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Commons Chamber

Volume 972: debated on Friday 2 November 1979

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House Of Commons

Friday 2 November 1979

The House met at Eleven o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Points Of Order During Divisions

I have a brief statement to make to the House about the method of raising points of order during Divisions. On Wednesday, the House resolved to agree with the report of the Sessional Committee on Procedure of 3 February 1977 on this question. A second hat will now be available to hon. Members and it will be kept by the Doorkeeper behind the Chair on the side nearer to the Aye Lobby. I also draw the attention of the House to the fact that only hats, and not substitutes such as Order Papers, will be acceptable in future for the purpose of raising points of order during Divisions. The same rule will apply to lady hon. Members as to male hon. Members. I am the servant of the House and am merely interpreting what the House decided.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Norman St. John Stevas)

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the House of Commons for the swift action that you have taken to implement its wishes. I am entirely detached in these matters; the only hat that I am interested in is a red one.


Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Berry.]

11.7 a.m.

I speak on behalf of all London Members in expressing thanks to the Government for finding time this day to discuss London. For years we have fought to have the right to discuss on the Floor of the House the urgent affairs of London. We should make it clear that, despite today's debate, London's geographical size, population and the fact that it has the greatest number of Members of Parliament in the House entitle it to a Question Time of its own and to a Grand Committee. Those objectives are still the main aim of all London Members of Parliament. However, we are still grateful to the Government, on behalf of our constituents, for the opportunity to discuss and focus on London affairs.

I shall concentrate on those areas in which Londoners have been trying to help themselves. There is a feeling that Londoners have done nothing to help themselves. However, the destruction of London's industrial base was brought about by deliberate Government regional policies, which dramatically changed London from the thriving, prosperous and go-getting society that it was in the 1950s. The population of London has been moved away in droves. Many of those who left were members of young families in which the wage earner was a skilled man. Manufacturing industry has declined until it has become almost nonexistent in vast areas of London.

Unemployment is growing, especially among the semi-skilled, the unskilled and the young. It is a salutary lesson to realise that of every nine people unemployed in Great Britain one is a Londoner. Those figures are seldom recalled when the House is listening to the problems of Great Britain as a whole.

I repeat, one in nine of the unemployed in this country is a Londoner. That situation has resulted from the deliberate design of the Government's regional policy; it was not an accident. When we add to that the impact of national economic difficulties on London, we witness an even speedier decline in industrial activity. There has been a great loss of skilled workers and a totally unacceptable spread of dereliction which has made us all rather ashamed of this great city.

As a result, London has not been able to play its part in the recovery of the nation as a whole. Above all, the quality of life for people living in London has been much poorer than it should have been.

Many of us recognised the problems, complex though they were, but the arguments that we put up to Governments of both parties were just a waste of time. The Governments were not listening. It was the dialogue of the deaf. One could explain, describe and produce all the evidence available, but the Government were quite unable to understand what we were saying.

We did not help ourselves, either. We have continually denigrated and argued with each other and played political games. This has produced a sense of frustration. Also, we have had to contend with "stop-go" Government policies. It was "stop" in 1960 and "go" in 1964. It was "stop" in 1970 and "go" in 1974. It looks like being "stop" again in 1980. One of the greatest things that we lacked was stability. Ask anyone in London—be he an employer or an employee—and he will say that he wants to see a stable situation, so that everyone understands what he is expected to do.

For the first time since 1974, a new spirit has been abroad. We had a Government prepared to recognise the facts and do something about them. This, in turn, encouraged local government—both the Labour-controlled GLC and the London boroughs—to work together with central Government, forming an important and enthusiastic relationship. Everyone recognised that the pattern of economic and social life in London was complex, because all the areas were interdependent, and local authorities made adjustments in their organisational structures to adapt to the new tasks.

Finally, we broke through the barrier of complacency. Since 1974 there has been a great change in attitude, no doubt brought about by adversity. People were recognising the problem. We have seen the coming together of central Government, local authorities, the CBI, the TUC and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry to form the London Employment Forum, which made such an impact when it was formed in 1976.

In addition, we have the seven consultative employment groups in London, each comprising elected members, officers, local employers, trades councils and all those interested in the effective running of the capital. In doing this we are able to show that we are involved in encouraging new industry in London and stimulating the old.

In passing, I must mention the front page of the London Evening News of Wednesday 24 October. Those hon. Members who saw it must have been a little shocked, as I was. About six months ago the Evening News was making appalling and scurrilous attacks on hon. Members representing London constituencies for what it described as "their unwillingness to understand the needs of the area". At the bottom of the front page on 24 October there was an advertisement headed "Factories Act". Those who read this closely saw that it did not actually say that. It said "Factories Act". It was a fraudulent headline, to attract the reader. Then one discovered that it was an advertisement to get industry to leave London and go to Milton Keynes. That was disgraceful for a London evening newspaper that had argued that it was so important to support London. That paper has carried not only a dishonest advertisement but one that was designed wholly and solely to get industry out of London.

Positive Government actions were taken after 1974 by easing the industrial development certificate control in London, by designating the 13 boroughs under the Inner Urban Areas Act 1978 and by creating partnership areas in dockland. Lambeth, Hackney and Islington. By a whole host of incentives the recovery of London began. The small firms employment subsidy scheme was a tremendous success in London. In London we all agree that one of the principal issues in the argument was the need to attract small industries and retain them.

The success of this measure can be judged by the figures for the 12 months to July of this year. Approval was given for 6,216 manufacturing jobs and 876 non-manufacturing jobs. That was a tremendous step forward in 12 months. Therefore, it is all the more tragic that within almost hours of coming into office the Government stopped the scheme. That was an extraordinary decision. The scheme was the one thing that was working for us, and the present Government killed it straight away.

Another example was the provision of industrial premises in London. Time and again we have discussed the inadequacy of old buildings which small industries cannot use. There was an apparent paradox, with large areas of space waiting to be leased and small firms claiming that they could not find anywhere to go. It was very important that local authorities should become involved in order to help. Here, the London boroughs have been doing a tremendous job in an area in which the private sector is unable or reluctant to become involved. By the joint action of industry and local authorities over the past five years, great progress has been made.

In instance my constituency of Hackney, in which there are five programme schemes for employment development and two for land assembly, using the Labour Government's construction package, an enhanced urban programme and the funds made available through the Community Land Act. As a result of the Government's decision to cut this fund, the whole project is now in chaos. No one knows whether he can go ahead, and as a result an initiative has been killed. Everyone knows that in Hackney firms are waiting and screaming to come in, yet the Government have decided unilaterally to kill the project.

The Government should consider the situation before they act. I agree that they are entitled to act—after all, they won the election—but they must look at the facts. Here was an example where, with Government help and assistance from the local authority and industry, we were making progress in Hackney—a place that desperately needs it. I plead with the Minister to review the situation on this legislation and let these firms go ahead, at least in London, where they are so desperately needed.

One could go on identifying initiatives that have taken place in all parts of London. I have illustrated only one, with which I am familiar because it is in my own area. Every London borough is trying desperately hard, with its industrial liaison officers and groupings from both sides of the river. There has been a real attempt to make London prosperous again.

We have this extensive co-operation between central Government, local government and the private sector. I thought that that was what the Conservative Party wanted and what it was arguing for. I beg the Government to recognise that to destroy all this in London just when we are on the point of taking off—it is the day that we have been dreaming of—is an act of gross vandalism.

The hon. Gentleman is making a political speech. I am sure that he will agree that the causes of London's decline go back many years. Is it not a fact that the Labour Party has been in power for 11 of the past 15 years and that it is primarily responsible for London's decline?

I regret that the hon. Gentleman chose to make that kind of intervention. I had thought that he was trying to keep up the standard of debate. I was not trying to make a party point; I was making what points I might about London as a whole. I am not concerned about which Government was responsible for London's decline. The hon. Gentleman's attitude epitomises precisely what I was talking about. We all contributed to our own problems, and did so for far too long. I beg the hon. Gentleman to rise above cheap, snide comments like that. We should all look to the future. London is more important than parties.

I trust that the Government will get the message from this debate that London is on the move. The public and private sectors are marching together in London for the first time. At long last we are getting a balanced and healthy employment base for London. For God's sake, do not let us ruin it. We have success within our grasp. Surely the Government understand that. We are speaking for London today, and I trust that the Government will rise to the occasion.

11.22 a.m.

I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) said. It is a pleasure to be debating London today. This is the third debate on London that we have had in the past two weeks. We had the London Transport Bill, which strayed somewhat wider than the question of transport, and we had the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill, which also strayed a little wide of its brief.

I have always had a high regard for the fairness and the good sense of the hon. Gentleman, though I hope that my regard does not damage his reputation among his colleagues. I addressed myself to London's problems when I introduced the London Transport Bill. Despite those problems, I am sure that those hon. Members who, like myself, represent constituencies in the capital would rather live here than anywhere else in the world.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the inner city partnership, which covers a great part of Lambeth. I do not support all the expenditures incurred by the inner city partnership in Lambeth but I give my support in general to its continuation. I restrict my speech to the very profound problems in Lambeth, which have relevance, I believe, to other boroughs in the capital. These problems are symbolised by the march to this House which is due to take place on 7 November. It is organised by Lambeth council and is supported by Yorkshire miners, other trade unionists and, no doubt, other borough councils.

I attended a press conference given by Lambeth council concerning the march which is to protest against public expenditure cuts. The march symbolises a situation in Lambeth—in which part of my constituency lies—which could well have escaped from the "Peter Simple" column in The Daily Telegraph. Were it not so tragic for some of the people of Lambeth, the issue would be regarded as absurd and ridiculous.

The waste, the inefficiency and the surrender to dogma on Lambeth council has not only caught the attention of the district auditor several times recently but has caused considerable difficulties not only to those who cannot pay their rates but to small businesses. It is damaging the growth, the prosperity and, in some cases, the lives of the people of Lambeth. I regard it as my duty to bring this matter to the attention of the House, though I do not believe that the ruling group on Lambeth council is typical of Labour-controlled councils. Mercifully it is not typical, but if, in a few years, it becomes typical, woe betide other boroughs in London.

Lambeth council is an atrocious landlord. Rents have not been raised since April 1977 despite rising inflation. Rents in Lambeth average £7 per week. The rate rise last year for council tenants was more than the combined rent and rate rise in Wandsworth. The balance is badly wrong in Lambeth, where rent arrears total more than £3 million. I accept that every London borough—indeed, most boroughs in the country—have rent arrears. Those in Lambeth are the highest in London and have increased from £1½ million to £3 million in two or three years.

I am told that there is a bachelor, in full employment, who has lived in a council property in Lambeth since June 1976. He has paid not a penny since that time yet eviction proceedings were started against him only in September this year.

The borough has 4,000 empty flats and homes. Any large proprietor of dwellings will have empty flats and homes from time to time, but the figure of 4,000 empty dwellings in Lambeth represents the highest percentage in any London borough. If they were all let—and I agree they could not be—rents and rates on those properties would bring in £900,000 a year. Over 9 per cent. of Lambeth's housing stock stands empty and yet the council keeps 360 families in bed and breakfast accommodation at a cost to the ratepayers of about £1 million a year.

The march to which I referred can be put into context when I say that the cuts that Lambeth has been asked to make amount to nearly £3 million. The borough is spending £1 million on bed and breakfast accommodation while nearly 4,000 flats and houses are empty. Some of these properties have been empty for five or six years. The reason for this is inefficiency. Lambeth has embarked upon a municipalisation programme under which it has bought so many private houses and flats that it is unable to cope with the necessary repairs and renovations.

Lambeth council bought a block of flats from a group with a remarkably bad reputation as a landlord. It was the Berger group. The residents say that they preferred Berger as landlords because at least then they could go to Lambeth council, which would insist that Berger made the improvement or whatever it was they wanted. At the moment, the tenants have no recourse but to their unfortunate Member of Parliament.

I turn to the municipalisation scheme. Between April 1978 and April 1979 Lambeth council bought 274 houses in Croydon, Merton, Sutton, Wandsworth and Lambeth for over £2 million. That did not add a roof or a room to the housing stock.

Lambeth council is wasteful and inefficient as an employer. Nationally, local government added just under 2 per cent. to its labour force in the last year. Lambeth added over 15 per cent. and over 10 per cent. to its manual force. It added just under 1,000 people. The social services jobs which were advertised in New Society between March and September this year totalled £300,000 in salaries.

Health and consumer services are booming industries in Lambeth. The district auditor said that Lambeth's spending on trading standards runs at over three times London's average, and is by far the highest of any London borough. Yet this year it is proposed that that spending should be increased by 40 per cent. Over 200 people will advise on these matters at a cost of £1 million a year.

A consumer bus service goes round to schools, handing out comics. Advice is given on how to make peppermint creams and fun ways with consumer protection. The department publishes the price of beans in various shops and conducts surveys into used cars and so forth. That is all good stuff but it should not be done at the expense of Lambeth. When Lambeth council talks of cuts, it does not mention cutting these services. It concentrates on the old, the poor, the sick and the infirm because they arouse most public concern. Such essential services need not be cut.

Lambeth council is a waster of money. This year it is giving £500,000 in grants, which is a 30 per cent. increase on last year. There has been much publicity about the now notorious Union Place resources centre which has aided various groups. The list is long. The groups that it has helped include the Right to Work Campaign, Librarians Against the Cuts, Vegetarians against Nazism, the Ad Hoc Committee Against the Police, the Red Poster Collective and Under-Fives Against Nazism. The list is straight from "Peter Simple". It is extraordinary. If any hon. Member wishes, I shall escort him round the centre.

A film and video project is paid for out of the rates. It has been used by the Broadside Mobile Workers theatre, the Gay Sweat Shop—whatever that is—and the People's Show.

This morning I received a Lambeth news release. It offers a course in tennis. The release states:
"Learn tennis with Lambeth.
A series of four taster and improvement courses in tennis have been arranged in the Kennington area for the winter season."
Two of the four courses are free. One costs 50p and the other £1·50. I am delighted that people should learn tennis, but no one will disagree that they should pay the full economic cost. Why should a course in tennis be paid for by the taxpayers and ratepayers when we are in such economic difficulties? Unless we make fun of this situation and also recognise the seriousness of the consequences, Lambeth will continue on its way.

The council gave £5,000 to the Lambeth Carnival Against Racism.

The other day a group called Contact A Family, which is doing excellent work in Wandsworth bringing together the families of mentally or physically handicapped children, applied for a grant of £6,000 from the inner city partnership programme. In Wandsworth that group is funded by the social services department. I doubt whether it will receive the money from the inner city partnership because the funds for that partnership are being held at their present level. I doubt whether new ventures will be added. It will be interesting to see whether Lambeth will find that £6,000 to enable the group to set up in Lambeth.

The hon. Member is being unfair. Is he not aware that the Secretary of State for the Environment distributed a circular saying that the whole of the partnership programme is up for review and likely to be cut? Why should any borough take on additional commitments in those circumstances?

The hon. Member is right that a review is under way. I hope that the group will be given the money. If it is not, it will be a disgrace, in view of the council's misuse of such large sums of money.

The amount of money that is being used for political purposes, either overtly or covertly, in Lambeth is extraordinary. For instance, the famous march next week has already cost £5,000. That does not include a bus which is to be laid on to take the press around and supply them with drinks.

The completely "non-political" borough news sheet called Lambeth Local mentions the cuts in its headline which reads:
"Council to fight Government cuts.
Government attack on the people's living standards in Lambeth is even more severe than we had feared."
That may or may not be true. I know that Opposition Members do not hold the same view as I. However, Lambeth council is not using its funds properly. I hope that the district auditor will deal with it.

I shall not give way. Both hon. Members will have a chance to speak later.

The march means that £5,000 of ratepayers' money will go right down the drain as it is most unlikely that it will change the Government's plans. The Lambeth Local costs £18,000 to distribute. The smallest increase in spending by Lambeth is in public services, on which 11½ per cent. more was spent last year compared with a 39 per cent. rate rise this year and a predicted 50 per cent.—at least—rise next year.

The public services provide the most essential service to the people of Lambeth. They provide highways, lighting and refuse collection, and yet those services received the smallest increase in expenditure. If all of Lambeth's expenditure had been increased by only 11½ per cent, about £10 million would have been saved.

There is a problem in Lambeth which affects everyone in the House who has the interests of London at heart. Lambeth is not a typical Labour council—I hope—but it is a Left-wing, Socialist and possibly Marxist council. The leader said on television that he was a Marxist. And I do know what "Marxist" means.

There is a great deal of Groucho Marx in this council. If all this were not so serious it would be a burlesque. These sorts of people are always protesting, always attacking, always marching, and they are always spending, spending and spending. They are always wearing their hearts on their sleeves for the most underprivileged, and they are always saying that they are the only people who think about the poor, the elderly, the lonely, the weak and the sick.

Yet they are so inefficient, such bad housekeepers and so spendthrift, running such a ramshackle ship leaking at every seam, that they damage most those they most wish to protect. They damage the community which they have been elected to serve.

This is a grave problem and I hope that Labour Members will reflect on what I have said and will reflect on Lambeth. I hope that they will take steps before it is too late to try to ensure that this does not happen in their boroughs.

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, I must inform the House that 39 right hon. and hon. Members have indicated their wish to speak in this important Friday debate. Short speeches would enable many, if not most, of them to catch my eye.

11.42 a.m.

I give fair notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I propose, like the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton), to make a partisan contribution to the debate, but on behalf of those who sent me here.

The timing of the debate is most appropriate. It is about six months since the election and it is 24 hours since the Government announced their public spending cuts. Like many of my hon. Friends, I found during the election campaign that many people in my constituency were very attracted by the prospect of cuts in income tax. When we mentioned to them the possibility of cuts in public spending and suggested that these would have to pay for the tax cuts, they were attracted by the Conservative propaganda which suggested that all the spending cuts could be painless and could be achieved by cutting out waste, as the hon. Member for Streatham seemed to be suggesting just now. They did not grasp that the bulk of the tax cuts would go to the wealthy while the bulk of the spending cuts would fall on the rest of the community. The realisation has now come home very firmly. Yesterday's White Paper goes right across the whole field of public services and will affect virtually everyone in my constituency and the other London constituencies.

Let me take housing as the first example. The building programme for local authority housing mentioned in the White Paper is at a derisory level. I think that all of us understand that housing is still, in inner London anyway, one of the major social problems. Our waiting lists show no sign of reduction and the problems of homelessness show no signs of easing. One of the saddest duties I have to perform every Friday night at my advice service is to talk to young couples who are locked up in high-rise flats with young children and who desperately want a transfer to a house with a garden. The problem now with GLC estates is that these young couples have the added aggravation of looking out from their flat on the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth floor and seeing good houses with gardens sitting empty for month after month while they are put up for sale. The Government's policies will mean that a great many of my constituents will never have the chance of moving out of their high rise flats. Their kids will never have the chance of enjoying a garden.

I come next to current expenditure on housing. The White Paper makes clear that there are to be substantial increases in council rents. It refers to steady reductions in housing subsidies. Yet in many parts of London council rents are by no means a soft option. When my GLC tenants had a rent increase in April, it was the second in nine months. Rents of more than £20 a week are now not unusual in my constituency.

On transport, the White Paper makes it clear that there are to be cuts in subsidies for British Rail, and we already know that rail fares are to be increased in January. One of the problems of areas such as mine in South-East London is that industry has to a very large extent departed. Many of my constituents are now unwilling commuters. They are forced to travel in search of the work that used to be on their doorsteps. High travel costs are a major factor in deterring young people particularly from coming into central London to take the work that is available.

The same problem of subsidy relates to bus services as well. In many parts of my constituency they are now a sick joke. The cuts in subsidies mean that in future the wait at bus stops will be even longer than at present.

I turn next to personal social services. Paragraph 38 of yesterday's White Paper states:
"Spending on the local authority personal services is likely to be reduced."
There is no question of cutting out the sort of frills to which the hon. Member for Streatham referred in the case of Lambeth. The Government are saying coldly and clearly that the personal social services will be reduced.

Yesterday, with other hon. Members representing South-East London constituencies, I received a deputation of retired pensioners in the area who pointed out very fairly that the number of pensioners in that part of London will increase. They said, very fairly, that they would need an expansion of local authority personal social services. They said that they would need more meals on wheels, more lunch clubs, more day centres and more home helps so that the elderly could be enabled to live a reasonable life in their own homes. We had to tell them that we were very sorry—not only would there not be an expansion of those services, but as a direct result of the Government's policies there would have to be a contraction.

Will the hon. Member accept that, to meet the expenditure projected by the last Government, which he is supporting now—and I stress that no one on either side of the House likes cuts—VAT would have to rise to 20 per cent., and income tax to 40 per cent.?

The pensioners in my constituency compare the benefit of the tax cuts which has gone to the most wealthy section of the population with what is happening to them. That is the point that the hon. Gentleman would do well to bear in mind.

I turn next to another problem which crops up regularly in my constituency and which is probably typical of other London constituencies, too. It concerns heating costs, particularly in local authority housing. In my constituency there are large numbers of high-rise blocks of flats where the only heating is under-floor electric. It is not particularly effective and it is extremely expensive to run. Heating costs will rise because the Government believe in rationing a scarce resource by price. I understand the logic of that argument, but it means that there will be severe casualties.

One of my pensioner groups carried out a survey in the tower blocks as a result of last winter's fuel crisis. They discovered that the average winter quarter bill for pensioners using under-floor heating varied between £106 and £130. That is a pretty massive bill for pensioners to have to face. Of course, the last Government's discount scheme assisted them with their bills. A bill for £130 would have attracted a discount of about £27. Now, as a result of the Government's much more miserly scheme, only pensioners over 75 who are on supplementary benefit will get any help with their heating costs. The rest will have no Government assistance. There will be a lot more cold, elderly people in my constituency because of that Government policy.

I turn next, and briefly, to education. I am sure that others of my hon. Friends will deal with school meals, school milk and transport. However, it is most unlikely that the Government will get the sort of public spending cuts they are seeking from those areas alone. It is clear from the White Paper that there are to be reductions in the numbers of teachers. We should pay tribute to the way in which the Inner London Education Authority has maintained the number of teachers in employment despite falling rolls. That has meant an improvement in pupil-teacher ratios in London. It will be difficult to maintain that advance in the face of the Government's policy.

A topic that may not get much of an airing in the House is the problem of overseas students. Thames polytechnic is in my constituency. It has always taken a substantial number of overseas students. My attention has already been drawn to the problems that overseas students are facing because of increases in fees. For advanced courses the fees have already increased from £705 in 1978–79 to £940 as a result of the announcement in July. That is a massive increase for a student to absorb part-way through a course.

The Government are going still further. It is stated in the White Paper that in future overseas students, or their sponsors, must meet the full cost of their courses. The full cost of advanced courses will be between £2,500 and £3,500. The cut will fall most harshly on the developing nations, those which surely we most need to help. Our spending on overseas students from developing nations is an investment of which we shall be glad in the future. I much resent the policy that is being forced through by the Government.

I heed your warning, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about time. There is ample evidence to show that the impact of the Government's policy will worsen the quality of life across the board for those whom I represent and those whom my hon. Friends represent. In the early hours of 4 May, shortly after my electors had reelected me, I said that I thought those who had returned me to this place would have to pay the main price for the new Government. I am surprised to find that the truth of my forecast is coming home even earlier than I had believed.

11.53 a.m.

If I have taken rather longer than most hon. Members to seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is because I wish to take time to try to understand the workings of the House, though even with the impetuousness of youth I would not claim to have done in six months what others have said they could not do in a lifetime.

In making my first speech in the House, I am deeply conscious of the task and role that has been bestowed on me by my constituents, and wish to express my deep gratitude for the help and advice that has been given to me by hon. Members on both sides of the House and by the Officers of the House.

My constituents have been well served by their Members in the past. Bryan Davies, my predecessor, was generally acknowledged to be a conscientious and hard-working Member of Parliament. I was fortunate indeed that the electors of Enfield, North were not all fanatical supporters of the House of Commons Football Club. Bryan was a worthy successor to my hon. Friend who represents Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson), formerly the hon. Member for Enfield, West, and to John Mackie, the former hon. Member for Enfield, East. John was widely loved by his constituents. They regretted his decision to retire from active politics.

Enfield's best known Member was the late Iain Macleod. There are many hon. Members on both sides of the House who feel that the political events of the mid-1970s would have been very different if Iain had lived. He was a great man, and he had a great influence on me. It is a particular honour for me that I am representing part of his old constituency. It is a pleasure for me to see the way in which his widow, the noble Lady, continues to play an active part in the life of the country and that of the London borough of Enfield.

Many of those who read a map or drive out of London on the A10 may think that Enfield is merely another suburb with a bit of industry thrown in by mistake. They are wrong to take that view. Historically, Enfield has been independent of London. For hundreds of years Enfield played host to the Royal hunting parties in Enfield Chase, and hints of old Enfield remain in the conservation areas around Enfield town and Forty Hill.

It is not only the history but the diversity, depth and conviction of its institutions and of the many voluntary organisations that combine to make Enfield such a successful community. We are exceptionally fortunate in the strength of our local organisation. The residents' associations are well established, well respected and powerful. The preservation society is second to none in Greater London. The charity groups, social clubs and old folks' clubs all exude vitality. The local press is there to foster real local spirit.

However, Enfield's prosperity, its low unemployment and its relatively high wage rates depend on the strength of its local industry and on the success of the central London service industries.

Enfield's most famous product was the Lee Enfield rifle. The Royal small arms factory is still a major local employer. My constituency is host to many of the best-known names in British industry and continues to attract investment. Two local firms have recently spent over £26 million on new plant without a penny of Government aid. That is the tip of the iceberg. There are many hundreds of other small, growing firms that all contribute to Enfield's prosperity.

There is a real danger that Enfield will be strangled by its very success. The thriving local economy needs infrastructural expenditure to sustain its continued growth. Enfield enjoys standards of education, health and housing provision that are better than in most London boroughs. We are fortunate that that is so. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for our roads or transport system.

The coming of the M25 to Potters Bar has meant that for many years the western half of my constituency has been inundated with industrial traffic. People's lives have been made intolerable. Everyone in Enfield welcomes the recent decision to press ahead with the building of the M25 first to the A10 and then to the M11. We ask the Minister to minimise the period when the M25 stops at the A10. The longer that period, the worse the traffic problems in eastern Enfield.

The rapid completion of the M25 is not enough on its own. Two and a half years ago at a public meeting all three political parties, local residents' associations and representatives from local industry agreed that the only way to stop eastern Enfield becoming a traffic nightmare was to build a north-south industrial relief road linking directly to the M25 to the east of the River Lea.

We were delighted when the new Conservative GLC agreed to start construction of the road by 1983. I regret to say that our joy was short-lived. Incredibly, the GLC is still proposing to build a new £40 million road designed to take industrial traffic without linking it directly to the motorway. Instead, it proposes to take the northern end of the road through residential streets which are already overcrowded with traffic.

The absurdity of the proposal—there is no other way of describing it—is clear to all local people of whatever political persuasion. Yet for the past two years we have watched the GLC and the Ministry of Transport citing each other's objections as the reason for the direct link not being granted. It is not much fun to watch bureaucratic pat-ball, especially if one's house and environment is the ball.

Through the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), I make one last plea to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to intervene on my constituents' behalf. Next week, together with local residents, I shall be meeting the GLC in a last effort to persuade it to change its mind. I hope that it listens and notes my remarks.

Many people in east Enfield are entirely reliant on the local bus service. Theoretically, the buses run along the main north-south arterial roads. They are rarely seen and, if seen, they are not on time. There is a feeling among my constituents that eastern and western Enfield are separate entities. London Transport, I regret to say, does its best to perpetuate that feeling. There are two east-west bus routes. The 107, we are proudly told, is the longest route in Greater London. At times the eastern Enfield section of the route appears to be there purely to provide London Transport with an entry for Enfield in the Guinness book of records. The 135, the other route, is one of the shortest in London. It runs as if to disprove the theory that the shorter the route the better the timekeeping.

For some time there has been a local pressure group wishing to improve the bus service. It put forward properly costed alternative route proposals that would involve no additional running costs. London Transport turned those down, after scant consideration. Meanwhile, the service continues to deteriorate. I am hopeful that London Transport may take my hint today and look at those proposals in more detail.

If really desperate, my constituents travel to work by train. I say "if desperate" as the Lea Valley line is admitted by British Rail to be the worst on the Eastern region. The Enfield Town line, as the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) knows, is little better.

Many Enfield commuters work in the City. Faced with a deteriorating service and a rise in fares, commuters are seeking jobs outside central London. Unless that trend can be reversed, irreparable damage will be done to one of the most successful areas of our economy. It is not only the City and central London that are affected by the poor train service. Enfield industry depends on attracting workers from Hertfordshire and inner London. Despite high unemployment in inner London, there is a massive number of job vacancies in my constituency. The simple fact is that people prefer to be on the dole at home rather than pay out large amounts for an unreliable train service.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that there is no easy way to improve the train services. However, I am disappointed that the Chancellor chose to reject my proposal for a tax allowance for those travelling to their jobs by public transport. Such an allowance is available to workers in other European countries and could, and should, be viewed as part of a taxation package to encourage energy saving and promote a better public transport system. I promise the House that I shall return to that theme on another occasion.

My constituents, whether they work in local industry or in central London, may justifiably claim to contribute to part of the success story of the British economy. Unless the Government in their many guises can improve the basic infrastructural road and transport services, there is a real danger that, totally unwittingly, we shall kill off the goose that lays the golden egg. Just as it is doubtful whether the greater good of our economy is served by a Government continuing to prop up outdated and decaying industries, so it is equally doubtful whether it is in the national interest for growth areas such as Enfield to be deprived of the infrastructural services which their success requires and demands.

I recognise that my speech has been full of special pleading. All I can say is that on an occasion such as this my contituents expect and deserve no less.

12.4 p.m.

We are in danger of creating a record. It gives me pleasure to congratulate my own Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar), on making his maiden speech. I have lived in his constituency for about 25 years. I know that I speak on behalf of hon. Members on both sides of the House when I offer the hon. Gentleman our warmest congratulations on a speech in the highest traditions of this place. The Opposition were especially grateful for the generous tributes that he paid to our former colleague, Bryan Davies, whom we knew as an excellent Member.

In his speech the hon. Gentleman demonstrated a firm grasp of local affairs. He spoke with authority. Before the election he was a leader of a campaign to achieve the north-south relief road link with the M25. I shared his disappointment on coming to the House to see a Tory Minister of Transport wash his hands of the affair and push it sideways to the GLC. The hon. Gentleman's Conservative colleagues on the GLC have continued to fail to adopt what he and I would consider to be a sane policy for that area. I wish him well when he goes next week to County Hall to plead the case of our constituents. I am certain that we can look forward to hearing from him many more speeches of clarity, quality and knowledge of local affairs.

I am worried that one aspect of the Government's economic policy is a ruthless determination to reduce staffing levels. The chronic shortage of staff in local government shows itself especially in two departments of the Enfield local council—in which, incidentally, every department is below strength. There are limits to the stress and strain that may be piled on to the shoulders of overworked officers. Enfield council can learn no lessons from anyone in that miserable practice. Indeed, Enfield is proud to assert that it can give lessons to others on how to give less by charging less and by taking advantage of its officers.

Last Tuesday I stood in the kitchens of the North Middlesex hospital, which is in my constituency. Frankly, I was horrified at what I saw and what I was told. An Enfield environmental health officer told me that the serious deficiencies that I saw had been reported by his colleagues to the hospital authorities over many years. I shall demand of the regional health authority that it aproves short-term and long-term plans to make the kitchens safe and epidemic-free. The kitchens are the reverse of that now.

I was told by the officer that his department was severely undermanned. Its prime task is to control infectious diseases, yet it is 60 per cent. Understaffed. The officers of that department are required to give my constituents peace of mind. The severe understaffing created by the Enfield local council is intolerable and should be condemned. In the local council planning department there is a chronic shortage of qualified officers. A local newspaper's headlines recently read:
"Planning Chaos—800 applications backlog."
Edmonton, like many London constituencies, suffers from unauthorised planning uses—industrial sewing machines, gipsy invasions, and house extensions. Enfield's planning officers are grossly overworked. However, in a recent speech at the Town Planning Institute in York, the Secretary of State for the Environment said:
"One man's extension may be another man's eyesore. But I simply do not believe that we can afford the continued role of the local planning office as arbitrator between private citizens on the present scale. So I shall certainly be looking at how far we can increase the number of developments that can be carried out without permission. I shall be considering increasing the size of permitted extensions."
The intention is to lighten the work load. However, the Enfield planning officer believes that the opposite will happen. For instance, to allow increased house extensions will automatically lead to neighbours demanding that their rights be checked. That of itself will increase, not decrease, the need for enforcement officers to visit, report and confirm. It would add to, not lessen, their work load. Yet Government economic policy, so slavishly followed by the Enfield local council, will call for more, not fewer, staff, unless the officers sink under the weight of those additional burdens.

I want to pay particular attention to something that worries many of my constituents a great deal—the state of fire cover in London. On 11 June this year, in an Adjournment debate, I sought to get the support of the Home Secretary in obtaining a more realistic response from the GLC towards providing adequate fire cover for Londoners. Sadly, the Home Secretary declined to intervene and I have to tell the House that the passage of time has done nothing to allay the fears of my constituents.

In 1974, agreed manning levels had meant that London enjoyed and paid for enhanced cover, above that laid down by the Home Office as the minimum. Not only the London brigade but other large metropolitan brigades were above minimum levels, because of the high fire risks within their areas. I am told by the Fire Brigades Union that since the introduction of a so-called interim scheme fires have occurred that could have been controlled and extinguished in the early stages had the brigade been able to provide the number of appliances and crews requested.

I am also told that, while the GLC asserts that there is a reserve fleet of 88 fire appliances, it will not say where they are. The Fire Brigades Union asserts that this reserve fleet just does not exist, and that vehicles are not available because they are defective. I will give one or two examples.

On 8 September 1979, at 11.35 a.m. a fire broke out at Ford's, in Dagenham. A turntable ladder was ordered for the initial attendance. That was sent to Dagenham eventually from Lambeth. Between Dagenham and Lambeth there are supposed to be turntable ladders at Plaistow, Poplar, Whitechapel, Shoreditch, Barbican, Tottenham and Kingsland. Where were the turntable ladders on that occasion?

On 20 September 1979, at Hornsey—a multi-appliance station not far from my constituency—the day shift started with one engine. At 4 p.m. that engine was found to be defective and was taken out of commission. There were no spares anywhere in the brigade. Hornsey was without fire cover for four hours. Hornsey is mainly an A and B risk area. According to Home Office regulations, A risk areas need the ability to have two fire appliances that can reach a fire within five minutes of a call and to have a third fire engine that can reach a fire within eight minutes of a call, yet for four hours Hornsey was not covered at all.

My next example relates to J division, which covers Edmonton. At Walthamstow—again a multi-appliance station—on 21 September 1979 the day shift started with one fire engine. During the day it was found to be defective and was taken out of commission. There were no spare engines available, and Walthamstow was without cover for three hours. Walthamstow, again, is mainly an A and B risk area. On that day, 21 September, there was not one fire station in the J division with more than one engine at its disposal.

We should be concerned not only with dealing with fires but with prevention. I am told that since April there has been an increased backlog of fire prevention work, while the operational work load of the London Fire Brigade has steadily increased by 10 per cent. each year, from 55,000 calls in 1965 to 100,000 this year.

The charge that I make against the GLC—and, because of its silence, against the Home Office—is that London now has a less than adequate fire service. It is what the Fire Brigades Union quite accurately calls cash-limit fire cover. Pressure from the Government for economy will meet a ready response from the Tory GLC and put at risk Londoners' homes, work places and historic places.

It is universally accepted that the speed of response by fire fighters is crucial to the saving of life and property. The interim manning levels now operated by the GLC provide for fewer firemen to fight fires in London. The risks involved as a result of having reduced numbers of firemen and appliances not only create increased danger for Londoners but disregard the safety of the firemen. What London needs and should get is the level of protection that it enjoyed until the GLC, in the interests of saving money, reduced the cover to the present dangerous and unacceptable levels.

The GLC should be big enough to reopen direct discussions between the London fire brigade and the Fire Brigades Union. It should not wait on the present consultative exercise. It should initiate a programme to monitor the present unsatisfactory arrangements, not in the interests of cutting or saving rates but in the interests of protecting London, Londoners and London's fire fighters.

12.15 p.m.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to address the House for the first time, and particularly glad that you do so during the course of this important London debate.

I am honoured to serve the electors of Paddington within the City of Westminster, and I am grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to do so. In common with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar), I acknowledge the help and advice that I have been given during these early months by hon. Members on both sides, and also by the Officers and staff of the House, who are always willing and available to give advice and help to a new Member.

It is a custom of this House that one should avoid controversy in a maiden speech. I shall seek to observe that rule, although hon. Members will bear with me if I transgress even slightly, as I am sure that they will recall that the previous Member for my constituency was not one to mince words. He was a man who resolutely declared his politics and was unashamed in his views. He presented them on every occasion. I recognise his tradition and I shall follow it, if but modestly.

Arthur Latham served the constituents of Paddington first as the hon. Member for Paddington, North, from 1969, and then for the newly constituted constituency from the time of the general election of February 1974. He always did his best for his constituents. I respect that and, on behalf of the many people that he assisted, I thank him today in this debate.

My constituency owes its existence to the recent work of the Boundary Commission. The only common feature is that it is located within the City of Westminster. Otherwise, within the eight wards there is a diverse range of problems and little common knowledge by one community of another. Thus it is true to say that the residents of Hyde Park probably have little knowledge of the lives of the residents of Queen's Park.

I follow in south Paddington a long Conservative tradition, having succeeded my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott). He served the constituency with great distinction before he lost the seat in the general election of February 1974.

In north Paddington, the tradition has always been in favour of the Labour Party, and I understand that I am the first Conservative Member to represent the northern part of the constituency since 1935.

London's changing situation over recent years has brought many problems, not least for the residents of the City of Westminster. The population has declined and manufacturing activity has been severely limited. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) was able to join me in my constituency on 16 October to inaugurate a small business bureau, because the chance presents itself under the Conservative Government to restore to central London the opportunities for small business, which has been so severely damaged in recent years. London used to be the haven of the small business man, but frequently the entrepreneur has been driven from central London. He has not had the opportunity to start and to provide the job opportunities that are often wanted. But equally, if we are to ensure that the small business starts, there must be homes for the people to live in.

In my constituency, housing is a very complex issue. Home ownership in the City of Westminster is as low as 7 per cent. I welcome the opportunities to be presented in the forthcoming housing Bill to create new home ownership for the benefit of the people of central London. I know that many people living in the council sector in my constituency look forward to the opportunity of becoming home owners.

Equally, it is necessary to provide facilities for those who wish to rent accommodation in central London. There is a crying need on the part of the young and mobile workers—people who wish to live in London for a brief period during their working lives—for rented accommodation. I look forward to the proposals that I know my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment will introduce in the Bill to create a form of shorthold tenure to bring back into use the property that is available in central London to facilitate those who wish to rent.

I should also like to refer to the great estates of the Church Commissioners. In three of my eight wards—Hyde Park, Little Venice and Maida Vale—the Church Commissioners own substantial rented accommodation. The other side of the coin to rented property is frequently the desire of tenants of long standing to own their own homes. A difficult balance has to be struck, but it is my duty to represent the interests of my constituents and to negotiate between them and the owners of these great estates. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), who assists me so ably in the course of this important negotiation.

The Church Commissioners recognise that a reasonable balance must be struck between renting and home ownership, and they have made it possible for the tenants of Sandringham Court—one of the mansion blocks that they own—to negotiate for the ownership of that property. If the tenants wish to own and to advocate their case, the Church Commissioners are willing to listen. I am glad that the point has now been reached at which the tenants can appoint professional advisers to conduct the negotiation on their behalf. That is how it should be.

I should like to use part of this debate to talk briefly about the work of the Metropolitan Police. It is no secret that the Metropolitan Police celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. I believe that the people of London during all these past years have been very ably served by one of the most successful paid constabulary police forces in the free world.

The Metropolitan Police was established with a number of simple but clear objectives, and it has retained those objectives to the present day. The first responsibility of a police officer in this country is to uphold the law by the prevention of crimes and offences. The second responsibility is to take people before the courts and to present the evidence before the magistrates and the higher courts.

Uniquely, a police officer in this country is not an employee of central Government. Indeed, this is probably the only country in the Western world where a police officer is under no obligation at all to the central Government of the day. The police officer is accountable to the courts, both criminal and civil, for his behaviour and conduct. That is a safeguard for freedom and liberty which I hope that the whole House will recognise and applaud.

I should like to mention the progress that the Government have made in improving the strength of the Metropolitan Police. In the first nine months of this year the total number of police recruits was 1,504 compared with 920 in the first nine months of 1978. The strength of the Metropolitan Police on 30 September was 22,463—an increase of 502 since the beginning of the year. That is good news for the people of London who wish to have a strong and successful police force. They want street robbery and burglary offences to be contained and reduced. They will welcome the Government's initiative in supporting and sustaining the police service.

I believe that the Metropolitan Police is probably the world's most successful police force. Since its founding in 1829, upwards of 95 members of the force have been killed in the course of duty. Since 1900, out of the 63 police officers murdered in England and Wales, 21 were members of the Metropolitan Police. For the sake of the record, I should mention that three members of the City of London Police were murdered in 1910. In no other part of the world is a major urban police force so successful in containing violence without the use of firearms and within the law. That is a fact that we, representing the people of London, should recognise and acknowledge with pride.

Nevertheless, the work of the Metropolitan Police is extremely difficult. It has to police a complex society. Therefore, we have to consider how we may assist the police in the preservation of law and the investigation of crimes in London.

I believe that if the police are to be successful they must be provided with the proper tools to do the job. I know that the Royal Commission on criminal procedure will be reporting in a year or so, but I suggest that the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 would be a more effective way of discouraging the carrying of offensive weapons in public places if it were backed by a stop-and-search power, as has been proposed on many occasions. It is interesting that the police in London, as elsewhere, have the power to stop and search without arresting where the illegal possession of drugs or wild birds' eggs is reasonably suspected. It is a comfort to the bird population of London to know that they are so ably protected, but we have to speak for the people of London who seek equal protection.

If the police service is to be effective in enforcing the law, we must consider other practical ways of aiding it. Recently we have heard of the difficulties of dealing with illegal and dangerous parking on our streets. We have been told that staff of foreign embassies and high commissions are loth to obey the law. I should like to suggest a way of dealing with that difficulty.

I believe that the police vehicle removal squad should be increased in strength and that removal charges, based by law on the actual costs of the service for taking away vehicles parked on double yellow lines, within the approach lines of pedestrian crossings or dangerously parked, should be substantially increased. In any event, the towing away charge for the recovery of a vehicle should be not less than £50, to be paid in cash or cheque backed by a bank card. That is in contrast to the futility of taking so many of these minor summary offences before the magistrates' courts in London. The average cost for a prosecution works out at about £40 a case, whereas the fine is usually between £15 and £25. Therefore, the public in London are losing and the law is not being successfully enforced.

I also believe that if we are to contain crime in London it is essential to encourage ways of preventing it. That surely is most socially desirable and the most cost-effective way. At Marble Arch, in my constituency, the owners of Park West—a mansion block containing 530 flats—have recently installed closed-circuit television, locking devices and 24-hour porterage, with the result that burglaries in that large mansion block have been virtually eliminated. Elsewhere in London, in our mansion blocks and tower blocks, it is possible to stop the offensive crimes that cause so much harm to ordinary people and their families by measures of prevention.

It behoves me to make some reference to the prison service. As many hon. Members will know, I served in two of London's major prisons. I was assistant governor at Wandsworth and assistant governor at Brixton prison. I welcome the May report on the prison service. It is a thorough and excellent document and I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for endorsing it and accepting its provisions so willingly.

In London there is a special implication for us. The plain truth is that, if the police service is to be successful in investigating and detecting crime, and bringing before the courts those who commit serious crimes, the system must be able to accommodate those who are sentenced to periods of imprisonment. In London our major prisons are all overcrowded. It is not difficult to see why. About one-third of all crime committed in the United Kingdom is committed in the Metropolitan Police area. Brixton prison, one of the largest remand prisons in Europe, is under constant pressure. As regards the use of vacant land in the docklands, it will be necessary to make some provision for the prison service. Possibly a 20-acre site will be necessary—preferably in the Beckton Road area—if we are to provide the facilities necessary for the prison service in London.

It may also be necessary to build a second prison south of the river, and I would hope that a court house would be built beside it. If we were to do that, we would provide for the efficient working of the prison service to cover London's needs probably for the next 50 years. I am sure that my right hon. Friend recognises the cost implications of this, as I do. The fact remains that time is running out and we shall have to consider this issue with great seriousness before too long.

12.32 p.m.

The hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) is to be congratulated on an interesting and well-constructed maiden speech. He brings an unusual expertise with him to the House which I am sure will be invaluable to his right hon. and hon. Friends in future law and order debates. Like his predecessor, to whom he paid tribute, the hon. Member is obviously a man of strong conviction. Many of us on the Opposition Benches regard that as no bad thing and we look forward to hearing from him on future occasions. I would like to follow the earlier part of his remarks and talk briefly about housing in London, which most of us—though not all—would admit to be the most serious social problem facing us.

The housing waiting list in Waltham Forest is not unusual, but there are about 8,500 on that waiting list. I am sure there are other boroughs with longer waiting lists. The waiting list of Waltham Forest is probably average. But that statistical figure hides the fact that we have about 3,000 families living in very overcrowded conditions.

Overcrowding is not merely a statistical figure in the books of the planners. It means specific things such as parents sleeping in the same bedroom as young children, children of different sexes who are approaching the age of puberty sleeping in the same bedroom, and older people—though not always older people—who are sick, often with chest disease, sleeping in the same bedroom as someone who is healthy. None of that can be good, yet that is typical of the type of overcrowding case on the waiting list of my borough and, I am sure, on the waiting lists of many other boroughs.

What are we to do about it? Local councils, whatever their political complexion, do their best. However, the Government policies that we have heard about since the election—even as recently as yesterday—are likely to make matters worse. We have the present high interest rate which we know will affect rates, but what about the effect on young couples who genuinely want to do what the Government want them to do—namely, to buy their own homes? Homes will be further and further out of the reach of young couples as interest rates push the cost of mortgages beyond what their joint income can afford. Those young couples will put greater pressure on local councils that are already under great strain because of the number of housing applicants.

We learnt yesterday from the White Paper, as my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) said, that the severe cut in capital expenditure on housing will have a devastating impact on the ability of local authorities, whatever their political persuasion, to deal with serious housing problems.

Since May this Government, through the Department of the Environment, have imposed a complete ban on the ability of local councils to acquire, on the open market, houses of good condition which will not remain empty, do not need a lot of money spent on them, and could be used to rehouse families that are living in overcrowded conditions. That has been stopped and will have an adverse effect on the ability of councils to act in the best interests of their tenants.

A fourth factor I should like to mention on the subject of housing is the sale of council houses. Whatever the logic of this in areas which are not under housing stress, there appears to be no logic in it—it is pure ideology—in areas of housing shortage. It will reduce the housing stock that is available to overcrowded families and, as my hon. Friends have pointed out already, for those families awaiting transfer from tower blocks. It is sheer economic lunacy in any event, but it will be a social disaster over the next few years if London councils are forced to sell what are usually their best council houses to sitting tenants.

I entirely refute the argument that, as council houses never become vacant, they may as well be sold to sitting tenants. How, then, can it be explained that there are many vacant council houses, as we have heard from Conservative Members? The fact is that council houses become vacant from time to time. It is right that councils should use them to rehouse those who live in the worst overcrowded and slum conditions, to give them and their families some prospect of a better life, because housing is at the root of many other social problems, particularly a poor standard of education.

Rates have been mentioned only marginally so far in this debate. We shall know what the rate support grant will be next year in a month or so, but the distribution of that grant is a matter of great interest to those of us in London, both as between London and the rest of the country and as between the inner and outer London boroughs. On the assumption of a complete standstill in the expenditure of my local authority—that surely is in line with the Government's White Paper on public expenditure which mentions a standstill in public expenditure—the ratepayers in my area will face domestic rate increases next year varying between 45 per cent. and 70 per cent.

If, as I suspect, my assumptions are over-optimistic, the rate increases will be even higher. I fear that this will be right because the Secretary of State for the Environment is reported as having said, at a recent meeting of the consultative council on local government finance, that he would not necessarily fund the full cost of a wage settlement for local authority workers, even at the level of inflation, namely, 17½ per cent., which I believe is the agreed figure for the current level of inflation.

Therefore, the prospect for ratepayers is horrific. A council that does its best for the people who elected it on programmes that were approved at the last local elections will nevertheless be placed in an impossible dilemma, because while trying to do its best for those people it will have to try to stay broadly in line with what the economic situation is said to require. This will happen without any cuts at all. My local authority will not cut the services that it provides, but extra money will be needed just to hold them at a standstill. We all know the effect that there will be on social services because of the increased number of old people. Local authorities need more money each year even to remain where they are at present, but the Government's policies do not recognise that fact.

The outlook is very poor. I fear that this is only the start and that things will get worse. I am only sorry that many people who supported the Government, both in my constituency and elsewhere, will be among those who suffer. I am not talking about those who knew what was in store; I am talking about those who were misled by the promises of tax cuts and no essential cuts in social services, and who believed that there would be only trimming of waste, and so on. People have been misled. It is most unfortunate that those who were will have to suffer in spite of all the efforts of a moderate local council to contain the worst effects of the Government's economic policy.

12.41 p.m.

I welcome the opportunity to speak about London in general terms. This debate is an improvement on the old system, under which we had to wait for the annual Greater London (General Powers) Bill in order to discuss London. On the other hand, I am not one of those who think that there should be some special pleading for London. For example, I do not share the opinion of my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt), who thinks that there should be a Minister for London. I believe that the problems of London are in general shared by the rest of the country and that the problems that we are entitled to regard as peculiarly London's are those associated with its being the largest city in the country as well as the capital city.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) caused me to interrupt him, because he said that London had suffered as a result of what happened in the general election this year. He suggested that until then it had been "Go, go" when Labour was in power and "Stop, stop" when the Conservatives came into power. That is an extremely superficial way of dealing with London's problems, which are deep-rooted in history. London's decline has gone on for many years, and I should like to deal with three aspects, as I see them, from that long-term point of view.

One of the biggest causes of London's decline and poverty, both in economic terms and in its spirit, is the operation of the Rent Acts. I was born, brought up and had my early education in part of an inner London suburb—Stonebridge Park, in the borough of Willesden—which, when I was living there, was a pleasant area of tree-lined avenues and modest terrace houses. They were mostly owned by private landlords. There were very few owner-occupiers and very few council estates. Of course, this was before the war. By and large, people were happy. From time to time there was a degree of unemployment and a certain degree of social hardship, but on the whole there was a happiness and spirit about the life of that part of London which has disappeared since those days.

I moved out during the war, and I have been depressed to see the decline of the district under the impact of the Rent Acts. The private landlords have been unable to maintain their premises on the rents, and their properties have declined physically. Many of them have been taken over by the local council. In the early 1970s the deterioration reached the stage where the whole area was cleared for a giant redevelopment scheme. It is now covered by a concrete jungle, my own house included.

I am convinced that people who live in that concrete jungle are not as happy as we were in the days before the war, even though, nowadays, people would say that other circumstances then were not as pleasant as they should have been. Rent control is one of the principal reasons for this. In those days a larger proportion of the average income was spent on rent. The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) said that people in council accommodation nowadays had to pay as much as £20 a week rent. That has to be considered against a background of an average industrial wage of between £80 and £90 a week. I think that that is a fair proportion. That is a lower proportion per capita than used to be paid out in rent when I was a boy living in North-West London.

In many ways, we are the authors of our own misfortunes. We spend less on rent, but we get a poorer housing stock, and too many people live in concrete jungles and high-rise blocks of flats.

I am puzzled by the hon. Gentleman's belief that all this is due to the Rent Acts. Does he not agree that the privately rented sector has been declining steadily since about 1907, that there has been no rapid change and that it has nothing to do with the Rent Acts? Rather, it has to do with the fact that the privately rented sector is no longer economic and has not been so for the best part of 70 years.

The privately rented sector is no longer economic because of the Rent Acts. The hon. Gentleman may not realise it, but the Rent Acts have been in force since 1914. They go back a long way indeed. They have been amended, modified and part-reviewed, but there has been some form of rent control over residential property in the London area for a very long time. Indeed, that is the cause of the trouble.

There was a time, not so long ago, when many private persons were able to afford to own a house that they were able to let. There were plenty of private lettings available in London in the days when I was a child. It was normal for young married couples to rent property when they were first married and set up home, because such property was available. That is no longer the case, because of the control provisions of the Rent Acts, which have discouraged private landlords and made it impossible for them to obtain a reasonable profit on their investment. In addition, the rent is kept so low that it is inadequate to provide for the ordinary, reasonable maintenance of the property. Therefore, all such property in areas such as that of my birth has deteriorated to such an extent that it has eventually been cleared for redevelopment. Yet what do we put up? Places that are not really fit to live in. I am not making a party point. Labour Members may like the Rent Act and think that it should be more strictly applied. My experience of living in inner London has proved otherwise.

I can recall, as a boy in inner London, that many of the houses in the area where I lived contained small businesses. Two houses with stables attached to them in my road were converted into small businesses, providing employment. This happened all around the London area. Over the years, planning restrictions and development control have driven out these small businesses. They have not been driven out to the suburbs or elsewhere in the country; they have simply died. Many were killed off by the war, but development controls generally have inhibited the growth of small businesses in residential areas in London, especially in central London. It may be thought desirable to separate residential areas from business and industrial areas. That is the planners' ideal, but humanity, business and employment depended on those little units of business in the London area that were able to provide jobs.

The hon. Gentleman claims that controls have been responsible for the death of small enterprises, but does he not agree that the figures show that in the South East region as a whole, including London, more than 85 per cent. of applications for IDCs over the key periods have been approved? Firms, especially smaller firms, have not been bitten by those IDCs. Will he not face the fact that the euthanasia of the small firm is largely due to the increased market share of big firms, with which they cannot compete effectively?

What the hon. Gentleman is saying is that although there is bureaucratic control, 85 per cent. manage, fortunately, to get through. That is not the point that I am making. There should be much greater freedom and relaxation of controls to enable indigenous business enterprise to flourish in London.

The employment situation is not as bad as it is made to appear by some people. I am told by the Ministry of Defence that there are no fewer than 500 unfilled clerical vacancies in the London area. That is an amazing statistic. We know that London Transport finds difficulty in recruiting people. I know of a jobcentre that has vacancies on its staff for people to interview those who go to the centre looking for jobs. The problem of unemployment in London should be examined again. We should get back to reality.

I should like to refer to education. The comprehensive system has many merits. I approve of the principle personally, but the effect is to produce neighbourhood schools. In certain areas, especially in inner London and inner urban areas—or deprived areas, as some people call them—there is a tendency for schools to be housed in old and inadequate buildings. It is more difficult to obtain staff, because teachers do not like working in those conditions and parents are not as keen as they should be about encouraging their children to take advantage of educational facilities. This has led to many areas of London suffering from inadequate educational opportunity. If the trend continues and is not reversed, there will be more so-called deprived people in the educational sphere. A low morale exists in schools of that kind.

I am not happy about the proposals being made by my local education authority to retain certain selective schools in the borough. I believe that these schools may take more than a fair proportion of the so-called higher ability children to the detriment of the others in the borough. Anything that causes the comprehensive schools in my constituency to suffer must be deplored. I hope that the tendency to retain an element of selection in the system will not be taken too far. There are arguments for it. I have some misgivings about what is happening in my constituency. I feel, however, that the Government are right to introduce an assisted places scheme. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch has left the Chamber, but no doubt he will return soon—

I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman is back. There are parts of London, like his own and the area where I was born and spent my early life, where educational provision, although equally distributed, in quantitative terms, around the London area, will be inadequately supplied and where the children will not have proper opportunities. The brighter ones will suffer. Those children of poor parents will be able to benefit from the assisted places scheme in getting the good education that they deserve.

12.56 p.m.

It is with natural trepidation that a Yorkshireman representing a Birmingham constituency ventures into a debate on London. I say, in my own defence and in mitigation of my crime, that I have lived and, I flatter myself, worked in the capital for the last 16 years.

My colleagues and I believe that there are two issues concerning London about which the Opposition should speak officially today. I hope to speak in this slightly ecumenical atmosphere in a way that will encourage the Secretary of State to believe that we are asking him for help and co-operation rather than attempting to confront him with what we regard as his shortcomings. I am helped in that ecumenical spirit by having the chance to congratulate the hon. Members for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) and Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) on what I believe will be universally agreed were remarkably lucid and graceful maiden speeches. When they are freed from the rules that prevent controversy, I shall look forward to their future speeches with mixed feelings. I hope, however, that I remain objective enough to congratulate them then, as I did today, if they make speeches of the quality that we have heard.

I want to deal briefly, trying to observe the 12-minute rule, or whatever it is, that London Members impose so rigidly upon themselves—

Five minutes for a Yorkshireman.

I intend to observe the rule and divide my time into two six-minute tranches. The first concerns a special problem that must face London as a result of the decisions that have been anticipated for six months and were announced yesterday. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) accurately described many of the problems that the capital will face—the large and, I know, unavoidable rate increases and the massive reductions in services of all sorts. I want to deal with the effect of the cuts and the effect of the White Paper in an area where I believe London will be damaged more savagely than any other part of the country. I refer to urban decay, which affects inner cities and the parts of the capital that suffer the fate of urban deprivation.

London has a problem greatly in excess of all the urban problems faced by other areas of the country. I represent part of a partnership area where decline has damaged services and employment prospects for almost 100 years. However, the problems of the inner city of Birmingham are nothing compared with the problems of the inner city of London—for two reasons. One is the sheer extent, the scale and size, of urban deprivation within the capital—not only partnership areas about which we talk most of the time but pockets of urban deprivation in boroughs that may be 10 or 15 miles from the Palace of Westminster and that make it very difficult for people to escape in the way that they can escape, if they are lucky, from Birmingham into the outlying regions. Escape is not geographically possible in London in the way that it is in other cities.

The second reason is the impression that London creates—the image that it has developed—that it is the El Dorado of the prosperous South, so that many people leave other areas of social and economic difficulty believing that by coming to London they will find the jobs that their areas lack, the houses that they do not possess, and the social services that they find less than adequate—only to discover, on arrival, that they have to live in areas where jobs, houses, and social services are just as scarce as in the places from which they came and that "the prosperous South-East" is a term that does not apply in any real way to large areas of the capital.

The scale and intensification of the problems is such that those areas of urban deprivation in London will, I fear, suffer massively from the Government's present programme unless a special alteration is made. I should like to give three examples to show why it is bound to suffer. First, the entire partnership concept, as well as all the partnership schemes, is at risk. The Minister is considering his attitude towards them. I hope that he will not be encouraged in making up his mind by some of the unthinking derision that has been heaped on partnership schemes in London and elsewhere by some of his colleagues.

I make my position absolutely clear. I would much rather spend money on West Indian youths painting lamp posts that have been decaying and rusting for 10 years than have those youths unemployed. To make light and to make jest of schemes with that work creation intention, or that help those unemployed young men and women during their necessarily enforced leisure, seems totally to misunderstand the problem of the inner cities. However, the Secretary of State says that the partnership scheme has to be re-examined.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman has already said that the funds available for the urban programme must accept their share of the cuts, like every other aspect of public spending. Worst of all, however, is the effect on the urban areas of the overall cut in the rate support grant, because what they have been able to do over the last 10 years has come far more from the general funds available to local authorities than from the specific funds available to the urban programme.

If there is to be a squeeze on the RSG, those areas which desperately need better services, better opportunities and more infrastructure will suffer far worse than Shropshire, Norfolk, Hampshire or Surrey. To compound that difficulty, we are now told by the Secretary of State—the House has not been told but the Association of County Councils has been told—that when the limited funds available are distributed among authorities the cities are to get a smaller share and the shire counties a larger share.

It is appalling that areas of chronic neglect, with desperate need, which want to spend money on worthwhile projects, are to get a smaller distribution of the RSG than counties which do not have the same problems and do not want to spend the money anyway.

Therefore, in this particular, concerning the areas of urban decay, the decaying central areas, the places where deprivation is worst, and reminding the Minister again that London has this special problem of special intensity, I want to ask him a question. Even within the ceilings on local government expenditure that the Government now propose—ceilings about which we will want to be critical on another occasion—are there not ways in which extra funds can be diverted into those areas that need them most?

The Secretary of State can use the urban programme, the partnership scheme, and the RSG formula—particularly the needs element—to make sure that the inner cities, and particularly the London inner cities, get more even within the existing overall programme. I hope that the Minister will comment on that possibility—for two reasons.

First, it is right in principle that we should provide more money for the people who need it most, but it is also right in practice. If we continue to allow the inner cities to live lives of suffering and decay, their anger and frustration will not remain limited to the inner cities; it will spill over into the lives of the more prosperous suburbs that surround them and the problems for the community as a whole will be intensified—not just the problems in the areas of deprivation which need the extra money and which I hope the Minister will tell us might at least get it.

My second point concerns London dockland and the Local Government Bill, which we are promised will soon be presented to the House and which will contain provision for an urban development corporation to assume some of the powers of five London boroughs. It seems to us on the Labour Benches fundamentally wrong to destroy local democracy in that way and to replace elected councillors by the nominees of a Minister.

It is extraordinary that in 1979 we should be contemplating an Act of Parliament that does away with a large slice of democracy and replaces it with a board appointed by nobody except the Government.

I am not prepared to make a comment about quangos, because I believe that the Government have talked a great deal of nonsense about them. Many quangos serve a useful purpose in society, but none of them should be created to replace the proper form of democracy that has served this country well for 112 years, as I remember the date of the Local Government Act.

But as well as that principle, on which we shall not agree across the House, there is a serious practical problem, which arises from the creation of the corporation and the prospects of its creation. I believe that the creation of the corporation will be deeply damaging to the life and particularly to the economic prospects of dockland.

I say that against the background of the certainty that things are now moving in dockland, and moving very fast. They are moving largely because of the work of the Docklands joint committe, which was set up nearly 10 years ago by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon)—a committee that has made substantial progress and which, where it has failed to make progress, has failed not because of the shortcomings of local government but because of the errors of national government.

The failure to provide, or to insist on the provision of, land presently owned by public utilities for which they have no immediate plans and which can be passed on to the DJC for better work and the failure to provide the infrastructure necessary—road, rail and other forms of transport—are shortcomings of national and not local government.

However, despite those handicaps, the Docklands joint committee is doing what the Secretary of State says needs to be done—welcoming, encouraging and successfully attracting private industry into dockland. It is mounting a gigantic programme to improve the amenities. To my certain knowledge—I had the privilege of observing it on Monday—the committee is actually getting new small firms to come into previously derelict property and provide the jobs that are necessary in that part of London.

My right hon. Friend will know that my constituency covers no less than half of the whole dockland area of London. Does he not agree that one of the greatest injuries that have been done is the Secretary of State's announcement that the strategic plan for dockland, drawn up by the DJC, need not now go ahead and that therefore there will be a very damaging delay? Is he aware that the people in my constituency, because the elected councillors are likely to lose their powers, will regard any person appointed to head the UDC as a Tory gauleiter?

On my hon. Friend's first point, I must say that I feel that I should not give way to hon. Members who are about to make, better than I would make it myself, a point that I am about to make. I shall shortly repeat in a rather less adequate form the point that my hon. Friend has made. I wanted first to refer to the comments of the Secretary of State for the Environment in Scarborough—that if anyone wanted to see the processes of local government, of planning, of urban organisation and of industrial encouragement not working, he should see what was happening in dockland.

My advice to the right hon. Gentleman is that he should see what is happening in dockland—something that he has so far singularly failed to do. I tell him, through his Under-Secretary, that when I met the leaders of the boroughs on Monday I found that two things had offended them deeply. The first was that when they were summoned to his presence he told them that while he was glad to see them they should not delude themselves into a belief that anything that they were about to say would change his mind.

The second thing, which caused even greater offence, was his reply to their invitation to visit dockland to see how much work was going on. He said that there was no need for him to go, because only recently he had flown over the docks in a helicopter. Had he gone to dockland and made flesh the word of private enterprise, he would have discovered that a great deal is happening. He would have discovered from companies that are already there or contemplating moving in that nothing can so detract from the work going on as the uncertainty that he has now created.

The uncertainty comes about for two reasons. The first is that the corporation will be created at some future date. The second is that if this new body is to be created it is reasonable to assume that when it comes to power it will want to look again at the strategic plan and perhaps change all the principles on which development is taking place. Dockland has suffered from this before. It has had one abortive plan turned down. It had a plan which was unrealistic and unworkable, and now it has a plan which is actually working. While the Secretary of State may create the illusion of activity by setting up his new body, in reality he will be stopping firms from going to dockland because they will not be sure of their prospects. They will not be sure what the plan involves and they will be uncertain of the benefits offered to them once the new corporation is in operation.

I urge the Under-Secretary to tell the Secretary of State that we ask him, in no spirit of confrontation but in a spirit of sturdy reality, to abandon this dangerous and uncertain scheme and return to the principle which is working so well.

The problems that I have tried to describe will be described by my right hon. and hon. Friends in more detail from time to time. We shall go on reminding the Government of these two intractable problems for London—problems that will remain intractable only as long as present policies are applied. There can be improvements in both areas—in the inner cities and dockland. It is in the Government's power to provide those improvements and we shall continue to call on them to do so, until they realise the wisdom of the points that we make.

The only way in which the Chair can accommodate all those right hon. and hon. Members who wish to speak in this debate is to limit speeches to five minutes. Any speech that exceeds five minutes will thereby diminish the prospects of hon. Members later in the list being called to speak.

1.13 p.m.

It gives me great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). The only link I have with him is that I, too, have had the privilege of representing the great city of Birmingham.

I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to the two maiden speakers, my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) and for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler). We look forward to many future contributions from them.

It might be helpful to the House and prudent for me to declare a possible interest, in that I am a qualified architect and planner. I should add that my work has not been permitted within the boundaries of London, and, looking around, that seems to be London's loss. Until I had the privilege of coming back to this House I was generally regarded as a non-practising architect, a would-be planner and a has-been politician.

I disagree entirely with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook about London's docklands. I should like to put the other point of view. Vast tracts of this eight and a half square miles in the heart of our city have been allowed to lie wasting and derelict for too many years. Of course I pay tribute to the work of the Docklands joint committee, ably led by its chairman, Sir Hugh Wilson, but its failing is that it has no executive powers. This has resulted in inter-borough squabbling, and if the five boroughs have not been disagreeing among themselves they have been disagreeing with the GLC. There is a case now for a corporation to be set up—an urban development corporation along the lines of the new town corporations—with executive powers in order to get things done. In that context I do not agree that this is a blatant lack of democracy, and I am sure that it would be successful. In fact, I would like to see this UDC concept extended into other inner city areas. That is my personal view.

I believe that the lack of development in inner city areas, particularly in London's dockland, has little to do with lack of public finance and Government grants. It has nearly everything to do with bad planning policies. Here I echo the point made by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), who referred to the deliberate policies of successive Governments of decanting industry and population into other areas of Britain. It also has a lot to do with excessive bureaucracy and a tremendous amount to do with local authorities and public utilities clinging on to land which they have no intention of developing in the near future, and which, as a result, becomes even more derelict. Also, much of the problem is a result of too little encouragement for private development and investment.

I wish to make four quick points on this aspect. First, if we are to regenerate these areas successfully, we need what I would call partnership between the public authority and private development. Secondly, we must ensure that land which is not needed by public utilities for their own development is disposed of at market prices and not at marked-up, hoped-for values. Thirdly, there is a need to cut red tape and simplify and speed up many procedures, not least the building regulations, which get more complex and comprehensive all the time, resulting in incomprehensibility, confusion and ambiguity. I believe, also, that many planning procedures can be tightened up.

I welcome the abolition of office development permits and the partial abolition of industrial development certificates. I believe that such developments can be controlled within the existing planning procedures without setting up special machinery.

Finally, the role of central Government should be confined to providing the necessary infrastructure, partly financed from the receipts of the development land tax.

In our planning policies as a nation during the past 20 or 30 years we have made a disastrous, if not disgraceful, mistake by allowing our urban needs to eat into our countryside. Thus, we have lost valuable farming land at a time when acres of land lie unused and rotting in the very hearts of our great cities. I hope that that planning principle is now being rapidly reversed.

There is one thing that unites both sides of the House. We all count it as a great privilege to represent a part of one of the greatest cities in the world. We can help improve life for people living in our great city by making constructive proposals, and I hope that I have managed to make a modest contribution to that end.

1.18 p.m.

I am grateful for being called at this stage of the debate because of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said about dockland, and because of the speech of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman).

When I was Under-Secretary at the Department of the Environment I was responsible for 21 new towns in England. I was also chairman of the two partnership committees of Hackney and Islington and Lambeth, and vice-chairman of the Docklands partnership committee. In that position I was in the peculiar position of being able to judge the relevance of a development corporation for dockland as a way of solving that problem.

In the end, the then Secretary of State and I came down strongly against a development corporation as a solution to that problem. As the Minister responsible for new towns, I came to admire the work of our new town development corporations. I admired the astonishing progress made by some of our earlier new towns such as Stevenage and Harlow, but I also recognised the great relevance of the new town development corporations operating in hitherto urban areas.

Central Lancashire new town is an example where the development corporation had the universal support of all the local authorities in the area. I believed that it was absolutely vital to the work of that corporation that the local authorities should give that support and I made a habit, when I went to Central Lancashire new town, of assuring myself that that support was continuing. I could see that if it was lacking there would be trouble; that if the development corporation and the local authorities were at loggerheads there could be no progress. I believed it was vital that the development corporations should be involved in the inner cities in areas such as Warrington as much as in new development elsewhere.

The reason why we did not want this proposal was that historically the Docklands joint committee made such good progress in preparing its plan and because we thought that the local authorities in the area would not support it. The way in which the Secretary of State has announced his plans in peremptory fashion will, I am quite certain, ensure that he will meet total opposition from the five London boroughs. This is another reason why the proposal will slow present progress in dockland to a grinding halt.

I echo the words of my right hon. Friend about the Secretary of State making up his mind on the basis of a helicopter trip over dockland. I do not know how much the cost of that trip added to the public sector borrowing requirement, but the Secretary of State would have done far better—and the exercise would have been a good deal cheaper—had he got down on the ground to see what exactly is going on in dockland. I can give the House some indication from knowledge of my constituency, which covers part of the dockland designated area, of what is happening there as a result of the work of the DJC, and the docklands partnership committee and the borough of Greenwich.

The proportion of industrial land in my borough is only 740 acres yet almost 350,000 sq. ft. of industrial floor space will have been created there by March 1980. This includes private development and development by the GLC and the borough of Greenwich. Land has been assembled at Horn Lane/Bugsby Way for advance factory units either by the council or by private development. Construction could start in 1980–81, and 60,000 sq. ft. of floor space will be provided. There is an existing plan for 116,000 sq. ft. of private development for construction in 1980 and further developments by British Steel and private developers are in the pipeline.

That means, if we assume a figure of 40 to 50 workers per acre, that my borough, as a consequence of these initiatives and those taken elsewhere, can expect, in the dockland designated area of my constituency, some 1,200 new jobs. In the face of that, the Secretary of State says that nothing has happened.

The council is also actively encouraging private development of the docklands area and has been successful in building up business confidence. I deplore the announcement by the Secretary of State, because that confidence is bound to be damaged by the uncertainty now created. For many years my local authority has been following the advice in the Department of the Environment's circular 71/77 and it has provided a number of amenities directly relevant to the needs of industry. There is a new lorry park and public weighbridge provided in the Greenwich peninsula and provision has been made for the construction of a strategic drainage network in later years of the current programme, and work will begin on the Greenwich peninsula link road within the next week.

I am talking of projects with a total cost of £8 million which are directly relevant to the redevelopment of dock land. Indeed, we are observing the priority, which we have always observed, that economic development is the prime requirement and that other forms of development can be expected to follow. In spite of that, the council has also, even though the area is predominantly industrial, recognised the need for community projects and also the need for the involvement of the local community in what is going on.

These seem to be reasons why the Secretary of State should reconsider his absurd proposal. It can only do appalling damage in dockland if he persists with it. I therefore ask him to withdraw these proposals, which will be damaging to business confidence and which are based, alas, on ignorance and which are likely to involve a slowing down of the dockland programme of at least 15 months, in the progress that might have been made.

1.26 p.m.

I hope that the Government and business managers will recognise the value of this debate and that we shall have four debates on London over the period of a year. That will enable us to deal with environmental, transport, health and employment problems. Such debates could concentrate on one aspect of the problems of London in which we could bring together the leaders of both parties in the boroughs and in government.

The one thing that will not solve our problems is a constant turn-round on policy. Modifications of policy are necessary and should respond to elections, but London Members too often get left out of this process. I add one point to those made by the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright), which is that we should concentrate on insulation as a means of reducing fuel costs. Perhaps the Government can produce a scheme by which all elderly people can check whether their homes are properly insulated. We must find a way of reducing, by insulation, the burden of fuel costs.

The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) spoke of industry in his part of the borough. In my area of the borough there is very little industry, so I shall talk about housing. It is important that we make it possible for council tenants to own their own homes. The privately rented sector has declined since 1907, and I am sure that the Rent Acts have had a great deal to do with that.

If council tenants are unable to buy their homes, there is no way in which established residential areas can follow the rest of the country in increasing owner-occupation. If 40 per cent. of homes are owned by a local council and kept by it, home ownership can be doubled in expanding areas of the country, where new private homes can be built, but occupation status in an established area such as Greenwich is frozen. We have heard of the importance of mobility and the distortions of council waiting lists and the impact that these have on Government spending.

Another point for consideration is what happens to people on retirement. Unless they qualify for rebates and allowances, council tenants have to pay the same housing costs in the week after their retirement as in the week before, when their income was higher. If we want to create equal opportunity—as was advocated by the Leader of the Opposition on television last night—we need equality of opportunity in housing as well. We need to help people with housing at the time of family formation, but when that need has been met we should let people spend their money as they wish on housing.

It is to be hoped that over the next 10–20 years we shall be able to reduce the enormous housing subsidy of £2,500 million a year, most of which does very little to provide better housing for the people who need it. If that is possible, we should be able to raise the levels of child benefit. I hope that that demand is transferred to the DHSS and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

1.30 p.m.

I wish to refer briefly to housing. We discuss many subjects in the House, but when my constituents come to see me I find that housing is always the first issue that they raise. In many cases it is the only subject that a person wishes to raise.

In the last few months correspondence has shown that the London housing crisis is worse than at any time in recent years. As a result of the almost frenzied desire of Tory local councils to sell council houses, regardless of need or priorities, there is almost no movement off the housing waiting list. The reason for the problem is simple. There is a gross shortage of houses to rent. The sale of council houses indisputably is making that shortage worse.

The present GLC seems to be little short of a wrecking organisation. It does not seem to care about housing. The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) talked about waste. The leader of the GLC seems to care for nothing but projects such as that costing upwards of £500 million for building an Olympic stadium, which the country cannot afford.

In one respect the Wandsworth borough council has gone even further than the GLC. It has made a rule that in no circumstances may council tenants transfer to a new home more than a few hundred yards from their existing home. For instance, a widowed mother may not transfer to live near her family because the Wandsworth council compels her to remain within her original area. One can hardly imagine a greater interference with the freedom of choice of an individual than that. I have not discovered any purpose or advantage in that arrangement.

New houses built by the previous Labour council are standing empty while arrangements to sell them are made. That is happening on an increasing scale. Hon. Members have discussed the ideal of home ownership in an abstract fashion. In real life the hard fact is that the majority of those in real need simply cannot buy. Old-age pensioners, or people over the age of 60, cannot buy a home, not only because they have not the means but because neither a building society nor a council will agree to grant them a mortgage.

What are such people to do? They cannot buy and there are no private homes to rent. The council does not let because it is interested only in selling. That is the human reality. It is the result of present Tory policy. If I had more time I would give practical examples of what this means in terms of human hardship.

The Wandsworth Tory-controlled council is not content with the damage being done to housing. It has hatched the wonderful idea of taking over education in the borough from the Inner London Education Authority. Frankly, that proposal is so absurd that I am surprised that even the present Wandsworth Tories should suggest it. All the people who have written to me on this subject are against the idea. They view it with considerable alarm. How, for instance, would the Wandsworth council, which claims that it is unable to pay for old people's holidays, find the money to finance education in Wandsworth?

I assume that the Ministers retain a little more sanity than those who are running the Wandsworth council. Is it not necessary to have legislation in order to transfer responsibility for education to a London borough? Are the Government in favour or opposed to this absurd proposal?

The only comfort that I can give to my constituents is to urge them to be patient and to await the next elections—both local and national.

1.36 p.m.

Since this is the first time that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have called me—a fellow Croydon Member—I repeat the congratulations that I offered in private. My constituents in Croydon welcome your distinguished appointment.

The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) and I were opponents in the 1959 general election and later in 1964, so it is a pleasure to take part in the same debate. The right hon. Member spoke about housing. I intend to dwell briefly on that subject and on one aspect in particular. I draw attention to the effect in the London borough of Croydon of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 and its related code of practice. Its effect has been similar to that in other London boroughs, according to reports in the Evening Standard two or three weeks ago.

In the year 1977–78, Croydon had available for reletting 1,106 council dwellings. Of those, 343 were allocated under the provisions of that Act. That is a substantial proportion. In the following year, 1978–79, 912 dwellings were available. No fewer than 544 had to be allocated under the Act.

It is interesting to break down those statistics further. Out of the 343 homeless who were rehoused in the first year, 137 were evicted by parents, friends or relatives. In the following year, out of the 544 who were rehoused in Croydon under the Act, no fewer than 245 were evicted by their parents, friends or relatives.

I have studied carefully several examples from that list. It is clear that as a result of the Act some families intentionally have taken the opportunity to jump over the heads of those who have been waiting in the housing queue for a long time and who have better reasons for being rehoused by the council.

An example is a constituent who was registered on the housing list in May this year. In response to a letter from her I inspected her accommodation. I found that during the past four years she and her three-year-old son had lived with her current boyfriend in a house tenanted by the boyfriend's parents. In April the young lady gave birth to another son. In May she claimed homelessness, stating that her boyfriend had turned her and her two children out of the house and would not allow them back, even though there was room for them and he was the father of the youngest child.

Inquiries made of the young man's parents confirmed that the son, not the parents, had decided to evict the common law wife. That point was substantiated to me by the son in a discussion. The parents were not interested in the boy's private life. My constituent and her children had to be provided with accommodation under the code of guidance, but the director of housing for the London borough of Croydon and I have no doubt that when the three are permanently rehoused the boyfriend will move in too. That is palpably unfair on my constituents who have been waiting on the housing list—in some cases for many years.

I can give further examples. A young man of 31 has always lived with his parents in various council properties. Ten months ago his girlfriend moved in. The parents have since said that there is no longer room for them because a child is on the way. The parents then evicted them and the council has had to rehouse them. The parents have a three-bedroom house, and the young man, who, with his girl friend, has been rehoused ahead of those in the queue, has two properties in West Mailing in Kent which he has let. There is no provision in the Act to enable the London borough of Croydon to compel him to sell those two properties and thus be responsible for rehousing himself, his common law wife and his newly arrived child. Others of my constituents are therefore pushed back down the queue.

I can cite a specific case of a family who arrived from Nairobi, moved in on a Saturday with friends who had invited them here and who were evicted by those friends on the following Monday. They have had to be rehoused.

The Minister has been down to Croydon and the matter has been explained to him. I hope, therefore, that he will be able to say that action will be taken and that the matter will be resolved. The Act needs amending. Local authorities should have discretion to decide whether homelessness is genuine. I hope that action will be taken quickly.

1.42 p.m.

I am delighted to be able to follow the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Taylor) and to congratulate a Conservative from that part of London on the Conservatives' spectacular by-election result last night. Their vote was derisory and they finished in a miserable third position with just over 100 votes. There was an enormous swing to the successful Labour candidate, and that, I suggest, is indicative of what will be happening in the country as a whole.

I want to talk of the Health Service situation in London, highlighted as it was by the Royal Commission which set out the sort of requirements for our part of the world. These included the commitment to expand community health care, a commitment to do something about the antiquated and unsatisfactory health facilities in the inner city, and the desperate need to attract more and better qualified staff to the inner city areas. It is inescapable that all that will cost money, but, as the report said,
"improving the quality of care in the inner areas is the most urgent problem which the National Health Service services in the community must tackle."
If we do not respond, the cost for London and for the nation will be enormous.

However, faced by that assertion in the report, the health services in London as a whole are being savaged with £30 million of cuts being demanded. I and my hon. Friends who represent the other Hackney seats are primarily concerned with the City and Hackney health district. We find that we have a pusillanimous area health authority which does not speak for the people of Hackney, which does not recognise their needs and which has abdicated total responsibility. I have no doubt that its inadequate chairman should resign.

The overspending that is alleged includes the increased cost of VAT which amounts, as a result of the Budget, to £950,000 and the rise in fuel prices of £700,000. So an enormous proportion of the overspending is due to those two items, which alone amount to £1,650,000.

The acute services in Hackney are being reduced by 15 per cent. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), who has fought a tremendous battle, particularly over the cuts at St. Leonard's and St. Bartholomew's, knows, as I do, that as a result of these cuts quite intolerable pressures are being imposed on Hackney hospital. The queues for emergency treatment get longer and longer. The hospital is now expected to fulfil the role previously occupied by St. Leonard's, which is subject to ward closures, and, at the same time, to make economies. On seven occasions last month the hospital was forced to close to ambulances because there were no beds. That is just one of the consequences of the cuts. At one stage, for a period of 12 hours, another hospital in Tottenham, the Prince of Wales hospital, was also closed. What would have happened had there been some sort of calamity in the area? Moreover, the situation is wasteful. The Hackney ambulance station, which should have 112 staff, now has only 76, and 20 ambulances are left in the yard with no one to staff them.

These cuts, therefore, are far from being painless, as some Ministers have suggested they would be. They are in addition to the generalised cuts in the Health Service such as the cuts in the maintenance budgets and the cuts in the quantity and quality of meals. Buildings are allowed to deteriorate, and they cost much more to repair in the long term. Patients have to wait in longer and longer queues or are sent home earlier because their beds are needed, even though the community care services outside are quite unable to cope with these additional burdens.

This inept and inadequate area health authority meekly concedes the case to those who are demanding still further reductions in services. Hackney will be hit savagely, and I suspect that more cuts are bound to follow. That is the bill of indictment which has to be laid not simply at the door of the area health authority but at the door of this incompetent Government.

1.48 p.m.

I begin by apologising to the House and to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for being prevented by a constituency engagement from being present for the end of the debate. I shall read the speeches of other hon. Members in the Official Report, thereby, no doubt, increasing my knowledge of the problems of London.

I speak as one who until recently was the leader of a London borough, and in that capacity I raise a number of points that strike me as being of concern to us all. The first concerns the much-advertised level of rate support grant that may or may not be coming the way of London and the other cities on 20 November. Even at this late stage I urge the Government to bear in mind the importance of continuing to recognise how many of our social problems lie within the cities as against the counties.

It is easy for us, in this debate, to obtain general support for that approach. However, it is undeniably true, as the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) said, that in terms of employment, housing, and the difficulties of one-parent families, it is the cities that bear the brunt of the problems. It would be wrong for that not to continue to be recognised in the Government's settlement of the rate support grant.

My next point also concerns the rate support grant, but it is a little more domestic. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) has made the point several times that, for reasons that appear to be totally beyond the wit of man and Government statisticians, year by year the settlement for our borough is out of step with that for the rest of London. I am not making a political point. Unfortunately, it is all too accurate. It is said that the calculation of rate support grant may well be a form of modern witchcraft. I can say only that my electors hope that in the near future they will get more than just
"eye of newt, and toe of frog"
as described in Macbeth. In relative terms, they have had that in recent years.

I may part company with some Members on my third point. I wish to highlight the continuing problem of the difference in expenditure between some boroughs in London. I refer to expenditure totally under their control, and will ignore precepts and other matters where local authorities have to accept what is passed to them.

I have checked figures going back to 1973–74 before many of the cuts were made by local authorities in response to requests, demands, and exhortations by the previous Government. It is an interesting picture. In London as a whole, the increase in expenditure by all London authorities between the 1973–74 estimate and the 1979–80 estimate is an average of 184 per cent. Within that figure the differences are stark. Every Socialist authority bar one has increased its expenditure by over 200 per cent. Every Conservative authority that has been under Conservative control for the whole of that period has increased its expenditure by considerably less than 200 per cent. Indeed, the highest increase is 176 per cent.

My own authority, Havering, has seen its expenditure move from £24½ million to £59 million, an increase of 143 per cent. Lambeth, by no means the worst example, moved from £20·8 million—that is below the level of Havering in 1973–74—to £70·4 million in the same period, an increase of 238 per cent.

We can all throw percentages around, but the figures mean that resources are being employed within a number of boroughs, including Lambeth, that are not being employed within the London borough of Havering. That poses a major problem for local authorities. Unless they are prepared to go along with the overall outline guidelines of national expenditure—we will accept small percentage differences—as laid down by successive Governments, they may well lose something that I believe they should retain for ever and a day—namely, their present freedom.

I am concerned that unless all authorities, rather than only the majority, are able to recognise this, they will, like the dinosaur, find that their environment has changed. A future Government may find themselves compelled to take steps to control them. That would be a sad and poor day.

1.53 p.m.

I shall try to adhere to the suggested time limit. I hope that the House will recognise that I shall have to put aside the most devastating attack on the Government's whole economic strategy since the general election, with particular reference to its disastrous effects on London's services. I shall return to that at some future date. I hope that it is recognised that I am making a tremendous sacrifice by restraining myself.

I shall try to be brief in advancing my argument that I believe will especially concern those who are interested in the quality of life in London. I am absolutely appalled at the effect of the threefold attack on London's theatre and live entertainment industry—that is, the increase to 15 per cent. in value added tax that has been levied on our theatres, the unprecedented cut in the Arts Council grant to our theatres and entertainments, and the general effects of reduced local government spending. Many local authorities, especially in London, are great sponsors of the arts, as is my borough of Camden. The cuts will have a devastating and destructive effect on live entertainment in our capital city.

There are only two countries in Europe where the standard rate of value added tax is charged on theatre and live entertainment, the Netherlands and Denmark. In France the theatre rate is 7 per cent., in Italy it is 6 per cent., in Luxembourg it is 5 per cent., in Ireland it is 10 per cent. and in Western Germany the theatre is exempt from VAT. The 15 per cent. tax being imposed in this country will cripple the industry unless the policy is reversed.

I have heard much talk about harmonisation in the theatre. I am wondering whether it is Government policy to implement harmonisation only at the highest level. Robert Gregoire, who is the Commissioner for Cultural Affairs in the EEC, said:
"We have drawn up proposals to standardise VAT in all Common Market countries as it applies to the arts. The Commission cannot understand why the situation with VAT on theatre tickets in Britain is as it is. Why is it levied at the full rate on theatre tickets and not on books and magazines?"
I agree with that, as do the many who understand and appreciate the contribution that the theatre makes to London society. London theatres are world-renowned. Millions of tourists come to Britain every year and spend vast sums on live entertainment in our capital city. Thousands of jobs and job opportunities for our youngsters exist because of our entertainment industry and its ancillary occupations.

A perfectly reasonable case can be made for a reduction in the rate of VAT to at least that applied to books and magazines. I hoped, and quite frankly expected, at least one resignation from the Government Front Bench over this issue. I have not heard of any fight back within the Cabinet on the size of the value added tax.

It is early days, and it may be that as the campaign develops in London—as it must and will—we shall see some shift in the direction that I have suggested. I hope that those in London who appreciate and value our theatres will support any campaign to reverse the policy of discrimination against the arts, and will resist this and all other policies aimed at reducing the quality of life in our capital city and the standard of living of those who live and work in London.

1.59 p.m.

I should like to make a few remarks on the quality of life in London, bearing in mind the high rate of crime that we face, especially among young people, in terms of violence and vandalism. More leisure will become available to the rising generation as a result of the microchip and other technological revolutions. We must prepare our facilities to accommodate that leisure time.

The lack of land for recreational purposes is a current cause of many of our difficulties. There is a vital need for more open spaces. In future we must avoid vast concrete areas such as those at Tower Hamlets, a Socialist creation where there are few open space leisure facilities and for many miles scarcely a blade of grass.

We shall have to overcome in London the mentality that was expressed by the last Labour leader but one of the Ealing borough council. When building a municipal development on St. Paul's playing fields, which had for so long been enjoyed by Ealing children as a soccer area, he said:
"There is no no-go area for us and we shall build wherever we think fit."
We have before us a great challenge. We have little land space left for recreational purposes and for building. In the London borough of Ealing only 4 per cent. of the borough's land area is unallocated for any purposes. There must be competition for that land to be used for various purposes.

I look forward to meeting later today my long-standing friend Archbishop Trevor Huddleston during one of his few visits to Britain. We have often discussed what the Rev. Basil Jellicoe used to say and preach about over 50 years ago—namely, that vandalism and great social trouble stemmed from bad housing. He spoke especially of Somers Town, which we have seen demolished and rebuilt since his day. Part of the rebuilding was extremely expensive and the area is ageing again and it is not looking as good as it once did. Vandalism has continued throughout. We now know that a superficial argument was being advanced and that we shall have to examine the issue more deeply.

I remember discussing this very matter with the sixth form at my last school. There were many children who lived in bad housing. I accept that we all deplore bad housing. Many members of the sixth form were insulted that they should be considered potential vandals because of their home background. The problem is much deeper than we have recognised so far.

I hope that we shall see a real effort to build in the 5,500 acres of dockland as an aid to solving London's dreadful housing problem and long waiting lists. Surely it makes no sense to take up for housing much more of the 4 per cent. of the borough of Ealing's remaining land. That cannot be done. An increase in the provision of single-bedroom accommodation will help a great deal and is planned. It will take people out of multi-bedroom accommodation and make that available for families in need of housing. However, Ealing will not be able to build as much as it would like because there is insufficient land.

I plead with the House to support a drive to make land available for recreational purposes. At the same time, I should like to see school gymnasiums and sports halls made available to the public during weekends and school holidays. It seems a scandal that at present they are not available. If they were opened, people of all ages would go to them happily and usefully.

I should like to see much of our remaining land in Ealing and other London boroughs used for recreational purposes—for example, for the construction of soccer pitches, rugby pitches, hockey pitches and netball pitches and so on. In Ealing we are fortunate to have quite a few pitches, but there are not nearly enough. In addition, there should be "jungle" areas for children to play in as they like without too much restraint from adults and others in authority.

In the Ealing area 1 per cent. of the land is covered by water. The waterways and other areas of water can be used for commercial purposes and recreational purposes. The same applies to London in general.

I wish to see animals return to London. Such open spaces as remain available to us could be used for that purpose. It is a great mistake to feel that man can live for very long without a close association with animals. We should see more animals in more areas of open land in London than at present.

The largest domestic animal is the horse. I look for support in seeking more facilities for London's riders. There are many riders in comprehensive schools as well as special schools for the disabled, not to mention many adults. Riding facilities for them are diminishing at a rapid rate. I hope that something will be done about that.

There are upwards of 25,000 riders in London. There are about 5,000 horses in the Greater London area. The roads are no place for them. There must be places for them to be kept and areas in which they may be ridden. People from every walk of life want to ride and, perhaps, to keep horses. Let us allocate to them a substantial area of the remaining land in London.

In Winston Churchill's book entitled "My Early Life" he said:
"And here I say to parents, and especially to wealthy parents, Don't give your son money. As far as you can afford it, give him horses…No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle. Young men have often been ruined through backing horses, but never through riding them. No man ever came to grief except honourable grief through riding horses and, if death should come this way, then, taken at a gallop, it's a very good death to die."

2.6 p.m.

In view of the self-imposed time limit, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not answer some of the more provocative remarks about Lambeth that have been made by Conservative Members. However, I add my support to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler), who expressed his regret that the Government have decided not to accept the suggestion embodied in the May report to relieve the terrible overcrowding that exists in Brixton prison.

I take up the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). He contrasted the way the Conservatives pay lip service to inner city policy with their doing not much to further it. Their statements made while in Opposition are now being exposed as totally false by their financial actions as a Government.

We all remember how the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) used to fall over himself denouncing the Labour Government's initiatives to relieve the inner cities as being inadequate and under-financed. He used to say that a Conservative Government would have to do much more to avoid social tensions, frustration and rising crime rates that were created by deprivation in the inner city areas.

What happens when the right hon. Gentleman's party is in office? His Cabinet colleagues are now dismantling the inner city programme. By their other cuts they are making the situation even worse than it was before the Labour Government's inner city programme was launched. They claim to be maintaining the inner city programme, but they are steadily crushing the hopes and aspirations of those in areas of London such as Lambeth.

In Lambeth the waiting list bears 15,000 names. Most of those on the waiting list cannot possibly afford to buy a house themselves. There are now more than 350 homeless families in bed and breakfast hostels out of a total of 600 in temporary accommodation. When the local council tries to carry out the obvious remedy of providing more homes for rent by buying them or building them, the Government refuse to let it raise the money to do so.

The Government are introducing a housing Bill that is irrelevant to the needs of the people of Lambeth. A tenants' charter, from whichever Government it comes, is quite useless to those who have been waiting years for a transfer into decent accommodation. That is the major problem that is faced by those in council accommodation in inner London.

Many other services are also under attack. It is important for the House to realise that in Lambeth there is not merely a slimming down of desirable but non-essential services. Many of the services are vital for housebound pensioners, for handicapped adults, for children and for families with small children in tower blocks. Services are vital if difficult and deprived lives are to be made even tolerable. If the necessary services are not available, life for many people becomes mere survival, or not even that for some who are deeply affected by Health Service cuts.

Those comments bring me to the second way in which Brixton and Clapham, which largely comprise my constituency, suffer from the cuts. The public services are the major employers. In my constituency the second largest employer is King's College hospital. When the commissioners sent in by the Secretary of State for Social Services closed down geriatric beds in the King's College district, they did not merely put old people at risk this winter but ensured that local employment figures would stay at a high level.

The hypocrisy of the current policy is also demonstrated by the jobs issue. In their manifesto the Tories referred to helping small firms and encouraging
"the improvement…of training facilities for the young unemployed in the ethnic communities."
However, with the new restrictions on the Manpower Services Commission training schemes and the scrapping of the small firms subsidy, which provided 700 jobs in Lambeth alone, those pledges have already been broken. Young people, be they black or white, will have not only fewer chances of training but fewer jobs to go to when they are trained.

Perhaps the greatest hypocrisy of all from the Government is their attitude towards the voluntary sector in the inner city programme. One of the great successes in the Lambeth inner city programme has been the way in which thousands of local people in scores of organisations have been inspired and encouraged to add their own voluntary efforts to those of the statutory authorities. For months those groups have been preparing proposals for the next stage of the programme—nearly 50 projects to provide jobs, day care places, a liaison group for parents of mentally handicapped children, the supplementary education scheme for black youngsters, the cleaning up of derelict sites and many other desperately needed services. Those schemes require a small amount of Government funding to spark off an enormous investment of free, dedicated effort from the voluntary groups.

What has been the response of a Government who never stop talking about their support for voluntary effort? Last month, hidden away in a statement that was apparently maintaining the inner city programme, the Secretary of State announced that the money that had been allocated for that purpose by the Labour Government was no longer available. The people of Lambeth, who were trying to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, found that the Government cut even those bootstraps. Let not the Government talk any more about trying to encourage voluntary effort. Let them not talk about a mandate to cut public expenditure. That is no excuse for refusing to help a handful of areas where the standard of living and quality of life are far below the national average. It is no excuse for not considering the cost that must be paid sooner or later in social tension and unrest.

2.12 p.m.

Like others, I welcome the opportunity of a full day's debate on London. We pay a high price in pace, pressure and pollution for living in the capital city. To have the occasional opportunity to discuss the problems of London at length is no less than the people of London deserve.

My first comment is a postscript to a previous discussion that we had on London about the problems caused by indiscriminate parking on footways. It was disappointing, but not in any way unexpected, that the Government subsequently announced that they would not be implementing section 7 of the Road Traffic Act on the ground that at this present time of need to restrain public expenditure it would be unwarrantable to require local authorities and the police to exercise further duties. That is accepted, but I hope that it will be seen that parking on footways not only damages the amenities, which are important in my constituency, but causes great hazards to blind people who expect the footways to be free of any obstruction but find instead that careless and inconsiderate parking is a danger to them. I hope that although we cannot implement a new law, or have it enforced at this time, people will give greater consideration to the needs of others.

Secondly, I support the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) that when the rate support grant is announced—in a way it is a handicap for us to have a debate in advance of that announcement—Havering's special position will be recognised. The House may well dismiss that as special pleading. It would be excessive special pleading to advance that view before the announcement was made, but I do so because in two successive years I led deputations to the Department to put the point that Havering was unfairly affected by the formulation of the rate support grant distribution in London. That was not the fault of Havering, which, as a London borough, exercised great restraint in its expenditure. It is the method of assessing the needs element, which is at the bottom of this problem, which sets Havering aside not just from the leaders in the London league but in a separate league.

Thirdly, I welcome the Government's announcement this week of the new scope for improvement grants for housing. My constituents are fortunate in that seven out of 10 of them own their own homes. However, many properties are older and in need of renovation and improvement. The Government's new policy will mean that we shall return to the 1973 figures. That is of the utmost value. It means that people with reasonable means may own their own homes and that the present housing, which has a valuable life for many years ahead, can be made good with Government assistance. That is a most commendable policy, which will be welcomed by many people living in Romford.

I urge the Minister to give the utmost priority to the transfer of council housing from the Greater London Council to the London boroughs. That was foreseen in the London Government Act 1963. Yet here we are, 16 years later, and the GLC still owns 250,000 properties, many of them in London. When I was a leader of a London borough at least 12 years ago, the first stages of that programme were announced. Here we are, in 1979, with a forward date of 1 April 1980 for a substantial transfer. There is still doubt whether that programme will be completed within 18 months from now, as is hoped.

Finally, also of concern to my constituents is the projected closure of the Victoria hospital in Romford. This matter is not something that has arisen since yesterday's announcement on the restraints of public expenditure. A threat has been hanging over this excellent cottage hospital for the past two years. Next Thursday the Barking and Havering area health authority will take a decision on the question whether to proceed with that proposal for closure. I hope that it will have a change of heart, because that part of its strategy is misconceived. It endeavours to provide a high standard of medical care. We learn that one of the factors in the assessment of what is needed in the National Health Service is the improvement and development of medical technology. It is being asked to accept that to finance an advance in medical technology and care in a large general hospital—Oldchurch hospital, in Romford—it should forgo and sacrifice this small cottage hospital, which was established by public donation nearly 100 years ago and for which people have nothing but praise. That seems to me misguided, although well intentioned. Hospital waiting lists in the area are substantially higher than the national average. To abolish one hospital and put all the eggs in the one Oldchurch hospital basket cannot help the problem.

I hope that the area health authority, having noted what the Secretary of State and—on at least one occasion—the Prime Minister said, will find that there is a case for the small hospital in the community and will ensure that Victoria hospital, Romford serves the people of Romford in the way that it has done for the past 100 years.

2.18 p.m.

I am sorry that in a debate about expenditure cuts as they affect the London area—with other hon. Members, I welcome the fact that we have today in which to discuss them—the Prime Minister is not here. She shares with me the signal honour of being one of the only two women Members of Parliament representing London constituencies. Although I know that she is extremely busy, I should have thought that she would have found it extremely educative to listen to what other Members of Parliament representing London constituencies have to say about our dearly beloved city.

There have been many references to the question of the scrapping of the Docklands joint committee. I share the sadness of many people, especially those in East and South London, that all the work, effort and thought that went into the work of the Docklands joint committee should have gone for nought with the announcement that the Government intended to establish the urban development corporation. The concept—although it might have been a good idea some years ago—is far too late and is the wrong style of development for East London and the dockland area now. It would have been much better if we had gone forward as we had begun, with the five London boroughs principally involved, to develop the dockland area in that way. This will not be so much an urban development corporation as an urban destruction corporation in the long run.

The borough of which I represent half is not one of the five boroughs involved in the dockland scheme, but, belonging to the nearest neighbouring borough to the east, I have always taken a very close interest in dockland. What happens in dockland has a very considerable effect on Barking. What happens in Newham and in Tower Hamlets spins off in very many ways into the London borough of Barking. Although we are not a directly affected borough, we are very much affected indirectly in terms of people who work further towards London and in dockland. There are many dockers living in my constituency.

In their announcement about the urban development corporation, the Government have overlooked the fact that there will be considerable difficulties affecting my part of London because of the choking-up of the A13. We have for many years protested that the A13 is absolutely blocked from time to time. It needs not only improvement but a relief road running to the south of it, nearer to the river. That would bring about a considerable improvement. If we are to have an urban development corporation, with what I imagine will be an unplanned development and an unplanned selling-off piecemeal of very valuable land, I can envisage nothing but disaster for the poor old A13. I was recently on a deputation to one of the Transport Ministers, together with members of my local authority and my colleague the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). We were told that, although it was not completely ruled out that there would be a relief A13 road, it was certainly a mote in someone's eye at this stage, since it would cost so much money.

The Government fail to understand that it is prudent to spend money on some things now in order to provide better services in the future for the whole community. I hope that the urban development corporation, when considering its plans, will take into account the possible spin-off effects of the A13.

I have a particular interest in the sale of council houses. The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) said that seven out of 10 of his constituents live in privately owned property. Just over seven out of 10 of my constituents live in council property. Indeed, in many respects in Barking and Dagenham we are one vast council estate. During the election campaign—I make no bones about this—the carrot dangled in front of many of my constituents, that it was possible for them to own their own house for very few pence, was most attractive to them. However, I think that many of them are beginning to wonder what the prospects will be if they are tempted to buy their own houses. In an area such as mine, thousands of people are waiting to go from high blocks into other council accommodation. They must be concerned that many of their children and grandchildren will be deprived of the opportunity to have decent council accommodation, and particularly houses with gardens.

This is just one other result of the Government's disastrous policy, which affects the whole country and which will affect every one of our boroughs in London in one way or another. We must do everything possible to alert the whole of the public to the disastrous effects of that policy.

2.25 p.m.

I am glad to use the opportunity of this debate on London to raise a matter which affects expenditure, and particularly the proposals of the Hillingdon area health authority with regard to Mount Vernon hospital in my constituency.

You will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that on Monday week I have an Adjournment debate on the subject of the closure at night of the casualty department of Mount Vernon hospital. I shall not rehearse in advance the arguments that I shall put then at considerable length, but this case is an example of how administrators are totally reluctant to cut their own expenses and to make economies in administration, whereas they are all only too glad to allow economies to be made at the expense of patients.

To keep the casualty department of Mount Vernon hospital open at night would cost about £8,300 for the rest of this year, and about £25,000 or £26,000 for next year. Hillingdon area health authority has the lease of two large administrative blocks, Keeler House in my constituency and Cromwell House in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby). The rental per annum for these two is £90,000, and that is an astonishingly high figure. At the same time, there is spare space in Harefield hospital, in my hon. Friend's constituency, which could be used for administrative purposes. The cost per annum of administrative salaries in the AHA is about £110,000.

In view of these facts, it is deeply shocking to local residents and to my constituents to have a state of affairs in which the area health authority has totally ignored the carefully researched proposals of the medical staff committee of Mount Vernon hospital, which showed quite clearly to my satisfaction, and to the satisfaction of staff at the hospital and of local people, that the required economies in administrative overheads could be made without these drastic reductions in the care of patients.

This is a matter of major importance. Indeed, Katharine Whitehorn devoted an entire article to it in The Observer on Sunday. She wrote that
"Administration is like dragon's teeth—you can sow them so easily and have an army on your hands in the morning."
We have an army of bureaucrats on our hands in Ruislip-Northwood, and the people concerned are reluctant to take the professional advice of those who work in the hospital. It is a hospital that serves an important catchment area. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge will be seeking to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in order to explain in greater detail what this means to his constituents.

As there is to be an Adjournment debate on the subject on Monday week, and as a deputation has been to 10 Downing Street this afternoon, with a petition containing 30,000 signatures, we are hopeful that there will be a satisfactory response. The local residents are not criticising the Government's desire to effect economies. Their criticism is directed at what they regard as an over-large bureaucracy and extravagant administrative expenses.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment will urge the Minister for Health to impose a moratorium on these proposed closures and to institute a review of the position, at least until he has had the chance to listen to my speech on the Adjournment on Monday week.

I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to urge on the Minister for Health that the closure should not take place on Wednesday 7 November, as planned, and that he should wait until all the arguments have been rehearsed before taking any action, particularly in view of the fact that the chairman of the area health authority appears to be playing politics. He cast his vote twice when the matter was decided. That is something that we would often like to do in this House, but we cannot. In his committee there was a tied vote. As there was a tie, he should have urged the committee to reconsider the matter rather than using his casting vote in favour of the proposal.

2.30 p.m.

In the interests of brevity and in order to influence Conservative Members, I suggest that the effectiveness of London's economy depends in large measure on the efficiency of London Transport. South of the river that means London Transport's bus services, in view of the paucity of tube services. As a large part of my constituency is more than a kilometre from the British Rail station, that applies particularly to my area. However, I have noticed from other speeches, such as the one by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright), that it is a general problem affecting the whole of London. The general problem is that bus services have deteriorated sharply. Therefore, firm and drastic action is needed to restore them to good health to enable Londoners to move around London freely and easily without strain on their day-to-day business.

The problem boils down to four elements: road congestion, staff shortage, inadequate maintenance of buses due to design defects and a general cash anaemia in the London Transport system.

Road congestion arises from the vast number of vehicles on the limited road space. That is encouraged by the perceived cost of motoring compared with the actual cost of rail and bus travel. Once a man has purchased his car, he tends to discount its capital value, insurance and maintenance and to consider what it will cost in petrol to take him from A to B. That amounts to about 3p a mile on last year's figures—the latest that I have—compared with 4p to 6p a mile for bus and rail travel. That immediately throws a tremendous strain on our roads, which causes its own economic costs, and on our oil supply. I should have thought that the Government, at this time in our history, would have wanted to avoid that problem. Therefore, the perceived costs of motoring must be altered relative to the actual costs of road and rail travel. That will require the expenditure of public money in the public transport sector.

As for staff shortage, London Transport is short of 562 drivers according to the latest figures that I have. Many people say that the problem cannot be solved purely by increasing the wage rates. I am an optimist when it comes to increasing the wage rates. I think that will have an effect on London Transport's recruitment problem. However, I agree that housing and the detrimental effect of the sale of council houses also have effects on recruitment.

Violence suffered by bus crews is another problem. One way of avoiding violence is to install a radio network on all London Transport buses. That will enable the crews to be in constant touch with their depots and enable them to report assaults and get rapid reaction. That programme is under way, but another£1½ million still has to be spent on it. I should have thought that, in the interests of law and order, the Government would encourage this expenditure as assaults fell from 1,248 to just over 1,100 last year as a result of the radio network.

We need more reliable buses, because existing buses were not bought with a view to London's constant stopping and starting. New buses are coming in. We must encourage the rapid replacement of existing buses by new vehicles.

On the question of the general financial anaemia, it is interesting to compare London with other big cities. Rome recovers 16 per cent. of its revenue from fares, Brussels 28 per cent., Amsterdam 30 per cent., Paris buses 39 per cent., Stockholm 45 per cent., Oslo buses 48 per cent., Copenhagen 60 per cent. and London 76 per cent. There is considerable room for London to move in the direction of the other major cities of Western Europe.

Bus costs in London went up by 14½p per mile last year—faster than the then prevailing rate of inflation. I urge the Government to increase public subventions to the Greater London Council to solve these problems. I wish that I could give my constituents some encouragement that that will happen, but I notice from paragraph 26 of the expenditure White Paper:
"The roads and transport programme will be reduced by some £200 million…Local transport expenditure accounts for just over half the programme and it is the Government's intention that about half the total reduction should come from this."
I can therefore hold out no hope to my constituents. All I can say is that there is the most direct clash possible between the Government's intention of cutting back public expenditure to assist the economy and the effect that it is likely to have on London Transport and the London economy. I see nothing but disaster looming in this area as well as in others which have been mentioned.

2.35 p.m.

I have rushed back from Peking to attend this debate today.

I am encouraged by the attitude of the Marxists in Peking because the vice-premier, at a meeting with myself and a few others, said "The standard of living of our people has not risen over the last 10 years. The main cause of this has been egalitarianism which the previous Government in China tried to follow." Thank goodness Peking is throwing open its windows to Western private enterprise.

I find that, in the outlook of Labour Members, London today seems to be even more depressing than Peking. Thank goodness there are not in the Public Gallery overseas business men and others thinking of setting up in London. If so, they would think that it was a gloomy, crime-racked and depressed city.

However, my constituents are anything but gloomy and depressed. They are confident, dynamic and cheerful. With the new attitude of the Government who have come in in the past six months, almost every day when they get up they feel as if they have had a glass of champagne before going to work. They read The Daily Telegraph and get stimulation from it and are guided in the right ideas of enterprise and conservative thinking.

It is kind of my hon. Friend to make that comment.

Many of my constituents go to London every day. That is the least cheerful part of the day, except possibly coming back on the crowded London Transport system. Nevertheless, they have infinite confidence in the leader of the GLC, Sir Horace Cutler, the GLC member for Harrow, West and the president of the Harrow, West Conservative Association. They believe that he is one of the few people who can not only improve the service but improve it without borrowing more money to do it.

Many of my constituents work in the City, in commerce and banking. They are interfered with very little there by the Government, trade unions and restrictive practices. They want to keep the City of London's commerical and business undertakings prosperous. They want to see an expansion of the private enterprise system in London which, despite the trials of the past 20 to 30 years, is still the centre of world banking, about the third centre for stockbroking and the first centre for insurance.

The City of London gets very few bouquets from Opposition Members, yet it provides about £2 billion worth of indirect exports for which it receives very few commendations. From the City of London comes a very good example of enterprise at work, namely, the London Enterprise Agency, set up through the co-operation of a number of experienced business men to help and encourage business acorns to grow into oak trees in London.

Under the present Government and as a result of the wise handling of the economy, so brilliantly and honourably set out yesterday by the Chief Secretary, those acorns will start to grow into oak trees under which, in due course, I may be able to sit drinking a gin and tonic in the sunshine and basking in the success of London once again.

2.41 p.m.

The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) spoke about his satisfaction with things as they are in London. I am disgusted by the complete indifference of the Prime Minister and her Government to the dreadful poverty of 14 million people—26 per cent. of Britain's population—as described in the book by Professor Townsend, which hon. Members can read for themselves. Many of those people live in London, a large number of them in the East End of London, in constituencies such as my own.

In Hackney there are 5,000 one-parent families, 1,000 children in care, 12,000 people waiting for homes and the highest infant mortality rate in Britain—21 per 1,000. Hackney also has the highest rate of mental illness, inadequate health facilities, bad transport, decay, pollution, and lack of nurseries and play spaces.

I will tell the hon. Gentleman whose fault it is. Hackney needs financial help to tackle these unnecessary problems. The solution of the Tory Government and big business is to cut down even more. In the White Paper yesterday we learnt of a further cut of £3,500 million. Let us look at the cuts planned for the various local authorities. I cannot give details, because there is not time, but there is a further amount of £823 million in planned cuts of local authority expenditure.

Britain spends less on social services than do seven of the other EEC countries, yet we pay £1,000 million more into the EEC than we receive, to keep up food prices and increase food mountains. Why not subsidise mountains of steel, cars, coal, ships and other products to keep our own people employed? If it is good enough to have mountains of agricultural products, why should we not have mountains of manufactured goods?

Unemployment in the South-East, including London, amounts to 300,000, which is 3·8 per cent. The scandal is that 28,000 of those are school leavers. Yet the number of vacancies in the South-East is 100,000—one vacancy to every three people unemployed. In the minority groups, which consist mainly of black people, 23,000 are unemployed, which is twice the average for the area, yet the Government have cut back the Manpower Services Commission and the youth opportunities programme by £110 million, making it almost impossible to deal with these problems.

Labour wants a fairer share of the distribution of wealth and of opportunities. We say that the burden of taxation should be placed on the backs of the rich, where it can best be borne. We should do this by a wealth tax, a stronger corporation tax and strict control of prices and exorbitant profits. The Government, having met Chairman Hua, should remember that the only solution to London's problems is the introduction of Socialism.

Finally, from this Parliament I appeal to the electorate to support those who will lobby against these vile cuts on 7 and 28 November.

2.45 p.m.

I believe that the whole trend of Government policy is detrimental to the interests of the people of London, particularly those who are worse off. It is epitomised by the announcement from the Dispatch Box yesterday which represented an attack on standards of provision in the public sector.

Most ordinary Londoners are dependent upon the level of provision in the public sector. Large numbers of Londoners depend upon public sector employment, a fact that is frequently overlooked by Conservative Members. In London we have a disproportionate number of people working in the Post Office, for British Rail and London Transport, in the Civil Service and for local authorities. We also have a Government who appear to be dedicated to promoting private sector manufacturing industry, but certainly not in the London area.

As regards education, the proportion of schoolchildren entitled, under the national scheme, to receive free school meals, in the country as a whole, is 21 per cent. In London the figure is about 40 per cent. In the secondary school which my daughter attends in Somers Town, the proportion is over 60 per cent. Yet the Government's proposals in the Education Bill which will come before the House next Monday will bring about a reduction in the number of children entitled to free school meals. That means that that Education Bill is a direct attack on the opportunity of a large number of children to eat, particularly in central and inner London and pockets of outer London. Yet we have heard not a squeak against those proposals from the Government Benches.

If we consider the general approach to Government finance of local authorities, we discover that roughly 61 per cent. of the expenditure of local authorities throughout the country is met by central Government. The average figure for a London borough is about 50 per cent. So we already do worse than the rest of the country in terms of the proportion of support that comes from central Government.

Time and again we have heard from the Government Front Bench that the Secretary of State for the Environment proposes to transfer rate support grant money from London and other metropolitan areas to the shire counties. I regard those on the Government Benches who purport to represent London constituencies as totally spineless because, with the exception of one hon. Member today, not one of them has uttered a word against the Government's policy to transfer rate support grant from London to the shire counties.

I ask the London Conservative Members who are present today to remind those who have not bothered to turn up that they represent the Conservative majority. There are 50 Conservative Members of Parliament who represent London constituencies, and if they were to stick out and put their foot down the transfer of resources from London to the shire counties could not take place. I urge those 50 London Members of Parliament to fight hard for London instead of sitting there spinelessly doing nothing to protect the people they purport to represent.

One of the hon. Members on the Government Benches referred to Somers Town, which I might describe as the heartland of my constituency. Somers Town began as a place of total degradation because it was provided by the market system to which the Government subscribe. It was ameliorated by the activities of people such as Basil Jellicoe who provided education and housing trusts to improve the standard of living of working people. That role was eventually taken over by local authorities and the State. If local authority and central Government finance is not continued for the people of Somers Town, they face the prospect of degradation striking again. That is why I hope that Conservative Members from London will assert themselves and make sure that London is protected from their own Government.

2.50 p.m.

I wish to take the opportunity of supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) in expressing grave concern about the way in which the Hillingdon health authority appears to be run. To be quite blunt, I have come to the conclusion that that authority is inadequately discharging its duties towards the patients who are its responsibility. From what I can judge, it seems that it is insisting upon the termination of important clinical services to patients to a greater extent than it should, rather than reducing its administrative costs. For example, it does not appear to me that the authority is taking seriously enough the job of reducing its administrative costs, and, for reasons that are difficult to recognise, it is concentrating upon hitting the interests of patients.

Despite a 27,000-name petition, the Hillingdon area health authority proposes to close the accident and emergency department at Mount Vernon hospital, Northwood, which is situated in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood. It is doing so to save £8,300 in the current year and £23,500 in 1980–81. This is a serious national as well as local matter. So serious is it that my hon. Friend will be raising the matter on the Adjournment on 12 November, and he will no doubt go into the matter in much greater detail than I am able to do today. However, I raise this matter because it is so urgent.

It is proposed to close the accident and emergency unit next week, on 7 November. In the meantime, my hon. Friend and I will be leading a deputation to see the Minister for Health, and we shall ask him to take urgent action to prevent the closure. The closure of this unit will mean that about 600 people a month, who are the victims of serious accidents, will not be treated between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. They will have to be taken to Hillingdon hospital or, perhaps, to Northwick Park, thus adding about 20 minutes or more to the journey. This additional delay could, I am advised, prove to be fatal in some cases.

Why is it that the Hillingdon area health authority is taking this step? Is it because it is unable to make savings in this year's administrative costs amounting to the trivial sum of £8,300 or £23,500 next year? I invite the House to consider the facts. The administrative costs involved in running Hillingdon area health authority—or HAHA, as it is known—in its north and south sectors is around £438,000. Other administrative costs involved in patient care are substantial, and I shall give only two examples. A total of £658,176 is spent on general administration and £999,547 on general services.

Against this, I am told that the authority is making economies in its administrative and other services amounting to about £102,000 for this year and about £298,000 for 1980–81. These are important savings, but surely they are not the best that can be achieved bearing in mind the substantial size of the budget. I can tell the House that out of the many letters that have been received by my hon. Friend and me, only one has complained about economics as such although many have complained about the nature of the economies.

Why is it that Mount Vernon's accident and emergency unit will be closed next week unless the Secretary of State for Social Services takes immediate action? It appears to many people who live in Hillingdon that it is because the Labour-controlled Hillingdon area health authority wishes to cause the maximum embarrassment to the Government rather than cut its administrative costs, as it should do. It appears that patients are being put at risk quite unnecessarily. I say that because at a special meeting of the authority last week Conservative members put forward a number of proposals based on recommendations made by no less than the Mount Vernon hospital medical staff committee, which would have saved more than the required amount of money. However, those proposals were turned down by the casting vote of the chairman because it appears that the authority would rather close the unit, thus putting at risk the patients concerned, than take a decision to trim some of the non-essential services. This is a serious matter of great urgency which demands the urgent attention of the Secretary of State.

I understand that under sections 2 and 86 of the National Health Service Act 1977 the Secretary of State has almost unlimited power to maintain the services at this hospital. I therefore ask the Minister to convey to the Secretary of State the deep concern of the people of Hillingdon and to ask my right hon. Friend to use those powers forthwith to appoint an inspector who will discuss with members of the area health authority the priorities that have been adopted. I believe that he should report back to the Secretary of State at an early date, suggesting alternative economies in the administrative costs of running that authority so that the interests of patients are put before those of narrow party politics.

2.56 p.m.

A few moments ago the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) talked enthusiastically about the City of London and about the wealth that some people there are earning, but there is a contrast between the wealth of the City of London and the poverty and deprivation of many parts of inner London. The wealth of the City of London is simply not benefiting many Londoners who live in inner areas. It is that contrast between these two worlds which is part of the problem facing London, as well as part of the problem to which Labour Members have referred today.

Do not many of the hon. Gentleman's constituents work in the City of London, and are they not pleased at its prosperity?

A few of my constituents may be employed in the City of London, but the vast majority are not. The vast majority earn low pay and do not work in the City of London. In fact, many of them are unemployed. That is part of the problem.

I want to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton), in which he attacked Lambeth council and seemed to imply that somehow Wandsworth council was doing better. I can only suggest that the hon. Gentleman knows very little about Wandsworth council in making that comment. The people of Wandsworth, viewing with dismay the damage being done to their housing, the dismemberment of their social services, the dismantling of their law centres and the threat to take away their arts centre, look longingly across Clapham Common and wish that some of the policies of Lambeth council were being applied in Wandsworth. My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) mentioned the plan put forward by Wandsworth council to dismember the Inner London Education Authority. That plan has no merit. It has the essential demerit of possessing not a single atom of support among parents of children in Wandsworth. I would like to hear the Minister explain why such a proposal is still talked about when there is no parental support.

The main points that I wish to make concern the economy of London, its jobs and industry. The public expenditure cuts are national. I fear, however, that when the full burden is felt the impact will fall more on inner London than on many other parts of the country. I am not making a plea for a transfer of resources from Merseyside or other disadvantaged areas to London; I am making a plea for a better understanding of the problems facing London. We have heard little from the Conservative Benches.

For 20 years or longer, there has been decline in London industry. The last Labour Government injected an element of confidence into inner city areas. There was a feeling that things would get better. That element of confidence has been taken away by the present Government. London is, nevertheless, still vitally important for jobs. About one in nine of all manufacturing jobs and one in five of all jobs in service industries are in London.

One reason for the decline in London industry has been the successive policy of different Governments in encouraging industry to move out. Another reason has been the high costs, planning difficulties and redevelopment of many parts of the city that have brought problems for small businesses. There have also been overall changes in the economy of the country.

What affects the economy of the country as a whole affects the economy of London. There has been increasing domination by large firms. A small number of large firms control the economy. In the borough of Wandsworth, between 1971 and 1975, 4,000 jobs in manufacturing industry were lost. The vast majority were accounted for by 10 firms, eight of them subsidiaries of national or multinational companies. The same has happened in many London boroughs. A small number of large multinational firms are responsible for the big shift in manufacturing industry out of London. Some of these jobs have been transferred to other areas, but some represent a net loss of jobs to the country.

I should like to refer to the type of job changes that have taken place in London. I give estimates, because precise figures are not available. Over the last 10 years, manufacturing industry has declined by 44 per cent., whereas service industries and the public sector have each declined by about 9 per cent. The future for service industries is bleaker. New technological developments mean that loss of jobs will become much more likely.

The upshot is an increasing polarisation in London between the wealthy few and the poverty of much of the inner city area. This has caused, and is causing, increasing social tensions. Above all, it demonstrates that the workings of the free market will not solve the economic problems of London. We need economic intervention by the Government, not a reliance on the free market, which gives Londoners no hope for the future.

3.2 p.m.

I am sure that many visitors to London, whether from overseas or from the rest of the United Kingdom, regard our capital city as an area of great prosperity and affluence. Labour Members want to make the point that some of the worst deprivation and the highest unemployment occur in some of the London boroughs. The West End of London may be prosperous; the East End is not. Moving east of Aldgate Pump, one crosses into an area of considerable deprivation. This certainly applies to Newham.

There has been a loss of jobs. Much commercial and industrial activity was connected with the Port of London. The PLA has shut down the docks and moved to Tilbury. The Beckton gasworks, which made gas from coal, is redundant because gas now comes from the North Sea. In Newham, between 1966 and 1975, 25 per cent. of the jobs were lost. During that period, the rate for the whole of the United Kingdom was one job in 40. Fifty per cent. of people in Newham have to commute out of the borough to work. The situation is made worse by the cuts.

The North East Thames regional health authority is £9 million short in its budget for 1979–80. The National Health Service cannot levy rates. Unlike a private firm, it cannot increase its prices. It is affected by the cuts and increases in VAT.

The area health authority is plagued by worry and uncertainty about its future. It has asked for a meeting with the Minister. I hope that the Minister will agree to meet the authority to discuss its problems. The authority has deferred all development within the National Health Service. There are vacancies for midwives, district nurses and audiologists. The authority has decided that all these places will be left unfilled.

All capital improvements have been deferred. One hospital has a very bad kitchen, which is in need of renovation, but that has been deferred. The authority has decided that there will be no more decorating or painting. The hospitals will become dirtier. The day room badly needed by one hospital and the furniture needed by another have been axed. The authority also intends to cut down on fuel consumption. Already there is a reduction in the quantum and the quality of patient care.

The authority has also decided that all this will have little effect and that the only way to make major savings is by closures, and it will reluctantly have to consider closing hospitals. My local authority does not want to make any cuts, unlike some—such as Wandsworth, which seems to leap at the prospect with relish.

I understand that libraries in Wandsworth are to close at 5 o'clock, which is when the workers finish work. Regrets have been expressed today that the Prime Minister, a London Member, is not here. We have all heard the touching story of how she studied in that little room above the grocer's shop in Grantham, went to the public library to study, passed all her exams and became Prime Minister. Now, one of the first things that she does is to shut the libraries in Wandsworth so that the ordinary working people of London cannot follow her example.

3.7 p.m.

The Government's economic policy is based on the idea that if they cut public expenditure and make tax cuts, particularly for the high income groups, they will regenerate the economy. That has major implications for everyone, particularly in the inner cities.

We need to regenerate the local economy, to increase employment and widen access to housing. The failure to do so will aggravate the problems of the inner city.

Hammersmith and Fulham has much for which to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), the last Secretary of State for the Environment, because he made it a programme authority, which meant that it got extra funds. In 1971, Hammersmith and Fulham was fourth in the list of deprived GLC boroughs; in 1977 it was second. That list is based on such things as overcrowding in housing, unemployment, shared use of baths, hot water and inside toilets, old people living alone and single-parent families.

The borough has a large private rented sector, which always attracts a transient population, often of socially and economically deprived groups. Older residents find that housing costs have risen out of proportion to incomes, that their children cannot afford to live in the area, and that the informal community ties break down.

At the same time, there is a growth in the white collar dormitory aspect of the area, which means a rapid transition from private renting to owner-occupation, so the low income groups are competing for a shrinking pool of public and private accommodation. I stress that this is a problem of low income housing; it has nothing to do with the Rent Act. It arises because these people are competing for an ever-diminishing share of that market.

Houses of three or four storeys, which are normally occupied by up to 20 people, are bought up and converted into flats. Those flats are bought by couples, which means that half the previous tenants are left looking for accommodation. They cannot afford high rents, so there are enormous housing lists and urgent housing problems, which the local authority cannot meet.

Male unemployment in Hammersmith is 8 per cent., compared with 3·4 per cent. in Greater London. There is a decrease in the number of manufacturing jobs but an increase in office jobs, which of course require special skills. The impact of the silicon chip will bring long-term problems even there.

I should like a response from the Minister about the effect, particularly in this area, of the ownership and use of public land by such public agencies as British Rail, the Central Electricity Generating Board and North Thames Gas. I do not want to encourage the Government in asset-stripping of nationalised industries, but publicly owned land of that kind that can be made available to local authorities or private developers should be put to better use, within the needs of industry as a whole.

Youth unemployment is high and people are unemployed for longer periods. There is a growing rate of inner urban decay, exemplified by the fact that Hammersmith's rate of admissions to psychiatric hospitals is the second highest in the GLC area and the suicide rate is twice the national average. That cannot be solved or improved by public expenditure cuts.

Hammersmith bravely took the decision, some years ago, to create the Riverside studios and to reopen the Lyric theatre. The Riverside studios has been an outstanding success, not only as a theatre but as a place for the whole family to go at weekends and also during the week. The borough will therefore need more money from the Arts Council, and I hope that my comments will be brought to the attention of the Minister responsible.

The Lyric theatre was developed by the council. I pay tribute to the leader of the council at that time, Barrie Stead, who put in an immense effort to get the theatre going. I and a number of others were uncertain whether money was being used effectively, but it is a good project. It was not funded at all by the Arts Council and it needs help.

Some time ago I suggested to the local authority that it could do much for the area surrounding the canal that runs across Wormwood Scrubs if the Manpower Services Commission was used to improve those facilities. That will not be done now, and I regret it, because College Park, in the north of the borough, feels isolated and let down. The work will not be done by private entrepreneurs using their tax handouts, and it is unreal to expect it to be done. There was an opportunity for economic vision that unfortunately has been scorned.

3.13 p.m.

I apologise for my absence from part of the debate, but I associate myself with many of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley). I shall depart from this mood appropriate to the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem that appears to be engendered by debates on London and talk of something more optimistic—that is, the announcement by the Minister for Housing and Construction earlier this week of a strengthening of improvement grants.

When the Conservative Party was last in charge of the Hammersmith and Fulham borough council in 1968–71, we had the highest level of improvement grants of any local authority. Since then, that form of assistance has largely died away and in 1978 the number of improvement grants issued in the country as a whole was one-quarter the level of the grants issued in 1973. The upturn which will now be incorporated in the housing Bill is very welcome. The problem in housing is not just one of shortage—although there is a serious shortage in all our great cities—and I have previously made suggestions as to how this could be ameliorated. Because of the reduction in improvement grants, the quality of the houses that are occupied has deteriorated sadly in both council-owned and privately owned accommodation. That is why I welcome the fact that grants will be made available not only to house owners but to tenants of private rented accommodation and council tenants.

My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) mentioned that in Lambeth the council had spent a great deal of money acquiring properties which came into municipal ownership and were then left standing empty. Our problem is not as bad as that, but under the previous Labour Government 6,000 perfectly good dwellings were bought for £30 million, and at the last count 1,200 were standing empty. That is because the council does not have the resources of professional or trade skills to bring them up to scratch at the pace required.

The net effect of this gigantic expenditure is such that it would have been more appropriate had it been spent on building more municipal accommodation. As things are, we have 1,000 fewer units of accommodation in our borough than we had before the programme started. The opportunity for whole areas of the inner cities to be treated as housing action areas and for that facility to be available to council and private tenants, as well as to house owners, is tremendously important.

I have a document produced by the Conservative-controlled Hammersmith council saying that these characteristics of empty housing include very high and increasing levels of homelessness and a high vacancy rate—one of the highest in London. The problem is not that the previous council was buying up property but that there is an immense number of privately owned properties being kept empty deliberately.

Certainly, but the hon. Member told us earlier that the fact that privately rented houses were being kept empty deliberately was not a cause of homelessness. Now he says it is. We accept his apology. I was thinking about the 1,200 houses owned by the council. This is a scandalous state of affairs.

I remind the House of the findings of the 1971 census. I am sure this is true of the whole of London, just as it is true of that part of London which the hon. Member and I both represent. In 1971, one-third of our fellow citizens still lived in houses without bathrooms, indoor lavatories, proper cooking facilities and facilities for storing food. In others words, these houses were without the basic amenities that we, to say nothing of Parker Morris, accept as being necessary for civilised living.

I thank the Minister for his announcement and I look forward to the housing Bill. I believe that hundreds of thousands of people in substandard accommodation can now look forward to the benefits resulting from the upturn in the provision of housing improvement grants.

3.17 p.m.

I am glad to see the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, in the Chamber, because I shall address my brief remarks to the question of Health Service planning, a matter which is extremely important in the London context. The Health Service in London is in a state of severe shock and crisis. The reason for this is the combination of problems affecting the Health Service in London—public expenditure cuts in general and the impact of resource reallocation by the metropolitan regional health authorities in particular.

It is clear from the public expenditure White Paper, published yesterday, that the relatively modest increase in Health Service spending in real terms that would take place in the next financial year is far less than what is required to meet the general needs of the population. For example, the increasing number of geriatric and psycho-geriatric patients in hospitals in London and elsewhere has not been fully considered. It is clear that we need 1·5 per cent. real growth in Health Service spending each year if we are to meet these needs. What we are getting is a 0·9 per cent. increase. When the resource allocation takes place to the four metropolitan regional health authorities, we shall see, in real terms, that their share will have been squeezed because of the combination of RAWP and the fact that Health Service spending is less than population trends require.

For us not to have discussed this today would have been disgraceful. We must pay serious attention to the way in which RAWP affects the Health Service in London. Since its establishment, RAWP has led to plans for closing 20,000 hospital beds. In the North-East Thames regional health authority area we are due to lose 5,370 out of a total of 21,462 beds. The reductions in staff required of the four regional health authorities, on their most recent planning estimates, mean that 24,000 jobs will be lost in London. That is a result of the RAWP proposals.

Since 1968, partly because of RAWP and partly for other reasons, 120 hospitals in London have been shut down. This means that the destruction of acute beds in London will proceed apace. It also means that people will no longer receive the operations they need. Some individuals will not get any treatment at all: some of us will be treated in the community by overstretched and reduced social services and many people will be "treated" by their families. We know that in metropolitan areas such as London the prospects for caring for people inside the extended family are now far poorer than they were 20 to 30 years ago.

For those reasons we need a very far-ranging inquiry into London's health service, as was recommended by the report of the Royal Commission on the NHS. I hope that the Government will announce that they are in favour of such an inquiry. We know that the proposals for removing one level in the Health Service administrative structure are going out for consultation on 1 December. I hope that we shall get a firm assurance from the Government that the whole question of the regional structure of the Health Service in London will be dealt with in those consultations.

The Government should also give a firm date for a proper debate in the House about the Royal Commission on the NHS. The debate we have had so far has been scrappy and short. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House want to discuss this question at some length so that we may know the Government's intentions. We should freeze the RAWP allocations between London and the rest of the country in a situation where the Government are cutting back, in real terms, on public spending in the NHS.

A London regional planning authority should be created which would recognise the difficulties and problems of the London area. We need a serious commitment from the Government that they will set up an inquiry into the London regional planning arrangements as was set out in the report of the Royal Commission.

3.24 p.m.

This debate has demonstrated a fundamental difference of philosophy between the two sides of the House. Hon. Members on both sides perceive the hardships and waste that result from unemployment, bad housing and deteriorating transport and public services in many parts of the country.

On the Labour Benches, perhaps, we perceive them more clearly. We also perceive extravagance and waste, both corporate and private, resulting from the affluence of certain sections of our society. Both sides of the House recognise that there must be a limit to public expenditure and that waste must be eliminated. However, waste occurs not only in the public sector that the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) mentioned. Any hon. Member who is subjected to PR lunches occasionally will realise that tens of thousands of pounds are wasted every day on lunches and on entertaining people, not for the purpose of doing better business but in order to provide a tax-free perk. A tax-free perk to someone who is paying 75 per cent. tax on his top slice of income is three-quarters as much a waste of public revenue as any public expenditure.

We agree that all services should be operated with the minimum of waste. We have heard examples of waste in local authority expenditure. Waste can be found everywhere. One cannot achieve economies by a sudden and drastic reduction which is not planned. If one does not plan, one engenders more waste than one saves.

The Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth area health authority plans a reduction of £4 million in expenditure. It planned to reduce expenditure by that amount in the period up to March 1981. In August it was suddenly instructed to reduce its expenditure by £4 million by March 1980. To achieve that, it must close hospitals. It has decided to close the Cumberland hospital—allegedly, temporarily.

The Cumberland hospital is small, modern and well equipped. In the past year a vast amount of money has been spent on double glazing. Last week, when I went to the hospital, which is under sentence of death, I discovered that rewiring was being done. If that hospital is reopened, more money will have to be spent on it than can be saved by its closure, because of the danger of vandalism.

This hospital is being closed without consultation with the community health council, as required by law. Both the community health council and the local Conservative council oppose the closure. It is alleged to be a temporary closure, so that consultation is unnecessary. Everybody concerned knows that it is not. This excellent hospital, which is providing a valuable service, will be closed and public money will be wasted as a result. The Government's approach to public expenditure cuts can be compared to the man who says that he will continue to run his car but will save money by buying no more oil.

3.27 p.m.

I preface my brief remarks by replying to some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) about Lambeth's use of publicity services to argue its case. His argument is absurd unless he wants not only to lash Lambeth with cuts but to gag it in the process. Does the hon. Member think that the Central Office of Information should not be used by the Government to argue their case?

The hon. Member said that £5,000 was to be spent by Lambeth on next week's march. I cannot understand how he arrives at that estimate. It does not comprise the wage bill of Lambeth trade unionists who will support the march, because the workers are taking no pay for that day.

The cuts will hurt Lambeth and other inner city boroughs on a major scale. Lambeth has a housing stock of 33,000. There are 15,000 on the waiting list and 1,400 homeless families in bed and breakfast accommodation. That does not include the single homeless who have problems.

The irony is that because of overcrowding there is ill health through damp, some tenants are on Librium, Valium or tranquillisers and some are taking psychiatric advice in hospitals because of their housing problems.

The GLC has effectively abandoned its strategic housing role. It wants to dump its housing problems on Labour boroughs in London and effectively to slam the door on the inner city by its policy of selling council houses. It will thereby deprive many of those who live in the inner city of a chance to move to outer London boroughs.

The seriousness of the Government's policy in the inner city must be in question, given their failure, for example, to analyse the social cost in the inner city in any real depth. A public inquiry is currently being undertaken into the Coin Street area, in the north of the Vauxhall constituency, which is considering proposals from private developers to erect office accommodation that would be the equivalent of 11½ Centre Point buildings. Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs), have said that not only has industrial employment in London declined by over 40 per cent. in recent years, with service employment falling by 9 to 10 per cent., but that technological unemployment is coming with the introduction of word processors and data processing machinery in the office sector.

Even a modest estimate puts unemployment in this sector, in clerical and administrative jobs, at 20 per cent. over the next 10 or 15 years. A report by the Manpower Services Commission puts the figure at 30 per cent., as does a French Government report on banking and insurance. A report undertaken for the Siemens company in Germany estimates that unemployment in the office sector will reach 40 per cent. in the next 10 or 15 years.

Given the chronic decline of the inner city area and in services, and the potentially devastating loss of office jobs that may arise from the introduction of new technology, it is crucial that planned policies should be adopted for the use of these technologies in the London area. That means that there must be purposive planning rather than reliance upon the random impact of the market mechanism. That, in turn, means public spending based on people's needs rather than on purely commercial and private profit or the wrong-minded monetarist policy of the Government.

In the last two and a quarter hours there have been 23 contributions by hon. Members. I think that those who, as a result of the restraint exercised, have been enabled to speak late in the day would wish me to express their appreciation to those who earlier exercised restraint. For that I thank hon. Members also, on behalf of the Chair, for the co-operation that they have shown.

3.33 p.m.

We have had a wide-ranging debate. I shall try to deal with as many points as I can, but clearly some fall outside my departmental responsibility. However, I shall draw those to the attention of my colleagues and I shall reply where appropriate. Equally, in the limited time available I shall try to cover as many points as possible.

I begin by complimenting my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) and Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) on their maiden speeches. We all appreciated them very much. I shall refer to some of their points later.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) opened the debate in his normal logical manner. He was right to remind the House of unemployment levels in London, although my figures do not agree with his. The adjusted September figures show unemployment at 4·5 per cent. for males and 3·7 per cent. in total, not one in nine. It is estimated that there were more vacancies in London in September than there were jobless.

My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) made a most cogent analysis of the unreal attitude of the leader of the Lambeth council, who seems to be a very poor imitation of Walter Mitty living in a dream world of his own creation while others pay his bills. I invite hon. Members to compare the facts of the neighbouring boroughs of Lambeth and Wandsworth. Last year Wandsworth voted its Marxist masters out of power and Lambeth did not. The first results were that Wandsworth held its rate. Lambeth increased its rate by 40 per cent., more than double the London average.

The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) referred to a circular, but it did not apply to Lambeth. The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) sought to perpetuate the same myth that the cut in direct tax was to be paid for by cuts in services. We made it clear before the election, for those capable and willing to listen, that that would be achieved mainly by a transfer from direct to indirect taxation. Those are still the facts.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, East is usually objective, but on this occasion he dredged up nonsense that I hope can be buried fathoms deep. He quoted selectively from the White Paper, paragraph 38, the first sentence. For the record, I will read the following sentence:
"The Government expect that savings will as far as possible be made by further increases in efficiency, by reducing or eliminating low priority provision, by developing policies designed to help people to help themselves and others, and by promoting collaboration with the voluntary sector."
His concentration on the first sentence totally distorted what the White Paper has to say.

The hon. Gentleman asked a question about ILEA. On purely education grounds, ILEA cannot be proud of its record. Its costs per pupil are extraordinarily high. The hon. Gentleman also attacked the GLC for cutting London Transport subsidies. That is not true. The subsidies have not been cut, nor are there any plans for overall cuts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North, in his maiden speech, paid a well-deserved tribute to the voluntary bodies of Enfield. A sensible local authority such as Enfield fosters and encourages voluntary initiatives. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport will pay attention to his words about the M25, as, I hope, will the GLC.

The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) spoke about fire. He knows that fire cover in London is provided by the GLC. It meets Home Office standards. I advise the hon. Gentleman to study the facts given by the GLC and not to cause unnecessary worry. I do not recall his speaking up when London's fire cover was left in the hands of the Services because of the Fire Brigades Union dispute.

I do not have time to answer the hon. Gentleman, who has this moment walked into the Chamber.

The GLC does not agree that there have been any incidents of serious shortfall because fire cover is provided on an area rather than a station basis. When the will is there, staff cuts can be made with no compulsory redundancies. The GLC has slimmed its staff by over 3,000, saving £26 million a year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington made a thoughtful maiden speech. He spoke of his hope and expectation that the Government would make a positive contribution to London's housing problem by their shorthold proposals. Those proposals will make a much-needed addition to London's rented private housing stock.

I welcome the net increase of 502 personnel to the Metropolitan Police. However, it is necessary to remind the House that, although that is encouraging, the shortage of manpower in London is still serious.

The question was raised about vandalism in flats. We are studying a fascinating experiment in Hammersmith and Fulham using closed-circuit television in council tower blocks to prevent vandalism.

The hon. Member for Waltham Forest (Mr. Deakins) spoke about rates. He said that his authority was holding its services. We have not asked for that. Authorities are asked to consider whether all the services that they provide need to be provided. If services are inflated, it is no answer to hold them.

The hon. Gentleman went on to speak of cutting housing expenditure, as did the hon. Member for Woolwich, East. In Greenwich the total underspend by the Labour council was £4.6 million in the two years 1977–78 and 1978–79. In Waltham Forest, in those two years the Labour council has underspent by £2.9 million. It ill behoves those hon. Members who scream—

No, I shall not give way. It ill behoves hon. Members to scream when they find that their local authority was not spending the money set aside for it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) spoke about the way in which the Rent Acts have contributed to the decline of the private rented sector. The Government are well aware of that. We are examining the problem urgently in the light of the forthcoming housing Bill.

I am glad to welcome the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) to our London debates. The right hon. Gentleman is showing a great interest. I stress that the White Paper is for 1980–81. The urban programme provision for 1980–81 rises to a greater level than the expected outturn for 1979–80. We have said firmly that in real terms the resource allocations for the inner cities will be maintained at the same level as that for the current year. I shall comment later on the UDC. Much of the delay was occasioned by the internecine warfare waged by the then Labour-controlled boroughs that could not agree among themselves.

I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman's views on Dockland. He advanced those views after only two visits. Those of us who have been trying to deal with the intractable problem for many years and who have paid numerous visits to the area know the grim reality. They are not under the illusion that has been created by the right hon. Gentleman. If everything was working well, why did two of the boroughs—Tower Hamlets and Southwark—oppose the docklands southern relief road when it was generally agreed?

I am happy to give way, but if I do so I shall not be able to deal with the issues raised by other hon. Members. I think that the House would prefer me to deal with the various issues that have been raised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet said that little progress had been made in dockland.

The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) asked two questions about ILEA. First, legislation would be needed for a change such as that proposed for ILEA. Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has seen the various proposals concerning education in inner London. He has taken no decision. He will bear in mind all the arguments in his assessment.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) for what he said about insulation grants. The recent changes that we have announced go some way to meeting the important matters of which he spoke concerning the elderly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Taylor) referred to the important subject of homeless persons. Judging by the examples that he instanced, there appears to be no need to rehouse those who make themselves intentionally homeless. We shall gladly take into account what he said in the current review of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, on which we hope to reach a decision fairly soon.

The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) spoke about hospitals. As the hon. Gentleman knows full well, the relevant decisions are taken locally by area health authorities. It is for them to consider their own priorities and to make savings where they will do the least harm to patient care.

The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) spoke of the slashing, as he described it, of Arts Council grants. The grant this year has been reduced by a minuscule 2 per cent. All commitments for this year will be met.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) highlighted the problems caused by profligate and greedy boroughs to the careful boroughs. We are not unaware of the problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) urged education authorities to extend the multi-use of school premises that otherwise remain unused or under-used. My hon. Friend spoke of the great demand for such facilities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) spoke of the special problems of Havering on rate support grant. I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend has my hon. Friend's views drawn to his attention when he is taking his final decision on the RSG. I am glad that my hon. Friend reminded the House that many of the hospital closures now under discussion were initiated while the previous Government were in office by area health authorities and regional health boards that were staffed with their creatures. It is not right to say that all the closures have been initiated since May. That is a known fact that should be put on the record.

I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend the points made about the problems of the hospital closures in Hillingdon. For most of the debate the Under-Secretary of State has been listening. He will do his utmost to see what can be done to take those points on board.

The right hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) raised the question of London Transport. He was worried about the service. In particular, he mentioned that there were many unserviceable buses. I am informed that there are now 1,000 unserviceable buses. One of the reasons why they are not back on the road is that the unions will not allow them to be serviced outside London Transport garages. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will use his influence to get those buses repaired.

Those buses need to be replaced as they are totally unsuitable for London road conditions. Therefore, is there not much sense in the attitude taken by the Opposition?

Although those buses are capable of repair, the right hon. Gentleman knows that new buses are on order. I shall check my facts. I should hate to be unfair to the then right hon. Lady—I think that London Transport was bounced into ordering those buses by Barbara Castle when she was in charge.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) mirrors the energy and common sense of his fortunate constituents. He was right to pay a well-deserved tribute to the City of London for what it gives to the nation.

The view expressed by the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) was narrow and blinkered. He did not understand the facts. The hon. Gentleman claimed that no single element of support had been shown by Wandsworth parents for Wandsworth council's proposals on education. The same attitude was held by the British Leyland shop stewards but was repudiated when the silent majority were allowed to vote in a secret ballot. However, I shall draw the facts to my right hon. Friend's attention.

I welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) said about our proposals for home improvements and insulation grants. London has special problems.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] Yes. I am now getting back to the speech I prepared. I did a courtesy to the House which most Ministers in the previous Government did not do. They just bleated their way through briefs prepared for them. I did the House the courtesy of answering the points. I propose to make the speech in my own way.

As the hon. Gentleman is in the mood for courtesies, he may care to improve his reputation by withdrawing what he said when he referred to the many hundreds of people who had served in public capacities in the past five years as creatures of the previous Government.

I used words that I have heard used by Members of Parliament on both sides of the House. I now use the word "appointees" instead. I meant no disrespect. I merely meant that the Labour Government appointed them. The right hon. Gentleman knows exactly what I meant. However, I am perfectly happy with the word "appointees". The meaning is exactly the same. The decisions they take are those of the previous Government, who appointed them.

London has special problems. Its economic prosperity is related more than that of any other region to the general state of the country's economy. We need, therefore, to look first at the Government's overall economic policy.

The key to our economic revival must lie with the sector that creates wealth—the private sector. Far too often Governments have hindered rather than helped it, and we are now striking off the fetters which have been holding it back. We have reduced the burden of direct taxation, to begin restoring the incentives for individuals to create wealth. We have reduced the level of DLT, to help the development process get under way again.

Our fiscal policies to encourage the creation of new wealth are coupled with a concerted effort to cut down the drag caused by inessential controls, whether controls by the public sector over the private or by different tiers of the public sector over one another. The cumulative effect of measures, each of which may by itself have seemed justifiable, has become intolerable. We must make certain that costs imposed by controls are justified by the benefits which they bring.

Within the responsibilities of my Department, planning controls are criticised particularly often as causes of delay and frustration to worthwhile development.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spelt out clearly what he feels the planning system has to do. He has placed particular emphasis on the need to help small businesses to establish themselves and grow. There is, for example, the need to avoid taking an excessively rigid view of non-conforming uses.

Within the direct control of my Department, we are urgently considering ways of cutting down the time taken to produce appeal decisions.

Another of my Department's initiatives, which should help private sector development to get under way, is the proposal to establish a register of vacant land in public ownership—something that was asked for a few moments ago—coupled with a power of direction that the land be offered for sale. Shortage of land for industrial development is a major problem in parts of London. Land hoarding by public authorities in older built-up areas has repeatedly been blamed for dereliction and for contributing artificially to inflated land values. We should soon have the machinery to make sure that the retention of land by the public sector is publicly justified.

The corollary of our measures to reduce the burden of taxation on the private sector is our commitment to reduce the level of public expenditure. Reductions are essential to free the resources for the private investment that we so desperately need. Indeed, they are essential to our economic survival.

I do not quite understand why we have heard so much about cuts. It is unrealistic projections that have had to be brought back down to earth. No one would suggest that this process can be painless. It is easy to plan for increased expenditure. There is never any shortage of things that it would be nice to do. The difficulty lies in facing up to the need to live within one's means. We shall not be diverted into irresponsible soft options.

Local authorities account for over a quarter of public spending, and it is essential that their expenditure be contained if we are to achieve the necessary savings. It is nonsense to suggest that these requirements, which arise from the Government's strategic control of public expenditure, represent an erosion of local government's freedom. We regard our public expenditure requirements as essential to the economic health of the country and in no way incompatible with our wish to give a greater measure of freedom to local authorities from detailed interference from the centre—a wish that we have already translated into action.

Let me put into perspective our plans for local authority spending. We have asked for a 3 per cent. reduction in expenditure this year below Labour's unrealistic plans—that is to say, a reduction of 1½ per cent. this year over what local authorities spent last year—rather than growth of that amount. The further 1 per cent. reduction that we are seeking next year means that local authority spending in 1980–81 will be brought down in real terms to the level of spending in 1977–78.

The last Government were planning for continued growth in local authority spending, yet one cannot ignore the poor levels of growth in the economy in the last five years. In present circumstances it is far easier, I suggest, to plan for reduced spending than to be forced into it by an economic crisis and then to comply with IMF instructions.

London has sometimes in the past seemed to be specially singled out for bureaucratic harassment. An obvious example was the need for developers to obtain an ODP before they could apply for planning permission. We promised to abolish this requirement and we did so as soon as we could after taking office.

We also promised to review the role of the Location of Offices Bureau. We did so, and my right hon. Friend has announced that it will be abolished.

We said that we would re-examine the policy of dispersing civil servants from London, based on the outdated Hardman report. We decided to go ahead with some of the planned moves which were at an advanced stage of preparation or which made sense for other reasons. Many moves have been halted. This will prevent the loss of some jobs which inner London can no longer afford to lose.

Industrial development certificates have a continuing role as part of regional policy in allowing large, mobile projects to be identified. Under the previous Administration, however, they obstructed small projects. We have raised the exemption limit from 12,500 to 50,000 sq ft, and this again should reduce bureaucratic interference with the growth of London's economic base.

One restriction peculiar to London was that its local authorities were prohibited from advertising the commercial and industrial advantages of their areas. We quickly did away with that piece of nonsense and announced in Cmnd. 7634 that we intended to abolish 300 controls exercised by central Government over local authorities, and control over London advertising will go altogether.

Much attention has quite rightly been concentrated today on the areas of London in the most urgent need of revival. When we were returned to power, we decided to take a careful look at the machinery set up by the previous Government to tackle the problems of declining inner city areas before reaching our conclusions. Ministers attended a round of inner city partnership committee meetings and consulted the leaders of the authorities involved. I am chairman of the Hackney-Islington partnership and have welcomed the opportunity of seeing what it is doing to tackle the formidable problems that it faces.

We fully recognise the problems that the inner areas face and are committed to reversing their decline. We believe that the partnership and programme authority approaches have proved useful and we shall retain them in a streamlined form. However, our view of the role of the public sector in reversing the decline is markedly different from that of our predecessors.

The right hon. Gentleman has not been here throughout the debate. I will gladly talk to him afterwards.

We see this as an enabling role. The private sector must provide the bulk of the investment, and the efforts of the voluntary sector must be engaged to help build up a strong self-reliant community. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) for what he tried to do, but he had the wrong emphasis.

The hon. Gentleman made a point of some importance. He said that Ministers had had a careful round of visiting the partnerships. Am I right in believing that only one meeting of the docklands partnership had been held before the Secretary of State decided to abolish the whole approach without any prior consultations with the authorities concerned? Does the Minister think that is a sensible way to proceed with elected local authorities?

The right hon. Gentleman must forgive me if I tell him to read Hansard. I dealt with that matter extensively before he graced us with his presence.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced that he intends the resources available for the urban programme in 1980–81 to be at about the same level as for 1979–80. The urban programme has been protected from expenditure reductions as far as possible in the context of our overriding economic priorities. Local authorities must accept that a partnership goes both ways and that they must harness private enterprise and play their part in encouraging private housing into their areas.

We have put a stop, among other things, to the wholesale municipalisation of housing stock which meant that some authorities were going to the estate agents and bidding, thereby stopping people in the area from having a chance to own their own homes.

Earlier, I said that this was not the time to debate in full the problems of the urban development corporation. I have dealt with that matter in some detail. It is not a new problem. I recall raising the matter in this House more than six years ago. The response from the authorities in the area has in most cases been very slow and there has been internecine warfare.

I do not retract from that in any way. Today's debate has brought out the very clear problems of housing in London—

— and the special place that housing has occupied in the tangled web of London's problems.

The Government do not need to be reminded about the difficulties of finding homes in London. However, unlike their predecessors, they are taking positive steps to help people towards obtaining the kind of accommodation that they want. We refuse to accept the view that the private rented sector is inevitably in decline. We believe that it has an important role to play in London's special circumstances, particularly in providing accommodation for the young, the single and the mobile members of the community. As I said earlier, shorthold will do much to encourage landlords to let homes which would otherwise stay vacant.

We also want to make it easier for people to become owner-occupiers in London. Life has always been difficult for first-time buyers, but the opportunities are there. The GLC has already made it possible for people to buy homes of their own through its homesteading scheme, and boroughs such as Wandsworth are following suit. Many councils are also actively selling council homes. Council tenants must be first-time buyers, too.

We also want to encourage private house building. We hear a lot about long waiting lists for council houses, but they are a poor measure of demand. They are often out of date and on a totally different basis. Although we recognise that the public sector has a valuable role to play in providing houses for the community, we think that the many people who put their names down for council houses would prefer homes of their own. We intend to help them to fulfil that dream. Where councils properly provide housing, I cannot repeat too often—

It being Four o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Statutory Instruments, &C

In order to save the time of the House I propose to put together the Questions on the four motions to approve the statutory instruments—items 2 to 5 on the Order Paper.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 73A (Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.)


That the Plum Material and Clearance Grants Scheme 1979 (S.I., 1979, No. 877), a copy of which was laid before this House on 31 July, be approved.

That the Fruiting Plum Tree (Planting Grants) Scheme 1979 (S.I., 1979, No. 876), a copy of which was laid before this House on 31 July, be approved.

Legal Aid And Advice

That the Legal Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) (No. 3) Regulations 1979, a copy of which was laid befor this House on 26 July, be approved.

That the Legal Aid (Financial Conditions) (No. 2) Regulations 1979, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26 July, be approved.—[ Mr. Berry.]

Question agreed to.

European Legislation, &C


That the Standing Order of 2 July relating to the nomination of the Select Committee on European Legislation, &c., be amended, by leaving out Sir John Eden and inserting Mr. James A. Hill.—[Mr. Berry.]

British Broadcasting Corporation (External Services)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Berry.]

4.1 p.m.

It might be convenient for Members to refer to early-day motion 135. They will see that it says that there should be no reduction in expenditure for the external services of the BBC. To mark the importance of the fact that 90 Conservative Members signed this motion, I have decided to share my time equally with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang), giving them slots of five minutes each.

I am glad to see the Minister of State here, although in unhappy circumstances. He is more than an old friend; he is in fact a fellow author. In 1977 we produced a pamphlet. It had only minor success, it is true, but it was written up in the leader column of The Times. I should like to quote from page 15 of this document, where my hon. Friend the Minister of State and I decided that
"We should strengthen the external services of the BBC and encourage our allies to do the same with their own broadcasting services."
Those were the days—happy, without care, and eminently sensible.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State speaks this afternoon less for himself and more for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. To put it another way, he is speaking less for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and more for its masters elsewhere, because the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is the reluctant victim of a strategy of equal misery, the authors of which are not simply marble-hearted but marble-headed in this instance. We are, after all, spending more money on defence, and the external services form one of the shrinking number of our lines of defence. In a rational world they should be strengthened, not cut.

It was announced yesterday that we are to cut the language services to France, Italy, Spain and other countries in southern Europe, and to Burma. Let me reexamine, briefly, one of these—the effect upon France of the ending of the French service of the BBC. At present 26½ hours a week are broadcast in French to Africa, 19¼ hours to metropolitan France, and three and half hours are common to both Africa and metropolitan France. I state these figures accurately because they were not stated accurately by the Foreign Office spokesman in the briefing he held yesterday to explain his policy.

The population of French Africa is 100 million. The audience of the BBC service runs into hundreds of thousands. In metropolitan France the audience is 1,900,000 or more. It is crazy that we should no longer wish to speak to France when all our problems—economic, military and political—are problems that we must solve in the context of Western Europe, and France in particular. Should the French service of the BBC be another sacrificial lamb to French policy?

The rest of the world is prepared to listen to us—that is, within Europe— because we understand what is happening in Europe, yet if we are prepared to close down the services to free Europe, not only shall we lose 150 experts, who will have to find jobs elsewhere; we shall lose the wavelengths as well, and other people will use them. If we go on with this policy at this time, we are out of our minds.

4.5 p.m.

I am grateful to the Minister and to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) for allowing me to make this short intervention. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining this important Adjournment debate. I should like to make two points to the Government. First, they should be increasing rather than decreasing the scope of our external services at the present time. Secondly, in view of our long and proud history of parliamentary democracy and Spain's recent history of Fascism, how can the Government possibly justify axing the Spanish service?

4.6 p.m.

I am pleased to support the case that has been so ably put by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley). I rise to speak more in sorrow than in anger. I very much regret that the Foreign Office is asking that the BBC should curtail its external services.

Because of the transistor revolution throughout the world, many millions of people in the developing world as well as in Eastern and Western Europe now tune in and listen to the BBC, because they know that by listening to that, rather than to the propaganda which Radio Moscow calls news, they are listening to the truth. The BBC overseas network is a network of truth. That network is a national asset.

One of the things that particularly concerns me is that once these wavelengths are surrendered they will be surrendered for ever. It is not like postponing the capital building of a project in Britain which can be resumed a year or so later. Once these wavelengths are gone, they are gone for good.

I have heard it said that it is only central London Members who seem to be concerned about this. I refute that very strongly indeed. During the summer I had many letters which alerted me to the fact that this was happening. I received a letter only yesterday from Wales, from a Mr. Darlington in Dyfed, who read an article in the magazine Now. I am sure that Sir James Goldsmith will be pleased to know that he has a reader in Dyfed. Mr. Darlington says:
"Please keep up the fight for BBC external services. My 18-year-old son says he is shocked at the extent that Russia and her satellites are dominating the radio waves."
He adds that the power of Russia's transmissions compared with the BBC's overseas broadcasts is much stronger. He ends by saying:
"millions around the world, starved of truth by their own governments, claim that truth does come from the BBC overseas broadcasting services. Truth propagation is the best defence investment we can make".
I draw the Minister's attention to the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) to the early-day motion. My hon. Friend thinks that this should be considered as part of our defence expenditure.

I find it surprising that, in the very months when we are considering cutting the overseas services of the BBC, the Home Service of the BBC has just opened a radio station for Shetland. I am not against that—good luck. But this is an example in miniature which demonstrates that we as a country are tending more and more to turn in upon ourselves and on our own problems and to disregard the wider problems of the wider world. I very much hope that the Government will be able to think about these cuts again.

4.9 p.m.

With the agreement of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) and the Minister, I wish to intervene briefly. Perhaps I should also declare an interest as a frequent broadcaster on the French service.

There are five major reasons, certainly in respect of the French service, why one hopes that the Government will think again. There is, of course, the traditional fact that the French service was born during the war. General de Gaulle broadcast frequently on it.

French is the official language of the Common Market. That is not an unimportant consideration. As the hon. Member for Aldershot has said, French is a key language in Africa. I would mention Zaire and also North Africa, where there is a growing political problem. One should not forget French Canada in this context. The hon. Member for Aldershot mentioned an audience in France of 1,900,000. In a sense, that is an underestimate. During the three political crises in France in 1958, 1962 and 1968, I believe that the audience was more like 10 million. One can never be certain that crises of this sort will not arise again.

I fear that this decision smacks of dangerous insularity. It is damaging to our alliance and relations with France, and also to the common interest with our American allies in the defence of the West.

4.11 p.m.

One of my earliest memories was being taken as a boy during the war to a substantial and well-protected building in Oxford Street and listening to an uncle of mine, who had the skill of speaking in Maltese, broadcast to the beleaguered people of Malta during the time that the island was under siege. It is not surprising that I should feel strongly about the announcement that the Government have made about cuts not only for Malta but also to other parts of southern Europe, as well as to Burma.

The BBC, feeling itself to be under threat, has been assembling a collection of letters from people who listen to its broadcasts in different parts of the world. I commend them to the Minister and to those Treasury Ministers who may have forced this cut upon the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Many of those letters are not simply convincing. They are very moving. From Lons in France a listener writes:
"Such a decision would be harmful to the prestige of the English language and to the efforts of Western liberal diplomacy which has striven to counter the anti-Western propaganda broadcast by the powerful transmitters of totalitarian States in Eastern Europe."
A listener in Serres writes of the Greek service:
"I heard in your programme that they are planning to abolish your external services. Why? Don't they know you are doing an excellent job?"
From La Coruna in Spain, a listener writes:
"The BBC has been like a window, opened to the free world. It is still the most trustworthy and complete information medium that we have."
Those are letters expressing widely held sentiments from three countries which in future will be denied the opportunity of listening to the BBC in their own language. We know that, overwhelmingly, people who listen to the external services listen in their own languages. Lord Trevelyan, a distinguished diplomat of this country, in his witty book "Diplomatic Channels, 1973" wrote:
"…the most effective British activity in the wide realm of information is the overseas service of the BBC, which is why the Russians dislike it."
Apart from the fact of the decision to make the cuts, surely the timing could not have been worse, or the choice of the area in which these cuts will be made. We are cutting these key areas at a time when the European Community is enlarging and when we are experiencing political difficulties with France.

I want to mention Greece and Spain. The decision to cut the broadcasts to Greece in Greek seems literally crazy. I do not know whether the Minister heard of the BBC week that was held in Athens recently. People came together from the political, social, diplomatic and academic world to pay tribute to the service that the BBC had given to Greece during the time of the authoritarian regime. Now, when good will is flowering in Greece towards the service of the BBC, that service is being cut. The affection with which the BBC is looked upon in Greece can hardly be overstated.

In Spain, where more than 500,000 people listen to the BBC in Spanish and which is an applicant for membership of the EEC, where we have and are likely to continue to have a problem over Gibraltar, where the explanation of our case in Spanish to the Spanish people seems to be of pre-eminent importance, we are going to cut our voice off from those Spaniards who might be influenced by it.

An international broadcasting authority which does not broadcast in French cannot claim to be a serious international broadcasting authority. Apart from the immediate audience in metropolitan France and in French Africa, the very fact that one is not covering French in one's services is an abdication of the role of a serious and important broadcasting authority.

In almost every one of the countries where the services in the vernacular are being cut, we have been through difficult years, when our broadcasts were often unwelcome. Suddenly, the barriers have begun to come down. The broadcasts are more welcome and the investment might be about to pay off substantially—yet now is the time that we intend to cut it.

On 23 November 1977, Lord Home of the Hirsel said in the House of Lords that the Overseas Service of the BBC was accepted far and wide as the most objective presentation of world events. He said that it was a British asset which should not be put at risk by paring and pinching. He said, indeed, that an increase in its budget would be a good investment. Many hon. Members echo those sentiments.

4.16 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) on initiating this debate. I have also listened attentively to the other hon. Members who have taken part. My hon. Friend quoted from the pamphlet which we both wrote. I think that he will concede that the words he quoted were written in the context of broadcasting to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and those services are not to be cut, as I think he knows.

Details of the effects of the Government's public expenditure review as it concerns the BBC external services were announced yesterday as follows:
"The grant in aid paid by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the BBC for the operation of the External Services will be reduced by £2·7 million in 1980–81 and subsequent years.
"The World Service will continue unchanged; and, subject to some economies, a plan to improve audibility will go ahead without delay. Vernacular services to the developing world and to those countries which do not enjoy free and open access to information will also be largely unaffected. The following vernacular services, however, will be discontinued: French, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Spanish (but not including Spanish to Latin America), Burmese and Maltese. There will be some reductions in transcription services and some adjustments to the capital expenditure programme to improve audibility."

Before the Minister proceeds to commit himself—as I fear he is about to commit himself—too deeply in this matter, may I remind him that there is almost certainly a majority in the House against the preliminary decision announced in the White Paper? I ask him to reflect upon that.

I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman says. I have a lot to say, because there is a lot of explaining to be done—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—explaining which I think will clear up some points which are not at the moment clear to hon. Members.

The cut of £2·7 million is a cut for 1980–81 and subsequent years on a figure of £47·9 million, which had been the planned expenditure for 1980–81, at 1979 survey prices. The grant-in-aid for the current financial year is £43·5 million, at 1979 survey prices. Provision had been made for an increase in real terms in the grant in aid in 1980–81 to meet additional capital expenditure.

The House will wish to note that even after the cuts the BBC's grant-in-aid will be larger, in real terms, in 1980–81 than in the current financial year. The reason for this is that substantial extra sums are provided for 1980–81 for capital spending to improve audibility. The Government have thought it right to maintain most of this capital spending programme, and that more than half of the £2·7 million cut should fall on some of the vernacular services.

I am sure that the House will understand that the Government did not take these decisions lightly. We have been impressed by the intensity and depth of feeling expressed in Parliament, in the media, and by correspondence from many parts of the world in support of the BBC's external services, but the context in which this decision has been made is the overriding need to reduce Government expenditure. After taking everything into account, the Government decided that the BBC should not be exempted from making its contribution.

But, unlike almost everyone else, for the BBC external services economies will end with this contribution. As the House knows, Government Departments, including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, are being reviewed by my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord President, with the prospect that they will be obliged to suffer further staff cuts. The BBC external services will be exempt from that.

The contribution that the external services are asked to make is much less serious than many people seem to have feared.

I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will not interrupt me. I have a lot to say that is of great interest, and hon. Members can study my remarks in Hansard.

For months we have seen forecasts that either the whole Arabic service would be cut or that virtually all services to Africa might be cut, or those to Latin America or to Asia, or a combination of these. These were combined with predictions that in any event at least one relay station would have to go. None of these things will happen. As a result of careful discussion and examination between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the BBC over recent months, the Government have been able to produce proposals that involve very much more modest reductions than the BBC had feared a few months ago. I pay tribute to those who have worked so hard on the problem.

One national newspaper reported this week that the reduction would
"wipe out Britain as an external broadcaster to be taken seriously."
That is certainly not true. The World Service in English—for the information of the vast majority of people who have made representations to us, that is the BBC external services—remains untouched. I ask hon. Members to take account of the fact that when people write in about the dangers of cuts they are, in most cases, referring to the BBC World Service.

No, I will not give way.

No existing transmitters will be lost, and, indeed, audibility will be steadily improved. The vernacular services to countries that have closed societies, and to the developing world, with very few exceptions, are preserved, and will also benefit from improvements in audibility.

A total of £1·7 million of the reductions will come from the vernacular services. This is exactly the same sum as the previous Administration were planning to save on these services. Of the vernacular services that will be discontinued, French represents more than half of the programme hours being cut and costs more than £650,000. Any cut is, of course, regrettable, but I wonder how much damage this cut will do. The French do not broadcast to us in English; nor do the Italians. I wonder how many people there are in France who regularly listen to the BBC in French. I know that my hon. Friend quoted a figure of 1·9 million people as regular listeners. That figure was based on a poll taken by a reputable organisation. However, I do not think that people in France talk in the same way about the BBC external services as they do in Asia and Africa.

If people in France have a particular interest in Britain, or in the BBC external services, most of them are likely to be able to understand English. If so, they can listen to the World Service, which broadcasts round the clock and will continue to do so.

Much the same applies to the other European languages in the list, only one of which—Greek—broadcasts for more than one hour per day, at a cost, incidentally, of approximately £200,000 per year. None of the countries concerned broadcasts to us in English. Anyone in any of those countries who understands English can listen to the BBC World Service.

It has been suggested, since the proposed economies were first announced, that the BBC will lose wavelengths which it could subsequently never hope to regain. I can assure the House that it does not automatically follow that cutting a vernacular service means the loss of its frequency. The BBC World Service in English and vernacular services already share some wavelengths. I would like to assure the House that every effort will be made to ensure that existing frequencies are retained.

I declare an interest, because I broadcast frequently to France. Does my hon. Friend not consider that at this time there has never been a greater need for us to get our policies, and our understanding of Europe, across to the French people? This is done very successfully by the BBC European and French services.

Certainly it is important that we should get our policies across to the French people, but there are many ways of doing that. As for the reduction in transcription services and adjustments to the capital expenditure programme which together will provide savings of approximately £1 million, we expect that up to half of this sum will come from transcription services, which are concerned with the recording and distribution to foreign radio stations of BBC programmes mainly of a cultural kind. The remainder will come from adjustments to the capital expenditure programme to improve audibility. Provision has already been made over the next five years to the value of £25 million for this programme.

The latest technical information, however, suggests that it may not be possible to carry out some part of this programme in any case, for reasons entirely unconnected with the British Government, but what is certain is that by far the major part of this programme will now go ahead with all speed, resulting in substantial improvements in audibility.

Greece, about which the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) spoke so eloquently, is imminently joining the Western Community. The Minister told us that there will be a saving of what I consider to be the paltry sum of £200,000 as a result of cutting out the Greek service. Is he aware of the economic consequences for this country of what might be taken as a calculated insult by the people of Greece at this time—a time when so many British industrialists are trying to get into the Greek market with orders which could be worth millions of pounds to this country?

All the relevant consequences have been considered in what has obviously been a very difficult process of decision making.

I believe that all of us agree that the BBC's external services fulfil an important role and fulfil it well. All of us must regret the need for these economies. If our national output had grown as much as that of other countries over the last five years, if the previous Government had not so disastrously mismanaged our economy over the last five years and if they had not behaved in such a profligate manner in the last five years, things would have been different. The Government have had to find savings of £3½ billion in order to give our economy once again the chance to return to health.

The result is that there are many reductions in spending plans, which, individually, hon. Members will regret. Every hon. Member has his own priorities, but I believe that my hon. Friends will all agree that the broad thrust of the Government's decisions announced yesterday is necessary and right.

In that situation, I hope that my hon. Friends who have spoken in this debate will understand why the Government decided that the BBC external services should play their part and will agree with me that the reductions that the BBC has been called on to make will leave the external services as services of which Britain can still be proud and which will still exert a powerful influence for good.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Four o'clock.