Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever machinery or resources are provided to deal with this problem, it is important that the great cities should be firmly in control of the administration of those resources and that they should not be handed to some external non-elected body?
Yes. I am not in favour of handing over even important redevelopment projects to external agencies, with the caveat, which I think my hon. Friend will accept, that if a local authority wishes to bring in some form of additional assistance—I hesitate to say what it might be—it is up to it to do so and we shall not stand in its way.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the great anxiety which is being expressed by many authorities outside this group of cities lest we define the problem of urban areas too narrowly?
I have already made plain to the House that there are quite serious urban problems in nearly all our cities. I remind my hon. Friend that, given the available resources, if we are to make any serious impact we must concentrate on particular areas.
It perhaps was not worth hearing. However, will the Secretary of State—[An HON. MEMBER: "Tuck your shirt in."] It is a blue flag. After that rather bright beginning I will start again. Does that mean that the Secretary of State is waiting for the Budget on 29th March before making any announcement? Does he agree that, unless he produces some reasonable figures to back up what the Government have said about helping the urban areas in inner cities, it will have been a cruel deception?
I am not intending to make a statement before the Budget, but I am intending to make one fairly quickly afterwards. Of course, resources will have to be found if we are to help the inner cities. However, I am not in a position to anticipate any precise statement at present as to where exactly those resources are coming from.
I entirely agree that there has been a totally inadequate action programme to help the inner cities for many years past. I am at present inheriting studies that were set up in 1972 by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), who was then Secretary of State for the Environment. They are useful to have, but, my goodness, they have taken a long time. Since I have been Secretary of State for the Environment I have laid deliberate emphasis and stress on tackling inner city problems. I hope shortly to be able to tell the House my conclusions on the studies.
When my right hon. Friend gives his report to the House on the question of the inner cities, will he indicate whether part of that report will be on what the Government intend to do about derelict docklands in cities such as Liverpool, London and elsewhere? Secondly, what help will be given to assist the development of small businesses in inner cities where such businesses have been destroyed because of redevelopment?
My hon. Friend will understand that at this stage I cannot easily anticipate what will be in my statement. In my speech at Bristol, however, I indicated some of the lines of approach that we were pursuing. I shall send my hon. Friend a copy if he has not already received it.
The Secretary of State referred earlier to the fact that these vast reports were initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he and his Government have been in office for three years and that they are supposed to do something about this? Secondly, is he aware that the House wants an opportunity to debate these important matters, which concern hon. Members on both sides? Instead of giving the time-honoured answer that this is a matter for his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, will the Secretary of State say that he will press the Leader of the House to provide time to debate these matters?
With regard to the hon. Gentleman's first point, these reports take time. The right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) established the studies in 1972 but the reports became available only in December last year. Summaries have only recently been circulated, and we have yet to publish the full reports. We hope to do so shorly. I do not wish to make a conventional response with regard to the hon. Gentleman's other point. I would willingly have a debate, and I shall take up this matter with my right hon. Friend. I cannot do more than that because my right hon. Friend also has other claimants upon the time of the House.
In reviewing the inner city problem, did my right hon. Friend see the report of the debate on docklands on Monday during which I asked for £100 million investment by the Government in docklands to be diverted from existing new town development? If this were possible and were done, would it not mean that there would be no reduction in what already exists in those towns, and no overall increase in Government expenditure, but development where everyone wants it?
I not only read the debate on docklands but I was able to listen to the last half of it. I noted the point made by my hon. Friend, who has a close connection with dockland. At this stage I would not make a close link between the needs expenditure of the inner cities and particular sources where those funds can be found. We have to operate within the PESC limits, but clearly, if we are to help the inner cities, resources will have to come from other programmes.