Skip to main content

Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill (By Order)

Volume 972: debated on Thursday 25 October 1979

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.

7.33 p.m.

It is with great pleasure that I present for consideration of the House the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt), I do not propose to speak for a long time, for various reasons, the first of which is that we had the Second Reading of this Bill on 12 June. I counted the columns in Hansard. which I have with me, and I am glad to say that hon. Gentlemen and my hon. Friends, the London Members of Parliament, and I managed to fill about 56 columns during that Second Reading debate. Indeed, I contributed about 30 minutes to that debate and covered many aspects of the Bill. The second reason is that one has a slight feeling of déja vu because last Tuesday we had a debate on London. I see the faces of some here again this evening of those who contributed to that debate. It is a pleasure to have already heard a reference to Sir Horace Cutler. I was pleased and impressed by the obsession that Opposition Members appear to have with Sir Horace. That helps to raise him in my esteem, as I said last Tuesday.

We had an unopposed Second Reading of the Bill in June and various hon. Members, for their own reasons, have put a stop on the Bill, which is why we are debating it tonight. I confess that on various occasions in the past, when in opposition, I and my colleagues acted similarly. It always seemed to us to be one of the few ways that we could achieve a debate on London.

As the House knows, there will probably be an opportunity to discuss London affairs next Friday. I am sure that we all welcome that and congratulate the Government on their perspicacity.

I propose to explain briefly the present status of the Bill after its Committee stage. Clause 3, which is the first clause of substance, is unchanged. It is the same clause as that which we debated on Second Reading and it deals with the licensing of public entertainment in London. Hon. Members will remember that this clause creates separate offences and separate fines for each breach of the licensing provisions.

At present, any number of provisions can be breached and only one fine can be levied. That has meant that in certain cases, such as pop festivals, it has perhaps been beneficial for the organiser to breach all the provisions and pay one fine. He will now have to pay a multiplicity of fines, one for each breach, and the fine has been increased from £200 to a maximum of £500.

Clause 4 is again unchanged. The House will remember that this clause permits the council to pay the chairman of the London Transport Passengers' Committee an annual stipend instead of attendance and financial cost allowances.

There is no change to clause 5. This clause authorises councils to erect advertisements in the streets—for instance, those rather attractive maps and advertising drums in Oxford Street, with the names of companies, or whatever it is, around the border.

Hon. Members may say that these advertisements have already been erected, but perhaps it is not quite certain whether they have been erected with statutory authority. Clause 5 will give councils the authority they need.

Clause 6 is merely a tidying-up clause and is unchanged.

As regards clause 7, the situation has changed. Hon. Members will find clause 7 in the amended Bill—which no doubt they have with them—to be exactly as it was in the previous Bill. It will be seen that this clause purports to withdraw the powers of boroughs to regulate parking on grass verges, footpaths, pavements, and so on.

The reason for this clause is that it was the intention of the Government to implement similar powers nationally under the power they have in the Road Traffic Act 1974. It was felt, quite properly, that it could lead to confusion if boroughs had a set of powers similar in almost every respect to those for which the Government were to legislate nationally. Therefore, clause 7 was introduced to withdraw the powers from boroughs so that there would not be, at any time, the danger of a conflict of powers.

The Government have announced their intention not to proceed to implement the powers under the Road Traffic Act 1974 on a national basis. I understand that the reason is the cost that would be involved. I am aware that a good many representations were made to the Government after our Second Reading debate in June, to the effect that implementation of these powers would impose considerable additional burdens on police and traffic wardens, with considerable additional costs.

Therefore, the Government have said that they will not implement this power. Quite understandably, the boroughs have now asked "Please, can we keep the power that we have at present?" Therefore, although clause 7 remains in the Bill, should the measure get a fair wind tonight the intention is that there will be a request, perhaps in another place, for the clause to be removed so that the powers can remain with the boroughs to be used as they see fit and, indeed, to be used as they are used at the moment.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for informing the House about that. However, does that mean that the 1980 date about which we talked on Second Reading will be met by the boroughs themselves? When we discussed this we were told that it was not certain that the 1980 date would be met. Can we now take it that 1980 will be the operative date?

I think the answer must be that this will lie with the individual boroughs. That is my understanding of the intention. But it is not for this House to say how the boroughs will use that power. At present, the power rests with the boroughs. The clause would have replaced that power by national powers, but now the national powers will not be granted, so the boroughs will retain that power. It is really up to the boroughs to decide how and when that should be implemented.

There is no change in clause 8. This is the clause which creates a staff commission to ease the transfer of staff consequent upon the transfer of certain GLC estates to the boroughs. I know that this is a controversial matter, but I trust that the clause will not be controversial. If the transfer is to take place, and if the power is to rest with the GLC and the boroughs, there must be a staff commission. I understand that the trade unions have been consulted and do not oppose the creation of this commission. It is generally understood that it will be essential to deal with matters such as appeals procedures, reorganisation of posts, recruitment and so on. Perhaps the House already knows that the intention was for the transfer to take place on 1 January 1980. I am now authorised to say that it will take place on 1 April 1980.

Perhaps it will take place after 12 noon. I am told that this will now take place on 1 April to fit in better with the financial year.

7.45 p.m.

Can the hon. Gentleman explain the reference to the independent staff commission which will be required to safeguard staff interests? If clause 8 is passed, will the London advisory committee become the staff commission? Can we have an assurance that those transferred will have equal wages and conditions, including London weighting?

The London housing staff advisory committee was set up on 22 August as a forerunner to the staff commission which will be authorised by clause 8. Indeed, at the present time the committee is dealing with interim recruitment. I understand that it is merely a forerunner of the staff commission. When the staff commission, which is the statutory body, comes into being, the staff advisory committee will cease to exist. Its role will be superseded by the staff commission.

As to an assurance about the parity of London weighting and salaries, I can only suppose that this will be so, but I cannot give any assurance on behalf of the staff commission, which will operate within its own terms of conduct. However, I should be very surprised if what I have said is not so. I do not think that it is realistic for this House to ask for that assurance because we are setting up a statutory body to which powers will be given to negotiate with the unions and staff.

But clause 8 would transform the forerunner into the independent staff commission as a statutory body. Would that be the effect?

That is not the effect of clause 8. Its effect is to establish a staff commission. Whether it merely transforms the staff advisory committee into the staff commission must be a matter for decision by those who set up the staff commission. That may well be the case, but as I understand it that is not the statutory effect of clause 8. The staff advisory committee is not a statutory body, and it may or may not become the staff commission, but that is not within the definition of this legislation.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is a rather vague situation which is not entirely satisfactory?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is being a little unreasonable. The intention is for the staff commission to be set up. How it is formed is laid down in some outline, and I see no compulsion at all upon anyone that the present advisory body should be transferred en bloc into the new staff commission. I understand that that is not the nature of this specific legislation. My guess is that it probably will be, but I do not think that it is for us to say that it must be. I am sure that the staff commission will do a satisfactory job and will be in existence for a considerable time.

The clause 9 which existed in the Bill that we debated in June no longer exists. In fact, it was struck out in Committee. That was the clause which enabled councils to guarantee loans made by banks or finance houses for the construction, extension or improvement of industrial or commercial buildings. Hon. Members may recall that on Second Reading it was pointed out that councils had the power to make loans but did not have the power to guarantee loans. It was felt, rightly or wrongly, that this could well be a cheaper way—guranteeing a loan rather than making the loan itself.

However, in its wisdom the Committee decided to strike out this clause. The reason, which one must acknowledge and accept, is that the Government are at present reviewing their own levels of assistance to industry. It was therefore felt on reflection that it was difficult for local authorities to take new powers in this same area. In addition, there is the old difficulty that this could well distort regional priorities. As a result, hon. Members will find a clause 9 in the present Bill, but it is not the clause 9 that we debated on Second Reading.

In the same way, clauses 10 to 21 of the old Bill are not included in the new Bill. They were withdrawn in Committee, and hon. Members who remember the Second Reading debate may recall that I said at the time that they would be withdrawn. They dealt with the powers of local authorities to license and regulate hostels because, as I explained then, there has been a certain amount of abuse connected with hostels in London, especially in summer. Some operators will rent a hostel for a month or two for a lump sum and then fill it, quite indefensibly, with a vast number of unfortunate students or tourists. They take a levy from each one and make a great deal of money, to the detriment of the hostel and the area.

It was felt by the Department of the Environment that, although this problem was well recognised, a revised drafting probably would better fit the overcrowding provisions of the Housing Act. This new drafting will be in the next Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill, which—I was slightly taken aback to hear this—will be presented next month.

As a result, the present Bill is very much shorter than the one we debated in June because we have lost clause 9 and clauses 10 to 21 as well.

The new clause 9 is our old friend and it remains unchanged. It deals with the brown-tail moth. Its Latin name is Euproctis Chrysorrhoea. This brown-tail moth is spreading westward from Canvey Island, which seems to have been the point of infection. It has advanced as far as Tower Hamlets and is now infecting one-third of London local authorities. It kills trees and shrubs by stripping their leaves and roots. It has a second effect which perhaps I can best explain to the House by reading from the brief—
"Contact with undergarments which have previously been exposed to the windblown hairs of the caterpillar can cause skin irritation and a subsequent rash."
I am sure that we wish to spare our constituents any subsequent rashes. This clause will permit the borough to serve a notice on those in whose garden this beast is lurking, calling on them to destroy it. Should they not destroy it, the council is empowered to do so, and no doubt charge the person concerned.

Finally, clause 10, which was clause 23, is unchanged. This is not a matter of great importance, but it permits boroughs to authorise tables and chairs on footpaths. If I may quote once again from the brief, one object is—
"to make attractive and lively improvements to the street scene."
I am sure that none of us would argue with that.

This is a slimmer measure and, I hope, a non-controversial one. The hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) raised a point on clause 8 and I will consult on this matter. If it is appropriate and if it is the wish of the House I shall come back later this evening and say a few words about it, should I have been mistaken in my interpretation. I ask the House to give a fair wind to the Bill this evening.

The points that I want to raise on this Bill are very closely related to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) about clause 8 and its relation to the establishment of a staff commission to deal with those members of Greater London Council staff who will be transferred, along with the housing powers of the GLC and its housing staff, to the London boroughs.

I have a non-financial interest in this matter as a member of the National Union of Public Employees. I am sponsored by that union. Many of its members are involved in this area of GLC activities, as both manual and non-manual workers. The real reason why the staff commission has been proposed at all is that the Tories at the GLC want to dismantle the strategic housing role of the council. It would be quite remiss of Members on the Opposition Benches if we were not to criticise the GLC for that policy. The reality behind that policy is an attempt to cut the number of houses under construction by the GLC, in the GLC area, from 6,000 a year—which was the case in the last year of the Labour administration at County Hall—to nothing. Next year we shall see a significant rundown of GLC house-building activities. About 90 per cent. of the GLC's total housing construction and activities next year will be concentrated on Thamesmead, with the rest of London getting virtually nothing.

When we discuss clause 8 of this Bill we are discussing the effective dismantling of the powers of the GLC to build houses in the capital. We are also talking about the transfer of the existing stock to the boroughs, many of which will have housing indigestion if they actually take on board all the GLC stock in their areas.

My argument about clause 8 is straightforward. The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) will know that discussions have been taking place between the GLC and the relevant trade unions for some time concerning the impact on trade union members of the proposed transfer of housing stock to the boroughs. Although agreement has been reached in part on transfer arrangements, no final agreement has been reached on the precise terms and conditions under which the transfer will take place. I address myself particularly to that problem in relation to clause 8(3)(b), which refers to the Secretary of State's power to refer to that staff commission particular items of relevance and importance which confront people who are transferred from the London boroughs.

The role of the staff commission will be absolutely undermined if the Secretary of State does not refer to the commission the whole question of absolute protection of wages and salaries and of conditions of service, as well as items such as conditioned overtime for manual workers currently employed by the GLC in jobs such as housing caretakers and other housing-related functions. Such overtime is a very important part of overall average earnings in that industry. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that in the discussions that have taken place so far the GLC has accepted, as have the London boroughs, that a new contract of employment for the people who are transferred from the London boroughs will be given three months after the operative date of transfer.

That is all very well. It may be that the legal requirements for the new contract of employment should be entered into at that early stage, but in practice it will mean that the GLC rates of pay and conditions of service will apply to those who are transferred for only a maximum period of three months unless specific provisions are incorporated in the agreement between the trade unions, the GLC and the London boroughs to extend such protection beyond the date on which the new contracts of employment come into operation.

8 p.m.

The principal problem is not likely to be caused by the GLC manual workers. It will lie with the white collar workers, because they enjoy substantially better pay and conditions than do those working for London boroughs. The GLC white collar workers have two negotiating bodies. A GLC negotiating body deals with the terms and conditions of employment of staff employed by the GLC and negotiates their rates of pay, London weighting and number of hours worked. Those conditions and wages are substantially in advance of what is enjoyed by those working for London boroughs, whose wages and conditions are determined by the national joint council for local authority administrative, professional, technical and clerical staff who have a national agreement. It is important that the terms and conditions of employment of existing GLC staff are preserved and perpetuated beyond the time when the contract of employment is introduced by the London borough that takes responsibility for employing a present member of the GLC staff.

I should like an assurance from the hon. Member for Streatham that the Secretary of State will refer that matter to the staff commission. If he does not do so, the trade unions the GLC and the London boroughs will find it difficult to reconcile their differences.

It is clear that transferring 4,000 or 5,000 workers to the London boroughs will gravely affect the promotion prospects of those who continue to be employed by the GLC. If they lose promotion prospects that they might have enjoyed under the existing GLC network, with, for example, the possibility of promotion to the GLC's northern district office, that will have a serious effect. I hope that the question of promotions to the London boroughs and within the GLC will also be referred to the staff commission. Only then can proper arrangements be made for transferability of jobs between the London boroughs and the GLC.

Another distressing aspect is the GLC's decision to break up the direct labour organisation. We shall lose skilled workers who are needed, because all over London there are housing estates where private contractors have gone broke and houses are waiting to be built. There will be no direct labour organisation to pick up that work.

My hon. Friend is right. The destruction of the direct labour organisations in London will mean that skilled operatives will be lost permanently to the industry. Many will either never work again or work only intermittently. The production of houses in London, where we still have a major housing shortage, will be gravely affected. In my own London borough of Haringey the numbers on the housing waiting list have shot up dramatically to more than 10,000 in the past few months.

The dismantling of the GLC's strategic housing role and the Government's deliberate policy, announced in the Budget, to cut housing spending by £300 million will have a direct effect on Londoners. The innocuous looking clause 8 is a direct product of the lunacy of the Government in dealing with the housing problems of inner London and of the outer London boroughs that have similar problems.

Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that many GLC tenants, including, I am sure, many in his constituency, will welcome the fact that, having been transferred to the boroughs, they will have a housing department that is local and much more accessible?

That remains to be seen. Whether tenants will welcome being transferred from the GLC to a London borough depends on a number of factors, including the amount of money that the borough has available to carry out necessary repairs. The GLC is deliberately keeping empty scores of houses on the White Hart Lane estate, in my constituency, because the council wants to sell, homestead or let those houses. That is disgraceful, especially since at my Friday surgeries I have scores of people wanting new accommodation. Clause 8 is the direct outcome of the GLC's wish to divest itself of important strategic powers and to place all the responsibility for dealing with the problems on the boroughs that are least capable of solving them.

The difficulty facing boroughs such as Haringey, Islington, Newham and Tower Hamlets is that they do not have the financial, manpower or administrative resources to deal with problems of the size of those with which they will be confronted.

The old London County Council and the present GLC were given a strategic role because it was accepted by everyone in politics that the only way to solve housing problems was to have an authority with global responsibility rather than to leave the boroughs to look after themselves.

Clause 8 is the outcome of policy decisions taken without the approval of Londoners and directly against the interests of Londoners who are looking for housing and of GLC tenants. It is clear that if a London borough accepts a large number of GLC houses it will have housing indigestion. The council will try to deal with repairs and other problems, but it is unlikely to be able to do so. That is why many local authorities in London have refused to accept the transfer of GLC houses and flats in their areas.

My hon. Friend mentioned Newham. It has been said of a property on Pier Estate, in North Woolwich in my constituency, that if it were offered free to the borough, the borough would hesitate to take it because of its architectural condition. Is not the selling-off of council homes, say, in Dagenham, to private owners, by the will of County Hall and Conservative Members in this House, depriving tower block families throughout London, particularly mothers with young children, of a reasonable home and driving them to drugs and possibly worse?

I accept that much of what my hon. Friend says is correct. Many GLC estates are in a deplorable condition. They have been allowed to run down in a deplorable fashion. I can give a precise example of the way in which the GLC homesteading scheme has undermined the prospects of council tenants getting a house. I was approached by two constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Butt, who formerly lived in Cranbrook Park, Wood Green N.22, who told me that they had been offered a house on the GLC estate at White Hart Lane in my constituency and had accepted. They were later told by the GLC that they could not have the house because it had already been sold to homesteaders. That is a precise example of the way in which a house was taken from council tenants and given to homesteaders over the heads of the prospective council tenants. That is what happens under a policy for selling off council homes so preventing people moving out of less desirable tower blocks or older estates into newer and better accommodation.

This Bill tries to give effect to the GLC's desire to get rid of its strategic housing role. I hope that the House will be aware of that fact when it discusses the question later tonight. I hope that we can have from the hon. Member for Streatham the assurances for which I asked about wages, conditions and promotion.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a rumour that the proposed staff commission has been working and that money has been spent and incurred. Would my hon. Friend like to comment on the fact that, if true, it will be ultra vires payment? This Bill and the money Bill are the two authorities for the establishment of the commission. If the commission has been sitting and operating in past months, it is time that action was taken by the auditor to inform GLC members that they should be surcharged.

My hon. Friend has raised the interesting question of surcharging Sir Horace Cutler. That might be welcomed by some hon. Members on the Labour Benches if what my hon. Friend says is correct. I hope that we will hear assurances on the question of staff transfer. It is a serious matter for the 4,000 to 5,000 employees of the GLC who will be transferred to the London boroughs.

I shall concentrate my remarks on part 3, clause 8. This is the part of the Bill most affecting London boroughs. I am thinking particularly of my own area, the London borough of Hammersmith. The constituency of North Hammersmith contains a very large GLC estate known as White City. After the war, that was a very popular estate. However, the introduction of modern domestic methods such as washing machines and spin dryers started its decline. The kitchens and bathrooms were too small for the machines to be installed. The usual problem of decay of an estate took place. It is now a very unpopular estate as a place to live. Major attempts are being made to refurbish it and bring it up to standard. If an estate of that nature is to be transferred to a local authority, one needs to be sure that the local authority has the resources to deal with it.

These are issues that dramatically affect people in North Hammersmith and, I am sure, most London boroughs. Will the GLC give sufficient resources in terms of staff and money to the boroughs to maintain housing at a good standard? Another important question is whether the tenants of the GLC and also the boroughs will be kept informed of the progress of negotiations. I am sure that other hon. Members have shared my experience of having numerous people coming to one's surgery asking what is happening and whether the transfer is to take place. They are anxious about repairs, where they will go to pursue their complaints and whether the local office will still be available. It is sometimes forgotten that the GLC provides local offices.

8.15 p.m.

I was amazed to hear recently that the Conservative chairman of the housing committee of the Conservative-controlled London borough of Hammersmith is experiencing difficulty in getting information from the Conservative-controlled GLC. I have heard a statement along the lines that there have been some problems in obtaining all the necessary information from the GLC. The information may not be available. It may be available only in some incomprehensible form, or there may be some concern about secrecy, which often occurs in this country. I am willing to concede that the GLC is unlikely to be planning an intercontinental ballistic missile base in the middle of Hammersmith. I therefore attribute the situation to lack of knowledge. What are the tenants to be told? Initially they were told that they would be transferred in January. Now it is April. What is to happen next.

It may be October and then perhaps the following year. How will the tenants be convinced that the new landlords will be able to carry out the task given to them. If the Conservative-controlled London borough of Hammersmith is anxious about its ability to maintain standards, is it not reasonable that the tenants also should be anxious? I know that I would kick up a stink if my tenancy was transferred without consultation or discussion. I understand well the anger of the tenants. It is significant that the tenants have decided to hold a meeting of residents living on the estate, numbering thousands of people. I shall attend that meeting. I shall listen with interest to what the London borough of Hammersmith and the GLC have to say.

The trouble is that the London borough of Hammersmith accepts the principle of transfer but wants the minimum extra cost over and above the compensation for the GLC. That is an interesting statement in its own right. It means that the London borough of Hammersmith will have to find extra money when it is already enthusiastically administering cuts in public services. If the authorities pursue this policy—a policy with which I fundamentaly disagree because it is an assault on the quality of life of people in the area—they have to find more money. Where is that money to come from? Without increases in the rates, it will mean more cuts. This has a domino effect. One cannot ignore the effect on other services. We have the absurd situation where a housing committee is trying to hold on to its budget while the social services committee, controlled by a Liberal to the Right of the Conservative Party, is willing to implement cuts. He ends up cutting a children's home by January next year and dispersing children who have been at that home for many years. It is not a matter of moving the children en bloc as a family. It is a matter of dispersing them. I shall be taking up the matter in the House because it involves bad child care. Regardless of what one thinks about cuts, it is a case of unacceptable standards of child care. Yet that is what happens when a council tries to hold the rates down and extra burdens are put upon it which it cannot meet.

If the Bill is to go through in its present form, the people of Hammersmith, particularly the White City tenants and those living in other GLC properties, and I will want to know where the resources are coming from. Are they equal to, and preferably more than, what they possess already? Will they be kept fully informed? At the moment, they are not. There is total uncertainty, which leads to rumours and to fears which in housing matters are understandable.

When the GLC pursues its policy of council house sales, extra resources are required from the GLC as well. I could also give examples of people who have had to be pushed down the housing list because houses have been kept empty for sale. In Hammersmith and immediately around it houses are being kept empty, the hope being to sell them. It is a common experience when I write to the GLC to get the answer "Sorry, there are no more GLC houses available of the kind that we are talking about in the western area. Please ask your constituent if he is prepared to move out of London or to the north or the east of London." The domino effect is particularly important here. There is no way that Hammersmith can carry this burden unless it receives the money—and in a big way.

It is not just a question of transferring staff, though that is important enough in its own right. It is a question of making sure that they have the money available to give people a standard of housing to which they are entitled so that we can finally bury the idea that council house tenants are in some way second-class citizens.

It may help the House if I intervene briefly now to cover one or two issues. First, the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) must not perpetuate the myth that the Government have cut housing expenditure by £300 million. If he would bother to read the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State yesterday, he would see in columns 464 and 465 of Hansard that all we have done is reduce a paper spending figure which was not going to be achieved this year, as it was not achieved last year. Those are the facts.

The transfer of GLC estates is not, as the hon. Gentleman implied, a party political matter. The previous Secretary of State is on record as saying that he supports the principle of transfers. The authorities wishing to take housing stock include councils controlled by both of the main parties—46 of them to date—and this all stems from the 1963 Act.

Much work has already been done in preparation for these transfers. The GLC and the 46 authorities are anxious that they should take place as soon as possible. It is in no one's interest that there should be any undue delay or uncertainty—least of all the staff. However, all parties want the hand-over to take place as smoothly and efficiently as possible, with the minimum of inconvenience to the staff affected and with no disruption of the service to the tenants.

A number of authorities which had been planning to take housing stock on 2 January, particularly those taking the largest amounts, have become doubtful as to whether a smooth transition could be achieved by that date. Moreover, the staff associations involved have asked for more time to complete their negotiations on the detailed terms for staff transfer.

There are three precedents for the creation of staff commissions and they have all worked most smoothly. One dealt with the reorganisation of London local government in 1965, one dealt with the reorganisation of English local government in 1974 and the third has been looking into the transfer of staffs from new town corporations to the appropriate district councils. I expect no new problems to arise in the case of London.

Does my hon. Friend not agree that the staff commissions established previously—to deal with the consequences of the 1972 Local Government Act in particular—deal with situations in which individual employees have been transferred from authority to authority on the same nationally negotiated pay rates between those authorities? Was it not the case that individual problems arose about how a particular employee could be slotted into the new scales as they applied in his new local authority employer?

Is not the case of the GLC and the London boroughs different, in that there is separate negotiating machinery for the GLC, with separate rates of pay and conditions of service, so that the terms of employment of those employed by the GLC are separate and distinct from the terms of employment of those employed by the London boroughs?

Is it not therefore true that the problem is not an individual one relating to particular employees but one relating to the total number of employees being transferred, the generality, which is quite separate from the previous commissions on staff transfer? Is it not therefore reasonable to ask for the kind of assurances that I have been seeking this evening?

I do not think that they are all that different. The hon. Gentleman must recall that this is not the first batch of housing to be transferred by the GLC to the boroughs: it is the second. He must also recall that there is separate negotiating machinery for the new towns as opposed to the district councils, so the precedents are there, and there have been no problems. The hon. Gentleman will see from the last report of the new towns staff commission how the work has gone satisfactorily. I believe that there is not the sort of problem that he expects.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) said, it is in response to representations from the London Boroughs Association and the Association of District Councils that the Leader of the GLC housing policy committee has now recommended that there should be one round of transfers to take place on 1 April 1980 instead of the two which were previously envisaged.

From the conversations that I have had with various representatives of staff at County Hall in particular, I am certain that this is a sensible decision which will give all concerned plenty of time to complete the necessary arrangements before transfers take place.

As hon. Members know, a shadow staff commission has already been set up but it cannot have the statutory status it needs until the Bill becomes law. Moreover, the staff transfer and protection order which is urgently needed to allow proper preparatory work to proceed cannot be made until the statutory staff commission is in being, because that order must refer to the staff commission and its role in appeals.

Any further delay that this Bill encounters is only delaying the proper working of the machinery that we propose to set up to protect staff interests. It is not fair to the staff or to the people who employ them to leave this area of uncertainty as the transfer date approaches.

I should tell the hon. Member for Wood Green that the cost of staff commissions has always been met by the central Government. Therefore, he will not have the joy of trying to surcharge Sir Horace Cutler or anyone else.

Is it not true—this is not a party point—that there is no way that the GLC or the Government can pay these people to carry out the sort of work they have been doing until the Bill is passed by the House?

The Government are paying for this, as they have in the past. On the last occasion that we debated this matter, the hon. Gentleman asked for the total amount, and I gave him then an estimate of about £80,000. I am glad to be able to tell him that it looks as though it will come to £60,000. I think that he will get value for money and that the staff will get the benefits they want.

All the authorities involved in these discussions have made great efforts to comment on the draft order in good time. I had hoped to give the House this evening a firm indication of when the order will be laid, but I am sure that hon. Members will agree that it would be undesirable, if that can be avoided, to lay an order covering only half the story and leaving out the most important element. I think that all hon. Members would accept—certainly I firmly accept, as a former parliamentary adviser to NALGO—that the role of the staff commission in appeals must be in that order.

Until the Bill receives the Royal Assent we shall not be laying the order. I hope that I can soon allow the order to be laid, so that the staff can get the protection they want. The most important thing is to end the uncertainty. I hope that the House will endorse that point of view.

8.30 p.m.

I wish to deal with that part of the Bill which relates to the fire brigade services and the arrangements under GLC powers for permitting vehicular access to the highway.

Although I have no fundamental objection to that part of the Bill, which has a width of application and discretion, none the less in certain instances the ambulance service and the fire brigade have to use the highways as much as they have done in the past. Those services fear a cutback in manpower and appliances as a result of the helter-skelter path taken towards public expenditure cuts. The position of the fire brigade was brought to my attention by the Ealing branch of the Fire Brigades Union. That branch pointed out to me that the service is seriously under threat.

We shall be debating matters concerning London next Friday, and I am grateful that that facility has been afforded. A good debate on London in general and the powers of the GLC and borough councils is overdue, and we shall take ample opportunity to ventilate our points of view. Therefore, this debate comes as a precursor to the other. It is admitted by the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) that it has become a stop-gap Bill and has been changed in some respects in order not to obstruct the Government's plans as regards public expenditure.

When I read all the documents that had been issued, I was forced to take part in the debate and to deplore the amended part of the Bill. When it came before the House for Second Reading it contained a clause that enabled London borough councils to guarantee the repayment of loans made to persons who wished to extend or improve industrial and commercial buildings. The idea behind that was to assist employment within London. The growth of unemployment in London is worrying. The general depopulation of London has led to many problems, such as the position of schools.

Any Government would have been forced to accept some resulting reorganisation of capital expenditure. I concede to the central Government, who have to impose such reorganisation on the Greater London Council, that perhaps the situation had become lax. However, they seem to be going from the ridiculous to the "gorblimey".

The Bill comes at a time of considerable anxiety about the level of public expenditure cuts. There is a political regime—the Conservative Party—in control of the Greater London Council and many of the boroughs which does not pay sufficient attention to the way those services are run down.

Much emphasis has been laid on the question of housing. I accept the point made by the Under-Secretary that the transfer of GLC housing stock to the boroughs is not a party political matter. There has been discussion about it, and I was a member of the executive of the London Labour Party when some of the Labour-controlled boroughs were in favour of accepting the transfer of GLC housing stock. I entirely accept that it is a non-party issue. Many Labour-controlled authorities would have been pleased to take the new publicly owned housing stock under their wing.

The Bill, however, is introduced at a time when we have a Government who are making a fetish of selling council housing stock. For the majority of those on low incomes in the London area that is tantamount to giving away that housing. Through the attitude of the Conservative-controlled boroughs and the Conservative-controlled GLC the ability of people to transfer from one type of dwelling to another has been impeded. That has aggravated the anxiety of young mothers in tower blocks that they will never have a house with a garden.

We have never believed that there are no circumstances in which local authority housing stock should be sold. From my studies of race relations in Bedford I learnt that that authority had built houses with the intention of selling them. That is acceptable. However, GLC, borough council and housing association stock has been the subject of public discussion. Hard-working people on local authorities, including the GLC, have over the years worked out what they consider to be a balanced allocation of local authority housing in the total housing stock. It is wrong to impose an artificial policy to disturb that balance.

I have been in the House for 14 years and I ask the many Tory Members whom I know to re-think that policy. The doctrinaire attitudes of the people in Tory Central Office cannot be carried through. Their policies are creating a situation where there are far too many empty houses in the GLC housing stock. That mocks the homeless and the young women in trying to bring up their children in inadequate housing.

In my constituency, unlike the general trend in London, there is no reduction in population. It is increasing. We have the largest community of Asian origin, and they are now in the third generation—the babies of the babies. They belong to this country and were born here. They are looking for employment. There is no question of sending them back to where their fathers or grandfathers came from, and both major parties accept that. We must consider the future housing prospects of these people.

On the question of local authority stalling, I bow to the superior knowledge of my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race), who has a strong trade union background. His involvement with this House is limited, however. If it were not he would not have made the mistake of calling the Under-Secretary his hon. Friend. However, in spite of that, my hon. Friend will find that there are certain limited friendships across the Floor of the House. Who am I to complain about such attitudes of friendship when I say that there should be two-party consensus on race relations so that the subject is taken out of the cockpit of party political wrangling?

I urge the GLC to get on with the job of transferring the housing stock and not to leave any impediment. I appeal to it for God's sake not to leave any of it empty under its policies because that housing is desperately needed.

I wish to concentrate my attention on clause 8, and especially the provision

"for the transfer of staff consequent upon the transfer of housing accommodation or land"
"for the purpose of the management of housing accommodation or land".
Hon. Members have already expressed clear concerns about staffing, and I wish to deal with the role that will be given to the staff concerned in respect of key housing and related employment needs in the area. It is not clear that those who will be called upon to undertake new responsibilities will be part of the best structure possible to fulfil them. Because of the overall strategy of the GLC, in the context of the clause, and because of the policy of council house sales and the sale of land in which this staff will be engaged, a chronic crisis has broken out in my constituency.

In practice, Lambeth has about 1,400 homeless people apart from its waiting list. In addition there are several hundred single homeless people in the area. In effect, because of the GLC policy of council house sales the door has been slammed on the exit from this inner city area to outer areas. I am not saying that people want to move away from Vauxhall, but we have grave problems because the GLC is not appropriately allocating staff to analyse the mass of social and economic problems from which the area suffers.

For instance, there is a public inquiry on the Coin Street site, a well enough known site by the South Bank theatre, on which planning permission is being sought by various companies in respect of the equivalent of 11½ Centre Point buildings.

Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about the sale of council houses and that sort of thing. His comments in that respect would be in order in a general debate, but not on this Bill. The hon. Gentleman said that he was relating his comments to the clause dealing with the commission on the transfer of the council's housing staff.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I am concerned that the GLC is not making the kind of allocation of staff which, if it wishes to go ahead with this transfer, is necessary. The council is effectively failing in its responsibility to ensure that adequate staff are allocated to take account of an increasing problem in the area.

8.45 p.m.

What is the definition of housing staff? Is it those employed at administrative level or as housing officers responsible for housing allocation? Is it, in a wider sense, the responsibility of the GLC to ensure that housing needs will be adequately met while the needs and the skills of the staffs concerned are adequately fulfilled?

There are major problems of inadequate housing versus office speculation in the north of my borough, and I submit that the council should be making provision to increase staff in my constituency, though I appreciate that this view is not completely shared by my colleagues. There is considerable concern that in this transfer the GLC is dumping unwanted estates on Lambeth.

These estates are in real crisis. The Brandon estate is an example. I received a letter from Sir Horace Cutler this week concerning a problem in Fitzalan Street. That street could be anywhere but it happens to be in my constituency—in an area where the GLC has failed for years to find alternative accommodation for those who wish to live in that street. That is despite the fact that Sir Horace Cutler has admitted to me that it is responsibility of the GLC, which scheduled the houses for demolition.

We are in a no man's land of relative authority and responsibility where the buck is being passed by the GLC. We are in a situation where, among other things, it is claimed that the submissions made by Members of Parliament on behalf of tenants living in appalling conditions cannot be met in a climate of economic cuts. Even though some of those tenants suffer from rats, are living in chronic damp and have collapsing ceilings in their homes, we are told that there are not enough staff available to be able to deal appropriately with these problems. Under the terms of this Bill, in this sense, the GLC is passing the buck.

What is even more disastrous is that the GLC has already run down the construction branch from 1,200 to 600 operatives in advance of the transfer. That means that the quality of the properties transferred is deplorable because the GLC did not have sufficient staff to keep those properties in good order. That was a deliberate decision by the GLC.

I am grateful for that comment. On the Ethelred estate in my constituency we have a chronic housing problem precisely because the GLC did not allocate enough staff for the supervision of some of the estates under its control. On that estate, one of the densest in London, which was built not by direct labour but by a private contractor of the kind who should have been a model for publicity for "CABIN" during the general election campaign, the concrete floors were not of the specification required and are now turning to powder. Various attempts to correct this fault are not working. As a result we may have to evacuate whole buildings on that estate if the transfer takes place to Lambeth Council. We will have to find alternative accommodation for the people concerned precisely because there were not enough staff to supervise that estate. This is in a situation where Lambeth council, in difficulty, can hardly cope with its current housing problems, and where hardly anyone is able to move off the transfer list.

Not only can people not move to outer London, as they could before the GLC sale of council homes, but within Lambeth itself we are now having to allocate virtually all our housing resources for repairs and maintenance. A high proportion of this repair and maintenance work is on GLC estates. It is shocking that the GLC is seriously asking this House to accept the transfer of these estates under the conditions from which many of them at present suffer.

The question of employment is very relevant. It arises in the direct employment of the staff, and that issue is certainly of direct concern to the debate. But we do not need in itself a transfer of staff, nor in itself less staff. We actually need more GLC and local council staff to be able to analyse some of the chronic problems of job loss in the inner city area.

Let us take again, for example, the question of GLC backed office development versus housing, as on the Coin Street site. We are in a ridiculous situation. Virtually every serious study, whether it be the recent Norant report in France, the Siemen study in Germany, or the Manpower Services Commission report, predicts that a vast surplus of office accommodation will follow from the loss of clerical jobs in the next 10 to 15 years through the application of word processing and data processing machines. In what serious sense can one think that we can simply tolerate the transfer of the existing rundown functions by the GLC to the other boroughs when the GLC is not facing its own overall responsibilities in the question of housing versus offices?

I gave evidence about the Coin Street site last week. No analysis has been done by the GLC staff of the indirect social costs of putting up office development rather than housing. Virtually every other country has extensive social cost-benefit analysis of these costs, and the GLC has not undertaken such an analysis of these costs. A lawyer's brief is simply put for a property company's case which is effectively fronted by the GLC. That is the essence of the submission on that count.

In this context, I regret that the original clause 9 of the Bill, concerning the creation of employment, the guarantee of loans for local authorities and the guarantee of loans by the GLC to give financial assistance to industry, has been withdrawn. It is clear that in practice there can be no serious expectation of the regeneration of the inner city following the withdrawal of that clause and no serious expectation of reversing the massive—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must understand that this is the consideration stage and not the Second Reading of the Bill. He must relate his remarks to what is in the Bill and not to what he would like to see in it.

In the context of what is being transferred for the purpose of the management of housing accommodation, and of such staffing problems as arise in consequence—for example, under clause 8(3)(b) the problems that will arise for the staff concerned in going to the local council because of the way in which the GLC has not properly fulfilled its responsibilities before the transfer—we have no adequate assurance about the terms and conditions on which those staff will be employed. The GLC is not addressing itself to the kind of work on which they should be employed, and which is directly relevant to the major housing problem and the major employment problem in London. In these respects, this is a thoroughly inadequate Bill. It does not face up to the real issues in inner London today.

By leave of the House, I should like to answer some of the very pertinent questions put during the debate.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) asked me when the boroughs would use their powers with reference to parking on footpaths. I said that this was a matter for the individual boroughs. Indeed that is so. Nevertheless, the power has to be brought into force by the GLC. There are negotiations taking place at the moment between the boroughs and the GLC to reach a measure of agreement. A conclusion has not yet been reached, and I do not think that any assurance can be given about 1980. It is a matter for the GLC to accept, and presumably it will accept the advice of the boroughs.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that information. Will he, through the promoters of the Bill, make it clear to the GLC that the London boroughs are desperate? As we stressed on Second Reading, we cannot get the police to operate unless we have the provision. I hope that the GLC and the boroughs will not argue the matter out. We would like October 1980 as the latest date for implementation.

I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman's observations and add my voice to his. I am aware of the same problems in my constituency.

Most of the burden of the debate centred on clause 8—the staff commission. I hoped, as it turned out vainly, that it would be non-controversial. However, I agree and accept that it trails a fairly controversial cloak behind it. The hon. Members for Wood Green (Mr. Race), Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley), Vauxhall (Mr. Holland), and others had much to say. With their permission, I shall not comment at this stage about the transfer of houses as that is outside the terms of the debate and it has been debated many times.

I shall try to give some brief and specific answers to some of the questions that have been raised. I express my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. His remarks were very helpful and went some way to answer some of the questions. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch asked how the money had been spent. The answer is that it was spent by the Government, as is normally the case, and for the London housing staff advisory committee. I find it extraordinarily difficult to pronounce the name of that committee. The money was spent properly by the Government.

The obsession about Sir Horace Cutler showed itself every now and again. I did not keep score of the number of times the hon. Gentleman mentioned Sir Horace, but when I next speak to him I shall congratulate him on having scored at least a few more hits.

The hon. Member for Wood Green asked whether the staff commission would, should, or could replace the advisory committee, if I may call it the advisory committee rather than the London housing staff advisory committee. It is a decision for the Secretary of State and does not come within this measure. If one can go by precedent, the answer is probably "Yes". The staff commission will probably replace the present advisory committee according to precedent.

What powers will be given to the staff commission? I understand the concern of those involved that proper account should be taken, and I can give an encouraging reply. I understand that negotiations are proceeding satisfactorily and are moving towards a satisfactory conclusion between the boroughs, the GLC, the advisory committee and the trade unions involved.

9 p.m.

I hope that the conclusion of the consultations will be agreement on a code of practice in the not too far distant future. It is for the Secretary of State to decide what should be referred under clause 8(3) (b) to the staff commission. If we judge by precedent and assume that he will take advice, it is probable that the code of practice will be used by the staff commission in reaching its decisions and making its recommendations. The code of practice will cover most, if not all, of the various matters raised. I am glad to give the assurance that there is already a great measure of agreement and goodwill. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said, in other instances not too dissimilar matters have proceeded without too much difficulty and without too many problems.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North how tenants are being kept informed. They are kept informed in a variety of ways, but principally by meetings that are being arranged by the Greater London Council and by the boroughs where appropriate.

The hon. Gentleman said that some of his constituents have not been kept informed. Is the hon. Gentleman unaware that the borough of Hammersmith is one of the few boroughs that have not yet decided whether to accept transfer from the GLC? That being so, it is not surprising that there have been no tenants' meetings. The borough happens to be Conservative-controlled. That reinforces the remarks of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that the issue is not party-political.

I quote from a letter from the Hammersmith council, which states:

"you will already be aware that the council has agreed in principle to accept the GLC properties."
It is the feeling of the tenants that they are not being kept fully informed. Much more important in a sense in terms of the hon. Gentleman's argument, although not in terms of mine, is that the London borough of Hammersmith feels that the information is not forthcoming. That is a major problem. I ask the hon. Gentleman to guarantee that he will put all the pressure he can on the GLC to abandon its obsession with secrecy and ensure that full and frank information is available to the borough and the tenants. There is an agreement in principle. There is no reason to say that information should not be forthcoming.

If there is an agreement, I must apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I was informed that an agreement was expected shortly but that it had not yet been ratified. I shall convey the argument that he has advanced. I assure him that the GLC will be in close touch and communication with the London borough of Hammersmith.

I have been asked about London weighting and whether that will be honoured. The answer is that it will be protected. "Protected" means that in certain instances the employees may be given the option of having the weighting bought out by a capital sum. That will be a part of the code of practice, and it is a matter that is now under discussion. The answer is "Most certainly, yes".

I have been asked whether the resources will be equal if the boroughs take housing stock from the GLC that require considerable expenditure. This is a matter of concern to many boroughs. It has been discussed and ventilated in Lambeth, which decided not to take GLC housing stock.

Some remarks have been made this evening about the standards of the GLC. If they were lower, surely it was better for that stock to be transferred to the boroughs. Nevertheless, provided that the rents and standards are equal, the GLC gives the assurance that it will continue to provide as much finance as at present for the maintenance of the stock—what a wretched phrase that is—of houses and flats until they show a surplus. Any major modernisation schemes for the houses and flats that are transferred will also be paid for by the GLC until they, too, show a surplus on account. Should there be any appalling problems such as there were with the high alumina concrete in high-rise flats, the GLC would pay for the repairs on the same terms and the same qualifications.

The issue is not that simple. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was serious when he said that if the standards were lower it would be better to give the housing stock to the boroughs. It depends whether the boroughs have the real resources with which to manage the stock effectively. I am sceptical about whether the GLC will be in a position to transfer stock with provision for moderinsation, improvement or maintenance until the properties show a surplus. In what way can it possibly know what further cuts the Government have in the pipeline?

Yesterday, the Secretary of State for the Environment referred to the simple arithmetic of cuts. He said that 2½ per cent. only a few years ago added to 2½ per cent. now was no worse than 2½ per cent. previously. All the same, it is still 5 per cent. If the cuts are continued there will be a problem. This is not just a matter of cash. We cannot clear our estates in Lambeth to undertake the modernisation and repairs that are needed. Nor will we be able to do so with GLC stock if we do not have the properties to which we may decant the people. The GLC slammed the door on us by not making it possible for us to move the same number of people out of the inner London area at the same time.

It will be with some reluctance that I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman the next time he asks. At least I am speaking for the second time with the leave of the House. I had hoped that by my not giving way previously the hon. Gentleman would find in what I intended to say the answer to his question.

The answer is this. The GLC will pay for what needs to be done within the qualifications I gave. That is eminently satisfactory and sensible.

I understand the divergence of views about the transfer of stock. It is not a party political matter. It was envisaged in the original Act under which the GLC was set up. It was given a fair wind by the previous Government. My view of the GLC has always been that it should be a statutory authority. However, we are not discussing that tonight. Even in saying that, I have digressed. We are discussing setting up a staff commission, which is urgently needed to help those whom hon. Members on both sides represent. They need the staff commission. It would be unfortunate if, for reasons attached to the staff commission, the House took a different view of the Bill. I ask the House to give the Bill a fair wind and to send it on its way with our blessing.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, considered accordingly; to be read the Third time.