Orders of the Day — Public Services (Greater London)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th July 1973.

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Photo of Mr Guy Barnett Mr Guy Barnett , Greenwich 12:00 am, 19th July 1973

I wish to draw attention to the problems of providing adequate public services for those who live and work in London. London, like other large cities in the world, contains a great deal of wealth and a great deal of poverty. It has an exciting variety in its cultural life, its historic buildings and its national and commercial institutions, but side by side with all this wealth there is poverty, multiple deprivation, congestion on the roads, and an overloaded public transport system, prob- lems of environmental pollution and of crime, and many examples of homelessness, loneliness and human despair.

Although we in London take pride in all that we have, we should also remember that for hundreds of thousands of Londoners the wealth does not exist. They are shut out because they cannot begin to afford what London has to offer, cannot in thousands of families make a decent life for themselves.

Those who visit London from the Provinces sometimes assume, because they see the bright lights of the West End, that the problems of London are small or non-existent. It is perhaps because of this that London receives less attention than it might in the House, less money than it needs from the Government, and less understanding of its terrifying problems from the nation at large than it should get. This is why I welcome this opportunity of raising this subject in this debate this morning.

The problems we face in London are getting steadily more serious. The burden shouldered by public services becomes greater and, therefore, more expensive. Because in recent years they have not been able to keep pace with the deteriorating situation, some of the public services are becoming dispirited and morale is being affected. It is no exaggeration to say that we are reaching a crisis in Greater London.

Obviously I cannot attempt to deal with every service and problem, but it is important at the outside to emphasise that the problems are inter-related. For instance, a failure to house people may throw a burden on the social services, on the schools, on the police, and on the probation service. But there is more to it than that. This very lack of adequate housing at reasonable prices and rents is making it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for the Greater London Council, the boroughs, the hospitals, the Inner London Education Authority, the probation officers, the police and the transport services to attract and hold the very staff they need to deal with an ever-growing variety of problems.

With the statistics of homeless reaching an all-time peak, with 500,000 people, according to the census, living in accommodation without their own bathrooms, hot water and inside lavatory, with 100,000 people lacking even the exclusive use of a stove or sink, with very modest houses built in my constituency at the beginning of the century now changing hands for £12,000 to £13,000, it is obvious that the housing crisis lies at the root of many of our problems. The actions and the inaction of the present Government in housing and land policy have exacerbated a steadily worsening situation.

In addition to all this, there are three specific problems which London faces to a degree not experienced by other cities in the United Kingdom, each of which places an enormous burden on its public services. These three are immigration, tourism, and the long-distance commuting which takes place from outside into the GLC area. I want to say a few words about each.

The census indicates that about 42 per cent. of new Commonwealth immigrants have settled in London and, in addition to that, London has received and is receiving large numbers of immigrants from Ireland, both north and south, and from other parts of the country, particularly those that have been devastated by the failure of past Conservative Governments to provide proper employment opportunities in the regions.

London has in the main welcomed immigrants. Many of those who have come have assisted in manning the very public services which I have been speaking, but they need to be housed, and their children need to be educated and often have special educational needs which have to be catered for.

Then there is tourism. The London Tourist Board says in its tenth annual report for the year ending 31st March 1973 that 80 per cent. of foreign visitors to the United Kingdom come to London. By my calculations, that means that at least 4½ million people a year come to the city. In July 1972 there were nearly 900,000 visitors from abroad, and, at the present rate of growth, next year we can expect to have 1 million foreign visitors in July alone. As welcome as foreign visitors are, they involve a considerable burden on the transport services. Homes and land for them must make way for hotels and have done so at an alarming rate in some areas of London, and many other public services paid for by the ratepayers are bound to be affected.

Lastly, long-distance commuting places enormous burdens on the transport system, on rail and on the roads. The GLDP public inquiry opening presentation on behalf of the GLC gives figures based on the census data which shows that commuting into the GLC nearly doubled between 1951 and 1966—from 240,000 to 467,000.

Now to take a look at some of the public services. I believe the schools situation to be crucially important. Last year my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) and I and many other hon. Members warned the Secretary of State for Education and Science repeatedly about this problem at the time when she was interfering with the negotiation of the London allowance. One estimate I have seen is that South-East London will be short of about 300 teachers when the new term opens in September. The Government must understand that this is a crisis. At the moment they are apparently burying their heads in the sand. A report in the Evening Standard on 10th July said: The Department of Education and Science are not convinced that the high turnover of teachers in London has anything to do with the London allowance. It should take a look at the Inner London Education Authority magazine "Contact" in which a teacher estimates that living in London costs him £400 a year more than living in the North of England, and that estimate takes no account of higher housing costs in London.

London teachers cost the ILEA and the outer boroughs £6·2 million per year more than the national average. Part of this cost is due to the special needs of the children of immigrants. London receives £3 million in special grants towards this extra cost but employs 2,000 extra teachers specifically for this purpose at a cost of about £5 million. Also, 2,600 teachers are specially recruited for teaching in educational priority areas and additional teachers are necessary because the number of children staying on after 15 years of age is higher in Inner London than it is in the rest of the country.

I come to the problems of transport. It is clear that with the Labour victory in the GLC elections there will be a radical change in the whole transport strategy for Greater London. The debate on urban transport planning underlined an almost total conversion away from orbital and radial motorways in cities and towards schemes for traffic restraint and greater reliance on public transport. I believe strongly that such an approach is right, but in the light of all I have said about the burdens borne by London on behalf of others it is imperative that the GLC should have an early assurance from the Government that the sum it was proposed to spend on the abortive Ringway I should be available for what even the Secretary of State appeared to admit on 9th July was the wise recommendation of the Expenditure Committee's Report on urban transport planning.

That includes phase II of the Fleet Line, capital expenditure on the high speed bus and a whole range of expenditure implied by The Times in its leading article earlier this month. It said: Public transport needs to be sold fullbloodedly as a system, beginning with market research in depth and leading not only to new and improved movement techniques, but also to city planning designed to support and draw the greatest benefit from them. Improved interchange, large-scale development over transport terminals. silent and fume-free systems for special areas, greater priority for pedestrians and cyclists, and stimulation of taxis and hire-cars—all might be expected to find a place in such a strategy. But plans to expand and develop all forms of public transport are liable to be frustrated by the growing shortage of drivers. London Transport is well known to be about 6,700 men short out of a total establishment of 60,000. Frankly, unless the drivers of buses and trains can be made a special case under phase 3, and housing close to depots and termini can be provided especially for them, the whole case which the GLC is putting forward is unlikely to be made possible.

I want to say a word or two about the police, because in this respect, too, London has special problems. Indictable offences in London, per thousand of the population, amount to 43·4 whereas the figure for England and Wales excluding London is 25·9. That in itself is enough to justify extra Government aid, but the burden falling on the Metropolitan Police is greater than that.

The recent visit of Dr. Caetano cost about £200,000, quite a hefty bill when it is realised that the annual cost of such activities is £4 million, of which the central Government, which presumably arranges all these visits, finds about £1 million. So the ratepayer is considerably worse off in London as a consequence of exercises of that sort.

I could go on mentioning other problems, but other hon. Members wish to speak. Situations similar to those that I have described could equally well be applied to social workers, weights and measures staff, probation officers, nurses and hospital staff, a host of jobs upon which the life of London depends.

I have three final points. First, the Government must take full cognisance of the extra cost of services in London. I understand from the GLC that no less than £182 million a year is necessarily spent by the GLC and the boroughs by reason of the high costs of running services in London, and that figure, incidentally, was arrived at after deduction of 50 per cent. of the addition cost to the police of the specific grant.

Secondly, there will be no solution to these urgent problems until the housing crisis in London is overcome, and that will not be done until speculation and profiteering in urban land arc ended and the lump outlawed. Thirdly the Government or the Pay Board must recognise the additional cost of living in London, particularly for those dependent on modest salaries and wages who are doing vital jobs.

I have only introduced a whole range of problems which affect our capital city. The bitter lessons of failure in other parts of the world, in places such as New York, as there for all to see. Unless we tackle these problems imaginatively, speedily and generously, the cost in social, economic and human terms is likely to be crippling. I therefore hope that the Minister will take to heart some of my observations.