what they want to do and make their profits. Is he really arguing that that is how such a development should be carried out'? That would be like the situation after the Great Fire of London, when private enterprise took all the pickings.
As the passage of time brings the right hon. Gentleman closer to my point of view on this matter, I look forward to hearing him say precisely what I am now saying in five years' time. Who else can build drainage, sewerage and so on but the Government? They only can provide the infrastructure that is needed. The right hon. Gentleman says that private enterprise will cream it all off. I draw his attention, however, to the scheme "Riverside", launched by the Tower Hamlets Council. It is a tripartite scheme. The council has land from the Port of London Authority and its own holdings. It has done a deal with the PLA and a development company. They are partners.The area covers about 500 acres just east of St. Katharine's Dock. The partners will work with the local council which has, at long last acted as a catalyst in putting together a consortium. The council will provide the drainage, sewerage and the rest, while the development company will do the developing, and they will split the profits. What is wrong with that? It is infinitely better than sitting on one's hands and saying "We will not do anything unless we can do it ourselves." The right hon. Member for Bermondsey says that his area of Bermondsey and Southwark has about 540 acres of dockland. My advice to him and the local council would be to get on with those 540 acres through the sort of deal put together by Tower Hamlets Council. They should not wait for a new town development corporation, because that could not exist for two or three years. They should not hope for greater powers from the Docklands Joint Committee, because it will never agree. The best thing that the Bermondsey-Southwark area can do is to form a joint scheme of partnership between private and public money and get on with the job. That is my answer to the right hon. Gentleman, because that is what should be done. The scale of the opportunity should not bemuse us into believing that there has to be a massive organisation and a massive scheme to develop it. I do not believe that we are living in an age when such vast resources can be made available. I should like to see the individual boroughs getting on as quickly as possible with schemes like "Riverside". I believe that the Government's attitude is changing only sluggishly towards the London problem. The Government must accept that there is a massive work haemorrhage and that something must be done quickly. The first priority must be to remove the inhibitions on the growth and development of jobs. I should like to hear the Government announce the abolition of industrial development certificates and office development permits in this debate. The Minister may reply that they are hardly ever operated now, but the fact remains that there is still a certain atmosphere and climate inhibiting development. In looking forward to this area being redeveloped over the next 20, or 30, or more years I do not want to see it become a vast dormitory town where people just live and commute on the Fleet Line to work in other parts of London. We have to find a way of regenerating economic activity in inner London, and I am convinced that the most effective way of doing so is to stimulate the growth and development of small businesses. We shall not see large factories being set up in Tower Hamlets, Bermondsey and Southwark, not even with a better road structure, and not even if we improve the infrastructure on the lines I have suggested. That is not going to happen. We shall be deluding ourselves if we think that vast industrial conglomerate activities in the East End will be built, because it will not happen. One has to create conditions of spontaneous growth—the conditions under which dockland first developed between 100 and 150 years ago—so that small businesses, such as warehousing, engineering operations, printing and service works of all kinds are attracted there. They are not attracted there today, because of the gloomy atmosphere of decay and depression. I am advocating a greater sense of realism in the development of this vast area in East London. Great urgency is needed. First, there must be a commitment by the Government of certain funds for basic infrastructure which can be specifically directed to specific boroughs, and, secondly, the boroughs should be told to get on with their joint schemes as quickly as possible so that we do not find ourselves having to have another debate like this in 10 years' time.
I intervene briefly because I was a member of the Sub-Committee which prepared this report. We are grateful to the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) for the hard work he did as Chairman. I intervene also because I believe that, although the report now has some historic value, it is still of importance in relation not only to dockland but to other derelict areas in other towns and cities throughout the country.I do not wholly agree with what the hon. Member for Daventry said about the treatment of capital development in new towns as against development in inner cities, but we should try to clarify our minds about the undoubted size of the commitment required not only by the dockland scheme but by comparable schemes which would be required in Liverpool or other big cities. We must consider what is practicable and what is not. I agree with much of what the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) said about encouraging joint partnership schemes between local authorities and private development, under suitable control. Many practical schemes have been worked out and I hope that they can go ahead. I was therefore concerned at the proposal by the hon. Member for Daventry—although he was the Chairman of the Committee, he made it clear when he was speaking for himself—that the provision of capital should come from the resources of the new towns. That could be a dangerous proposal. New towns should not be regarded purely as competitors with the kind of redevelopment needed in the inner cities. I regard them as partners in a common enterprise. The new towns were devised originally to secure more humane living conditions in our big cities. They were meant not only to set new standards in greenfield sites but to encourage movement from the centres of population and industry in the older city areas so as to achieve better living standards and to attract some people back. I agree that it is unrealistic to imagine, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) apparently does, that we could attract back to these areas the old heavy industries which were established there for all kinds of historic reasons. It is not practical, and perhaps not even desirable, to seek to attract back the modern versions of those industries. The change has come about not through the planners attracting everyone into the new towns and denuding the older areas. The attraction of the new towns has made a relatively small contribution. The bulk of the movement was due simply to the death of many of the old industries and partly to the difficulties of operating modern industry in those areas. Transport and accessibility were important questions. The original attraction for industry no longer exists in the same way. However, there is a real possibility of a much larger development of small-scale industry than some people think. Some recent experiences in Greenwich, for instance, show that. Perhaps much more could be done to encourage that development. I doubt whether the abolition of industrial development certificates would make any difference to that situation.
My hon. Friend provokes me by referring to the experience of Greenwich, which, I would claim, has an impressive record in introducing new small firms. If he spoke to those in Greenwich who are responsible for that operation, he would be told that the whole IDC system creates the sort of climate which makes it difficult to move in even small firms, which are not affected by IDC controls.
Our evidence did not bear that out. There have, of course, been changes in the IDC procedure, weakening it from the point of view of some of us in the North but to the benefit of areas like the London Docklands. It cannot be said that even such difficulties as might have existed two years ago exist today.I hope that the Government will not conclude that it has to be one or the other—that the whole concept of the new towns should be choked to benefit the older areas. There must be a proper balance, but it is unfortunate that one arm of the operation, which involves the development of new towns and of improving standards in the older areas, has not been properly followed through. As the London Docklands strategy plan shows, one of the first priorities in redevelopment is the improvement of living standards so that people again may choose to live there with a reasonable balance of choice. The great exodus has been due not necessarily to the machinations of the planners but to the conscious choice of people who got fed up with the available standards—not only in London but in other cities—and who exercised their choice with their feet. Our report refers to mobility. Environmental standards must be vastly improved. Not only must we attract people back, but we must give them greater mobility. The people in the area must make most of the decisions, but I question the concentration of all the effort in regard to mobility on the Underground going from east to west—the very heavy capital expenditure inevitably involved in the Fleet Line extension. This matter will have to be considered carefully, on reasonably accurate estimates of cost. However, I should have thought that a great deal could be done to improve mobility from north to south so as to avoid the assumption that London is a single-centre city. After all, is not London a series of centres, and do we not want it to be a series of centres? May it not be important to link with the better standards of living the mobility that can be given by immediately improving north-south communications as well as examining east-west mobility? I end with the obvious and important point of employment, emphasising that a great deal can still be done with small industrial developments. The rest of Britain has a great deal to learn from whatever development takes place in this part of London, because so many other areas face comparable problems, though not necessarily of the same size. We are eager to develop new opportunities for employment but do not imagine that we can necessarily attract back some of the large-scale industry that may have been there in the past.
I agree with a number of points that the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) made, and I shall return to one or two later.It may seem a bit odd that I should be taking part in the debate. I was not a member of the Expenditure Committee, and I am not a London Member, but it is reasonable that outsiders should take part, for we are talking about our national capital, the inner city problem, which covers a number of areas other than London, and the allocation of national resources. As a taxpayer, I suppose that I have a kind of vested interest. When I was shadowing the Department of the Environment, I became very interested in the subject of London dock-lands and spent some time trying to go round this, to me, surprisingly vast area. I made an effort to get to grips with what is a very complicated problem, and I emerged with the strong feeling that we could not simply allow the area to rot. When one visits the area one sees that it consists of different sorts of place and is not all one great big disused dockland. It has other land as well. One has the feeling that when industry has so nearly died there is a big risk that we shall create Pompeiis of the future, which would be intolerable. I also had, and still have, the strong feeling that we shall not solve the problem by rhetoric. It is a good thing that we should declare our concern and commitment. We have all done that now, and need to move on to a more realistic view of what can be done and what may not be done. So far the debate has been good in that respect. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) made a number of very pertinent and realistic points, as did other hon. Members. We can see that the economic aspect is the heart of the whole problem. In the arguments about inner cities there has rightly been a shift of emphasis over the past decade. Ten years ago people talked very much in terms of bad housing, bad education and so on, which they seemed to see as the essence of the problem. I do not deny that such conditions exist and are serious problems, but we now have a clearer idea that we shall not cure all the social problems unless we can improve the economic heart of the places we are discussing. Therefore, one is bound to ask whether it is conceivable that we shall get a proper economic vitality back into the area, or whether the most that we can hope for is to provide a kind of subsidised propping-up so that conditions do not become too miserable and depressed. We must recognise that it is a very difficult problem. When it thinks about setting up new factories, particularly the larger ones, industry has a preference for greenfield sites. It likes to go to places such as Milton Keynes, because it can have the size of factory it wishes with rather less bother than is involved in trying to carve out a factory in an existing city area. Transport is also a major problem. The truth is that the Milton Keyneses of this world are very well situated in terms of transport. Milton Keynes itself sits beside the M1 in the middle of England and has a major railway line running through it. Those are great advantages. In trying to be realistic in thinking about what we can bring into the inner cities, we must approach the matter without a great harooch of dogma. We may want all forms of public transport. We must look carefully at the kind of transport that industry will want in such areas. If we start from the premise that economic revival is the essence of the problem, we must make life tolerable for industry or encourage it rather than try to damp it down. I am therefore very suspicious of the GLC, which has a mania about transport and is wrong about transport in almost all respects, as far as I can see. I hope that ways can be devised to stop it imposing its dogmas on dockland. The lorry is the crucial mode of transport. It is the lorry on which industry today depends. One can make stirring speeches about how all industrial traffic should be pushed back on to the railways, but everybody knows that that will not happen. We shall waste a great deal of time if we try to pursue an unattainable chimera. We must also recognise that the people whom we want to attract into dockland and the people already living there, to whom we want to give an improved life, want to have motor cars. We should not allow puritanical dogma to stop people having something they want. The skilled working class—if I may categorise and generalise—want motor cars and roads on which they can drive them. It is a great mistake to try to shape policies which do not recognise those cardinal facts. Therefore, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone said, we must put the transport emphasis on the road system. One of the wiser recommendations of the Expenditure Committee was to call for a review of the public transport provision that was envisaged. The Committee said:
I do not claim to know the best possible public transport provision for the area. It may well be that the Fleet Line extension, the River Line, is the right answer. I am not trying to dismiss it, but the hon. Member for South Shields was wise when he gave a warning. There is a serious risk of going for something that sounds splendid and nice but turns out to be so expensive that nothing happens. That would be a tragedy. We must learn from the bitter experience of a number of public transport systems across the world. We have seen in Newcastle the creation of a system that will be very unprofitable. A few years ago there were high hopes for the Great Bay transport system in San Francisco and the surrounding area, but it is now seen to be a costly luxury. We must be very careful about embarking on massive fixed-line public transport systems when the attraction and flexibility of the lorry, motor car and bus are so strong. Let us think very hard about transport and not mouth platitudes. I think that we are all agreed that our objective is to find a new life for the old docks and perhaps to go on to find a more positive and useful purpose for the further end of dockland, which I suspect belongs to Newham, the area towards Beckton, where there are green fields, though they are about the dirtiest one could ever expect to see. However, they constitute a sort of greenfield site rather than the large series of holes of which the true dockland communities very much consist. We need, first, a commitment to reviving the true dockland areas, and then we need to think very hard but perhaps not very hurriedly about what to do with the dirty green fields towards Beckton. The best use for them may be for recreation, for golf courses, small holdings and allotments where we can grow our own potatoes—which is quite a profitable and wise thing to do in these times. It may be that that is all we can hope for. Equally, it may well be that there are more positive uses to which those green fields can be put. They could provide low-density housing, which would relieve the pressures which still exist in the inner areas. We are always hearing from inner London Members about how they wish to seize tracts of land in the outer London boroughs in order to house their own population. But the outer London boroughs are justified in asking about the large tracts of land that exist in areas such as Beckton. Of course services will be needed and drainage will have to be undertaken."We recommend that studies should be made of alternative proposals for a long-term dockland public transport system based upon existing surface lines and rights of way."
Perhaps I can save the hon. Gentleman some time. There is a £4 million drainage plan in operation and the draft Beckton plan, which has been published for consultation, contains some of the facilities that the hon. Gentleman has suggested, together with eight plans for 8,000 new houses. The actuality has outrun the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. But I have the feeling that plans and actualities are not always necessarily the same thing. But what I have suggested is a reasonable proposition, provided that people want to go and live there and provided that there is the money to build the houses.Some hon. Members will probably have read the evidence of the Town and Country Planning Association, which rather wisely and in conformity with its ideals and traditions said that there was an opportunity for providing the low density garden-city type of housing that it has advocated over the years. That may well be the right answer. It may even be that these largish tracts of space which exist in the area provide some scope for the creation of new factories. If that is the case, well and good. If our primary objective is the revitalising of the old dockland area, with the secondary objective of bringing these other areas into play, we have to ask ourselves what kinds of policies are likely to bring this about. The economic side is all-important. Probably the best thing that can be done to revitalise the economies of those areas is to have a national policy rather than a local or inelegant area-specified policy. When I talk to smallish business men about what might encourage them to expand, they do not say that they want more subsidies and subventions or boards and committees and national enterprise boards and so on. What they want is to stop being pushed around at the present extent. They do not want to have unjust planning regulations which seem designed to stop them pursuing their trade; nor do they want more and more taxes which depress and demoralise them, or more and more seemingly well-intentioned legislation. They do not want to fill in more and more forms, questionnaires and census returns and all the other things which have smothered them in recent years. They simply want to be able to get on with the job of producing and making some kind of reasonable profit. We should help business in those areas and in the rest of the country if we tried to produce rather more sensible policies in this respect than we have at the moment. We must encourage entrepreneurs. This is the kind of area in which in a sensible society the entrepreneur would have full run. It is exactly the sort of situation where the entrepreneur has a major contribution to make to the modern economy. If we simply go on making life difficult for them, we cannot hope to expect them to do what I believe they want to do. One must also have a sensible land policy. I do not want to spend a lot of time talking about the Community Land Act.
My hon. Friend does not need to.
My hon. Friend says we do not need to. Some people would ask "What is the Community Land Act?" Nevertheless, it exists. During the passage of that Act, Opposition Members said time and time again that it would do absolutely nothing to benefit the inner cities. The Government pooh-poohed or ignored that view, but we were absolutely right.Opposition Members perhaps underestimated the positive damage that the Community Land Act would do to the development of our inner cities. What the Act has done is to make the nationalised industries feel that there is no point in their selling the land on which they sit. Everyone knows that when we talk of dockland land we are not basically talking about land in private ownership. We are talking about land in the ownership of the Port of London Authority and the Gas Corporation. I should add land in the ownership of the local authorities. All those bodies have a long tradition of hoarding land, or believing that one day something will turn up which will make it valuable. Such bodies are remarkably bad at selling land anyway. The Community Land Act has made that situation worse, because it leads the Gas Board and the PLA to believe that there is no profit in their selling land and, therefore, they do not bother. That is a hard fact that was repeatedly prophesied during the passage of the Act, and it is now seen to be perfectly true. Another important point about land is that the system of valuation is cockeyed. We have reached a stage where it is cheaper to buy land in the greenfield sites around the new towns than it is in the areas to which no one wants to go in the big cities. The reason is a little hard to fathom. It is partly a matter of expectations and the belief that one day land in the cities will suddenly be worth a lot. After all, it appears that the district valuers, who have to approve the sale of land by public authorities, take a too optimisitic view. I sometimes think that we could do more for dockland, and the very large tracts of unused land in Liverpool, if we had a big auction and "flogged" the land. We might then achieve something, because people would buy it because they wanted to use it for some purpose rather than letting the land remain unused, as is the case at present.
The hon. Gentleman's contention that the Community Land Act has the effect of inducing authorities like the PLA to hold on to land is not borne out by the fact that, during the operation of the Community Land Act, the PLA sold a considerable parcel of land through one of its subsidiary organisations to the Tower Hamlets Borough Council, with beneficial results to both sides.
If the hon. Gentleman says that, I shall not quarrel with him. But is the hon. Gentleman sure that this was since the Community Land Act came into being?
That may be an instance, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the employees of public corporations say that the Community Land Act is a deterrent to selling. It is a bit of a red herring, because many nationalised industries, which have had plans to sell off land in order to meet their debts and deficits, have been driven to a state of considerable despondency by the passage of the Community Land Act. We should let the market operate more than it does. It need not be totally laissez-faire, but we need an injection in the market.No one thinks that the whole problem of dockland can be left to the market system and to private enterprise. There has to be some kind of guiding central management organisation. I do not believe that the present joint committee has got it right. I accept that the number of local authorities is enormous and almost all of them have powerful and direct interests in the land in question. One has to have a system that will allow them to have a considerable say in all this. Nevertheless, I believe—and it is the experience of those people professionally engaged in developing dockland—that the present structure is inadequate. There has been a discussion about whether one should establish a sort of a new town development corporation. Even if that had been the right answer originally, it is now a little too late to try to jump into that. Even so, it should be possible to develop some form of two-tier board. The top tier would be the board on which the local authority and the Department of the Environment were represented. They are providing the money and it is their land, so they should have an important say in setting up the strategic decisions that should govern the development. Underneath that tier one needs an executive board that will have considerably greater powers than exist now because, after all, under the present set up it is fair to say that if any local authority wishes to put a veto on something, it is able to do so, and it is also fair to say that there is a good deal of referring back by the people who run the operation to the local authorities. I do not claim to have a precise blueprint of how this will be done. I do not claim to be an expert in all these details, but I believe—and I am sure that this is borne out by many who have looked closely at the problem—that one must have a stronger executive organisation than now exists. We must be prepared to say "This is the framework within which you will work, but you must have a chance to get on with the job of delivering the goods". Although the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) is waving that orange document with great vigour and energy, and although there is a lot to be said for the London Docklands Strategic Plan—I am not quarrelling with the shape of the plan—I do not believe that the executive powers are strong enough as things are constituted now, and I have a horrible feeling that history will prove me to be right. I move on to the next difficult question of who will pay for all this. There are those who believe that London could pay for the whole thing, particularly if the Fleet Line extension were dropped out of the scheme. That is probably too optimistic. As a taxpayer elsewhere I should be happy if London could pay for the whole thing, but the degree of reallocation of resources within the London totality that would be required to bring this about is probably too great, and this is a matter partly of the hard, practical political side of all this. There is a big job and a lot of expenditure to be undertaken to bring all this about. Therefore, it seems that Government investment will be essential if the scheme is to work. I am attracted by and sympathetic to the ideas advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) about whether it would be possible to make better use than we do now of the money that is at present locked up in the new towns. The new towns hold tremendous commercial assets. They have certain principles, such as that they will not sell freeholds, and so on. I do not think that those principles are necessary. I see no reason why commercial freeholds should not be sold in the new towns if that is the right commercial thing to do. I do not want to tell the new towns how to manage their assets. I do not claim to know, but the possibility of selling freeholds and of making more out of these great public assets should be explored very hard, and if we could make more out of them, I should be happy to see a good slice of that directed towards this revitalising of London's dockland that we all believe to be deeply necessary and to be an opportunity that it would be tragic to miss.
I ought to declare an interest as I am a member of the original Docklands Joint Committee. On looking back, I am not sure that if I had that time over again I would go for the form of organisation that we then supported. Perhaps because I was then involved in local government I took a different view from that taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) who, as he indicated today, is passionately in favour of a development corporation approach.On looking back, I am not sure that we should not have done better had we had a development corporation. I think that my right hon. Friend is right in arguing that we should have had more resources had we had a development corporation, rather than going through the somewhat involved and tortuous democratic process of having five local authorities and the GLC involved in this joint committee. I think it is fair to say that we would not have had quite same degree of internecine warfare between the various members of the joint committee that we have had over the history of this development. When my right hon. Friend was speaking, I was reminded of the original consultants' proposals. I remember the original 26 options that were put up, to our somewhat surprised eyes, way back in the early 1970s. The proposals contained some marvellous ideas. Industrial land was to be turned into open space, and open space was to be turned into industrial land, which no doubt would have meant work for working planners, but it did not seem a practical approach. There was the concept of an East London Safari Park. No doubt that would have brought joy to my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), but it did not seem a practical solution to the problems of East London. I look at this matter very much with the eyes of my own local authority, which has a substantial area within the docklands development area—a piece of land on which, sadly, nothing very much is happening, and on which nothing is likely to happen as part of the docklands development. In addition, it is a borough that is very much affected by what happens in the rest of docklands and therefore I support the case made by the Government in para. 4 of their observations where they say:
That is an important point to bear in mind. I look at this from the point of view of my experience at Thamesmead, because all the presentational razmataz that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey was recalling about the original dockland concept was present when Thamesmead was launched. It was to be a great city of the twenty-first century for 60,000 people, rising Phoenix-like from the mud. Sadly, it has got stuck in the mud in recent times. The time scale has drifted in that case. It started in the middle 1960s, and it is stretching into the late 1980s and early 1990s. There is some problem of the relationship between the GLC and the two local boroughs, the two local education authorities, and so on, with all the difficulties that that involves. The hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) made a point about the need for adequate private housing to get a housing balance in dockland. That is something that we had very much in mind when Thamesmead was launched. The original Thamesmead concept was 65 per cent. public housing and 35 per cent. private housing, but it is a sad fact of life that the 35 per cent. private housing has been difficult to get moving at all. Despite houses being offered for sale at favourable prices, and despite land being made available for private development at favourable prices, we have not seen a tremendous burst of enthusiasm for buying homes at Thamesmead, and my guess is that the same experience might be found in dockland. I was a little unhappy at seeing the Government's reaction on the basis of making available adequate resources. In para. 9 of their observations they make it clear that there is to be no special form of support, but within the normal form of support the Government believe that"Docklands is not self-contained, nor should it be: its development is part of the development of the five boroughs in which it lies".
Our experience of Thamesmead is that that is an excuse for the time scale lengthening out and for the whole drive, energy and purpose of the original concept being lost. In the case of Thames-mead, it has meant the whole original dream becoming something of a nightmare. Instead of being a new town, it has developed into nothing more than a sprawl of council estates. New industry is crucial to the development of dockland and renewing the whole of life in the dockland area. The Greenwich example is fairly well known. In a ten-year period, it lost 20,000 jobs in manufacturing industry. On the other hand, it has fought hard to try to bring jobs back to the area. A point has been made about the need to bring in more new small firms. The record of Greenwich over the past three years is one of attracting 120 new firms into the area. About £40 million of private capital has been invested. That is an indication of what can be done by a local authority determined to hang on to its manufacturing base and to provide balanced employment for those it represents. It is a sad fact that the whole area of Greenwich within the dockland area is earmarked for industry, yet the greater part is totally sterilised because the gas board is grimly hanging on to 210 acres of it. The gas board is nothing to do with the Community Land Act. At some stage North Sea gas will run out. Therefore, the board may need a gas-making potential in the London area and it must hang on to its land just in case in 30 or 40 years it is needed for gas production. But that is a tremendous blow to us because the Blackwall peninsula is an ideal industrial site, with tremendous development potential for industrial undertakings. It has good access to transport. The Blackwall Tunnel southern approach to the motorway runs through it. It has easy access to the river and is well away from housing. It is a natural industrial site on which could be replaced many thousands of the jobs which have been lost to the area. I therefore hope that the gas board's case for sterilising the land for generations will be severely tested. I agree with hon. Members who have indicated that the success of industrial development in the docklands area depends to a large extent on a genuine relaxation of industrial development certificate control. I accept that the Government have moved some way in that direction, but if we are to change the climate of opinion, if we are to persuade industrialists that there is a home for industry, even if it is for small industries, in London, we must make a dramatic relaxation in IDC control as a means of making it clear that the climate has changed. We must make it possible for those involved to be able to advertise the industrial potential of the docklands area. It is absolutely crackers that London buses carry advertisements for Peterborough, for example, and we advertise throughout London the charms of Cumberland, Scotland, and virtually every other industrial location, but are denied the right to advertise the industrial development potential of the docklands. Provision in this respect is made in the general powers Bill of the GLC, and I hope that it will receive support from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I welcome what the Expenditure Committee and the Government have said about the need for industrial training and retraining in the docklands area. It is clear that skills are in short supply, and this is a limiting factor in industrial development, but sometimes we ignore the results of the closure of firms. Some of the firms which have left were among the best trainers of young labour in the area. In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) Harveys, which had a tremendous apprenticeship and training record, is very much depleted and facing virtually complete closure. In my constituency, at Woolwich Arsenal, there is one of the best appointed industrial apprenticeship schools that one can find for many miles. It is threatened by the closure of the workshops at Woolwich Arsenal. Closures of that sort remove opportunities for industrial training of young people. I accept that the Government's skillcentres are being developed. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich will recall that he and I have been fighting for the Deptford skillcentre since 1968 when we were first promised it. It is now more firmly on the horizon, but it is still some way off. Skillcentre provision is to be made at Kidbrooke later this year and at Charlton next year. I welcome that. But all we are doing is seeking to replace the potential for training of many firms which have left the area. I turn briefly to the question of transport. I support hon. Members who have said that the River Line is the key to docklands development. It is important as a demonstration of public confidence in docklands development as well as a necessary basis for that development. I hope that the alignment to be seriously examined will be the southern alignment, because it provides an important link between Woolwich Arsenal and Thames-mead and a link between Thamesmead new town and its basic town centre at Woolwich. Hon. Members opposite have spoken about the possibility of alternative bus services. My constituents in Thamesmead have minimal bus services. On Sundays they have no bus service at all. The River Line could provide a major link between Thamesmead and Woolwich and between Woolwich, at a strategic centre for shops and offices, and the rest of Docklands. It could also ease congestion on the North Kent railway line, on which the trains are chronically overcrowded. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said, it might give people in South-East London a Tube service of the type which is taken for granted by people situated on the more favoured side of the river. I wish to speak briefly about road schemes. I am less enthusiastic about one of the major road schemes proposed in the Dockland study, namely, the East London river crossing. This is a proposal to build another tunnel at Thamesmead and to provide a motorway link with the A2. I wish to declare a parochial interest: the motorway proposal would eliminate about 200 homes, virtually all of them in my constituency. It would plough through attractive public space at Rockliffe Gardens and Oxleas Woods. Sadly, it would drive a wedge through the middle of the last working farm in my constituency. I should be sorry to see that cut in two. All the benefits from the East London river crossing would go to people on the north side of the river. All the disadvantages, as the Docklands Joint Committee accepted, would be borne by my constituents through whose homes the road would run. It is fair to say that it would involve a substantial attraction of extra traffic through the East London river crossing, particularly if tolls for the Dartford Tunnel go on increasing at their recent rate. What worries me most of all about this and other road schemes in the study is the degree of blight which affects an area when schemes are earmarked for post-1986, as is the case with the East London river crossing. We are told that the completion period from start to finish is 11 years. If we are talking about blighting an area for that sort of period, and if schemes are stopped dead simply because 10 years from now somebody may build a road, which may take another 11 years to complete, at a cost, on 1975 figures, of £87 million, while I am in favour of strategic planning, there must be a genuine and realistic forward parameter for the length of time that such plans can remain in being. The people we represent who live in and around dockland are not all that impressed by strategic plans, by strategy documents, by glossy brochures and by paper produced in large quantities since this operation started. They take the view that that is no substitute for genuine, effective development on the ground. I support those who have said that we shall not get that development without a much greater sense of urgency and much more evidence of commitment by the Government."important progress can be made piece by piece and phase by phase within the framework of the overall strategy."
I agree with virtually everything that the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) has said. Much of it reflected the motive which lay behind my thinking when I served on the Select Committee, which I still do. There are two reasons for my intervention: first, because I serve on the Select Committee; and, secondly, because for six years I was, with my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), a member of the GLC Housing Committee and, for three years, an elected member of the Westminster City Council. I was vaguely involved in London local government for six years.When I was involved in London local government and during the time that I served on the Select Committee I was impressed by the feeling that a sea change was taking place in the thinking about London's planning. When I became a member of the GLC in 1967, there was, and perhaps still is, an expanded towns committee, whose job was to export people from London. The whole thinking of the officials was still very much along the lines of that in the Abercrombie Report. This document of 1944 said that things would be much better after the war and that people should be moved out of the terrible areas of inner London into the green fields of England. That was a very noble aim, but, like so many planners' aims, the reality proved very different from what was intended at the time. It was not just London—the same problem occurred in many of the other great cities. Liverpool was another example of the inner city dying and the suburbs deteriorating and being vandalised. That does not make any sense. It is essential to turn back the tide of Abercrombie thinking when dealing with the docklands. We are simply spilling people all over the country and killing London, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and other big cities. We must do something about that now. But the problem is that we are still thinking in the old-fashioned terms of Abercrombie while the world is passing us by. During my service on the Committee, when we were conducting this inquiry I was depressed by the atmosphere of the political negotiations in London on this matter. This is not a party point. I felt, as did my colleagues on the committee, as we listened to witnesses, that they were all finessing for position. Each was concerned with his own interests and with making sure that whatever came out of the document would defend those interests. There was no wide overall view. My right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) made it clear that in retrospect they felt that it would have been better to have had a development corporation. But, as the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said, that is now water under the bridge. There is not going to be a development corporation and we must try to work within the existing system. I asked several witnesses whether it was too late to set up a development corporation and to turn back the tide. But the more I listened to the witnesses describing all the difficulties that would follow, including getting a Hybrid Bill through the House, a Bill which would be bitterly contested, and the fact that the GLC would petition, the more convinced I became that turning back the tide would mean fighting a losing battle. It was clear that we would have to work within the existing situation. Let us look at the report of the evidence of the South-East Economic Planning Committee, the representatives of which said, in undoubtedly the most brutal statement that I have read:
I then asked how it would be possible to commend such a recommendation to Parliament—to set up a development corporation to take unpopular and difficult decisions. The Chairman, Lord Porchester, replied:"Firstly, there is not in existence at the moment any body which can take and carry decisions which may be unpopular in one or more of the boroughs or with the GLC."
I pointed out that 15,000 people were already living in dockland. He replied:"The fact is that the new towns, including the first generation around Greater London, faced this very problem."
The argument that a development corporation would have been impossible to achieve in dockland was wrong. Nevertheless, the decision has been taken and we must live with it. I wish to say a word about private financing. During the discussions Trammell Crow was still interested in the scheme, and that was about the only bit of private finance that was interested. Therefore, I was particularly concerned about the evidence from the Port of London Authority—one of the main landowners in the area. I asked a number of questions of PLA witnesses about the involvement of private finance. The fact is that it is possible to do a deal between the developer, the landowner and the local authority by which the infrastructure is provided by the developer in his costs. I said:"There are 30,000 in Hemel Hempstead. A new town corporation was imposed upon that community."
The witness replied:"In effect they are waving a stick over your head and saying, If you do not give us some proportion of the development profit by way of infrastructure contributions we will not grant planning permission'?"
I then asked if it were possible to do it if the will were there, and whether there was a lot of interest being shown by developers, such as Trammell Crow, in this project. Mr. Hughes replied:"That is how one gets planning gains in that context."
I asked him:"Not since the publication of the White Paper on land, but people are still coming to us with ideas which they would like to see carried out in the docklands area."
He replied:"In view of the fact that there is total bureaucratic control over the exercise, because the Docklands Joint Committee are working on it with the DOE, do you feel this means that developers who may come along with perfectly workable schemes will be prevented from getting on with them because they will not get planning permission since their schemes are in advance of the long-term plan which will not appear until next year?"
The thing that comes out of the testimony of the PLA—the largest landowner in dockland—is that there was a possibility of private investment, but that private investment will only go there if there is the political will. In listening to the replies of the witnesses I did not get the impression that the political will existed. The elected leaders of London now have our report. I hope that they will get on and do something about it."That is probably the case. We have not had people coming forward with plans in the last few months, whereas in the past we have had developers coming along full of ideas, but it is difficult to give all the reasons; we do not know them."
Of the designated dockland area, no less than half is entirely within my constituency. In fact, two-thirds of my constituency is within the dockland area. Therefore my constituents are particularly affected by this report and these developments, more so than those of any other hon. Members.The hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) mentioned the plans of the GLC and the Abercrombie Report. I think that the Barlow Report before the war set the ball rolling. I was a co-opted member of the GLC planning committee and my main objection was to trend planning. Planners plan for all sorts of objectives. In the late 1960s the planners were planning for existing trends, greasing the skids for what was happening economically at that time. That is not always the best thing to do. Sometimes it is better to plan to change the economic gravity of the time. The hon. Member for Melton also mentioned Hemel Hempstead. It may be true that Hemel Hempstead had 30,000 people in a single centre. The docklands have 5,000 people who are, related to many different places separated by the river and by industrial areas. Therefore, it is not right to compare a semi-green-fields situation in Hemel Hempstead with areas around dockland. Physically and historically the situations are very different. We must look at this matter in three distinct sections. First, there are the physical and economic factors affecting the environment, and we must examine the essential nature of the present situation, secondly, there was the institutional and statutory framework; and, thirdly, there is the economic and social future. All these factors are bound up with money. Later in my remarks I shall mention some matters that seem to have escaped the attention of the Department of the Environment. I am a little concerned that nobody so far has mentioned the Port of London as such. It has been mentioned almost in passing in connection with a surplus of land, as though its docks were no longer in operation. But the essence of the problem is that the land is related to the era of nineteenth-century port development and the development of port-related industries. I refer to areas such as those mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), who used the phrase "down-the-end areas".
The phrase I used was "downtown".