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Inner City Areas (Development)

Volume 961: debated on Wednesday 31 January 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he proposes to review the authorities receiving help under the Government's special inner urban areas programmes.

I have no plans at present to alter the nature or scope of our inner cities policy, other than to increase the level of resources for the urban programme, as indicated in the White Paper on public expenditure, Cmnd. 7439.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the list is now of no practical importance, because the sad truth is that whatever small benefit might have been available to towns under the inner urban area programme, the economic consequences of industrial disruption and strikes will fall with especial severity on the large towns and cities, particularly on the rates? Does he accept that any small benefits have been cancelled out by the present developments?

Many aspects of our national life have been affected by recent disruption. That will undoubtedly have its effect during the course of this year. I emphasise that we are dealing with inner city policy. If we are being serious about it, we are dealing with policies that will have their effect over the next five to 10 years. In spite of all the financial pressures, I am glad to say that we have been able to make a remarkable increase in the whole urban aid programme. We were spending only £30 million a year on the urban aid programme in 1976–77. In the White Paper that has recently been published I was able to indicate that that spending will increase to £170 million in 1982–83.

What, in my right hon. Friend's opinion, is the effect of the sharp drop in the availability of building society funds for the financing of home improvements in inner urban areas, despite the fact that the level of public spending for that purpose has been maintained?

I shall be interested to have my hon. Friend's constituency experience. In general, the building societies have been able to make larger loan allocations in the inner cities.

The arrangements for support lending by which the societies lend to those nominated for home purchase by the local authorities have led to an agreement that £400 million will be allocated for the forthcoming year.

The right hon. Gentleman has announced an increase in the urban programme. Have there been compensating reductions in other programmes that are associated with the increase in the urban programme? If so, where have the cuts been made? For example, have they been made in the housing programme?

No. I gave the figure for a rising programme extending to 1982–83. There are changes in the composition of individual programmes. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are talking about a modest increase in the growth of public expenditure as a whole. I shall consider his argument.

Does my right hon. Friend remember visiting Paddington in the autumn of 1978, just before we did not have a general election? Does he recall the reaction of my constituents, who were pleased to know what he was doing for many other parts of London but disappointed when he turned to me and said that the scheme did not apply in my constituency? Does he accept that conditions in substantial parts of my constituency are every bit as bad as those in other parts of London? Is he aware that some of my constituents feel that he is ignoring them, in the same way as he has been ignoring my letters asking him to receive a deputation on this issue?

I fear that it is difficult to meet all the proper demands that my hon. Friends put upon me. I do not dispute that there are serious problems in the constituency represented by my hon. Friend. My problem within the inner city programme has been to weigh the extent of the problems and to try to determine priorities. I regret that so far I have not been able to include my hon. Friend's borough in that programme.