We are now to discuss matters affecting London, its problems, needs and aspirations. I hope that by the time we finish tonight we shall have shown everyone that in London there are problems that must be seriously examined. I hope that in addition we shall have got rid of the mythology that all our colleagues in the Midlands, the north-east and the north-west form one massive group who are all in harmony. My constituents should have been here tonight for the previous debate. I have never come across so much back-biting, rowing and fighting in my life.
The Evening News is always very anxious to show our provincial colleagues as paragons of virtue. I see that that newspaper's reporters are not present for the debate, but no doubt they will write about it tomorrow. If they had been here they would have seen that London Members have a far better record of working together than our provincial colleagues appear to have.
I should like to deal with a number of factors covered by the subject I have chosen for debate. I begin with die question of the population of London. An argument goes on, but I do not believe that there is much information on the subject. There is little doubt that the population is decreasing in London. We have lost about 1 million people since the peak years. Our major problem is that it has not been a balanced fall. We are left with a residual population which needs more help and therefore demands more resources. It is interesting to note that in 1971 16 per cent. of the population of London were elderly. Now, by 1976, 18 per cent. of the population is elderly. That means that a far greater amount of resources has to be devoted to the needs of the elderly in London.
We have a greater influx of one-parent families. For example, just over 10 per cent. of all the households in Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets are in receipt of supplementary benefit. That gives a good idea of the problems being faced by those living in these areas. A recent study undertaken by the DHSS, using its 23 indices of social deprivation, places eight inner London boroughs among the 10 most deprived administrative areas in England. The study also listed a further six London boroughs with similar problems, although on a smaller scale.
Those eight boroughs contain 4·2 per cent. of the population of England—1,766,000 people. That is greater than the total population of Merseyside, about which we have been hearing so much for the past two hours. There is a greater population in those boroughs than in the whole of Merseyside. That is clear evidence that London is a special case and cannot be lumped together with Merseyside or anywhere else.
We have had difficulties with jobs. There is the mythology that London is paved with gold, that everybody has a job, that our unemployment rate is next to nothing, and that there are no problems. That is absolutely untrue and has been for a long time. But it does not matter how often we repeat it, the mythology is still brought out. I will have another go tonight. I hope that a large number of my colleagues will take part in the debate and that as a result the position will be understood.
The persistent unemployment in London's inner areas is well above the national average. There has been a massive job loss over the years. We are continually pointing out that the number of manufacturing jobs fell from about 1½million in 1961 to about 800,000 in 1976. That is an enormous change in a short period. The rate of fall is about three times that of the average in England and Wales. That is vitally serious when taken into account with the other factors. The problem may be compared with those in the most severely depressed development areas.
It is interesting to realise that there are more jobless people in the GLC area than there are in the whole of Scotland. That is a statement worth repeating. If it is thought that I am being ungenerous. I add that there are twice as many unemployed people in the GLC area as there are in Wales. These unemployed people are concentrated in the eight inner London boroughs. The most severely affected areas in London have, I am told, 81,000 people unemployed compared with 46,000 for the whole of Glasgow. That is worth repeating for the benefit of Mr. Deputy Speaker. London has 81,000 people unemployed in the most severely affected employment exchange areas whereas there are only 46,000 unemployed in the whole of Glasgow. Both London and Glasgow have four exchange areas with more than 10 per cent. unemployed.
It is interesting to note that, on the other hand, Furness, which is a development area, had an unemployment rate of 5·9 per cent. in October 1977—less than the national average of 6·3 per cent. Yet it is a development area. It is worth recalling also that since 1970 the regional aid given to such areas as Furness has amounted to £1,627 million and at present is running at about £500 million a year. But London has not had a brass farthing of that money. One has to add to it the EEC regional fund since 1973, the benefit of which has gone to the very same areas that have carved up this huge amount of money. Yet London has not received a brass farthing from the EEC either.
We have a similar problem with housing. The number of households in Greater London has remained stable at about 2·6 million. Thus, the decrease in the population has not reduced the pressure on housing as one might have thought. By the end of 1976, inner London had 3·1 homeless households per thousand resident households compared with 1·7 per thousand in outer London. That again demonstrates the enormous pressure which the London boroughs are having to suffer. Their housing waiting lists are as long as ever, aggregating at about 200,000 people.
I want to pay great tribute to the Government, who have struggled so hard for the past four years to redress some of our grievances. Through various agencies such as the partnership schemes, the new Inner Urban Areas Act and various other inner urban area aids, the Government have tried tremendously hard to get to grips with London's problems. I believe that this Government will go down in history as having put a great deal of effort into redressing the problems of London, the first time that a Government have made such efforts. But, of course, our problem now is that it has all come a little too late, in the sense that we have a Tory-controlled GLC which does not seem to want to do anything. Its basic attitude, it seems, is to want to opt out of society. Apparently, it does not want to do anything.
I understand that the GLC runs its affairs at County Hall by press release. I keep in touch with the Evening News, which apparently is on the GLC's payroll. I understand that it wants to have nothing to do with housing or planning or transport because they are supposed to be someone else's problems. It seems that the GLC merely wants to be a bank lending and borrowing money on behalf of people and agencies. Yet I understood that the strategic control of housing, transport and planning was the reason for the GLC being brought into existence.
That brings me to that silly document, the so-called Marshall report. I recall with some interest that in 1962, when I was engaged in local government in London, I argued against the Herbert Commission report. I tried to draw attention to the ridiculousness of the structure for the GLC that was being proposed, the whole absurdity of it and the problems that it would raise.
At the 1962 conference in Belfast of the Association of Municipal Corporations I argued on behalf of my local authority against the concepts of reorganisation proposed by the then Tory Government. I was opposed by a man called Frank Marshall. He argued that it was a great idea and that he could not think of a better one. He committed himself to that ridiculous reorganisation. I began by telling him to mind his own business. I did not think that Leeds had any locus to tell us in London what sort of reorganisation should take place in London. I did not want him to tell me the sort of second tier that I wanted in London, because I did not want one. I thought that the borough is the most important part, and therefore I told him to leave matters alone and go home. In the event, he and his colleagues did not. They were supporting their Government. They are all dyed-in-the-wool Tories. I understand that, but they were interfering in London, and my authority came out of the AMC in that year as a sanction against the attitude of the Frank Marshalls of the world.
I read Frank Marshall's report with some interest, because 16 years later he suddenly appears to believe that much of what I was saying in 1962 was about right. The man who was so much in favour of it and would not mind his own business is now brought to London to try to go back those 16 years and start from the beginning. Therefore, it comes very hard to listen to such a chump who 16 years later wants to prove only how wrong he was all those years before. To those who try to tell me that we need to listen to Frank Marshall my answer is that I need to listen to him as much as I want the plague. I do not want his advice.
It is not surprising that the GLC Tories employ him, because they seem to be running the council in the oddest way. As I understand it from my Labour colleagues there, it is the demise of local government democracy. Every attempt is made to make sure that matters are not discussed. They are almost instant decision makers. One would not mind that if the decisions were in the interests of London and of Londoners in the way that I have been describing they are needed. But they do not decision-make in that way. They are making decisions not to make decisions that will have to come to the council to be discussed. This is a total negation of local government, and therefore when so much is not being scrutinised in the way that it should be it is not surprising that London is not getting the benefit that it ought to get and would get if a dynamic party were in power at County Hall.
The council can decide to spend £250,000 on putting ratepayers' money into the pockets of the advertising media, but apparently it cannot decide to spend £250,000 on cleaning up derelict sites which it owns in my constituency. There are 22 such sites, and the council could clean them up at any time that it liked. If the council did not have the money to do that I could understand it, but it can apparently spend £250,000 on publicity. If the council pleaded poverty and said that it would not possibly do what I am suggesting, I could understand that. I should reject its reply, but I should understand it. But it does not say that. It has money rolling out of its ears and yet it is not prepared to do the important things that it ought to be doing to get rid of the dreadful eyesores in my constituency.
I rather expected the hon. Gentleman to say that. I thought I helped him on his way. I said that the council is not claiming that it does not have the money. It has the money that has been given to it by the Labour Government. What I referred to was the figure of £250,000 which the council is spending on publicity for the purpose of selling houses. All I am saying is that as the council is responsible for the derelict sites in my constituency its first priority should be to take account of those disgusting sites. That is its duty, but it has abrogated it. In deciding to get rid of nice little houses with gardens, and at the same time to leave my constituency in the appalling condition that one finds there, the council is acting disgracefully, and is not helping us one bit. I have a situation which I have to protect.
It may be the wrong place, but the hon. Gentleman may not be with us the next time and it will be the right place. What I have to protect is the situation that in my constituency I have nearly all flats and no council houses with gardens. Therefore, I am left in the position that if this wretched organisation at County Hall gets its way, a housing Colditz will be formed in my constituency. Once one is in, one will never get out. What the Tory administration at County Hall is currently engaged upon is an attempt to get an escape route blocked, because at present, by being able to apply for transfers into other areas, my constituents have an opportunity of enjoying some of the desirable areas which have GLC houses with gardens. Some of them are in the area of the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). But the pursuit of this idea means that my constituents will not be able to move out. The important object of this debate is to make it quite clear exactly what the Tory GLC is getting up to.
There is another interesting factor which prompts me to make my protest about this situation. Only last week I was asked whether I knew that there were 200 empty flats in my area. I said "Well, that is a disgrace in itself. Why don't you let them?" I was told "We cannot. They are difficult to let". This is now a euphemism which is used. We used to call such places dirty, filthy hovels, but now they are termed "difficult to let". I asked "Why are they difficult to let? Why are they such that decent, nice people find them appalling and will not take them?" The answer is that no money has been spent on them. The GLC is doing the minimum amount of work, as a result of which it can now give weight to touting around in order to find people to come into my constituency and live in these wretched places which ought to be pulled down and rebuilt to modern standards.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I tried very hard. Basically, those dwellings should never have been built, but we know how mean the Tories were in about 1928. They built the most appalling stuff. They actually put baths in the kitchens because they felt that that was as far as they had to go. They built the most appalling housing because they were building what they called houses for the working classes. We still have not got rid of those dwellings. I continually harassed the then Labour LCC and the Labour GLC about these places. But the significance, which the hon. Gentleman still cannot grasp, between the last four years and any previous four-year period is that today's Labour Government have provided considerable funds to the GLC, and also to the London boroughs, in order to do something about this matter.
My complaint about the Tory GLC is that it is not spending the money wisely. It is not doing the jobs which it ought to be doing. It is spending too much of its time plotting merely to stop my constituents from being able to transfer to accommodation which is more suitable to their needs.
The hon. Member for Chingford stopped me at the right point when he asked me about those wretched blocks of flats which were built by his colleagues in those days. The only thing which was missing was the old Tory workhouse slogan stating "Give up hope all ye who enter here". The present Tory GLC is again trying to introduce that concept in inner London.
I hope that my colleagues will develop more examples in regard to London. In opening the debate I hope that I have done enough to justify my request to the Government that now the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies are to be set up there can no longer be justification for Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees and Scottish and Welsh Question Times. Undoubtedly all those subjects which would have been discussed in the Grand Committees and at Question Time will now be dealt with by the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies.
The problems of London are very much greater than ever were the problems in Scotland or Wales. I have sought this week to persuade my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council to provide for London a Grand Committee covering the 92 constituencies of Greater London and also to give London a Question Time to enable us to press much more forcefully the many issues which we should be discussing with Governments of all political persuasions so that we may do the best we can for London. I hope that my right hon. Friend will review the reply which he gave to me yesterday which indicated that he was leaving the matter to somebody else.
I also urge the Government to ensure that inner London is declared a development area.
My London colleagues do not wish me to say it, but—this is true of civil servants or anybody else—the average worker in London is paid more for the work he does than anybody else in the country.
I do not wish to take up my colleague's view on that topic, but he can discuss it with me outside if he wishes. We can discuss the advantages or disadvantages.
We can discuss the matter. Furthermore, in the discussions on rate support grant for the coming year I hope that the Government will stand firm on the fact that London has been deprived of its rightful share of rate support grant over a very long period. Although we have always agreed that we could not accept that London should have its total entitlement, the present claw-back is a little harsh in view of the number of problems which London is facing. London is losing many hundreds of millions of pounds which are rightly its own within the rate support grant. Therefore, we have a right to ask the Government to stand firm in the future to make sure that we receive the amount of money that is rightly due to us.
I wish to inform the Conservative administration at County Hall that it will help if it buckles down to the job of spending wisely the money it is obtaining from the Government, or will get out and hand over the job to those who can carry it out. We have had enough gimmickry. We are looking for action from County Hall. That is the very thing that we are not having. London needs so much urgently—factories, jobs, decent homes, schools, hospitals and a whole new emphasis on the quality of life. Those are the entitlements of the people of London. Londoners are as entitled to them as people in the rest of the country.
I hope that at the end of the debate we shall have highlighted the fact that the only Government who have taken to heart our problems have been the present Labour Government. I hope that we can look forward to their continuation in office.
It is refreshing to have the presence of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) during one of our London debates. Something that has been missing in all our London debates hitherto has been the hon. Gentleman's gay and lively wit. I am glad that we now have that with us.
I was surprised that 21 Labour Members put down their names for the Consolidated Fund debate on London. I begin to wonder why they did so.
Certainly. There are not 21 Labour Members present now. I see only nine Labour Members.
Why did they ask for a debate on unemployment in London? Could it be that it is an election year and that the smell of the hustings is in the air? Did they want to demonstrate that a Labour Government have done well in curbing unemployment? If that was their Intention, they could not have chosen a worse subject. During the past four years of the Labour Government we have seen the highest levels of unemployment in Greater London since the war. That is the achievement of four years of Labour Government. The rate of growth of unemployment in London is faster than the national average rate of growth.
I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) did not speak for long about unemployment in London. We had a tirade about the housing policies of the GLC, tower blocks and the inhumanity of the large council estates that are so common in many parts of London, but we did not have much about unemployment.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we do not discuss London matters often enough in the House. A proposal that I believe would have support on both sides of the House is to start our Friday morning sittings at least once a month with an hour's Question Time on London matters. That proposal was put forward by some of my colleagues and myself about a year ago. As the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch said, Scotland gets a fair crack of the whip at the time of the House, as does Wales.
In the experimental stage, I think that it would be better to have the attendance of Ministers from the various Departments to which the Questions relate—for example, transport, housing, rates and employment. These are the responsibilities of several Departments. I believe that it is premature to talk about a Minister for London.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch said that we should have a London Grand Committee. That may be a useful experiment. I am a member of the Scottish Grand Committee. I am assiduously whipped not to attend. If we have a London Grand Committee, will the hon. Member for Nottingham, West attend? Will those responsible ensure that he does not attend, at least not at this late hour?
I turn to the subject of the debate—namely, employment in London. The figures are disgraceful and shattering. When the Government took office, the level of male unemployment in London was 2£B7;4 per cent. It is now 7£B7;5 per cent. That is higher than the general level for the United Kingdom. It has risen at a more rapid rate than national unemployment.
The level of unemployment in St. Marylebone has gone up from 1£B7;8 per cent. to 7£B7;9 per cent. The number of men out of work in my constituency is nearly 6,000. That is almost the highest figure for any labour exchange in London. That number is exceeded in only one other labour exchange—Brixton. That is a grim and depressing picture.
We all know that the drop in jobs has been due particularly to a decline in manufacturing industry in London. The reasons have been well debated on other occasions. There has been the closure of small firms through planning relocation. It has been too much of a hassle for them to try to move, so they have closed down. The loss of jobs through development in central London has been enormous. Another factor has been the costs of keeping businesses going—higher rates and rents and costs of operation in the centre of the city.
London has suffered from the generally inimical attitude of planners in the recent past: the belief that industry must be tidied away on to estates on the edges of towns and taken away from the very places where small firms grew up—for example, a garage on the corner of a street. That tidying up was the planners' contribution to the economic death of London. I hope that those attitudes have now changed. They have certainly changed in the centre of London.
Many people say that the death of dockland has dominated London. The decline of dockland is a significant element. But, looking at the latest figures and adding up the labour exchanges north and south of the river in dockland, we find that the number of male unemployed, at a generous estimate, adding in some of the outer fringes of dockland, is about 15,000. If we take inner north-west, as it is called, which covers Camden Town, Fulham, Hammersmith and St. Marylebone, there are 21,000 unemployed. The significance of those two figures is that, although the decline of dockland is important and very significant, there are fewer unemployed in dockland areas than in the four areas to which I have just referred.
I hope that people will not believe that a simpliste answer to deal with the problem of London is somehow to regenerate dockland. That is not so. St. Marylebone has a higher number of unemployed apart from Brixton, but no Minister has offered the unemployed in St. Marylebone and central London £35 million or job subsidies of that kind.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned dockland, half of which is in my constituency. Is he not basing his argument on the wrong figures? He mentioned current unemployment. It is estimated that there are now 20,000 fewer jobs in my constituency than there were just over 10 years ago? Does not that point to the importance of the rundown of dockland?
I accept that point entirely. Some of the factors to which I referred earlier have also contributed to the rundown of jobs.
The attitudes of successive Ministers have not been helpful in this matter. In other debates on London the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) accepted some responsibility for the wooden thinking in Government Departments in the mid-1960s. A Labour Government introduced planning laws and office development permits to push work out of London. That policy, which has not been totally stopped, should be stopped. I do not believe that we need office development permits at all. London needs to act as a magnet to pull in jobs. However, the thinking in the mid-1960s positively drove firms out of London.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch said that the Conservative GLC was doing nothing about this problem and that a Labour administration was needed at County Hall, but a conference on unemployment was summoned two months ago by the Conservative-controlled GLC. It was called the London Employment Forum and I have with me the document that emanated from that conference. I cannot recall being invited to a conference at County Hall on the problems of unemployment in London when Labour was last in control of the GLC. I had endless invitations to attend conferences on problems concerning canals, housing and transport, but the recent conference was the first GLC initiative on unemployment matters—and it was taken by the Conservative-controlled council under Mr. Cutler and Mr. Brew. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch was wise to keep off unemployment because Labour's record at County Hall is abysmal and appalling.
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is trying to claim, but many of us have been attending industrial forums in London for the past five or six years. They have been taking place in Hackney for a very long time and in Wandsworth. The GLC was trying to get in on the act. It has been of no use because the document that the hon. Gentleman has will be of no use and he knows it.
To be fair to the Labour GLC. it should be pointed out that there has never before been such high unemployment in London. I understand that Labour's slogan at the next election will be "All except 1·55 million back to work with Labour" It is only when we get a Labour Government increasing unemployment that such conferences become necessary. Perhaps that is why they have not been held in the past.
I welcome such a fair intervention. My hon. Friend is right in emphasising time and again the point that we shall be making, especially if this is election year. Labour has driven up the levels of unemployment in London.
Let us be positive and consider where we can see an end to this rising level of unemployment. We have to do two things. First, there must be a positive change of attitude among planners, both centrally and locally. There should be a positive attempt by the Government to ease planning controls on commercial and industrial development in the centre of London. They should try to create a climate that will get firms wanting to develop in these areas without feeling that an avalanche of planners will descend on them to deal with fire regulations, stairways and so on.
This will not come about merely through pious declarations. It will require a positive act of the Government to try to ease planning controls. I am not so naive or crude as to say that we should abolish these controls, but there must be a definite effort by the Government to make the environment more attractive to firms to establish, develop and expand.
My words of wisdom apply to Nottingham as well. I shall be pleased to campaign in all those marginal seats in Nottingham to make sure that Conservative Members are returned in as many as possible.
The second thing we need to do is to encourage the growth of small businesses in our inner cities.
There is no doubt that the large companies will not be the big job creators in the next five or 10 years. The small businesses will be putting on jobs. The Government stumbled upon this fact about a year ago. They appointed a Minister to deal with small businesses, but one could be forgiven for not knowing who he was. It was a well-kept secret until the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was appointed and a new impetus was given to the development of small businesses. This is only a beginning. We shall get job creation only through small businesses.
Let me remind the House again of the successful enterprise called Clerkenwell Workshops. Out of an old Victorian warehouse in Clerkenwell, which no one wanted at all, this group has created a place in which 350 people are now employed. This operation has been carried out by a handful of people. Very creatively, they took over this big warehouse and divided it up roughly with breeze-blocks into smaller units, rented out at £2 per square foot. The biggest problem encountered was the planners, who said that there must be fire escapes here and fire doors there. It was an absolute misery.
That operation has created more jobs in Clerkenwell than the whole of the Manpower Services Commission has created in Clerkenwell. That is the scale and the difference of the operation.
As the example that the hon. Member has given is within the London borough of Islington, part of which I represent, I hope that lie will pay tribute to the Labour council there, without which this operation would not have been able to go ahead. Perhaps I may also point out—I am sure that the hon. Member will correct me if I am wrong—that to the best of my recollection a good deal of Government money was involved.
First, no Government money was involved at all. Secondly, I would feel a bit more enthusiastic about the London borough of Islington if it had not, six months ago, slapped a compulsory purchase order upon Clerkenwell Workshops—to buy it, to bulldoze it down and to build another tower block. Thank heavens that the London borough of Islington came to its sense. As Clerkenwell Workshops is not in my constituency, I wrote to the hon. Member concerned saying that that was an absurd and daft proposal.
This group is now expanding and doing work. It is a non-profit-making group. It is doing a big operation in Camden on the granary site. I am hoping to encourage it to find a site in Westminster or St. Marylebone, although sites there are more difficult to find.
However, it is that sort of operation that is typical of how London really started. London did not start with planners and all that. It started with little men setting up their businesses and creating economic activity, which generated the need for housing and more businesses. If the economic life of our capital is to be regenerated, that is the only way in which it will be done.
That is absolutely right. That is the view that I take. Large parts of East London are full of old Victorian buildings which are standing empty.
I am glad that we have had this opportunity to debate the problems of employment in London. I am sure that when Londoners come to read this debate and see the proposals being put forward from the Opposition Benches, they will come to only one conclusion—that if the economic activity of our capital is to be regenerated, it will be done only under a Conservative Government.
I should like to tell the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) that, by and large, I, too, am contemptuous of planners, and I have been so especially over the last few years. However, I do not think that he ought to take the matter as far back as he did, when we had the happy days of no planners at all, and say that somehow London was a wonderful city.
One does not have to turn back the clock very far—though it is a little beyond my lifetime—to the turn of the century to picture a London that was absolutely squalid and disgraceful and of which I would think not even modern-day Tories would be very proud. The most appalling slums were built in the heart of an industrial area. That created, at the turn of the century, a job for all local authorities, whether they were Tory, Labour or Liberal, in trying to clear up an appalling mess. Planning, therefore, was right.
I speak with some pride of a local authority which has a record that is second to none in London in dealing with the terrifying lack of planning of yesteryear, when the slums were all intermixed with the industrial areas. Densities were 860 to 900 persons to the acre. One toilet was used by five families, as was one tap.
In my lifetime I have seen those slums cleared. I look back with pride upon what was achieved by the sort of local authority with which I am proud to be associated. Therefore, I do not agree with the hon. Member in regard to the planners of yesteryear, but I am a little sick of the planners of the last 20 years, under Labour and Conservative Governments.
It is interesting that we do not have present the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). There is a great authority on London, if ever there was one. He is a bright bird. He is now writing articles for the Evening News explaining what ought to be done. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will confirm that in the past four years there have been about half a dozen debates on London, and I have taken part in all of them. So have many Conservative Members. I cannot recall ever seeing the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds here for a London debate. He is, of course, the Police Federation representative, so perhaps he has been busying himself on that, but he has not done too well there, has he?
I find it a little impertinent that what was a great evening newspaper, the Evening News, should have to employ a non-London Member to tell us how to solve our problems. We see the sad change of attitude that has come to what has always been a fine London newspaper when it stoops to that level. I have nothing but contempt for the Evening News both for the policies it has been following for some time and for the fact that it employs a man like the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds to write about London. Let us hope that it gives some publicity to this debate, but if I know the Evening News it will probably say that the matter was not even discussed, that London yet again was ignored.
Having made those remarks about the Evening News, for which I have contempt, and the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, let me turn to the guts of this issue.
The right hon. Gentleman is the last one to judge that. I merely want to ask whether, in accordance with the courtesies of the House, the right hon. Gentleman told my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) that he intended to make a personal attack upon him.
I did not do so because I thought that since the hon. Member was such a great expert on London he would be here tonight. Anyone can write the sort of rubbish that he has been writing. I would have thought not only that he would have been here, but that he would have been on the Opposition Front Bench. After all, the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) is working hard to get a position in the next Conservative Government, if his party ever forms one.
I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for St. Marylebone said. The exodus from London over the last 10 or 15 years has been appalling. Conservative and Labour Governments have had a hand in it. Let us therefore have no party political wrangle about that. The Tory Government did it from 1970 to 1974 and the Labour Government did it before that. We did it because Whitehall planners said that London was bloated, that it had too much industry and fat, and that our friends in the north and particularly in Scotland had to be helped. No capital city has ever been more generous to its regions than London was in sending its resources and people to help the north and Scotland. We did that repeatedly.
I admit—and I have said it before—that I was guilty of supporting that policy of yesteryear. I believed what the planners said, that London's industry had to be taken away. I remember pleading with a firm in my constituency, which employed 400 of my constituents, to set up business in the north—
Will the hon. Gentleman wait just one minute and sit down and be quiet? There was I, a Member of Parliament pleading with his constituents to leave their borough and go into new homes and a new factory provided in a different part of the country under the policies of the Government of the day—
I have news for the hon. Gentleman. I have yet to deal with decisions that have still to be implemented. If he will sit and be patient and listen to a very good speech, he will do all right.
The exodus from London was carried out at the behest of Whitehall planners who were a disaster. I name one of them —the great Professor James at the Ministry of Housing, as it then was. So brilliant was he that he got a chair at some university or other. It was he who produced the plans and figures showing that what he called the south-eastern region was so bloated that unless something was done London would explode. He said that therefore the jobs had to go, and I was one of those silly enough to believe him. He was wrong then and he is wrong now. The process was a disaster because it went much too far. We now have to recover from that. But I advise the hon. Members for St. Marylebone and Hampstead not to try making a party political issue of that.
I am telling the hon. Gentleman, if he is listening. From 1970 to 1974 the Conservative Government pursued that policy with even greater vigour than the Labour Government. I know because I lived through it. We have to try to remedy this disaster of the past.
I now turn to the what is very near and dear to my heart. Dockland is part of my constituency of Bermondsey. Today I represent an area that has been derelict for a great number of years. It was derelict throughout the reign of the Conservative Government from 1970 to 1974, and before that. I am ashamed of the neglect, of the lack of planning and of the lack of any enterprise there. I am sick of it. I am today a dockers' Member of Parliament without a single docker in sight, except for those who get their living in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), in the Royal group of docks.
Some people will be very offended by my speech tonight. Let it be so. I am contemptuous of the Port of London Authority, a public trust. Viability is the only thing that matters to it. Over the last 20 years, whether Tory or Labour Governments have been in office, the PLA, despite its terms of reference as a public trust, has had no policy other than to shut down and to sack. It has not given a tuppenny damn about the social consequences or the heartaches, not only in regard to what it has done on the river front but also in regard to the effect on small businesses inland, to which reference has rightly been made this evening.
That policy has gone on and on, and the PLA is still operating exactly the same policy, based on its viability argument, in shutting down the Royal group of docks, throwing thousands of men out of work. However, that is not the end of the story there. I have nothing but contempt for that policy, and for the PLA and all that it represents.
What should be the alternative to this policy? We have this great river, the Thames, the greatest river in the world, running through the heart of the greatest capital city in the world, and there is hardly any traffic on the river except for the odd pleasure boat. Whether we are Tory or Labour Members, we cannot but feel ashamed that there has not been enough ingenuity shown to ensure that the River Thames is better used. The PLA is concerned only with big ships, great cargoes, and masses of dock workers. That is not my attitude at all. I believe that there must be an entirely different approach to the river from anything that we have seen before.
When the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) was the Minister concerned I pleaded with him not just to have an inquiry into what could be done for docklands but to set up a development corporation on the same lines as those for the new towns. The new towns have always been successful. There is not a new town corporation which has not been a success, under any Government. I want to see a development corporation set up for docklands, and I also want to see a development corporation to deal with the river. Why should not the terms of reference for such a development corporation be the provision of housing and of industry and of trade on the river, backed with Government money? This should have been done in the past. Is it too late to do it now?
I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South will catch your eye, because he is able to talk with great knowledge of the Royal group of docks. He is an expert. I understand that about £30 million is to be provided by the Government in order to keep the Royal group of docks going for a few more months. What will happen after that? The PLA policy will still, I believe, be to shut down the docks and to sack the people who work in them. I believe—
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), but the question of the financing of the Royal group of docks has been ruled out of order. It is possibly in order to refer to employment in the docks, but many hon. Members who were wishing to raise the other aspect have been told that they would be out of order in doing so.
I hope that you will forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am the last to challenge any of your rulings, but, if we are talking about the closure of docks, we are talking about employment. That is logical. If I say in one context that the Royal group of docks may be closed and 3,500 men may lose their jobs, I know that you will he the first to agree that that is in order. In this context, no one can argue with that, so I am in order. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South knows all about the Royal group of docks and will explain why they should not be closed thus adding to unemployment.
To deal with the problems of dockland and the river, I want a development corporation with power from the Government, with finance and with terms of reference which will give London heart. The hon. Member for St. Marylebone cannot talk about anyone overstating the problems of dockland or say that that is not all that relevant because his constituency suffers from unemployment. If the river is revitalised and work returns to it, people in St. Marylebone and elsewhere—small businesses and large—will benefit.
There is another problem to which I hope the Minister will give special attention. How crazy can we get? Decisions were taken some years ago, based on the Hardman report, to send a large number of civil servants away from London. One decision was that 360 Government chemists in my constituency should be sent to Cumbria. That might have been justified when the report was published, but it is not right—it cannot be right—today.
We all accept that employment in London has changed dramatically from the days when we had all the fat and more employment than we needed. It might have been a good thing to send people to Cumbria then, but things have changed. Yet that policy is still to be followed. The Government still intend to send those chemists to Cumbria. How crazy can we get?
This decision will cost over £20 million for the provision of offices for 360 people outside London. The thing is so daft that they will even allow some of these chemists to stay because most of their work is connected with Heathrow airport. So there will still be a small nucleus in London. But the rest, whether they like it or not—and 98 per cent. do not want to go—must go to Cumbria.
Of course we have made representations. I have begged the Ministers responsible not to carry out this foolhardy policy in the light of London's new situation. I have been told that it is a Cabinet decision. Cabinet decisions can be unmade by Cabinet. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Employment is here. He could not possibly justify such a move at such a cost in such circumstances. If the Under-Secretary does nothing else tonight, he might be kind enough to refer to that aspect of my speech.
Is it really the Government's intention, in London's present plight, to be so daft and so impossible as to send such people to Cumbria with their wives and families? First, they do not want to go; second, the cost is astronomical and will only add to the unemployment among my own people.
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that as recently as 25th July the Under-Secretary of State for Industry refused even to meet a deputation from the Greater London Council, which still sought to persuade him not to allow this move? He would not even meet the deputation, so I add my support to what the right hon. Gentleman has said. We need some sort of answer. However, I have the feeling that the Minister present is not in a position to answer, because the matter concerns the Department of Industry and not the Department of Employment.
I cannot comment on that. I am not involved. However, I accept what the hon. Member has said. I am sure that he would not have said it were it not true. However, I can assure the House that if any Minister in this Government thinks that the right hon. Member for Bermondsey will let the Government get away with it, he has made the biggest mistake that he has made for a long time. I shall be seen by Ministers. I have a right to be seen. My work and my life in the Labour Party and in the House of Commons are enough for any Minister, I hope, to be prepared to listen to me. However, I hope that hon. Members will not take me too far down that path, because I have enough to say without that.
But that is a matter which some of us take very seriously, and we shall not put up with very much more.
I want to move on to discuss the sale of council houses. I suppose that the Opposition think that this will be a real money spinner for them at the time of a General Election, that it is a great story, and that it will win them a lot of votes. However, I know as much about housing as any Opposition Member. As a matter of fact, I was at the Housing Ministry for two weeks. That must be some record. One comment that can be made about my period at the Ministry is that I made no mistakes; I was not there long enough. But I had no successes either. However, I almost achieved my ambition to get that job. I wish that I had.
But, as I said earlier today in a Question to the Prime Minister, hundreds of my constituents living in council properties hoped and prayed to be transferred to housing owned by the present Tory-controlled GLC in the outer London boroughs. I can produce documentary evidence about it, because housing managers are now writing to us from the outer London boroughs saying "I am sorry, but there is no hope for you. Although you were earmarked for transfer, the flats and houses are now on the list to be sold."
There is an estate in my constituency built by the GLC. It happened to be a Labour-controlled GLC. It was started by the Labour-controlled council and completed just as it went out of office. They are excellent properties. Everyone is after them. They are to be put up for sale to the highest bidder.
Let me point out to the Opposition that no one is keener than I am about a property-owning democracy. I have always understood and upheld the idea of a property-owning democracy. I have been through it all—living with in-laws, living in a flat, living in council property, and now buying my own home. That has been my life. I know what it is all about. Without any hesitation, I say that the greatest of those is buying one's own home. I accept that. If a property-owning democracy means anything at all, it means that people should be encouraged all down the line to buy their own homes. But to say that and then to talk of people living in council properties, bearing in mind the great demand in inner London, means that if someone purchases a council property there is no possibility at all of a transfer.
No London Member worthy of his salt can talk of housing and ignore the fact that it is transfers again and again which solve London's housing problems. There is not an Opposition Member who does not know that that is true. Every time a house is sold, it is taken out of the stock.
In my constituency, as in many others in the same borough—including Walthamstow and Leyton, although the hon. Members who represent them are not here at the moment—we have a severe problem. There is simply no more land to develop for housing. Is the right hon. Member saying that the council tenants in my constituency are never to be allowed to buy houses in my constituency, that they can buy them somewhere else, but they have to move from Chingford if they wish to own their homes? I do not think that that is fair or reasonable.
The case that the hon. Gentleman is raising for his own constituency may well be valid. I do not know his area, but I know my own. I am speaking of the heartaches created by the blockage of people who are not allowed to move from my constituency into, say, this or somebody else's. That is the great disaster. The hon. Gentleman must accept that from me.
I may upset some of my hon. Friends when I say that I do not object, and never have objected, to people being allowed to buy their own property, wherever it is, whether it is council property or otherwise, provided it can be shown that the purchase of such property does no harm to meeting what I regard as social need. There are areas where council property dominates and the housing need is not great and there is no reason why people should not be allowed to buy. I would encourage and induce them to do so with cheap mortgages. It would save on maintenance. I could go through a whole range of reasons why a property-owning democracy is so much better. But let us not be blinded to the fact that thousands of ordinary folk are waiting for a good home by transfer which they cannot get by purchase.
The Department of the Environment is not my pin-up Department. Looking back over the past two or three years, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) that its record has been very good for London. It has done a great deal. Recently it has made it possible for the Docklands Joint Committee to be given millions of pounds to do a first class job.
Will somebody tell me why that Department, which is supposed to have a press office and all that flows from that, does not advertise what it is doing? It deserves the criticism of Conservative Members. It is so thick. It is unbelievable that a Department could allow that man Cutler across the road to get away with the rubbish he gets away with night after night, aided and abetted by the Evening News, which will print any of his rubbish.
The Department of the Environment should fight, because its story is so much better than that "phoney's". His latest one is that dockland should be an Olympic arena. Only Cutler could have said that. He is a gimmicky, rubbishy man, who just talks like a smart alec estate agent of what is best for the moment to catch the press.
Although I have been critical of the past, this Government's record is one of which I am not ashamed. But I hope and pray that the time is coming when the Department of the Environment will sell that record. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with some of my points. I ask him specifically to deal with the question of those civil servants who are still under the threat of being moved from London because of a Hardman report which is 10 years out of date.
You took me unawares, Mr. Speaker. I was not rising at that moment, but I gladly do so in response to your invitation.
It is a disgrace that London's affairs are debated so rarely in this House, particularly when one realises that we have spent many interminable months over Wales and Scotland. The only time that we seem to have to debate London is as a result of a Back-Bencher's initiative. In that respect I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch (Mr. Brown), who initiated the debate. Others of us have done similar things on previous occasion. This is the only way in which we can debate the affairs of our great capital city.
May I take up again the excellent suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebonc (Mr. Baker), of allocating a period of Question Time on a Friday morning specifically for London? As I said in an intervention, I would go a little further and ask for the appointment of a Minister for London. I say that because Greater London's population exceeds that of Wales and Scotland combined. Yet each of those areas has a Secretary of tSate sitting in the Cabinet, able to represent the views of his area at Cabinet level. London is deprived of similar representation. There is a case for a Minister for this city, not only because of its size but because of its grave and growing problems, many of which have been mentioned tonight. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch referred to the mythology which grew up in the past about a thriving and prosperous London. That is so. It is a mythology which persists. There are still those who believe that London's streets are paved with gold. Those of us who represent Greater London constituencies know that the truth is very different.
Having paid tribute to the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch for initiating the debate, I have to join issue with him over some of his remarks. He seemed to be using part of his speech as a peg on which to hang a somewhat intemperate attack on the Conservative-controlled Greater London Council. There seems to have been an element of double-talk in his speech. In one breath he was accusing the Conservative-controlled GLC of not wanting to do anything about London's unemployment problems, yet a few weeks ago he and others of his hon. Friend's denied the GLC powers which it had been seeking in this House through its General Powers Bill. This Bill would have assisted industry in London. It would have enabled the GLC to lend for industrial buildings, to guarantee finance for London's dockland and other areas. One of the schemes which would have been assisted in the context of that Bill concerned plans by a firm called Trammell Crow which had plans for an investment of £50 million and the provision of 12,000 jobs in dockland.
The hon. Member is well known for his fairness and decency. He will know that in that debate to which he was referring one of the reasons why a number of us opposed the GLC Bill was that we were convinced that the Inner Urban Areas Bill, as it then was, presented by the Government was a better choice. On the point about Trammell Crow, I understand that if it wishes to get the money which it requires it will be able to do so under section 86 of the Industry Act and, as far as I know, there is no doubt but that it will get the money.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is correct on that latter point. All I can say is that the GLC was extremely disappointed that the Bill failed as a result of the votes of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. While I acknowledge that the Inner Urban Areas Act is of some benefit, I believe that the two measures could have been complementary and assisted London in a much more effective way.
I thought that the hon. Member was about to refer to a previous occasion when he voted against that same GLC Bill. I moved the Second Reading and he and his hon. Friends voted solidly against it. It was only because we were able to whip up support that we were able to defeat him. The hon. Member is being thoroughly dishonest in his remarks about what happened last time. On that occasion, there were three clauses put into the Bill by Labour-controlled authorities, not by the GLC. The hon. Member must be sensible and honest about this.
I know the hon. Gentleman well enough to accept your interpretation of what he has said, Mr. Speaker. My understanding is that the two Bills were different and that different judgments were brought to bear on each occasion. If the hon. Gentleman wants to pursue the point, perhaps he can do so on some other occasion. I do not recall my votes against the Bill on the previous occasion if it was in identical terms to the one I supported. Perhaps he can send me evidence of that at a later stage.
As is now generally acknowledged, unemployment in Greater London represents a grim and still deteriorating situation. It is a blot on the face of our capital. One of the greatest loss of jobs has been in manufacturing industry, which is largely a reflection of the demise or removal of a large number of small firms. It is the small business that holds the key to future employment opportunities in London. One has only to reflect that if all the small firms in Greater London were able to recruit just one or two additional men or women, that in itself would have a dramatic effect on employment opportunities in the capital.
It is a grim and horrifying fact that between 1961 and 1974 London lost no fewer than 500,000 manufacturing jobs, seven times the national average. This emphasises again the gravity of the situation in London as compared with many other parts of the country.
When the figures for Greater London as a whole are quoted, they mask the reality of the situation in that, by lumping Greater London together, one is able to project a rather more favourable impression than is the case in some of the inner city areas. Happily, the employment situation in Bromley is nowhere near as serious as in such inner London areas as Poplar, where unemployment is 14·8 per cent., Deptford, with 14·1 per cent., and Stepney, with 13·6 per cent. These are some of the worst figures in the country and are a disgrace to our capital. Areas like Holloway, Fulham and Bermondsey are equally affected.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone recalled the thinking of the 1960s which drove so many firms out of London. The tragedy is that that thinking still persists. The case of the Royal Mint has been mentioned. The right hon. Member for Bermondsey quoted the case of the laboratory of the Government chemist with his usual force, vigour and outspokenness. I can only emphasise and support what he said. A number of my constituents work at the laboratory, so I know the feelings of despair they have at the Government's obstinacy in sticking to a decision made years ago when the situation was very different, at the Government's refusal to acknowledge the change that has taken place in London in the intervening period, and at the absurdity of pushing forward with the move at great expense and at appalling inconvenience to those families who are to be affected.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) referred to the fact that the Government had refused to see a deputation from the GLC about the matter. That gives me the opportunity to place on record that the GLC is now very much involved in this matter and Miss Shelagh Roberts has been in correspondence with the Department of Industry. In a letter in May of this year to the Secretary of State she referred to the impending move of the laboratory, and everyone acknowledges that the present accommodation is unsuitable and unsatisfactory and that a new purpose-built building is desirable. She made the point, which I think would be emphasised and supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House, that it would be much more desirable if an alternative location could be found for it in London,
if possible in one of the inner city partnership areas where its location would also be very much in keeping with the Government's policy of bringing new life to these areas".
I am sorry to say that in a reply dated 9th June 1978 the Under-Secretary of State referred to the fact that the move of the laboratory to Cumbria was made as part of the Government's dispersal programme in 1974—that is more than four years ago—and his letter concluded:
I can hold out no hope of the decisions being reopened.
That is just another indication of the blatant bias that exists at ministerial level against London in so many matters of this kind. London's voice is not being heard as effectively as it should be at Government level and I hope that this debate will play some small part in emphasising the strength of feeling amongst Londoners that our capital city is not getting a fair deal and that we expect our needs to be more sympathetically considered in the future.
I conclude my speech with a quotation from a document which was issued in connection with the seminar for London Members by the London Employment Forum, an initiative which has been referred to in this House and which I applaud as being a most useful
step in the right direction of informing hon. Members on both sides of the House of the problems of London at the present time and of creating an effective lobby at Westminster on behalf of the capital. The report concludes:
London represents too large a proportion of the national resources to be allowed to
decline further, and it has, on the other hand, a great potential which the country needs. It is this which now needs to be promoted in the interest not just of London but of the nation as a whole.
That, I think, is an effective theme for this debate. It is one that I support, and I hope that I carry the rest of the House with me.
This debate is about the problems of London, but when I talk about my part of inner London I am also talking about the problems faced by people in the inner areas of all the great cities of Britain. This is an important point, because in the last year since my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State published his White Paper on the inner cities there have been by-elections in three inner city areas and anyone following those will have seen from the publicity the similarity of the problems in Birmingham. Ladywood, Lambeth, Central, Manchester, Moss Side— and before I am interrupted, and I was brought up in that area—Nottingham, West.
On the other hand, there are parts of outer London which, while in the same city as Lambeth, Central, are a world away in terms of prosperity and amenities, and they are, I am sorry to say, represented largely by Conservative Members. Indeed, we have just heard a speech from the hon. Member for Ravens-bourne (Mr. Hunt), who represents such an area.
I make that point to emphasise that I do not really agree with the bipartisan attitude that has come out so far in this debate that London should almost become a separate province with its own Secretary of State. Nor would I go along with having a devolved London Assembly. I have often thought that had we described the GLC, when it was set up in 1964, as the London Assembly there would not now be such great support for assemblies in other parts of Great Britain. It seems to me that all the inner city areas throughout the county should have a fair share of the funds available, and in anything we say tonight we should not fail to recognise the very great deprivation which also exists in the assisted areas of Britain. We must, therefore, balance the needs of inner London with those other needs.
I certainly recognise the efforts that have been made by my right hon. Friend and by his hon. Friends in the various Ministries. I am glad to see present the Under-Secretary of State for Industry, who is a member of the Lambeth partnership committee. During the past two years the problems of the inner city areas have been revealed and explained in a way that has not happened before. I pay credit to the work undertaken by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) several years ago in beginning the studies. Practical steps have been taken, contrary to the point of view expressed by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker). The partnership committees have been set up, the Inner Urban Areas Bill has been passed and the programme for the next three years is largely agreed. There have been some concrete achievements.
The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to mention the fact that the employment exchange area in London with the highest unemployment was that of Brixton. I represent most of that area. In fact, there has been a considerable decline in unemployment in Brixton over the last year. It is still much too high, but there has been a decline, particularly in male adult unemployment. That must be recognised.
However, a great deal still needs to be done before the inner city policy shows results. I would say that to any Front Bench. I say it to my own, which happens to be the Government at present and will, I hope, remain so for a considerable time. The man on the Clapham omnibus is the lawyer's example of a reasonable observer of events. As it happens, most of the people on the buses of Clapham today are my constituents. By observations from their bus windows, from which they still see derelict sites, bad houses and closed shops and factories, I do not think that they are completely convinced that the inner city policy has begun to bite or is having a major direct impact on their lives. This policy needs to be sustained not only at current levels of public expenditure but at increased levels of public expenditure, especially in the inner cities. That is why I hope that we shall have a Labour Government who will see this policy through to its successful conclusion. I hope that they will not be replaced by a Tory Government who, in my view, in spite of the fine words of the right hon. Member for Worcester in The Guardian, would make massive cuts in public expenditure in the years to come.
Indeed, the high cost of travelling on a Clapham, or any other, omnibus or any other part of London Transport, is one of the reasons why people are increasingly looking for employment in their own home area, and increasingly finding it difficult to obtain that employment. Employment is the main issue of this debate, and that is the only reference to transportation that I shall make.
I come on to employment. I think—I say this in the context of what has been said by several other hon. Members—that we must come to the end of the stage of just congratulating ourselves on the discovery that the key to inner city decay is that firms have been closing down faster than they have been starting up. We have known for some time. The hon. Member for Ravensbourne said that 500,000 manufacturing jobs had been lost in London between 1971 and 1974. I shall not draw attention to which Government were in power during those years, because this is a problem which no Government have solved. The Labour Government are beginning to solve the problem. The diagnosis is correct, but the patients—the unemployed—who are suffering from the disease are tired of diagnosis and want some more direct cure.
The public authorities can no longer sit back and wait for the private entrepreneur magically to appear to solve their problems. They must do more than just make planning regulations more flexible or merely reduce the number of forms to be completed. I agree that both those steps are necessary and are long overdue, but there is now consensus on that score and the Government have taken action.
The Government must also insist on a certain proportion of inner city funds being earmarked specifically for projects of economic revival. Social and environmental projects are important, but we must clearly state that that is the second priority of inner city policy.
We can no longer make do with a subsidy system involving hand-me-down from assisted areas. The small firms subsidy is an excellent means of helping existing small firms to expand their work force, but it is restricted to manufacturing. We have heard about the decline in manufacturing and want more of it, but in Lambeth, for example, only 15 per cent. of the work force is to be found in manu- facturing. Many of the best possibilities for expansion and new jobs are in distribution and services. If the policy is to have any effect, those of us who represent the inner city areas should insist that the subsidy is extended to all small firms in the inner city partnership areas.
My hon. Friend referred to me rather gratuitously at the beginning of his speech. Will he at some point in his remarks deal with the argument that, for example, London Underground or any other transport system subsidises those who are more distant from central London rather than the people in the centre of London? There is a differential subsidy, and I am sure that my hon. Friend must be against that.
I hoped that my reference to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) would have been taken as being gracious rather than gratuitous, since I was the first of the Labour Members to admit that I saw something in the point he was putting. I know that my hon. Friend represents a part of Nottingham that includes an inner city area, and I am sorry that he was not more grateful to me for my reference to him.
I said that I did not intend to say any more about transport because it is a complex issue. I agree that the further somebody lives from central London the greater the probability that he will receive a higher subsidy than the person who lives in the centre of London. Furthermore, the person in the inner city will be at a disadvantage stemming from the structure of London Transport fares. Therefore, the issue is not as simple as my hon. Friend's interjection might suggest. I hope that he will regard that reply as gracious rather than gratuitous.
We have to recognise that although existing private enterprise must be given help to expand and survive in inner cities, this will make only a limited contribution to the number of jobs. There is no real prospect that large-scale private industry will come back to the inner city to a significant extent, given the overall national level of investment. Therefore, I believe that we need much more public intervention to create jobs. The Cooperative Development Agency will have a role to play in this respect, as I pointed out in my maiden speech two months ago.
Furthermore, we must give the National Enterprise Board a clear duty to set up small firms in inner cities and to place sub-contracts with the existing small firms, whether they be run by public or private enterprise. When we achieve effective planning agreements with a number of major companies, I believe that they should include a commitment to direct location of individual new plants in inner city areas.
All public sector policies affect employment in the inner cities. The largest employers in my constituency are the local authorities and the health services—and that is the case by a long chalk. Employment in these areas should be increasing, particularly as this involves desperately needed services. However, the opposite is now happening. The local authority education service in London, excellent as it is, is still suffering from the cuts imposed by the present Government in previous years, and because of restrictions imposed by the Government two schools in my constituency are losing teachers. When the term has ended, they will have lost them.
I cannot tell the parents at Santley and Loughborough schools that the Government are planning to pump in resources through the inner city programme. All that they want is to keep the present teaching resources.
My hon. Friend has referred to supporting small businesses in inner city areas. Does he confine himself to the areas that have so far been designated by the Government? He represents an area that benefits under inner city legislation, but does he have a view about areas such as mine in Paddington, and areas in neighbouring Camden, that have been excluded from the inner city proposals but none the less have concentrated areas of deprivation that would match any area in his constituency?
I should include other areas of inner London, but it would be dangerous if such support were extended London-wide. I have in mind the parts of outer London that already have considerable prosperity and have already attracted many firms from the inner city areas. There are many other areas of inner London that should be able to benefit from subsidies. That is because inner London is really one travel-to-work area. Many of my constituents, in spite of the high cost of fares, take a bus to Camden or to Paddington to work.
The Health Service is the second largest employer in my constituency. It is in a worse state than many other sectors. In common with education, it is suffering from the effects of cuts and standstills of previous years. It now faces further cuts. Under the proposals of the Resources Allocation Working Party, my area health authority faces cuts of £3 million a year. I do not dispute that there are regions elsewhere that have a lower level of medical services, although there is none, I believe, with a higher level of need. I object to the principle of levelling down. That means that the Health Service becomes uniformly inadequate.
Yesterday I visited King's College hospital in my constituency. I could hardly tell the doctors and staff of the Government's great inner city plans. All that they want is to hold on to the services and standards that they have already attained. They want to avoid having to close down the accident and emergency unit. That is now happening several times a week because they have a nursing shortage and because they are operating in a building that was built in 1911 for 10,000 patients a year and is now trying to cope with 84,000 a year.
Employment in London is naturally linked with housing. The point has already been made, and I will not labour it, except to say that the supply of labour will be drastically reduced by the lack of mobility that will result in inner London from the GLC's policy of refusing to accept its responsibility to house Londoners who cannot afford to buy homes of their own.
We are not concerned only with the selling of council houses, although that has had a disastrous effect on inner city policy. For example, in the borough of Lambeth there are 13,000 families on the housing waiting list and about 18,000 families in GLC flats, many of them prewar barrack blocks that are badly in need of modernisation. We should not argue about who built those blocks. The fact is that people are still living in them. There is no land left in Lambeth on which the council can build enough houses to help those in the two categories to which I have referred.
The only way in which the problem can be solved in an overcrowded and densely developed borough is for help to be made available from outside the borough boundaries, by making land and homes available in outer London where, apart from Chingford, which we have heard about this evening, the pressures are not so great and the resources are available. Many Government reports have shown that the housing resources exist in such areas.
The door has been slammed shut by the Tory GLC. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said, help from outside was the only hope for thousands of families in inner South London, be it Southwark or Lambeth, who wanted a transfer to a house with a garden for their children to grow up in and for their own old age. The GLC has stopped building in outer London. It is selling off the houses that it already owns in those areas either to borough councils or to tenants.
The policy is known as "giving tenants a choice" or "concentrating resources in inner London". Its effect in Lambeth is to deny families any chance, never mind any choice of a home. All that is concentrated in inner London is misery and despair.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that about two years ago, in answer to a Question about Lambeth council, the House was told that there were 50 acres of derelict land in Lambeth, much of which was owned by Lambeth council, awaiting development when the council could get round to it?
I was not aware of that answer. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would suggest that there are now large areas of potential housing land in Lambeth or that the Lambeth borough council, under Labour, has not looked hard for housing land in order to build as many houses as possible. The general point still stands.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, just across the boundary from Streatham, the Merton borough council has decided to slash its council house building programme by half over the next five years? Only half of the 300 houses a year that the council is proposing to build are to be offered to those in housing need. That is the response of Conservative councils in outer London to the kind of pressures that exist in inner London. It is impossible for those pressures to be relieved because of the attitude of Tory councils.
I do not want to make party political points, but I must agree with my hon. Friend.
I shall spare the House a quotation from The Guardian that I was going to read. But many thousands of households consisting of pensioners, single-parent families, unemployed and those on low wages—I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West that there are many people on very low wages in inner London despite what he thinks—will never be able to afford a GLC or indeed any other home. For those people all hope has gone.
So far the Labour Government have expressed disapproval of the GLC's housing policy. I think that they must now act to stop this frittering away of London's housing assets. Londoners in housing need have the right to decent housing wherever it exists, whether in inner or outer London. We shall be looking to the Government for action on that issue.
Returning more directly to employment, we must also take measures to help those who want to work but find it difficult because of family commitments. For example, there are thousands of vacancies for secretarial and office jobs at reasonable rates of pay in inner London. In Lambeth there are many women qualified for those jobs, but they cannot take them because they have young children and cannot find adequate day care, if the children are under five, or, if older, adequate care after school and during school holidays.
Many are one-parent families who are forced to go on supplementary benefit. During a recent lobby of Members by the London Gingerbread group, reference was made to a scheme in Croydon called Gingerbread Corner. The provision of child care enabled 66 single parents to work at a cost equivalent to the annual supplementary benefit payments for five of those families. That is an important point.
I promised not to be partisan, but I have to admit that has not converted me to being a pro-Marketeer. However, I take the point.
This fuller provision of day care and nursery education would also benefit children during their first formative years when, in inner city areas, many acquire disadvantages from which they never recover.
The most urgent objective of employment policy—this is my last point—is to provide more jobs for young people, and especially to give equal access to those jobs—to black youngsters for whom the unemployment rate is much higher, despite the growing educational success of some secondary schools in my area and in the inner city in general. These black youngsters are increasingly alienated from society when they leave school, as many have done in the last few weeks. They will have nothing to do except hang around the streets, because jobs are not available for them. The only time that they will think the authorities take any notice of them is when they are picked up as "suspected persons".
The youth opportunities programme means that every youngster has the chance of a training place. That was a great step forward by this Government. But after the training is over, there is not always a job. Discrimination in employment is an added disadvantage with which black people have to cope in inner London.
Unemployment creates fertile ground for racialism. Deprivation and unemployment in Lambeth are not just black problems. Working people, black and white, suffer from bad housing, lack of jobs, poor health services and a depressing environment. There can be no separate solution for the problems of black working people, any more than there can for the problems of white working people. They must both demand a joint attack on the problems they share, including a demand for greater public expenditure in the inner city areas of need. We also need a reallocation of existing public expenditure.
We spend too much on dealing with the effects of unemployment—unemployment pay, dealing with crime and vandalism and training people for jobs that do not exist. Perhaps we should spend more of that money directly on curing the disease of unemployment in inner London and then many of the costly symptoms would disappear.
Bearing in mind that 21 Labour Members put their names to this debate and considering the number actually in the Chamber, I must conclude that many of them have been unavoidably detained elsewhere. If other business has kept them away, I am sure that they will read Hansard with great interest tomorrow morning.
It has always seemed to me that Labour Members live dangerously when they initiate debates on London. If we look at areas with some of the worst housing and employment conditions in the country, we usually find that they have had Labour councils for some time —whether in central London or parts of Liverpool, Glasgow and other major cities of Great Britain.
The hon. Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) suggested that it was extraordinary that where one finds bad conditions, one finds Labour control and where one finds good conditions, one finds Conservative control. No doubt he believes that this is a coincidence—but perhaps it is not.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) mentioned the Clerkenwell Workshops. I do not know as much about them as he does, but I have followed their progress with great interest. They are employing about 450 people and this is the way to make employment in London. We shall do it not through job creation schemes and local or central Government intervention, but, unashamedly, through free enterprise.
In a newspaper today—not, I think, the Evening News which has come under
considerable attack from Labour Benches—I noticed a cartoon of a man standing proudly in front of the premises of his new undertaking and peering down the street. The caption read:
How exciting. Here come my first customers.
The man could not see that on the briefcase of the man at the head of the file of people coming down the street were written the words "VAT man", on the second briefcase were the words "Excise duty man", on the third "Planning department", on the fourth "Safety regulations department", on the fifth "Fire regulation department" and so on. That cartoon indicates what is, unfortunately, happening far too often today, especially with small businesses.
The hon. Member for Lambeth, Central and I agree that we put the interests of our borough first. We may disagree on how to achieve them, but we have the same objectives. I believe that it is through the growth of small businesses that we shall re-create what we used to have in Lambeth.
I have said that I think that Labour Member live dangerously when they talk about our inner cities. There is this coincidence about the level of unemployment and deprivation in relation to which type of party has been in power. Tonight, we are basically talking about employment. The hon. Member for Lambeth, Central said with great satisfaction that unemployment had decreased in Brixton.
Streatham, which happens to be a Conservative seat, does not have an employment exchange. It has a jobcentre, but not an employment exchange. I can give the hon. Member the figures for unemployment in Brixton. I hope that he will remain as satisfied about them when I have given them to him as he was when he was speaking.
In April 1972, the unemployment rate there was 5·3 per cent. In October 1973, it dropped to 3·1 per cent. In April 1975, after a year of Labour Government, it rose to 5·6 per cent.—higher than the rate in April 1972. Then in January 1978 it went up to 7·7 per cent. The hon. Member will be delighted to know that in April 1978 the date was 7·7 per cent. So the fall in unemployment—unless the hon. Member has figures for a month that is later than April—about which he is so pleased, is 0·6 per cent. It is down from 7·7 per cent to 7·1 per cent. I hope that the hon. Member is pleased about that.
I think that I am being misquoted, and misquoted out of context. I said very clearly that the worst unemployment in London was in Brixton, and that I was by no means satisfied with that level. What I went on to say was that, contrary to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker), there has been a slight improvement. That has been shown in what the hon. Member has just quoted. There has been a slight improvement over the last year. That is some indication that in the Brixton area there has been a slight improvement in male adult employment. I think that that is what the figures relate to.
The point that I am making is that after going in the wrong direction for so long, under both Labour and Tory Governments, we should both be glad that there is a slight move in the right direction. All of us who represent inner city areas should press for that move to be accelerated. But I do not think that any hon. Member is satisfied with the level of unemployment in the inner city. It is absolute nonsense for anyone to suggest that.
Of course I accept what the hon. Member says. Tomorrow I shall read Hansard with great interest, because I noted down that the words that the hon. Member used were "considerable decrease in unemployment." Obviously I was mistaken about that, though I shall check it tomorrow.
One certainly finds that unemployment is very localised in this country, and even in South London. We find pockets of unemployment. One of the causes must be the considerable immobility of the work force. This is something at which all politicians, statesmen and anyone in any position of influence must look very carefully. One of the major reasons for immobility is the appalling difficulties we have with housing.
I am sure that everyone in the Chamber this evening will agree with me, especially if he represents an inner urban centre, that the great majority of the people who come to them with problems come with problems about housing, of one sort or another. Until we solve some of the difficulties we have with housing, we shall not solve the difficulties we have with areas of unemployment.
There is no doubt that housing, going back to the end of the First World War or even to the beginning of this century, is a classic example of the good intentions of politicians resulting in disastrous consequences. Again and again, people of both the major parties, but especially the Labour Party—the interventionist party—have, with good intentions, tried to do things to benefit their fellow kind, with very bad consequences. We have now found ourselves in such a maze on housing matters that I defy almost anyone, even the next Conservative Government, to find a way out of it.
I would define these major problems in three areas. There is, first, the whole problem of the council tenant who is trapped in his council house. I wish that the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), for whom I have a high regard, was in the Chamber. He asked how we could recommend the sale of council houses when that would reduce the degree of transfer. For heaven's sake, we all know the difficulties of council house tenants in getting transfers. I could provide a list of 50 or 60 of my constituents who are currently trying to get transfers but cannot. I do not know why they cannot. Let no hon. Member say that it is because of the sale of council houses. That has not started yet. I suspect that it comes back to the bureaucratic machine or the lack of a computer. But there is no good transfer system in London.
The inability of the council tenant to transfer has meant an inevitable unemployment problem. I wish that transfers provided the solution, but they do not.
I think that the hon. Gentleman's constituency and mine share the same problem. Ronan Point is in my constituency. We do not want tower blocks, but if the families with children want to move out of them and into houses with gardens, assuming that we can get the machinery to work, the selling off of such houses in his borough would reduce their chances of doing so.
Most sales of council houses will be to sitting tenants. In addition there is greater immobility among the owner-ocupiers than there is in the council section. Immobility is frequently due to the drying-up of rented accommodation. Short-lease or rented accommodation has always been one of the methods enabling people to seek work. They could afford to rent a room for a week or a month while they looked for work. That is almost no longer possible thanks to the Rent Act 1974. The Labour Party bears a heavy burden of responsibility in that direction. I do not know how much the Rent Act has increased unemployment, but the proportion must be considerable. People can no longer venture forth from London or Birmingham to elsewhere looking for work. They know that they will be unable to rent a room easily and at a reasonable price because of the depressing and evil 1974 Act.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the 1974 Act has enabled people with relatively modest incomes to remain in jobs and housing in London because it has prevented their eviction to make way for people on much higher incomes? Without the Rent Act there would have been an increase in accommodation costing £40 a week or more, but a reduction in that which people on relatively modest incomes can afford. The 1974 Act has had a beneficial effect on employment.
It seems to me that we have a rather difficult problem here, because the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) wants to move his contituents into Chingford and to push out my constituents. Some of my constituents would no doubt be very happy, being prosperous middle-class people, if they could rent accommodation closer to London, so that they could live in inner London. If we could have a little more freedom of movement, we might be able to satisfy my constituents, the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members at one and the same time.
The next factor affecting mobility is the appalling house-building record of the present Government. My understanding is that people who own houses and who are therefore able to sell houses should they move from one part of the country to another, and who have a stake in the community, move more often than those in council houses or council apartments. House ownership, instead of being a constraint on mobility, acts to the contrary. That is my understanding.
I remind the House of Labour's housing record. Compared with 1971–73, a period of Conservative rule, the house-building figure under Labour in the period 1974–76 dropped by about 40,000 starts per annum. The total in the period was 122,000 houses, a drop of 37 per cent. compared with the earlier period under Conservative rule. If we look at the period 1976–77, we find that there has been under Labour rule a drop of some 60,000 houses. Indeed, 1977 was the worst year for new starts for a decade.
It is perfectly true that the record was not as bad in council building as it was in private building. One can only suppose that this springs from the present Government's aspirations to move towards the concept of a country of council tenants. Indeed, in Scotland, which has had Labour rule for a great many years, over 50 per cent. of the people are in council homes. Although my statement contained some hyperbole, it was not entirely ill-founded, I think.
In my constituency, and elsewhere in South London—I am sure that the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central will agree with me—there are some profoundly disquieting aspects of council estates. I think that we all bear some responsibility for this. The quality of life in most council estates in inner urban areas is very much to be deplored. I do not think that any of us can be proud of it. I blame the planners; who have already been blamed, and I also blame those people who wish to continue creating and fostering and enlarging council estates when they see the standards to which the people living in them are condemned.
When I was a neophyte in politics, I used to think that the council tenants were in some way a privileged race because they contributed only about 40 per cent. towards the cost of council houses. I no longer hold that view. I think that today they are oppressed and captive people, and they have all my sympathy. I would rather pay a much higher rent to live in private accommodation than be a council tenant today in the conditions in some of the estates in my constituency.
What is more, I defy any hon. Member of this House to say that a council tenant can confront the local housing manager, who is his servant, in the same way as he can confront the garage mechanic when he takes his car in to be repaired, or the hairdresser when he goes to have his hair cut. The way in which the council tenant today treats the garage attendant or the shopkeeper or his lawyer is quite different from the way in which he treats the bureaucrat who runs the local housing department. The reason is that that bureaucrat has a great deal of power over him. It is not a client relationship at all; it is a relationship of which we should not be proud.
Thirdly, the management of council estates accounts for much of this problem. The hon. Member for Lambeth, Central said that there are 14,000 on the waiting list in Lambeth. I thought that it was 16,000. but I will accept his figure. But I hope that he will accept that in April 3,994 homes owned by Lambeth council were standing empty. Some have been empty for years. I can take him to one which has been empty for four years and to another which was decorated and then stood empty for a year. The pigeons got in after six months and it has now been decorated again. These empty properties are a scandal.
The reason is not malice or cowardice and only to a limited extent is it stupidity. Mainly, it is a result of the council's municipalisation programmes, buying up property wherever it could on the open market, and pricing young couples out of the market. Then it did not have the machinery, the men or the money to do them up. So they stand empty while there are 14,000 or 16,000 on the waiting list. How can people respect politicians in the light of that absurdity? How can we be proud of our country when this can happen? It is disgraceful and wrong.
On Saturday, 30,000 questionnaires started going out in my name to every house in my constituency, asking people to tell me of any empty houses they know of, how long they have been empty and who owns them. They are already coming back in, and I shall make the results known in four weeks. The answer to the problem is the selling of council houses. I will not go into the argument that it will damage mobility, although I think it will help mobility. But this policy will come only when we have a Conservative Government.
Order. Before I call anyone else, I would say that, for constitutional reasons, I never appeal for brief speeches on the Consolidated Fund Bill and that every hon. Member who is here will be called if he is patient. None the less, it would help if they had in mind those who are in the Ballot but lower in the list and who might not be called tomorrow morning if this debate is extended unduly. I have not asked for shorter speeches, but I have asked for fair play.
I shall keep my eye on the clock, Mr. Speaker, and I shall not be led too far from what I had intended to say by the speech of the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton). I would say only that I do not remember whether he was one of the few who voted against the 1974 Rent Act, which was passed through Parliament when the Labour Government were in the minority. Although the Opposition blustered, when it came to the point most of them did not vote against it. I think we can discount this talk about the 1974 Act being the cause of disaster. Everyone knew that it was a necessity, and that it still is.
The area which I represent in the House is coterminous with the old metropolitan borough of Fulham. When I first came into this House, it contained not one parliamentary constituency but two. It had therefore nearly twice the population it has at present, and that was the general pattern in inner London. Before we condemn past policies about London population and industry, we should ask ourselves whether we could endure a London today with inner London trying to cope with twice as many people as it now has. We mananged in those days only because people were much less well off. They did not demand the housing standards which they rightly demand now. They lived with their in- laws for much longer after marriage than they do now. The proportion of them who owned motor cars was very much smaller. If we had now in inner London the population that we had just before the war, London's housing and transport problems would be not only difficult but totally insoluble.
Therefore we should accept that and not assume that people in the last decade or so were entirely stupid when they pursued policies which reduced first the population of inner London and later the population of London as a whole. But it is fair to say that we have now reached a point where the population of Greater London is on a manageable scale. I would not welcome policies that tried to increase it, though I do not see that there is any case for further substantial diminution.
But it is a manageable population only if we can deal with one aspect of its housing problem. I believe that there is enough land in Greater London to provide decent housing for the present population of Greater London. But it is well known that the people who are in the most acute need of housing cannot get access to the land in the more fortunately situated parts of outer London.
I always disliked the creation of the Greater London Council. It seemed to me to be a monstrosity in local government. The one excuse that there might have been for creating an authority of that size was if it had been given power to see that land in outer London was used for the needs of the crowded population of inner London. It was not given that power. It has never had it. In some stages of its history it has not had the will, either.
That is one mistake that has to be put right in London. If we want the mobility about which the hon. Member for Streatham spoke, again we shall have to see that there is the possibility of using the more abundant space in outer London for the needs of the more crowded populations of inner London.
The other need that we have to satisfy if we are to manage and provide properly for the present population of Greater London is jobs. We are seeking to provide more jobs in London not to attract in more population but to see that those who are already here have a better chance of employment.
The Inner Urban Areas Bill gives to the local authorities in London some of the instruments which will help in the creation not only of immediate but of permanent employment in inner London. Some of the powers given in the GLC (General Powers) Bill will be helpful to that end. I found it a little puzzling to follow the attitude of the Conservative Party to those powers. It seemed to me and to everyone who listened to the debate that in this year's GLC (General Powers) Bill powers were sought which had been derided and attacked by the Opposition in the previous year with the use of offensive expressions such as "Bennery", "bureaucracy", and the rest of it. Still, better late than never, they realised that such powers were a good thing.
The specific point that I want to make concerns training for comparatively skilled emploment. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) said that there was such training, but he asked what happened when the training course came to an end and there was no job. We must also ask "What happens if one gives the local authority power to promote and encourage enterprise, so that small businesses want to start up, businesses that need a certain amount of skilled labour, and it is not there?"
Clearly, one must somehow or other run in double harness the problem about the encouragement of firms and the problem about the provision of skilled labour. It is true that although there is in London a worrying general problem of unemployment, there are also instances of shortages of skilled labour in some areas.
Here the Inner London Education Authority is doing a good deal, and can do more. In my part of London very good work is being done by the West London College, which meets in particular the needs of people who do not come from fortunate circumstances. I was very glad, therefore, when a year or more ago the House defeated the Private Bill concerning the St. Paul's playing field, which would have wrecked the development and enlargement of the West London College. The college is now able to get on with its work and increase the facilities.
The matter is one that ILEA should now press forward particularly, showing in its whole policy a special regard for the needs of young people from, say, 16 to 20, partly in seeing that they can have technical education and encouraging more to stay on at school. I hope that in time we shall see the number of people coming on to the labour market permanently reduced by the fact that more and more young people will be making 18 rather than 16 the age at which they give up full-time education. That happened to a certain extent previously, when the statutory school leaving age was 14. Gradually the number who stayed to 15 increased. That has happened every time.
For some families it is a financial problem. I welcome the help that ILEA is now giving to make it easier for people of limited means to see that their children remain at school longer.
I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, who is to reply to the debate, cannot be expected to speak with equal fluency about employment, transport, the docks, education and everything else. Therefore, I merely ask him to draw what I am saying to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. For any help or encouragement she can give ILEA to provide appropriate kinds of education for the group of young people of whom I am speaking we shall be extremely grateful.
Given that, for good reasons or bad, we face the loss of manufacturing industry from London, and given that most firms will not contemplate opening or reopening in London without bringing skilled labour in with them, which conflicts with my right hon. Friend's argument about depopulation, will he address himself to the following dilemma? If we train youngsters to be skilled, the likelihood is that those newly trained skilled workers will move out of London to where the jobs are, and that will not contribute towards attracting the firms back. We cannot create a pool of skilled workers who will be on the unemployed register while we wait for manufacturing industry to reopen in London. Does my right hon. Friend see any prospect of overcoming that dilemma?
The dilemma my hon. Friend is posing is not entirely real. The kind of thing he describes can happen. What I doubt is whether it must inevitably happen. What I say is that it is possible—one or two examples have been quoted—for a combination of private enterprise, sometimes voluntary, nonprofit-making effort, and help from the local authority, to bring small undertakings into being. One of the things which will encourage people to try to do that is if they know that such skilled labour as they need will be available in London. That hypothesis seems to be quite as likely as the more pessimistic hypothesis of my hon. Friend.
We need voluntary enterprise and help from the local authority. We need skilled labour. If we are to say with regard to all of those "It's no good providing them because without the others they will be no use" we shall go nowhere. I am suggesting that it would be a rewarding thing to make the opportunities for young people in London to acquire skills greater than they are. This is borne out by the experience of those young people in London who have made use of these opportunities. I attended an occasion in my own constituency concerning a small venture helping young people, particularly coloured young people, to acquire skills. This help had definitely assisted them in finding jobs.
While I fully agree with my right hon. Friend about the problems of the shortage of skilled labour for firms starting out in London, may I ask whether he would not agree that one of the major problems is the high level of rents and the cost of land for business starting up in the central city areas? Would he accept that it might be desirable to take measures to discourage keeping property empty, whether business or residential, so that it becomes more practical for people to start business in the inner city areas? Would he welcome measures which assist that aim?
I would. But I am trying to be good and observe your advice to us all. Mr. Speaker. While I agree with my hon. Friend, I will not pursue the matter.
My concluding point is about the government of London. I was praising, I think justifiably, the work of the Inner London Education Authority. I hope, for goodness' sake that there will not be any more attempts to mess about with ILEA for political reasons. The great educational service of the London County Council survived the assault of the Greater London Act simply because the parents and the teachers of London rallied to our support when we were opposing the Bill in Parliament and said that they did not want to see this service torn to pieces. Now we find that Mr. Marshall—although it was clear that his sponsors set him his task in the hope that it would give them another platform on which to attack ILEA—has had to confess, although he wants to mess it about a bit, that we must not destroy this service or cut it into bits.
If I could wave a wand and bring back the world before we had the Greater London Government Bill, I would do so. It was pushed through Parliament for two main purposes. One was to try to solve the London traffic problem and the other was to see that the government of the capital was kept in Conservative hands. It has had only partial success in either of those objectives. As far as I can see, it has done no good to Londoners. I know that to try to undo a bad change in local government produces results almost as bad as the original error. Major changes in local government mean immense upheavals in people's lives, affecting the careers of all local government employees. It wastes a great deal of energy. We shall have to get along for some time with the present form of government in London. I beg that it be left alone for the time being.
That leaves the question of what ought to be the relationship to the Government and to this House. I favour the idea of a Select Committee of this House because I think—although I would be happy if we could have a Question Time as well—that such a Committee could exert more concerted and continuous pressure.
I believe, too, that Londoners must accept the fact that there are some major matters that in the capital have to be decided by the Government. I do not think that we can claim the same control over the police as a provincial city can. The Marshall idea of dividing the functions of the police into national and London, and putting them in different hands, is a nightmare.
I think also that there are certain major decisions about transport and planning that can be made only by the Government. The important thing, therefore, is to give Londoners a quick and impressive access to the Government. If we had a large regional council for the South-East it would be far more remote than the Government themselves. A Member of Parliament is far better known to his constituents than any regional councillor or any Greater London councillor, however diligent that councillor may be.
I believe, therefore, that a Select Committee of this House to put the screws on Ministers connected with London is probably the right answer to the problem of London's relationship to the Government.
As always in these debates about London, one finds from time to time points of quite close agreement with hon. Members opposite. I remember that on the last occasion we debated London's affairs, on the Greater London Council Bill, I found myself excessively in agreement with hon. Members opposite and in disagreement with my hon. Friends. I just happened to be taking the same view as I had always taken and everyone else seemed to be changing minds. But I will not go too far into that.
Another of the curiosities is the way we sometimes wander a little about what it is that is under discussion, although we are relating our remarks to the London scene. I had a distinct impression that this debate was supposed primarily to be about unemployment in London. There have been moments when one could have been excused for thinking that it was a debate about everything else.
I do not know whether it is the effect of those very fine posters which have been going up all over London and parts of the country recently that has suddenly brought to the minds of hon. Members opposite that perhaps they did not want to talk about unemployment after all and that they would rather talk about what a terribly bad job the Tories made in building flats in Shoreditch in 1928 and how lamentable it was that no one had improved those flats since then, although I am reliably informed that there has been the coincidence of a Labour council in Shoreditch, a Labour council in County Hall and a Labour Government in Westminster. Yet, somehow or other, we are still back not on unemployment in London but on what the Tories did in 1928.
Indeed, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) wanted to go back rather further, to around the turn of the century, when, he said, a lot of bad things were going on. I just wonder whether, in 78 years' time, people will look back on what has been going on in these last four years and regard them as a golden age. When they look back at the sort of housing which has been built in the constituencies of the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister for Housing and Construction, who have the cheek to refer to council housing in their constituencies as social ownership, I wonder whether those pople in 78 years' time will be any less condemning in their remarks about those who produced it than the right hon. Member for Bermondsey was harsh about those who were building houses at the turn of the century in London.
As always, as I have said, one finds things that one agrees with and things that one disagrees with. I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart). I found it difficult either to agree or disagree with him because he did not seem to say very much, and most of what he did say was self-contradictory. He seemed to think that the current population of London was just about right and showed the great wisdom of those who had been responsible for policies over the last decade or two, but on the other hand he seemed to be advocating that we should still move some more people out.
It is sometimes very difficult to listen to the right hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that I was the only person who was confused about it. Indeed, what he seemed to be saying was something like the policy of the Location of Offices Bureau, which is willing to advertise to people what a good thing it is to move out of London and at the same time to advertise to others what an absolutely splendid idea it would be to move back into London.
All sorts of odd things have been said this evening. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) thought that it was very naughty of the GLC to spend money on advertising, whereas the right hon. Member for Bermondsey thought that the Department of the Environment ought to spend a bit less on something else and get down to advertising because that is what is needed, and one sometimes wished that they could get together.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Bermondsey is not still in his place. He was kind enough to visit us for a few moments while he spoke and has not been seen since. He waxed lyrical about the right of his constituents to move out of Bermondsey into my constituency. We in Chingford, as I told the right hon. Gentleman, do not have any building land left, and it is extremely difficult for young couples born in Chingford to find a home there when they marry. Now the right hon. Gentleman wants to push my constituents out of Chingford to make way for his. I am standing for the right of my constituents who are council tenants in Chingford to buy their houses there to make sure that they can stay in their homes and, indeed, that they can even hand them on to their children to continue to live in Chingford.
I do not think that that is an unreasonable attitude. Indeed, as the Member for Chingford I echo the sentiments of the right hon. Member for Bermondsey, uttered in this House some time ago, on the matter of immigration "enough is enough". We have taken enough people from other parts of London, and I want to make sure that my constituents—whether they are private owners looking to the house in which their children want to live or whether they are council tenants—get a fair deal.
The right hon. Member for Bermondsey should reflect on his support for the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act, which has resulted in an endless stream of people from all over the country—mid I am not even going to say from outside the country as well—turning up on the town hall steps at Bermondsey, at Paddington and all over London, saying "I am here with my family. I am homeless, house me". Those people are putting pressure on the honest folk of Bermondsey, who in turn have to put pressure on my constituents in Chingford. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has dune a great deal to harm the interests not only of my constituents but of his own.
I turn to the subject at the heart of the debate this evening, and that is unemployment, particularly in London. I do so perhaps with an unusual background in this House, because I have represented both a new town—one of those places to which London's population was being shoved out—and a London constituency. Indeed, as the Member for Epping I represented both a part of London and a new town at the same time. So I think I understand the problems and the advantages both of syphoning people out and of maintaining a sensible and prosperous London, too.
I want to say something in rather precise terms because it is all too easy to go on about the tragedy of unemployment in generalised terms. As somebody said, when we talk about 6 per cent. unemployed we have to realise that there is nobody who is 6 per cent. unemployed. He is 100 per cent. unemployed if he is unemployed.
Yes, indeed. The late Aneurin Bevan said a number of very sensible things. I wonder what he would have said had he been here today about a Labour Government presiding over 1½ million unemployed, and planning indefinitely for 1½ million unemployed. I should have liked to hear that speech. It would no doubt have been very much like the one that the Lord President of the Council used to make before he became a Minister.
We all know the tragedy of real unemployment, of people who desperately want to work and cannot find it. In London very many are victims of sheer misfortune. There are handicapped people and there are those who are let down by the education system. I want to come back to that in a moment.
Of course, many of them, particularly in inner London, are immigrants, or the children of immigrants. They are people who already see themselves as different from the rest of the community. If they are unemployed for very long they will see themselves as dangerously different. As we all agree, a potent, explosive mixture will be left. Because of their background, and because many of them have an inadequate command of English, not for any reason other than that they were born out of the country or that they live in a home with parents whose command of English is inadequate, it is unlikely that they will get the top jobs. In fact, they will be looking for what we would broadly call industrial jobs—the very jobs which are most in danger of extinction in London, unless we are very careful indeed. They will not be taking jobs in some of the service industries. They will not be working in the City of London in this generation. I hope very much that in the next generation they will be, but we must fact the fact that the disadvantages which they have in this generation make it pretty unlikely for many of them.
Yet even in the scene of unemployment about which we have been talking, there are so many jobs in London which are left unfilled. I want to give some concrete examples. Earlier this month I visited in Chingford the factory of the Bissell manufacturing company. The work done there is primarily plastic moulding. The firm produces many of the goods which are sold in the Mothercare shops. It is a prosperous firm. It is a multinational, but I hope we shall not hold that against it. It is providing jobs for about 500 of my constituents.
That firm has a problem. It is impossible to recruit the unskilled labour to operate the basic moulding machines at the beginning of the factory process. The problem is that the firm cannot pay any more money to encourage people to work on those machines. It is a dull, undemanding job. The machines have to be worked on shift work. I understand that the unions object to women being used on shift work, otherwise that might be one possible way out. Most people will not accept that sort of work for the wages which can be offered under the Government's incomes policy. So we have a ludicrous situation where the employment opportunities for other workers are being throttled, because on the day that I was there I saw many machines, at £100,000 apiece, not in operation because an unskilled labourer was not obtainable. The firm was botching along as best it could, grateful for young students who were willing to work on the machines for a few weeks during their holidays.
There we had one problem. A fortnight later I visited Lesney, the toy makers, the one firm in the motor industry into which I would put money. It was facing a slightly different problem. I was told that it had recently lost three highly skilled, valuable, well-trained toolmakers who had gone off to be milkmen. They were desperately needed by the firm. Why had they left? The incomes policy again, which made it impossible for that firm to keep those men. Their differentials had been so eroded as against those unskilled men in the same factory that they could not see why they should stay. They had lost that feeling of pride in their craft because no one was valuing it with pounds, shillings and pence. So they had gone off to flog butter and the rest of the supplies off the milk cart, and to make more money on commission than they were allowed to make practising their skilled trade. That was the second factory, again a throttling of production for the same reasons.
There is a problem on the railway line from Chingford to Liverpool Street. There are frequent cancellations because of the shortage of station staff, signalmen and drivers. I was told by British Railways that the problem was that they could offer only £60 or £70 for a junior grade signalman on shift work. Such a person would have on occasion to start work at 6 a.m. and would often have to work on Saturdays and Sundays, thus missing his football and being away from his family. British Railways could not get people to take on the work.
I will quote the immortal words which were reported to me by the manager of a factory with whom I discussed this problem. He said "I eventually got someone to come up from the labour exchange, very reluctantly. When he arrived he said to me ' Do us a favour, guv. Just say that I am not suitable, because, frankly, at £60 or £70 a week, when I am receiving £43 in benefit and making £100 in cash on the side from cleaning windows and other jobs, I cannot afford to work for you '."
That is what is happening in London. London comprises 7 million or 8 million people, and I suspect that not very different things are happening in a number of other areas. People are refusing to take jobs because there is an insufficient differential between not working and working, and because there is an insufficient differential between skilled and unskilled work we are losing some very important people—skilled people—who are leaving factories which have a bottleneck in their production which prevents them from offering more jobs, from going out and winning more export orders.
The hon. Gentleman has made a valid point about the man who said that he received £43 in benefit. The difference between £43 a week in benefit and £70 a week in wages is substantial. The man was saying, in effect "I am a criminal. I am making £100 a week on the side from crime". That is not a valid argument. Criminals can get away with many things. They can rob banks and do many other things, but that is irrelevant to the argument about unemployment.
The hon. Gentleman refers to certain people as criminals. That is a harsh word which if it had been used from this side of the House would have greatly upset him. I agree that the man who said that he was earning cash on the side on which he was not paying tax and which was not subject to insurance contributions was guilty of a number of criminal practices. However, it should be remembered that the £43 which that man received in benefit was net—untaxedand that he had no travel-to-work costs. The £60 or £70 a week was gross upon which tax and national insurance contributions would be levied, and there would also be the expense of going to work every day. Even aside from the criminal aspect, there is little difference for a number of people between working and not working. That phenomenon has obtained for a long time, but the pace of the movement in that direction has been enormously increased over the past four years because of the policies which the Government have pursued.
The last visit which I will pay in this series of visits to industrialists in my constituency will be to the factory of a firm called Spring Steel Limited on Thursday. There, the managing director has called a meeting of a number of headmasters, representatives of the borough's education department and others such as myself to discuss the problem which is affecting him. He is happy to take on youngsters leaving school and to train them in all manner of skills, in the office and on the manufacturing side of the business. He needs skilled people desperately.
What is his complaint? It is that he has never found a lower standard of educational attainment in all the years that he has been in business. He finds that before he can train a man to be a toolmaker he has to teach him to read and to be numerate. Young people leave schools supposedly educated. We find that whether they go to university, take some further education, if I may call it that, or go directly into employment, there first has to be remedial treatment because the education system has failed to turn them out sufficiently literate or numerate to do the job or to take a further stage in education.
We have a number of problems, but a great job killer in my constituency and in my borough—I suspect that the position is the same in the constituencies of most hon. Members in the Chamber—has been the rates. I have the misfortune to have a Labour-controlled borough council most of the time. It is a spendthrift authority. It is extinguishing job after job by pushing up steadily the level of rates of businesses, both manufacturing and commercial.
I think that we are all agreed that it is small firms that will provide most of the new employment as the larger firms are in capital-intensive businesses. However, small firms are being put out of business by the excessive expenditure of not only Her Majesty's Government but the town halls.
The Government's economic policies have created unemployment in Britain and London on a scale unknown since the war. On that we are all agreed. The only difference between the two sides of the Chamber is that my right hon. and hon. Friends condemn it wholeheartedly while Labour Members make excuses for it.
There are many factors apart from major Government policy that are related to unemployment in London. I have spoken about some of them and have given some concrete practical examples. A change of Government policies and a change of Government are long overdue, but almost as important is that within any framework of Government policies we maximise the opportunities that are offered to the people.
We must give people the best possible chance of taking advantage of the available opportunities. We must seriously examine differentials, which are part of major Government policy. However, we have to give consideration to the type and quality of education that we give our school leavers before they seek work outside in the big world on which they will depend and on which we shall depend for as far ahead as we can see.
I am glad to have the opportunity of taking part in the debate. My corner of South-East London experienced the industrial decline rather earlier than many other parts of the city. We saw the departure of heavy engineering along the riverside and the closure of the docks. We saw the run-down of major utilities such as gas and electricity plants that had previously been major employers.
My constituency suffered body blows in the 1960s. There was the closure of the Royal Ordnance Factory at Woolwich Arsenal, for example. Dispersal has been mentioned, and it is only fair to say that I fight a continuing battle for the remaining 2,500 jobs at Woolwich Arsenal over which the Scottish National Party has its fingers poised. It seems to imagine that what remains of Woolwich Arsenal can be packed on a lorry and trundled up the M1 and M6 to Glasgow. That would be an extraordinarily expensive operation, and I shall do my damnedest to stop the nationalists ever coming near succeeding in doing it.
We had a major disaster in Woolwich in 1968 with the closure of the AEI plant. We saw 6,000 jobs disappear at one fell swoop. I tell the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) that that had nothing to do with nasty planners or awkward borough councils. It was the result of a straight commercial decision. Most of the manufacturing jobs along the riverside and in South-East London that have been lost have been the result of straight commercial decisions. More money was to be made by closing the plants than by keeping them open. When we are told from time to time that the solution to London's problems is unfettered and untrammeled private enterprise, we should bear that in mind.
We tried to learn from our experiences in the 1960s. We set up the South-East London industrial consultative group on which trade unionists, employers, local authorities and Members of Parliament came together to try to make something out of the crisis that had developed. That model has been followed in other parts of London.
Greenwich was the first borough to engage an employment development officer—brought in from private industry—to try to sort out some of our industrial problems. It has not been a totally disastrous situation since that time. We have succeeded in stemming the tide and in bringing about 5,000 new jobs into the borough. Most of them are in small firms. We have not just talked about the needs of small firms; we have found them and brought them in and they are employing people in my constituency. That has been done by a Labour-controlled borough council that has given high priority to the industrial needs of the area. It has been prepared to work in partnership with private developers and to make available the sites that small firms need.
There have been a couple of problems. It has not been roses all the way. Many of the firms are not new. They have been relocated from other parts of the inner city. I think that there is a risk that, as other areas start to follow our example, some kind of cut-throat competition will develop in which all of us engage like dogs scrabbling after the available bones of employment. It is clear that we need not only to relocate footloose industry but to develop new enterprise in the inner urban areas.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) that we want a mix of opportunities. We want not only traditional private enterprise small firms but co-operative enterprises of one sort or another developed by the Co-operative Development Agency. We want more municipal enterprise as well to provide employment opportunities. Again, I hope that the National Enterprise Board will help to provide opportunities in the public sector.
Another worrying factor, which has been mentioned twice in the debate by both sides, is the question of skills. Skilled labour is now a major problem. Not only Department of Employment officials, but firms already in my constituency are saying "If we cannot get the skilled labour that we need, we shall be in trouble and we may have to go, too."
I accept much of what was said by the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) about the impact of successive waves of incomes policy. That is a problem. But there are other problems. I know of tool makers who deliver milk, sell insurance and work for the Post Office rather than use their skill. It is a question not only of money but of security. They were made redundant twice or three times, so they said "No more of that. No more engineering. I would rather be in a mundane job where I know I shall get my wages at the end of the week with no risk of the threat of unemployment."
Indeed, it is not only that generation, but the next. Such people say "My son is not going into engineering. He will not have the problems and hassle that I had. Let him work for the borough council. He can be a social worker, a civil servant, a teacher or something like that. There will be no engineering for him." It is important to recall that finance and insecurity in engineering have been major difficulties, but the skill problem is the major headache.
We need to undertake more training. Many firms which carried out their own training cannot now do it because of the other problems facing them. I thought that one of the most crazy decisions affecting my constituency was the Government's decision to close the apprentice training school at Woolwich Arsenal. That was a superb example of training for young people. It produced the high-precision engineers, tool makers and gauge makers that this country needed. That closure was one of the worst acts of official vandalism that I had ever seen. It has already been brought home to the Department of Defence which now finds that, having closed the apprentice training school, it cannot get the skilled men that it needs at Woolwich.
We have been arguing for a long time for skillcentres to try to meet the demand for skills. The Deptford skillcentre, which we were promised in 1968, we are now told may open in 1980. In the meantime, we have had two smaller skill centres at Kidbrooke and Charlton, but I am puzzled by the choice of training that is available at those centres. There is bricklaying, carpentry, motor vehicle repair and maintenance, spray painting, typewriter repair and maintenance and an occupational selection course. In an area which has always been involved in engineering, there is no engineering-geared or engineering-based training available at all. In an area which already has unemployed building workers, to produce more carpenters and bricklayers strikes me as being an unusual and hard-to-defend choice of training opportunities.
We appear to have concentrated the debate on manufacturing. Most of us, if we are honest, recognise that manufacturing will not solve the employment problems of the inner urban areas. It must be a question of manufacturing plus service and distribution industry. I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment accepted this view when he said on Second Reading of the Inner Urban Areas Bill:
We should not look just to manufacturing industry for increased employment. We also need the service industries. … It really is time to overcome some lingering prejudices against service employment."—[Official Report, 9th February 1978; Vol. 943, c. 1693.]
I understand what he meant by "lingering prejudices" because I used to have them. When I was leader of the local authority in Greenwich, I was not very keen on warehouses. I wanted manufacturing industry or nothing. We have learnt that it is not a choice between manufacturing and service or distribution. It may be service and distribution or nothing and we should be grateful for service jobs if we can get them.
Does my hon. Friend feel that this lingering prejudice also exists in the Treasury since, with a lot of Opposition support, the Treasury has been arguing that we should cut public expenditure so that we reduce the effort in service industries and put it into manufacturing? Does my hon. Friend support a re-education of the Treasury on this point as well?
As I come from retail trade, my hon. Friend will understand that I have been trying to re-educate the Treasury on the needs of the trade, particularly in taxation, and the Inner Urban Areas Bill in its final form gives substantial assistance to firms in service and distribution in providing jobs in the inner city.
Maybe not, but Paddington is not the whole of the inner city. There are some inner city areas outside Paddington.
The need for this sort of employment is underlined by the analysis carried out in the South-East London boroughs of Southwark, Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley. We broke down their unemployment figures for December last year by trades and found, surprisingly to me, that 16·4 per cent. of the unemployed were in clerical and related occupations. A further 4 per cent. were in selling and another 6·2 per cent. in catering and related personal services—making well over one-quarter of our unemployed in these three service areas.
Among men, the clerical unemployed were the fourth largest group. The clerical group was the largest among the women, with catering second and selling fourth. Some of us were surprised that in boroughs that are so close to the centre of London we had a large concentration of clerical workers and those in related occupations who could not find work.
One of the problems is that of transport which has not been given full weight in its implications for employment. My borough has changed from being an area that provided employment for its own people to a borough that exports people to seek work elsewhere.
The Underground map of London shows how much South-East London is neglected in that basic transport provision. Occasionally journalists ring and ask to see me in Woolwich. They say that they will come down on the tube, but when they ask which is the nearest station, I have to say that it is New Cross and that they cannot get to Woolwich on the tube. My constituents have to depend on a crowded rail service where they suffer the same experiences as does the hon. Member for Chingford. They find trains cancelled without warning because of staff shortages. They do not understand that in a situation of unemployment.
They also have to suffer the attitude of British Rail, which seems to imagine that any commuter in inner London is wealthy enough to be able to afford larger fare increases than those which are applied to those outside the London area.
If they travel by car, they face all the problems of traffic congestion. If they try to get across the river to the jobs in Essex, they are hit by the Dartford tunnel tolls, which go up virtually every other year, and they have to bear that additional burden.
If they try to go by bus, they may get to London but they have an awfully difficult job in getting home, because the buses have a delightful habit of terminating their journeys half-way and landing them for part of their evening in such unlikely places as New Cross and Black-heath.
I can, perhaps, find some agreement with some Opposition Members—although this matter has not yet arisen in this debate, I suspect that it will—when I say that there ought to be a higher priority for the River Line, the extension of London's underground system. I am sorry, in a sense, that the GLC has decided to waste large sums of public money in renaming it the Jubilee Line. But whatever we call it, it is necessary, and not just for dock-lands but for my constituents in the developing new town of Thamesmead as well.
Thamesmead was originally designed to have local employment. The 50,000or-so-people whom we were going to attract from all over London to live in Thamesmead were either to have jobs in the new town development or were to work in the neighbouring factories. Sadly, the jobs have not come with them, and most of the neighbouring factories no longer exist. This means that Thamesmead residents have long, tiring and frustrating journeys across to other parts of London, with all the implications that they have for family life and their own peace of mind.
When Thamesmead is developed, I do not believe that the existing bus and rail system can provide for the needs of 50,000 extra people. Therefore, the additional link to the Underground is absolutely necessary.
Perhaps I may spend a moment on bus services. This is important because many of my constituents, unfortunately for them, have to depend on London Transport buses to get them to and from work. When I want to give them a really good laugh I read them that extract from the Conservative manifesto for the GLC elections, which pledged that a Tory GLC would direct London Transport to redouble its efforts to ensure that buses run on time and to cut down bunching and breakdowns. That always produces a major laugh.
I cite just two examples of bus routes serving my constituency. The 96 route runs all the way from Woolwich to Dartford. It is hardly a major safari from Woolwich to Dartford, but one can never find a 96 on its own. They always travel in stately convoy, never fewer than two at a time, and on one occasion last week six were in convoy.
The 192 route attracts regular complaints that buses are up to an hour late. London Transport has admitted to me today that there are abnormally long gaps in the service because there are not enough serviceable vehicles at New Cross garage to be able to maintain the bus schedules. That is a rather unpleasant prospect for my constituents.
This underlines the importance of reliability. Many of my constituents, and, I believe, those of other hon. Members, would be willing to pay London Transport fares and willing to have a less frequent service if it was reliable and they knew that the bus would turn up when they went out to catch it. That is not the situation now.
This is not just a subjective judgment, either. We have now the benefit of the Price Commission report published last week, which said:
Buses are the subject of most complaint about quality of service.
The report went on:
measured by waiting time, the quality has clearly fallen in recent years.
The Price Commission could not prevent the 10 per cent. fare increase because London Transport's losses were so large, but the report goes on to say:
We were aware of serious concern, not least amongst those who depend on public transport to get to work, that fares were increasing—in some cases disproportionately—while in certain areas quality of service was declining.
Against that background, I wonder very much about the ability of the Conservative-controlled GLC to hit its target for London Transport—a target which involves the halving of revenue support by the 1980s while at the same time maintaining the level of services and holding fare increases to no more than the increase in inflation. It is a very clever trick if it can be achieved, but I wonder very much whether the GLC will be able to do it. The Price Commission points out that the expected gap in 1981 is a loss of between £30 million and £40 million.
On the matter of bus services, if it is of any comfort to the hon. Member perhaps I may tell him that we find many of the same problems on my side of the river, too. However, I hope that he wiJ1 not imagine that these problems have arisen in just the last year or so. They are deep-seated problems that have bothered both Labour and Conservative administrations of the GLC. I hope that the hon. Member will do all that he can, even within the limits of incomes policy, to persuade any friends that he has who are involved in the trade union side that it is, indeed, better to have a lesser service but a more reliable service, as he has said, because that is part of the tactics of dealing with the problem of staff shortage at present, but the unions do not seem to see it in that light.
I certainly recognise the difficulties that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and I accept his point that these deep-seated problems cannot be laid at the door of one side or the other. But when some of us were saying that in the heat of the GLC election last year I did not hear any answering cries from the Conservatives. The difficulty is that each side in an election raises hopes that cannot always be fulfilled. My criticism of the Conservative approach to public transport in May 1977 was that it suggested that London Transport's problems could be corrected more quickly than most of us accept is possible.
Many of the problems that I have mentioned are extremely deep seated. They need more careful thought than some of the superficial approaches we have seen from County Hall. We need from County Hall less gimmickry, fewer press releases and a good deal more careful thought and deliberate concentration on solving employment and related problems in Greater London.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) down some of the tangled bus routes in South East London, and I hope that he will forgive me for not doing so. I wish to respond to your injunction to be brief, Mr. Speaker, and to make two points, one general and one specific.
It is a sobering commentary on how the affairs of London have been managed that 52 per cent. of Londoners now want to move, whereas only 28 per cent. of those questioned elsewhere in the country display a similar restlessness. Of those Londoners who wish to move from inner London 33 per cent. want to live in a town not far from the capital, 30 per cent. want to live in the suburbs, and 16 per cent. want to live in the countryside. Only 5 per cent. of those questioned want to live in inner London. As a result 350,000 people a year are leaving London to move to a more attractive environment.
That must be at the heart of the problem we are discussing. The politicians and the planners have contrived to produce an environment within which people simply do not want to live. The moment they are free to escape from it, they do so, and they move to areas with better schools, better homes and better transport. It is this voluntary dispersal that has given rise to fears of a social imbalance in inner London, fears of a growing crime rate as only the well-off and the poor are left behind, fears about the pressures on social services as they have increasingly to cater from more elderly and poorer people, fears about the alienation of young West Indians, and about the whole threat to the rate base in London. We must address the major problem of making London an attractive place in which people will want to live.
Three basic human errors lie behind what is going wrong. These are muddle, indecision and delay by those responsible for planning London. Basically we have identified the problems of London far too late and, having done that, we have moved to solutions far too late. Some solutions have been totally wrong, such as the tower blocks which are now admitted to be a mistake. Other solutions might have been right or wrong, but we have not persevered with them and so we do not know. No one will know whether it would have been right, for example, to build one complete ring road in London because we stopped half-way through. Other solutions were probably right—such as bus-lanes—but we have not enforced them.
There is a whole range of problems for which we have found no solutions. These include the docklands, Piccadilly, Covent Garden and Soho, large tracts of London where the planners and the politicians simply have not agreed on what should be done. The inconsistencies hit us when we look at redevelopment schemes where we have closed down factories and then denied builders permission to construct offices or warehouses to help replace the jobs that the planners have lost. As jobs in London have shrunk, we have accelerated this by exporting jobs to prosperous areas such as Reading and Southend, and we have exported even more jobs to the assisted areas, many of which do not face the same structural problems as parts of London.
We have to recognise that many of London's problems are self-induced and that we simply cannot blame the Government for all of them. I do not think that London needs additional resources from the taxpayer or any help at all. The wealth is here and the potential is here. The problem is that we have not used it.
As for tourism, the assets which people come to see—the Tower of London, this building, St. Paul's, Buckingham Palace—are all free. There is no charge at all. The tourist pays the hotels, most of which are owned by companies from overseas. The car-hire firms are mainly internationally based companies. The actual wealth from our tourist industry is not harnessed for the benefit of London and Londoners. Likewise, a large number of people work in London but do not live here, and one might expect them to make a greater contribution to solving London's financial problems. There are acres and acres of undeveloped land which we have not used.
I do not accept the argument that London is the victim of a conspiracy by Government. I think that the problems are largely self-induced. That is in a way encouraging, because it means that the answers are also self-induced, and not wholly dependent on Government good will.
At the root of it is the failure of the planners and politicians to agree. They do not really understand each other. Planners have their own particular language, which I do not understand. They do not call a home a home. They call it an accommodation unit. They do not call a garden a garden. They call it a private open space. They do not call a job a job. They call it an employment opportunity. As a result, politicians have a deep mistrust of planners, who speak this language of their own. Planners seem to be over-ambitious and they do not recognise the resource implications of some of their plans. As a result, they tend to go for grandiose schemes which simply cannot be implemented.
On the other hand, politicians overreact to short-term problems and change long-term plans that might be quite good ones, particularly at election time, and they are vulnerable to U-turns. When one is trying to produce a long-term structure plan for London, one cannot afford too many U-turns. We need a basic and modest agreement on goals, a commitment to implement them by the three levels of Government which are responsible, and an assurance that the resources are actually there.
We should—as the hon. Member for Woolwich, East indicated—encourage in London those jobs that we are good at doing and stop trying to tempt back heavy manufacturing industry. Nothing will get heavy manufacturing or engineering industry back into London, and it is a waste of time to try, but we need more offices. Offices, after all, are the factories of tomorrow. If we talk to this year's school leavers—particularly the girls—we find that they do not want to work in factories. They want to work in offices. There is no reason why we should not provide them with the jobs they want.
We should spend more time in trying to attract the head offices of the major international companies to set up in London. We spend a lot of time in tempting tourists, who spend a lot of money, but it is a much better investment to attract the head offices of big companies and get them to set up in London and invest in jobs and in buildings here. The Swiss Government and the Austrian Government have invested a lot of effort in trying to get that sort of company to their countries. We do very little of that by comparison with them.
There should be a modest agreement on our objectives, a concentration on what we do best, and a determination to use the assets that we have, particularly land, and to make sure that the assets are used and the energy harnessed to tackle the problems of London.
I want to turn briefly to a piece of special pleading which will come as no surprise to the House in a debate perhaps shortly before an election, and particularly from a Member for a constituency which has had six Members of Parliament in 20 years. It is nice to see two of them in the Chamber at the moment. Like other parts of inner London, Acton has in many ways had a very raw deal. Tightly knit communities have been destroyed and replaced by rather large and soulless council estates. The town hall has closed and moved down the road to Ealing. There is a question mark over the future of the cottage hospital—a problem shared by many of my colleagues. There is talk of the closure or transfer of services of the police station. Churches are being knocked down to make way for housing schemes. All the cinemas have closed, and Queen's Park Rangers have had two very bad seasons. As a result, many familiar institutions with which the community identify have disappeared or are threatened in the name of progress, and people do not like it.
In Acton, as elsewhere, we can cope if the basic prosperity is maintained, and this is where I turn to Park Royal, which is the major industrial estate in North-West London. The economy of Ealing and, indeed, of Brent, is dependent on the prosperity of Park Royal. If the Government's strategy for the inner cities is to mean anything, it must mean that Park Royal should be designated under the Inner Urban Areas Act. I hope that an announcement will be forthcoming tomorrow or the day after from the Department of the Environment saying that Park Royal will qualify for aid under the legislation.
In the last nine years, the number of people working in Park Royal has fallen from some 45,000 to 34,000. That is a loss of a quarter of the working population in a short time. What is more, there are 2·2 million square feet of empty space and, in addition, 23 acres of derelict land. The local economies depend on that area being revitalised and more jobs forthcoming.
My request is a very modest one. I ask for designation under the Act, and of course there is already a sum of money for that purpose in the Government's Estimates.
My second and even more modest claim is for a short spur from the North Circular Road to the Park Royal estate to improve access. A very comprehensive survey has been done entitled "Park Royal: The Area Today", by Ealing and Brent councils. They identify access as one of the key problems arresting development. It is ideally situated between the M1 and the M4, on the M40 and close to London airport. It is essential to the economy of North-West London that the full potential of that area be restored.
So I hope that the Minister can give the people who live in Ealing—and I am sorry that the hon. Members representing Ealing constituencies are not in the Chamber—some assurance by designating Park Royal under the Inner Urban Areas Act.
May I take up the reference by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) to Park Royal and enter a similar plea for Paddington? There are a number of areas in London which are not in partnership schemes or in designated areas. I do not know whether the situation in Acton is like that in Westminster, but the problem there is that although large parts of Paddington clearly would be eligible for such designation, when it is lumped together with neighbouring South West- minster and Marylebone, if the option is partnership or designation for the whole of Westminster, it is not on. There may be a similar problem with Acton. I believe that there are some parts of London where it would be possible to link together areas which at present are excluded from inner city provision.
I am worried about whether this debate will provide the forum that is needed. It may be that what my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) said earlier about a Select Committee provides a possible answer. Last week, after the new type of Standing Committee which dealt with the South-East Regional Study, most of us left feeling that it had not been the opportunity that we would have liked for an even fuller discussion of and, perhaps more important, recognition of London's problems.
There is little hope from the GLC at the moment. It is playing politics with council house sales and with the Marshall inquiry and the Marshall report. There seems to be little recognition there of the special role needed for London. But one of the problems is not that a Select Committee should "put the screws on Ministers", but that there is a need on the part of London Members to make a great number of our non-London colleagues aware of the problems which now afflict the capital city.
It is possible to have a quite false impression of London by travelling from a non-London constituency to Westminster and the immediate environs without forming an appreciation of what the rest of London is like. One need not go to the East End of London or even as far as Park Royal. One could deviate very slightly between Heathrow and Westminster and take a trip to Paddington. The Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, the Mall and Mayfair are all in the area of the same London borough—the City of Westminster—as my own constituency. One could find not much greater contrast or not much greater existence of double standards than is to be observed when one sees the state of street cleansing, refuse collection and the general standard which rightly is maintained in the showpiece of London, while the residential and working-class area of the City of Westminster is neglected. London is very much like that. We are afflicted with double standards.
I had occasion recently to accompany a deputation of the Greater London Association of Trades Councils, the Greater London Labour Party and the South-East Regional Council of the TUC to talk to an Environment Minister and also to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, who is to reply to this part of the debate. But what is lacking is the presence of my hon. Friends from non-London constituencies. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook). My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) was listening to the earlier part of the debate. But I wonder how London Members gathered here at this hour, at this stage of the parliamentary Session on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill can get this message across.
I do not know whether it would be in order for me to invite you, Mr. Speaker, to take a trip to Paddington. It may be that you are aware of the wider problems of London.
I am grateful for that, Mr. Speaker. That exemplifies my point. It is rather similar to the plight of Harwich, where people arrive in the country or are leaving it. Similarly with the metropolis, if there is a main line terminus, it very often happens that it is just the way in or the way out, with little regard to the environs around it. Somehow we have to get people to make that excursion to see what the rest of London is like.
According to the South-East Strategic Study, we have in London half the homelessness of the whole country. Although our unemployment statistic is distorted by its inclusion in the South-East, we have very substantial pockets in London which are as bad almost as the worst in the country. There is evidence, looking at the capital as a whole, of a very extensive social deprivation, and decay is occurring in many areas much faster than even the prospect, let alone the pace, of regeneration.
We talk about the loss of manufacturing industry, and, in reply to an intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) defended services. But the difficulty for school leavers in my constituency and many others is that there is not the range of jobs, quite apart from the number of jobs, available. If we are to have a London which can offer only service occupations, I wonder whether it will provide the right opportunities for the very large numbers of present and future school leavers.
The hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) referred to the relocation policy. It may be that I have it wrong. I understood that the authorities had seen the light and that we were seeing a halt to the relocation policy, which should probably have occurred at least 10 years ago, when we were still bribing people to move out and take jobs there. But we still have not seen the light in terms of Civil Service dispersal, and this again makes the point about the attitude of non-London Members. On a number of occasions, I have pressed that we should try to retain jobs in London, but always there is indignation and wrath on the part of provincial Members who would be at the receiving end of the jobs to be moved out of London. Therefore, I believe that one of the major obstacles to a proper appreciation of the problems of London, and thus to proper action to deal with them, is achieving the understanding of our colleagues.
As a non-London Member who took part in the debate on the South-East Strategy, I may say that many non-London Members appreciate the problem to which the hon. Gentleman has referred about the dispersal of jobs. But we should like to be reassured about the extent to which many Labour Members would welcome the productive exercise of private enterprise in encouraging people to expand job opportunities in central London. In many non-London areas we are not convinced that hon. Members give enough encouragement in that respect.
That is something of a myth. In certain parts of the country and certain parts of London the Government have been prepared to give assistance to encourage and promote the creation and development of small businesses. I am again at a disadvantage, as with the situation in Park Royal, because Paddington is not designated, and we do not benefit there. What was shown in the debate on the Greater London Bill is that there is the feeling that London will grab something at the expense of non-London areas. That feeling is justified if people are unaware of the extent to which the problems have developed in London.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham talked about depopulation and appeared to defend decisions taken in the past two decades. One of the problems of depopulation is that there has been a two-way migration. Many people have come into London believing that there are opportunities quite different from those which actually exist. What was never planned or thought out was the effect on local communities of depopulation, of the rundown of shops and the consequent closures of schools and even hospitals, which gives a general feeling of decay and community despair.
I am anxious that there should be central co-ordination of what all the Departments are doing. We could easily list employment, industry, trade, education and the environment. But one Department seems to work independently, without regard to all the social factors. That is the Department of Health and Social Security, in the matter of hospital closures, which may have some justification in terms of National Health Service economies but do not properly take account of the disastrous effects on local communities when a whole industry of that kind is closed down in a particular locality.
There is one other factor to which I feel obliged to draw attention on behalf of my own constituency and some others. The hon. Member for Chingford talked of those whose desire it would be to live in central London and the fact that some poorer people might in effect be driven out. The driving out is certainly happening in Paddington and areas like it. But those people will not be able to afford to live in Chingford. The consequences of the pressures of higher rents, both residential and commercial, will continually drive more and more people out of those central London areas.
There are already complaints about the kind of labour available to industries that might develop. If the social mix is thrown into even worse imbalance, the consequences for employment for developing industry will be worse still.
I hope that in a new Session or a new Parliament there will be a response to the need to place London more positively on the parliamentary agenda. It has been suggested that there might be a London Question Time and that we might have a Select Committee. I am not sure what the consequences of Scottish and perhaps Welsh devolution will be, whether there will still be the same Question Time for each of those parts of the United Kingdom, whether there will still be Grand Committees which can consider their affairs. I believe that the situation we have reached in London requires some special provision of that kind.
I hope that over the coming months we shall be able to persuade non London Members to recognise the problem and not always to be jealous of London and to imagine that everything is fine in the capital city. It is in their wider interest, as well as that of London, that they should take that view, because they have to recognise that it is their capital city as well as ours.
I am sure that it is right that we should do all that we can to encourage industry to remain in London or to return to it. But, equally, we should take all steps not to discourage commerce. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) referred to the need for office work in London. The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) referred to the relatively high proportion among the unemployed of those seeking clerical vacancies. In an effective contribution to our debate earlier my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) referred to office development permits and the effect that they have had on office development in London.
The trouble with the ODP system that it not only affects physical control of offices, but, by limiting the supply of offices at a time when there has been increased demand, it puts up the rents of those offices. The result has inevitably been that many companies have moved out of London altogether. Far from office accommodation coming into London, firms have moved out of London into the surrounding country, depriving Londoners of an important source of jobs. It seems most important that the whole operation of the ODP system be reviewed, if not abolished.
That is not the only policy leading to jobs leaving London. It is extraordinary that at a time when London has a male unemployment rate of well over 5 per cent. as against a national figure of 6 per cent.—and with very much higher figures in parts of London—the Government are not simply doing too little to produce employment but are actually planning to export jobs from London and create unemployment.
I refer to the Hardman plans for dispersal, to which reference was made earlier, particularly in a vigorous contribution by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). He referred to the fact that jobs were being exported from London. The Hardman proposals do more than that, because only some of the workers are being moved from London. Some of the various institutions which it is proposed to move will not take their workers with them. They will simply be left here without jobs. It is an extraordinary attitude that is displayed in this plan to disperse 30,000 civil servants from London. One of the proposals is to move to Glasgow the office of the defence codification centre, situated in Mottingham, a few yards from my constituency and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley). This is an establishment which employs a number of our constituents. There are 300 staff there, of whom 150 are classified as mobile, with 150 non-mobile.
There are many arguments against moving this centre. One is obviously the accessibility of Mottingham to the Ministry in London. Another is the ease with which people based at Mottingham can get into touch with contractors in various parts of South-East England. In any event, the bulk of the work is shortly to be computerised with a computer centre situated in Devon so that the work, using computer terminals, could be done virtually anywhere. There is a case, if a case has to be made, for moving the Motting- ham centre to the Ministry of Defence centre in Woolwich, which I am sure would please the hon. Member for Woolwich, East. But to move it right out of London makes no sense. The proposal, however, is to shift the whole thing up to Glasgow at a cost which is completely unspecified but which must inevitably run into millions of pounds.
The point of this matter in the context of the debate is that 150 of these people are non-mobile, so they do not have to move with the centre; they do not want to move and indeed they will not move. The Minister tells me in a letter that of course none of these people will be made redundant by the move. But exactly how that problem is to be got over he does not explain. Perhaps more jobs are to be manufactured, which seems to he a self-defeating exercise, but I suspect that that statement is just concealing the truth—that in fact those 150 people will finish up as unemployed. It really does seem an absolutely crazy scheme. Yet today my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West has been advised by the Secretary of State for Defence that he has reconsidered the situation and that he confirms the intention to make the move.
Another similar move is the one to which the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and others have referred—to shift the laboratory of the Government chemist from his constituency to Cumbria. A number of my constituents work at the laboratory. Again, there are many arguments against this proposal. I have deployed them in correspondence with the Minister and have gone right through to having an Adjournment debate on the issue, but without success. Just one of the arguments is that about 100 of the staff at the laboratory are non-mobile. They will not move, and would not be entitled to move in the normal way, and if the move goes through they will be out of a job. The nation will lose their particular skills and abilities and they will be added to the register of unemployed. All of this will be at a cost to the taxpayer which the right hon. Member for Bermondsey estimated at £20 million, although I have heard figures as high as £30 million.
It seems crazy that this scheme should be insisted upon simply because a decision was taken at Cabinet level at some stage. The Hardman report was published in 1973 on the basis of figures brought out in 1972. The circumstances are now very different, and the Government should think again about these proposals.
Amongst the changed circumstances is the decline in industry not only in inner London but in the suburbs such as my own. The Cray Valley, which runs through not only my constituency but that of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), a few years ago was lined with flourishing factories employing hundreds of local people. Now most of those buildings either lie empty or are housing carpet or furniture stores. All credit to firms such as the small one that I visited this morning. It manufactures paper-making machinery. Despite all the obstacles of Government economic policies and legislation which discourages such firms from taking on labour, it has extended its premises and provided extra jobs for local people, doing it from its own resources. But, alas, far too few enterprises are able to do that sort of thing at present.
They are looking for a new approach to revitalise industry in London. They now have that new approach at the local level from County Hall. They are looking for a similar new approach from central Government level, a change which, for London's sake and the country's, will, I hope, come very soon.
I am glad of the opportunity, which the Labour Members of the House have afforded, to discuss the problems of London. We have had a useful debate with a certain measure of agreement on both sides of the House.
I am reminded that the last time Labour Members initiated a debate on London matters on the Consolidated Fund Bill was about two years ago. The debate started at about 2 a.m. and finished at about 5 a.m. It looks, from the rate at which we are going, that this debate might not finish much earlier. I recall that it was on that occasion, due, no doubt, to the passionate fervour of London Members, that at 3.45 a.m. Big Ben stopped. It is not often that the strength of feeling on a subject stops the clock, but stop the clock it did that night, and I dare say that some of the things that were said had something to do with that.
It is obvious from what has been said this evening that a large number of London Members are interested and able enough to remain and take part in this debate, and I think that we are all conscious of the fact that since that last debate a couple of years ago, when we talked in similar terms about the rundown of London, very little has been done to halt that rundown, and that in a sense we are today having the same debate all over again.
A lot has been said this evening—and I shall not go over it again—about the rundown in manufacturing industry—industry which is so essential to our economy. Until a few years ago, in my constituency of Barking there was virtually no unemployment, and by comparison with other boroughs in the London area we have very little now. We are fortunate in this respect. We have some unemployment, and we are always looking over our shoulder, particularly to the west to the London boroughs of Newham and Tower Hamlets where the level of unemployment is roughly twice the national figure, and hoping that it will not creep towards us, because we do not live in isolation.
However, in the last few weeks in Barking difficulties have arisen. One firm has moved its employees to South Wales. Another couple of small firms have packed up altogether. Yet another has announced that at the end of November it expects to close. This firm is the offshoot of an American multinational and as far as I can find out the reason for the closure is the lack of investment in this industry by the American parent company, which has resulted in the British operation becoming uncompetitive.
We are looking over our shoulder all the time and not wanting unemployment to reach us. My Labour council has been extremely good over the years. It considers employment to be part of its social concern for the borough and is most anxious always to encourage employers to come into the borough and to give them every possible help.
One of the problems of creeping unemployment in my borough is that there are a large number of women workers there. In the factory to which I referred, about 80 per cent. of the employees are women who have worked there for 10 to 15 years, on average. Many people in London say that women work for put-money and it is not all that important if they do not retain their jobs or if they are not replaced, but the money earned by semi-skilled women who work in factories of the type that I have described has become part of the family income The income of the wife, together with the income of the husband, forms the family income, and when the wife ceases to work and there are no alternative jobs for her the income is virtually halved and the family suffers as a result. Although much attention has been paid during the debate this evening to the skills of men in the engineering industry, I think that we must take into account the effect of unemployment on women.
In addition to the creeping unemployment in Barking, about which I am becoming increasingly concerned, we are, though not one of the boroughs which form London's docklands, an area which has a number of residents who are dockers and are part of the dock labour force. The prospect of the Port of London shrinking or, worse, packing up, is something which will be a nasty blow not only to the immediately surrounding boroughs of docklands but to boroughs which stretch further out beyond London. Of course, many dockers live further out of Greater London, some of them as far away as Essex.
While we welcomed the recent statement of the Secretary of State for Transport that the Royal group must not close, there were some aspects of that statement—about the acceptance of the employers' recommended stategy—about which I was a bit concerned. It seemed to me that it overlooked the fact that the recommended strategy itself involves a further closure of some of the docks in the upper river. It makes me reflect what a pity it is that our Labour Government did not take the docks into public ownership some years ago. Many years ago we said that we would do so, and we still have not done it. I still think that this is something about which we ought to make a commitment for the next Labour Government.
What a pity it is, too, that we make such little use of the whole of the River Thames. If one looks at the use which the French make of the River Seine, or the Germans of the Rhine, or the Austrians of the Danube, one is given a lesson in how those countries put their rivers to work. That is even more sad when one looks at the River Thames today.
We are always talking about road congestion, particularly on some of the very narrow roads which go right the way through London, yet we always seem to overlook the fact that the River Thames is the widest road in London. At the present time it is the widest, quietest, cheapest and emptiest road in London. By taking one tug and four barges up the River Thames one could take 100 juggernauts off the roads which go alongside that river.
A year or two ago, I was able to go up the river on a tug which towed cement barges. During that three-hour trip, I was able to reflect how many lorry loads of cement we were carting behind the tug. What a difference it would make to the congested roads of London if we made a much greater use of the river than we do today.
What we need in London is a stable and viable Port of London, not just for the security of the jobs in the docks but for the security of employment in East London and Essex generally. We shall be rebuilding the area's infrastructure with about £180 million spent over four years on the docklands plan. The closure of any part of the remaining docks would certainly undermine the carrying out of that docklands plan, because other jobs will be lost. There are the corner shops, the pubs and the people who work in the schools. If there is a further rundown of East London we shall get the complete decay and ruin of what is already working towards decay in that area.
Several references have been made to the question of how one experiments with docklands. We all know that some Conservatives see it as a haven for free enterprise capitalism. I think that is a crazy idea. If one simply takes off all planning controls, all one does is let in the property speculators. What kind of employment will that produce for the people who are starved of jobs and all the social and evironmental things which go with them?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) referred to the grandiose plan put forward by Mr. Horace Cutler for making docklands a stage for the 1988 Olympic Games. What utter nonsense that is! Mr. Cutler should go down to the East End and hear what people think about his plan. They do not need big, beautiful modern stadiums. They need houses and secure jobs.
We need proper development of industry on land which is not needed for dock operations, and that should be done in conjunction with the local authorities so that the Government, the employers and the local authorities are involved in formulating a common strategy for restoring employment and life to those parts of East London which have become so deprived. That involves giving greater responsibilities to the local community and co-ordinating local and national government policies. The Government have a great chance to help this part of London, and I hope that they will take the opportunity of helping it.
This afternoon I picked up a press release from the Manpower Services Commission which was embargoed for publication before 3 p.m. on Tuesday 1st August. This interesting document discusses help for unemployed people and gives details of this year's plan which the chairman, Mr. Richard O'Brien, gave in a press release. It principally concerns the youth opportunities programme and the special temporary employment programmes.
An appendix to the press release shows the planning budgets for the youth opportunities scheme and the special temporary employment programmes for the various regions. Much has been said tonight about the level of unemployment in London. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) said that there were more unemployed in London than there were in Scotland. The planning budget for Scotland under the youth opportunties scheme is £21·5 million and that for greater London £8·1 million. The planning budget for the special temporary employment programme for Scotland is £5·3 million and that for Greater London is £3·9 million. That is what the debate is all about. If we are all saying that London needs special attention, I should have thought that in budgeting for opportunities for youth and for special temporary employment opportunities, London should re- ceive a much greater share of the cake than apparently we are to receive.
I congratulate unreservedly the hon. Lady the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson), and indeed her hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), on having initiated this debate, which I personally have greatly enjoyed and found very interesting.
In addition to being grateful for your skill, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that of Mr. Speaker before you, in selecting Members on this side of the House who have alternated between outer London and inner London, which I think has made for a happy contrast, I am glad to have caught your eye because it enables me to follow my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) and the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham) in being the third Member from the City of Westminster to speak in this debate. I think we are the only local authority in London which has had all three of its representatives speaking on this occasion, and indeed one could throw in the City of London as well.
The debate is entitled "employment" rather than "unemployment". I speak in it as somebody who represents a constituency where approximately 1 million people come into work every day. One of my concerns is that the centre of our city and my constituency should remain as residential as possible.
A study was recently carried out by MIT on behalf of the Shell Oil Company in the United States on job loss throughout the country. The study determined that while there was no correlation between large companies or small companies in terms of lost jobs—it was found that they lost them equally—it was noticeable that it was through small companies that job gain was occurring throughout the United States. The significant feature was that job gain was occurring in areas where there was disposable income to spend. That is one of the reasons that leads me to regard it as so important that the centre of our city should remain resided in.
Having lived not so long ago in New York City, I am conscious of the desert and wilderness that the centre of a great city becomes if it is not inhabited. I speak with a spirit of optimism. After a falling electoral register in my constituency for most of the 1970s, in the past couple of years I have at least begun to see the register rise again. I think that the same is true of the constituency of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright). Numbers are increasing in central London rather than decreasing.
The title of the debate has three subheadings—environment, industry and transportation. I shall speak briefly under the three headings and use them as a structure for my speech. I was chosen in the Ballot for item no. 37, a debate on the private rented sector. The Under-Secretary of State and I reached agreement to discuss the matter at some other time of the week. I do not want to take another bite of the cherry by discussing it tonight, except to say that it will be eminently desirable if we can reach a bipartisan position on the private rented sector for the very reason indicated in the evening papers for yesterday and today—namely, the secretarial shortage in central London and the crucial role that the private rented sector plays in providing flexible accommodation to enable girls to live close to their work in the heart of the city.
The issue raised in the context of the environmental aspect of the problem is a separate one that relates especially to my constituency, and that is the attitude that the present Minister for Housing and Construction at the Department of the Environment has about densities and the densities that he is prepared to allow in central London. The right hon. Gentleman has indicated that he is influenced by the circumstances in which he grew up during his childhood in proposing that the densities in central London should be the same as those in outer London.
This is not the place to engage in an intellectual discussion about the design of cities, and I do not propose to do so. I am conscious that there were 250 people living in Lancaster Court, Mayfair, in my constituency in the eighteenth century and that there are now only four residents. As recently as 1808 there were 193,000 people in the City of London. I am happy that those numbers have fallen and that we are not living in the density in the centre of the city as in the eighteenth century, but I have a fear. Conventional wisdom has rightly been that tower blocks are inappropriate and that redevelopment is less desirable than rehabilitation. Those are good things. However my fear is that the Minister for Housing and Construction on densities in inner cities has become paralysed by the fear that he might be committing some such mistake as tower blocks and redevelopment.
In Soho and Covent Garden, both of which were referred to in the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), a view is taken totally different from that taken by the Minister. I mean no disrespect to my constituents in Soho and Covent Garden—my remarks are intended to be complimentary—when I say that they tend to be unconventional as against following conventional wisdom. Inner cities are different.
I have quoted elsewhere in the Palace the remark of C. S. Lewis that if we hear about somebody going around doing good to others we can recognise the others by their hunted look. There is considerable resentment in Soho and Covent Garden at the kind of densities on which the Minister is insisting. Speaking as a democrat, I believe that people matter and that they should have the right to help to make that decision. I join my constituents in that area in resenting the figures being imposed by the Minister of Housing and Construction.
The Soho Housing Association has done an outstanding job, particularly of a conservationist nature, in bringing back eighteenth century houses into use. Frankly, I think that despair had begun to set in. I hope that it can be freed to do even more in that neighbourhood where political views on this issue are bipartisan.
Another aspect of the environmental considerations on which I should like to spend a little time, as have other hon. Members, is the rate support grant. I am encouraged that we have made progress in the last year or so. A council tenant on the Millbank estate in my constituency is now getting to the stage where he is paying the same rates for the same accommodation as would, for instance, a similar council tenant in Greenwich. I find it encouraging that he is not paying a differential rate because he is living in the centre of the city in similar accommodation.
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Paddington would agree, but I find considerable resentment among ratepayers in my constituency that the services provided in what he described as the "grand" areas of the city of Westminster that go to help tourism are paid for substantially by ratepayers within the city who are not necessarily direct beneficiaries of tourism.
I am concerned that we should not get into the situation that New York City got into when about 50 out of the "Fortune 500" companies moved north into West Chester County and Fairfield County and another 50 moved south on to the New Jersey shore. At the moment 100 of "The Times 1,000" companies continue to have their headquarters in my constituency. I hope that they will not be driven out because of the rates that they have to pay, as that would contribute to the sense of isolation and wilderness in the centre.
Rates in the City of London have in fact gone up faster than rents during the 1970s. I should be alarmed if that rise in rates had the effect of driving people out of the City of London. One of the major forces provided by the City of London in terms of employment is its comprehensive and compact business community, everyone being within walking distance of each other and very much interdependent. If people start to leave the City of London because rates have been rising so fast, that business community will begin to deteriorate.
The second item under this second subtitle is industrial. By definition there is little manufacturing in my constituency. But I was delighted to hear the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) and his hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East say that services should be treated in the same way as manufacturing in the inner urban areas.
The one area to which this industrial classification applies in my constituency is Soho. I am thinking particularly of the craft activities which have gone on there for many generations. Some people think of Soho fundamentally as an entertainment area and are inclined to snigger about it. But to the west of that entertainment area through to Regent Street a large number of crafts and trades are still carried on.
When Prince Philip visited the Soho Society recently—and I give him full marks for the imagination and courage he showed in making that visit—it was moving to see the people in the room wearing badges showing their names and the trades they performed—gun-maker, lace-maker, violin-maker, tailor and so on.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone and other hon. Members have referred to the Clerkenwell Workshops. There is a similar scheme in Rotherhithe which was mentioned on the radio the other day. I hope that we can find an imaginative instrument for financing the development of mixed-use activity in areas such as Soho where commerce and housing can go side by side. It is difficult to find conventional financial institutions that are prepared to underwrite that sort of scheme and it would be a breakthrough if we could find an instrument that would provide the finance. I say that in the context of Soho and those crafts because I think that the livery companies in the City would be prepared to support such imaginative developments.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that what he has advocated is contrary to the arguments of most of his hon. Friends who have been against intervention of the order he has mentioned? Is he advocating greater public expenditure for this purpose?
We do not need a major infusion of funds. I am talking about a scheme that is similar in urban terms to the immense success of COSIRA in rural terms where the return for relatively small injections of public money is considerable. I am thinking of that in urban circumstances. The trades and crafts are remarkably similar and interchangeable in various parts of the country.
The third sub-heading is transport. It is not for me to speak about commuters, though many of the 1 million people who work in my constituency come in from outside. It has been encouraging to see the energy with which Sir Peter Parker has been attacking this problem since he became chairman of British Rail. Anyone who has listened to his speeches in Greater London in the past year will have been encouraged by the attack he has shown.
It is a truism within London Transport that the Tube is easier to manage than are the buses. Curiously, five times as much money—on a proportionate basis—has been spent on modernising the Paris Metro as we have available for the Underground.
Bus breakdowns have been referred to in the debate. It is encouraging that London Transport has been able to get together with the manufacturers to collaborate on the design of buses and it looks as though maintenance will be much better than it has been recently.
In the context of my central constituency, I should like to refer to one other form of transport that has not yet been mentioned—the taxi cab trade. The number of taxi cabs has risen from about 9,000 to about 12,000 during the 1970s. That is an inadequate increase to cope with the extra traffic—particularly tourist traffic—that has been generated during that time. Tourists make frequent use of cabs for obvious reasons. The shortage of cabs militates against employment in central London and clearly the number will not rise unless the Government, in terms of pricing policies, provide some incentive to increase the number on the road.
I shall not follow the hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) into central London topics because I wish to concentrate what I have to say on the Port of London. The Port of London is central to London's employment and to London's development, and of course, it was the port that caused London to exist in the first place.
The hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), referring to two former Members for Acton in this Chamber, mentioned conventional wisdom which has been abandoned. He mentioned tower blocks. He mentioned the movement out of London of all industries and activities which were not central to a capital city. That was the policy of the GLC up to about 1973. He also mentioned ringways.
All those three policies have been reversed. If I remember correctly—although I am not making a party point particularly—at one time or another those policies were espoused by the Conservative Party. [HON. MEMBERS: "And by you."] Not personally, although the Labour Party may have gone along with one or two of them in parts.
However, the point to which I am now coming is that I think that the Conservative Party may be about to make a mistake about the Port of London. Conservatives may not have finally made up their minds, but the writings of spokesmen in the newspapers this evening may suggest that they are going down the wrong track.
This morning's edition of The Times contained an interesting leading article entitled:
Backing down on the docks.
London docks can probably never be profitable again unless the upper docks—the Royal group and the India-Millwall complex—are closed down. Trade has irrevocably moved downstream. The cost of the unprofitable upper docks has eaten away Port of London Authority reserves which could better have been devoted to modernisation.
This is the sort of case that the PLA is putting out in various press efforts, I imagine, or has done in the past. It is the sort of echo that is passed on from one person to the next. But I challenge it as being not only unwise but also inaccurate.
The PLA, in response to a request from me, published figures about the losses of the upper docks. They show that excluding central costs—I want to make that clear—the total income for the Royal docks in 1977 was £23 million There was a loss of £4 million on that operation, excluding central administrative costs.
I shall not say that that is not unfortunate or that it is not bad. But a £4 million loss on a £20 million turnover is not as catastrophic as is made out in leading articles and by various people. It is not catastrophic when considered against the losses in reserves which the PLA puts forward in its annual accounts. They show that the cost of restructuring—£4·9 million—was almost as great.
Therefore, in debating employment in Greater London, and taking account of environmental, industrial and transportation factors, we must bear in mind that the future of the upper docks is very central indeed.
The first thing that we must look at is the responsibility of the PLA itself. How far is it concerned only with making a profit or keeping itself commercially viable, as has been the assumption up until now, and what are its other duties? The Port of London Act 1968 says in the preamble:
The Port of London Authority were established for the purpose of administering, preserving and improving the port of London and for other purposes".
There has been a great deal of criticism on the PLA management. I shall not claim that dockers are angels or always have been angels. But nor, I think, would anyone else claim that managers have been saints. There is a good deal of disquiet in the whole of East London about the way in which the PLA has discharged its responsibility of preserving the totality of the port. There is a lot of disagreement about it.
I must say, however, that Sir John Cuckney, the new chairman, has brought perhaps a new attitude to port administration. But, of course, he has to face decades of divine right—at least, the sort of divine right attitude that the PLA has had over many years. It means that a lot of ground must be gone over to regain the practical side of affairs.
One of the biggest criticisms of the PLA—one hears it of industry generally where closures are mooted—is that the situation demands practical men who know what the business is about, not just the accountants and solicitors who are imported to provide a macro-economic judgment that fails to take account of the details.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) mentioned the river highway. She said that with cement barges there would be fewer juggernauts on the roads. But waterways must have terminals, and although such a development would reduce the number of vehicles passing through London, there would have to be a terminal in the West of London to serve the port, and the PLA has never been very keen on that. The terminal at Brentford—
I was referring to the general duties of the PLA in preserving the port as a whole. Terminals in other parts of London on the river, including at Brentford, are the responsibility of that authority. But the PLA's mind has been focused on Maplin. In the East End we say that the PLA has an attack of "Maplinitis". It is always thinking in terms of developments down the river. I do not blame it to some extent. Shipping has changed and new investment must follow suit. But it would be wrong to give up the important upper part of the port. That is what the PLA wants to do. Very little capital investment, if any, has been made in the Royal docks. The PLA has maintained an outdated cost structure.
As a result of the unfortunate five-week dock strike some years ago, the much-reviled quango ACAS recommended to the port authority that a committee should be established to examine port trade development to prevent the problem we now face. If the PLA had its way there would be 4,000 fewer registered port workers. That would create a ripple effect into the rest of East London which some people calculate could reduce jobs by another 20,000. That figure has not been challenged.
In order to forestall this sort of problem the former general secretary of the TGWU, Mr. Frank Cousins, was asked to chair a joint port trade development committee. It consisted of port workers and employers and it reported in 1976. It produced a lengthy document with a number of recommendations. I have yet to hear of the Government or the PLA taking them up. That might happen in the course of discussions that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has initiated. We must know why some of those recommendations were not taken up before.
It is unfortunate that my right hon. Friend the Minister accepts the PLA's strategy. That favoured a downstream drift and did not appear to take account of regional planning factors. It does not enable the Minister to take account of the reports he might receive from the accountants Messrs. Price Waterhouse, who are to look into certain aspects of the PLA accounts.
I very much hope, therefore, that when the Minister of Transport has a further look at this he will not discount the five points which were put to him by certain hon. Members when they wrote to him last week. They asked him, in respect of the Port of London, not to Jose his mind to
the continued operation of the Upper Docks as part of a Government policy for the whole regeneration of East London.
Secondly, they asked him for
a full inquiry into the charges and costs of the PLA in respect of the Upper Docks and their past policy decisions concerning their operation, maintenance, and capital investment.
Thirdly, they asked him to have a look at the Touche-Ross inquiry into the competition of Continental ports.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barking has already mentioned the failure of the present Government to have a look at port public ownership. The burdens which are carried by the PLA are not comparable with some of those of its competitors on the mainland of Europe. The Touche-Ross study, which was set up by the National Ports Council in 1974, showed that in any one year, if London adopted the port costings of Rotterdam, there would be £1·3 million less expenditure, because Rotterdam gets certain supports that London does not. Indeed, if it were compared with the basis of the port of Hamburg, there would be £7 million less expenditure. I believe that in looking at the present position the Minister—and, indeed, the Opposition—should look at that aspect as well.
I mentioned the Cousins committee. We also referred to that in the letter that we sent to the Minister. It must be a response of the whole of Government, and not just of the Ministry of Transport. In particular there is the Department of the Environment's responsibility for planning in South-East England and for inner city regeneration as a whole.
The South-East Study has been mentioned in the debates that we have had in Standing Committee. I am sorry to say that in the planning study which the South-East development team brought forward there was virtually no consideration at all of seaports, despite the fact that London and Medway together account for about a third or half of Britain's sea trade. Despite the fact that the Port of London is still the biggest port in the United Kingdom, it seems that in London terms, even in this debate, it is mentioned only by Members who happen to represent dockland areas.
I suspect that the lack of perspective in many other Londoners—I am not saying that it is just London Members of Parliament—may be partly responsible for some of the difficulties that we are under in East London at the moment. I do not blame them for that. It is a matter, perhaps, of general knowledge. People say "Oh yes, the Port of London is the biggest in the United Kingdom", but because so many other things happen in London the focus tends to be off it at that stage.
I will not weary the House any longer on this because the hour is late, and we are expecting some replies from the Government Front Bench, and perhaps a winding-up speech from the Opposition spokesman. I hope that in the replies they will not go along with the leader in The Times today, because the 16 miles of deep-water quays nearest the City of London, the historic centre of the port, threaded by the biggest natural waterway in this part of the world, and certainly the one that has a great deal of potential, should not be written off just like that. It may well be true that in the accounting terms of the PLA's present operations there may not be a great deal of profit in it, but, as with so many of the firms which have moved out, there may be other ways of using the existing facilities.
It was said earlier that we in London have to look at new ways of using existing assets. As we know, in the past there was a Gadarene rush for tower blocks, a Gadarene rush for motorways and a Gadarene rush to get everything out of London that was not connected with a capital function. These fashions seem to come in at us at various times. As politicians we are responsible for what the planners do. The hon. Member for Acton talked about politicians and planners as though we had no responsibility for them. We have. I hope, therefore, that the present Government will take account of what I have said, and also that at this early stage in the debates the official Opposition will not ally themselves with the account book attitude. If they take the account book on its own, in isolation from this matter of regional employment, they will find that it is a wrong approach. It is one that they, as with the motorways, the tower blocks and regional planning, will have to change in the end.
The constituents of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) undoubtedly face a critical employment prospect. My own constituents are comparatively fortunate. Since this present Government came into office, the unemployment rate in my constituency has only just doubled. In Greater London as a whole, the unemployment rate has trebled, and some groups have been hit harder than that. Youth unemployment in Greater London in the last four years has increased fourfold. I am sure that one of the reasons why youth unemployment has gone up even more sharply than adult unemployment is the operation of the Employment Protection Act.
At Question Time today, the Secretary of State for Employment suggested that a report produced by the Public Service Institute showed that in practice the Employment Protection Act had not had a damaging influence on employment prospects. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman can have read the report very carefully. I have read it, and I have noted that in the in-depth study that was carried out on a substantial number of firms, more than a third replied saying that their willingness to take on additional staff had been cut by the existence of the Employment Protection Act.
In the evidence submitted recently to the Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee which is looking into employment prospects, it was made plain that a substantial number of firms were unwilling to take young people, untried and unskilled, on to their books because of the existence of the Act.
The Act hits London particularly hard. London is also hit hard by the rules relating to the grants for industrial development certificates and office development permits. The chairman of the employment committee of the GLC said to me recently, referring to the grant of industrial development certificates, that the present controls were like playing chess in three dimensions, with someone changing the rules every five minutes. Certainly there is a major case for relaxing the industrial development certificate rules and the office development permits.
Then there is the operation of the Location of Offices Bureau. Surely this whole story reads like a script from that long-running BBC series, "The Men from the Ministry". First, the Location of Offices Bureau was set up to encourage firms to move out of London. Now, at double the cost, it seems, the Location of Offices Bureau is encouraging firms to move back into London. But whilst one arm of the Government, the Location of Offices Bureau, is encouraging firms to move back, another branch of the Government, the Civil Service Department, is enthusiastically insisting that unwilling Londoners are moved out of the capital.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) and the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) attacked aspects of the Hardman report. They referred to the move of certain defence installations up to Glasgow at a cost of some £20 million. But that, of course, even in defence matters, is only part of the story. Thousands of civil servants from the central part of the Ministry of Defence are to be dispersed to Cardiff and Glasgow. There can be no doubt that this will cause massive personal disruption to thousands of families. There can be no doubt that it will cause substantial dislocation in the working of the Ministry of Defence itself. There can also be no doubt that will be extremely costly.
It has been estimated that the full cost of dispersing the Ministry of Defence will come to about £300 million. That was the original estimate. Since then, it is thought that the cost of this dispersal will come closer to £600 million. This is a crazy expenditure of public money, and I beg the Government, in the face of demands from the civil servants and their unions and the mutterings in the Ministry of Defence itself, to have another look at this. The employment position in Greater London has been transformed since the Hardman committee reported. It is time that the Government looked at it again.
Earlier in the debate, we had an interesting glimpse of English life in Chingford. It was suggested that there were any number of tool makers from Lesney Brothers out delivering milk and that they paid neither insurance nor tax. I am sure that the residents of Chingford will feel somewhat slandered by the description given to the House. But presumably the importance of the comment was by way of explanation of why tool makers were leaving industry and why, presumably, other people were leaving industry. The suggestion was that they were underpaid and that that fact, together with the other reasons listed by the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), was why they were leaving industry in such large numbers.
One of the difficulties of retaining tool makers in industry no doubt is pay. It plays a very large part. It is very influential in retaining skilled people. But there are other contributory factors which are extremely relevant to London and earlier planning decisions, and they are also relevant to some of the matters discussed in the debate so far.
The most important aspect is the availability of housing accommodation. In my area we have a recently completed GLC estate, the Ferry Lane estate. I understand that it is proposed that the GLC should sell the houses to the highest bidders. At one time it was suggested that they should be sold by auction. It would be a glorous opportunity to retain some skilled people in North London if the GLC allocated houses not only on the basis of family need but on the basis of the tenant's skill.
There are many large factories in North London. If we could encourage skilled men to come back into the area those factories would also provide employment for less skilled people in the ratio of three to one. If we could introduce that element into the London allocation of new housing it would contribute to restoring skill and employment to some factories which are working at less than maximum capacity. That would be a welcome development.
The housing policy has taken skilled men away. Even now it is possible for young people who have acquired skills to go on housing lists and be allocated tenancies in the new towns. In the main there is no shortage of young skilled people in the new towns that have been able to attract manufacturing industry, particularly engineering. Young ski led men have moved out of London.
Those are some of the elements in the whole business of attempting to retain skill in London. So far we have lost.
Another interesting point raised by the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) was that of having a Mr. London, a Secretary of State responsible inside the Cabinet for London affairs. Some of us on the Labour Benches have argued for 10 years that there should be a co-ordinating factor in the Cabinet. That job is at present undertaken by the Secretary of State for the Environment, but he is often defeated by other interests within the Cabinet. Because he does not see London among the highest criteria against which he should measure his decisions, very often he allows to go by default part of the part of the argument when it comes to the allocation of resources for the London area.
Time and again we have seen clearly demonstrated the necessity to have inside the Cabinet someone responsible for coordinating London affairs. Over the past 10 years I have heard no better suggestion than the appointment of a Secretary of State for London. I am confident that before long we shall see a move in that direction. I have no idea what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has in mind for the future, but I think that it is an attractive proposition. I am confident that when a new Cabinet is formulated it will include someone to represent London, particularly as a number of things have happened. We have been overtaken by events. Therefore, such an appointment is more essential now than ever.
Apart from the allocation of resources, other factors have denied co-ordination so far. Most of them have been mentioned in the debate. I was interested to listen in particular to the hon. Member for Ravensbourne, who referred to one or two of them. There are in London 32 boroughs, all separate entities. The problems of housing, roads, health and so on clearly demonstrate the need for such a voice as I have described inside the Cabinet. I look forward to that.
The most disturbing thing, not mentioned so far, is that as I understand it there is no major employer who has stated that he has any intention of developing new manufacturing capacity in London. From what the major manufacturers tell me, it seems that they know of no one who foresees the development of a major plant in London. Certainly there is no major engineering undertaking with that intention. That is most disturbing. It means that the development of additional engineering capacity in London, together with any new manufacturing plant, can come only from the NEB or public sector resources of one sort or another. That is an important aspect of industrial development inside the capital city.
What can we do to overcome some of the difficulties? I hope that the Labour Government are on the verge of taking decisions to prevent this industrial drain from London. The whole of regional policy and all the incentives before a board of directors, when deciding matters affecting the renewal of their plant or the setting up of new capacity, tempt such industrialists to go for Government subsidies, which means that they move out of London. The whole apparatus set up by Government to assist manufacturers encourages movement from London.
Over the past decade we have seen firms, faced with decisions concerning renewal of plant or fresh development, uprooting themselves from London and moving elsewhere. This is one of the losing battles that I have fought in the past 15 years. I now see some signs of the Government beginning to realise the futility and contradictory nature of that policy.
I predict that one major change which will take place will be that a manufacturer now operating in London will be told that he will not qualify for subsidies if it means uprooting existing business in London and moving elsewhere. It would be sensible to say that there must be these fundamental changes in regional policy if we are to correct this drift that has taken place over recent years. Apart from the legislation affecting inner urban areas, local authorities are now thinking in terms of offering subsidies to manufacturers entering the capital. We have an almost idiotic situation whereby the Government are making resources available to companies, encouraging them to move from London, while the GLC—and the Government themselves in certain circumstances—are offering inducements for a company to come into London. As one manufacturer could move out and vacate premises, it was possible for the local authority or the Government to encourage someone else to come in and replace him. It is bordering on idiocy to continue in such a way. I look forward to its being ended, so that we have some sanity and stop this drift of industry away from London.
One hon. Member opposite referred to the treasurership of the Labour Party. I do not know how he meant it, but I can assure him that this whole question of industry moving out of London is taken very seriously indeed by members of the Labour Party, and I look forward to changes being made in the near future so that we can correct this contradictory position and thereby assist the maintenance of industry and jobs and look forward to an expansion of manufacturing within London.
The serious quality of the speeches in the debate, and the non-partisan approach that hon. Members have adopted, suggest to me that it could be very fruitful to set up a Select Committee to consider the problems of London, or for Members representing London to form themselves into a Greater London Grand Committee on one or two occasions a year, when we could look more deeply into London's strategic long-term problems.
This is a particularly opportune moment to look at the employment problems of London, because London is in danger of losing its self-confidence. Instead of planning ambitiously for the twenty-first century as a prosperous and thriving capital, we are increasingly trying to protect the status quo by subsidies or controls, afraid of the future and of rapid change. I believe that that attitude is wrong, and that we need to have more confidence in ourselves.
I believe that two particular economic difficulties beset London. One is that it is not a coherent economic system within its own borders. A number of hon. Members have drawn attention to the lack of mobility and the fact that it hampers people seeking employment. Obviously, the cost of transport and transport bottlenecks and housing problems make it difficult for people to move from one part of London to another, either in search of work each day or moving more permanently to places where the jobs are, which they feel inclined to do. We have some black spots and some grey areas, and some areas of overheating which have no common concern.
Let us look first at the internal transport facilities. These have been studied so often that one might think that there is nothing more to learn about improving them by such devices as off-peak hours or staggered working hours. But I believe that this is the right moment to look again at the way we organise our transport facilities in London and how we organise our work timetables, because we are in the middle of a most important change in the structure of working hours.
I do not believe that we shall ever go back to full employment of the old kind: I think we have to get used to the idea of going forward to a new way of living and working, not just in London but all over Western Europe, as new technology and new investment change the whole character of the processes of the creation of wealth. I do not believe that Britain is going to go on with the 40-hour week or longer when in France, Germany, Belgium and elsewhere, people are increasingly campaigning for the 35-hour or even the 30-hour week, or for the four-day week.
The right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) raised the question of the opportunities for training for more skilled jobs. I believe that the shorter working week will at the same time provide the regular opportunity for training and retraining on the job which is the only way in which we can all of us keep ourselves fresh in the second half of our careers and capable of keeping pace with technological change.
Hon. Members on this side of the House have often drawn attention to the housing problems that have arisen since the passing of the 1974 Act. I can understand the reason why the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) is rather broody about that Act and does not like criticism of it. Many of the changes that were introduced in that Act had to come, but many obvious difficulties have also resulted from it. Many hon. Members have drawn attention to the fact that it is now extremely difficult to come into central London and find relatively cheap accommodation, particularly for students, young professional people and those who expect to work for a short time here but cannot afford or do not wish to lay out the money to start acquiring property of their own. We are not catering for the short-term needs of those who want to move about in the centre of London or who come here for a relatively short period of their working life.
Nor are we making it possible for those who have accommodation to let to do so with the certainty that in due course, if they need vacant possession, they can have it again. Hon. Members have drawn attention to the problems in the public sector of unlet accommodation, but in the private sector there are tens of thousands of empty properties which are either suitable for tenants to walk into as they stand or very soon and very cheaply could be made suitable. But first there must be a change in the law. If we are to get that we must have a change in the Minister, because he has become so committed to the 1974 Act remaining exactly as it stands that one despairs of ever persuading him that there is an urgent social problem in central London. It is his responsibility to deal with it—and the problem could easily be solved.
I think that as part of the national programme of housing reform we need some sort of a housing tax credit or housing allowance system to replace the present jungle of housing subsidies. This is something that has to come. I believe, too, that we need to reconsider the eligibility for housing improvement grants in the inner city areas. I think that we could look again at the whole idea of a London weighting for allowances under national insurance, supplementary benefit, and so on, in connection with housing. But these are questions that one could deal with at very much greater length and I want to make another point.
London has to be part of a much greater economy. It cannot just live to itself. Hon. Members have reminded us that the basis of the wealth of London rested on the port, and we are now trying to carry on as before, while the docks rapidly decline. I am not entirely persuaded by those who want more subsidies for the docks, or more pressure on the Port of London Authority, because however well we maintain the old dock facilities, if the cargoes are not coming into London for all sorts of reasons, we shall not get the benefit of the docklands which were set up for a different kind of world trade. Instead of resting on the greatest port in the world as it was London is now having to make do with Heathrow on the one hand and the telex machines of the City of London on the other as our means of communication with the world.
As my hon. Friend says, Gatwick is there, and I am sure he is longing to expand it to take some of the pressure off Heathrow.
The development which is urgently needed is the Channel link. I trust that the Government will think again about that. I am sure that it is because of the well-known feelings of the Secretary of State for the Environment about any entanglement with the Continent that the Government are still maintaining their obstinate lack of interest in the Channel tunnel—or possibly a Channel bridge. The idea has a very long history, but once more I think that now is the moment when it ought to be considered again.
When this scheme was canvassed a few years ago, and came within an ace of being adopted, it had two major weaknesses. One was that it was too ambitious and therefore the cost was vast and speculative. But the other thing which aroused the opposition of the public was the idea of building an entirely new rail link from the coast into London, which inevitably fell foul of the environmental lobbies. I well remember how afraid people in Kensington were of the effects of opening a tremendous new station or depot at the White City.
The idea was abandoned, rightly or wrongly, but now there are a number of signs that it is being revived. There have been reports in the press of French and British railway chiefs having discussions to consider the possibility of a more realistic approach, of simply constructing a rail link across the Channel which would be much less disturbing environmentally. I believe that this is something which needs urgently to be followed up.
I suggest that the existing rail network should be used as far as possible, but that the traffic, particularly container traffic, should come into dockland in preference to other rail depots in the centre of London. The environmental advantages of a rail link are that it restores the attraction of rail rather than road for Continental traffic, so that in the South of England we would have fewer juggernauts taking traffic to and from the Continent by road, and we would by good planning be able to make fuller use of our rail system in off-peak times when it was not fully occupied by commuter traffic.
There are other reasons why this is a particularly apt moment, and why it is especially important, to follow this up. It is not only because the whole country is aware of the problems of the Port of London Authority, but because we need a major employment scheme which will once again give the South-East confidence. We used to think that the South-East was an area of permanent overheating, but now we are much more discriminating. We know that there are pockets of unemployment even in the area which used to be thought to be collecting the whole riches of the country and leaving the outer regions of Britain more exposed.
The concept of a Channel link now might be taken as a sort of Tennessee Valley Authority scheme—a big new project for the construction industry, which would give employment and also make use of a large quantity of steel and other materials which we have the surplus capacity to produce. I shall not bore the House by reading the whole of a letter in The Times, which many hon. Members already have seen, from that very wise man, Sir Alec Cairncross. But
I should like to remind hon. Members of one paragraph of that letter which appeared on 8th June. He said:
Circumstances have changed and the need is now for worthwhile capital projects. The scheme under consideration by British Rail for a single-track tunnel (as reported in your issue of April 3) seems to us"—
that is to say, members of the advisory group appointed by the Department—
to offer many of the advantages of the earlier project at much less cost. If it could be put in hand within the next year or two it would contribute towards increasing investment and employment at a time when both seem likely to be depressed. It would also provide a more satisfactory expansionist measure than do the necessarily short-lived effects of stimulating consumer spending.
A few weeks ago we read about the German initiative at Bremen to remove the exchange risk from European currencies. This is not just a matter of importance for current trade. If this initiative succeeds, it will have an extremely significant effect on investment and the possibility of financing long-term investments without the crippling effects of unpredictable exchange risks which at present inhibit major ventures of this kind. London, as I have said before, must have confidence in its own future. If the Government will not back a lifeline project of the scope and importance of the new Channel rail link, I believe that the City of London should be ready to finance it itself from private funds.
Whereas many would accept the argument which is put forward in general terms, what many people in Kent particularly, and certainly to some extent in Sussex, would object to is that there should be the concentration of road traffic in Sussex and Kent. To what extent does my hon. Friend believe that the Government will concentrate the road traffic, if there is to be a "chunnel"—that is, rail traffic underneath the Channel—so that the rail traffic is concentrated in the area in London which lie suggests is such a good idea?
This is most important, not only from the environmental point of view, but from the cost point of view and from the social point of view, because it is in London that we are looking for new ways of reviving the docklands. I believe we could have a major container depot there which would serve the whole of Britain. I do not think that we should set out to construct one on the coast, but I think that we should use the existing rail links from the coast to London and other major centres—I am concerned particularly with London, obviously. This is something which would make the scheme profitable and relatively inexpensive and, therefore, immediately practicable.
I congratulate the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) on sitting through this debate. I think that they have both done very well in having listened to the debate, and I hope that they will do equally well in their winding-up speeches.
This has been a very valuable debate, which I shall not prolong for more than a few minutes. At 13 minutes to 2 o'clock in the morning it is ridiculous to hope to consider London's problems with anything like the sharpness that one might have been able to devote to them six or seven hours ago.
I support the suggestion that there should be a London Question Time, which perhaps could be combined with a Grand Committee for London. Such a Grand Committee could perhaps meet on Monday mornings, starting at 11 a.m. as we do on Fridays. I think that the temptation to hold a London Grand Committee on Fridays should be avoided, because private Members' business needs to be considered then, and Monday morning at 11 o'clock would be more suitable because many of our colleagues would be struggling in from the snowdrifts of Scotland or the other less fortunate parts of the United Kingdom. London Members could have a field day on Monday mornings and could also be accorded the kind of attention in the national press, and especially in the London press, which would not be available if London debates were held on Fridays, when coverage in only one day's London papers would be available—the following day.
I declare what is not really an interest. Before I was elected to the House I ran a small craft business in Covent Garden, in the centre of London. It was a loss-making business, and then it started to make profits. I became aware that for small businesses in the centre of London there are great pressures to move out. Comprehensive redevelopment threatens small businesses in a way that is not appreciated by many people who work in large firms.
Perhaps one of the exciting things about Covent Garden is the way in which the comprehensive redevelopment plans have failed to come to fruition, with the result that many of the old fruit warehouses and vegetable stores are being turned into craft workshops, with the guidance and help of the Greater London Council and the local authorities but at the sort of rents that small businesses, and especially traditional small businesses, can afford. Many of the traditional small businesses can move into allied fields and go on to better things as long as they keep their core of craftsmen together. Employers of craftsmen should do what we successfully did in our sign business from 1973 onwards: they should ensure that no people are taken to do mere labouring or semi-skilled jobs.
We made it our practice, with the cooperation of the trade unions, to take on only those who would accept day release and attain full skill and ability and recognised qualifications. That made it easier to attract the type of young people who will be needed in future to carry on the traditional crafts and skills and who will continue to earn substantial sums for themselves, for the country and for London.
I turn briefly to some constituency matters. The debate may be the last opportunity before the Summer Recess to make a constituency speech, and I do so without apology. My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) referred to the problems facing the defence codification agency, in Mottingham. It seems clear that substantial sums will be wasted in its transfer to Glasgow. The Government proposed many years ago to amalgamate the various parts of the DCA because of computerisation. That has turned out to be totally unnecessary. One of the great advantages of computerisation is that we can use data terminals to link those doing manual work and those doing the filing and look-up work. By using off-peak transmission through the ordinary telephone system, for ex- ample, it is easy to feed the computer and to leave people in their place of work.
The proposal to move the DCA and other ancillary defence establishments to Scotland is a bad one. If the Government cannot find any other opportunities for creating employment in Scotland they should resign and allow another Administration to take office. If they insist on going ahead with a plan that was cooked up five years ago and that will not take effect for another three or four years, they are not managing the public purse as they should. They are certainly not recognising the home circumstances of those who work at the DCA. In practice there are many who are not mobile, in terms of wishing to move to Glasgow. Few of them told me that they wanted to make the move, or that they would be willing to do so.
Many who work at Mottingham live locally. They have 10 minutes or 15 minute journeys to the establishment. Many of them have substantial and heavy home responsibilities. Some of them look after aged parents. Many of them have dependent children. If these people are offered alternative work in the centre of London and they accept it, they will be working not an eight-hour day but a 10-hour day, as there will be an extra two hours spent each day travelling to and from work. The changed life of the individual does not seem to get sufficient recognition from the Government.
I am not asking the Minister to reply to the matters that I am raising; I ask him to pass on my remarks to the various Secretaries of State who are involved.
We have seen the Government's response to the difficulties of the dockers—I sympathise with both the dockers and the Government in facing the present difficulties—and I ask them to give similar consideration to those who work in industries that are less emotive but are equally valuable to the country, have a future, and should remain where they are presently sited, where the employees are doing their work well. The dislocation that would he caused to defence establishments as a result of the proposed move cannot be quantified in money. However, it can be anticipated and avoided if the Secretary of State for Defence will change his mind and let the DCA remain in Mottingham.
I turn to a question concerning the Department of Health and Social Security, and to another part of my constituency where again my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst has an interest. I believe that he was born in the Eltham and Mottingham hospital. It is one of the small cottage hospitals that provide a magnificent service to the local people. It was founded nearly 100 years ago. Irrespective of whether it is closed, there will be a centenary celebration to mark the efforts made by so many people well before the hospital was nationalised after the last war.
The Eltham and Mottingham hospital is one where many of the facilities were paid for by local people before and after nationalisation and where the large-scale plans that created the mammoth Greenwich district hospital are considered to have been somewhat in error. The district hospital is of no real use to most of my constituents, who continue to use the Eltham and Mottingham hospital, as it provides the sort of service that is needed. When I asked the Secretary of State whether he had had one representation from a constituent agreeing with him or arguing for the closure of the hospital, he said that he had had no such representations. I believe that the area health authority and the region have been under immense pressure to close that hospital and other hospitals in the locality.
The jobs of the people who have worked there for a long time—people who have home responsibilities and who live close to the hospital—are being thrown away.
One of the reasons why people enjoy living in Eltham, which is a stable district, with a good balance of housing, is that it has its local hospital and local employment. But at the same time as the hospital is under threat, the largest employer, the Department of Defence, is moving jobs away.
The third point that I want to raise—this affects employment not only in my constituency, but in dockland—is transport. We have had the environment and employment, and transport is also included in the debate.
Some time ago the Government approved plans to improve the A2 up to the edge of my constituency. They also built the Blackwall Tunnel approach road. Both roads are of motorway standard. But there is a missing three-mile link in between—the Rochester Way. It has clearly needed a relief road, since the Government decided to have the roads on either side. The people in the middle cannot create employment by getting double glazing because they are not covered by the grant scheme, but those living on the improved parts of the road can. There is more noise and pollution in the middle, but no compensation or help for double glazing installation.
When dockland starts to be redeveloped on a more substantial scale, how do the Government intend people to move in and out of the area? How do they intend to establish the road link between dockland and the Channel ports? I know what the answer will be. We shall need to have the Rochester Way relief road. Yet this missing three-mile stretch—in European terms, 4·8 kilometres—has still not been brought up to dual carriageway standard. If the Government seriously intend to get the acres of dockland redeveloped and to get industry back into that area, they should make the Rochester Way relief road a trunk road. They should provide substantial financial backing and get ahead with a public inquiry into building the road.
I am in doubt about detailed large-scale plans. Comprehensive redevelopment destroyed the small firms because they could not get the trade unions or the CBI to plead loudly enough for them.
We have seen the difficulties of sudden cuts on massive teacher training programmes. I am grateful to the Government for saving the Avery Hill college, in my constituency. I took part in the massive fight to save that college and some of the jobs there. I should like the same thing to happen with the DCA, the Eltham and Mottingham hospital and the Rochester Way relief road.
I shall trespass on the time of the House for only a short while at this late hour.
I think that we owe a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) for giving us the opportunity to debate London matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) and other hon. Members on both sides have legitimately drawn attention to the serious and in many ways non-partisan debate that we have had about London. I hope that those representing the media, who are not conspicuously attending the debate at this hour of the night, will be conscious of the serious debate that we are having so that they can take beyond the House the kind of arguments that have been made rather than the normal comments that are made about our debates.
I should like to touch on one point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington about the Channel tunnel. I have a definite constituency interest in that matter. To that extent, I choose my words carefully. I think that those with extremely close knowledge of the issue who followed it with great care and attention should be able to assure all concerned that, although the tunnel is under rediscussion, there are no proposals for the kind of link that was an environmental disaster potentially for my constituents among others. That point must be made because we cannot allow that sort of worry to develop again.
I wish to discuss four matters relating to how employment could be improved in London. Obviously I have a particular interest in the Croydon areas. The right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham), my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) and others mentioned the Hardman report on the dispersal of civil servants. This is crucial for Croydon.
My hon. Friends the Members for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Weatherill), Croydon, North-West (Mr. Taylor) and Croydon, South (Mr. Clark) all agree with what I am about to say. The proposal to move the Property Services Agency from Croydon to Teesside involves 3,000 jobs—an enormous amount of employment even without all the ancillary relationships attached to those jobs. We cannot afford this loss of jobs in London.
I appreciate the Minister's courtesy in staying in the Chamber throughout the debate. Obviously he does not know about this matter, but I have the PSA headquarters in my constituency and I take great exception to the fact that I learned only today that a press release was issued in Middlesbrough yesterday by the Department of the Environment concerning the establishment of a replacement centre in Middlesbrough. I have spoken to the Institution of Professional Civil Servants, which represents the workers in the PSA in Croydon, and I know that the press release has, quite unnecessarily, caused great additional concern, uncertainty and worry. That is the sort of issue in which the local Member and local people should be involved much more.
We have said sufficient about the Hardman proposals. As other hon. Members have said, the Hardman dispersal policies, for which both main parties must take responsibility, are totally out of date for London. They have no bearing on the difficulties of London, which has 11 per cent. of the nation's unemployed. Whichever party is in office, it must rapidly review the dispersal procedure, and I hope that the Minister will ensure that my remarks are passed on to his colleagues.
My second point concerns job opportunities within the whole London area. I know that hon. Members will not mind if I go back to our recent debate on the private GLC Bill. My hon. Friends, in an attempt to increase employment opportunities in greater London, sought, in clause 11, to give the GLC permission to guarantee loans. Unfortunately, we did not have an opportunity to debate the cause, but the proposal was rejected by the Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) spoke about the need to create different sorts of money instruments which would be of assistance in creating different job opportunities, particularly in the inner city area. We ought to be more imaginative before rejecting loan guarantees. We seem to be happy to spend taxpayers' money in subsidies and direct grants, but we refuse permission for loan guarantees.
I remind the House of the additional employment opportunities that were provided in the difficult days between 1975 and 1977, when sterling was in considerable difficulties, by the Treasury guarantee to nationalised industries to cover their exchange risk. Those industries were able to raise a great amount of money in the Eurodollar market in non-sterling denominated form. Surely that is the sort of thing in respect of which very simple Government action could reverse the wrong decision that they took in the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill debate.
The third point in respect of which specific Government action can help to improve employment opportunities in the whole of the London area is one that I sought to make in the debates on the Finance Bill. This concerns the whole problem of housing. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have talked about the implications of housing on mobility and, therefore, on employment opportunities. I want to concentrate briefly on the specific relationship of one point of current legislation to jobs in the construction industry within the whole of the Greater London area. I refer to two very major building concerns, which, unhappily, do not have their headquarters in my constituency but in Croydon—Wates and Mansell. I should like to see them giving more job oportunities within the Greater London area.
What I am concerned about specifically is the current position in regard to the stamp duty on house purchases. This is a crucial deterrent to purchase; therefore, it is a deterrent to construction of new houses and therefore, obviously, a deterrent to employment. I shall try to illustrate that.
Within the last four years house prices have risen by over 44 per cent. To give a specific example—it is much easier to deal with the real world—in my constituency, a typical three-bedroomed house on an estate called Forest Dale, a Wates modern estate, cost £16,500 in 1974. That involved a cost to the people buying it of £82.50 in stamp duty. Today the very same house costs £27,000. That has a stamp duty attached to it of £405. That is forgetting all the legal and other costs associated with house purchase and moves. It has created a very serious marginal deterrent to movement and to the creation of the purchase of new houses.
I come to the implications of this in terms of specific jobs. I have to make an obviously arithmetical calculation. We know, for example, that it takes two man-years to construct the average house. These figures are available from the House Builders Federation. Let us assume that we did not have this marginal deterrent, the current stamp duty imposition on house purchases. I think that we should probably see about 15,000 new houses created—houses that are not built at present. That is 30,000 new direct construction jobs—throughout the United Kingdom, but obviously with new implications for the construction industry in Greater London. Just imagine all the social and other monetary implications attached to 30,000 new jobs.
Finally, I come to the fourth point that I have sought to make. I see within Class IV, Vote 13, on page 69, reference H1, that we are concerned in the particular Votes in question, among other things, with the expenditure of money on the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth. To the extent that we are concerned, one or two of my hon. Friends—specifically my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)—have drawn attention to the astonishing and appalling effect on employment opportunities of the way in which our direct taxation system works.
I shall not go into further detail, because hon. Members on both sides of the House have talked about the nature of the difficulties we see in the absence of differentials between skilled, semiskilled and unskilled people, and especially the absence of differentials after tax.
Many hon. Members have talked about factory visits. The other day I was in a factory on one of the big council estates in New Addington—the factory of Twentieth Century Electronics. I was talking to some apprentices, and I was asking the factory manager and foremen why they could not get more apprentices. The hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson), who quite legitimately commented about engineering, will be interested to know that in Croydon we have, in the Engineering Employers Federation training scheme, the first girl engineering apprenticeships within the whole of the United Kingdom. This is a very important and positive move.
In the factory I asked why we were not getting more apprentices—boys and girls—working on the engineering floor and trying to learn the skills of the toolmaker's trade. It was pointed out to me that the young boys and girls talk to their parents, and legitimately their parents say "What is the point?" At the age of 45 or 50 they ask what distinction, after all the years of work and effort, the skills they possess give them in the market place.
Beyond that we must concern ourselves with the ways in which the Government could help by accepting the essential point, which is that without massive reductions of direct tax there is no way in which we can create the wealth that creates the employment that we have been discussing throughout the debate.
Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jesse]) to speak I remind him that he stands at tenth position in Mr. Speaker's ballot. If he speaks now he forfeits his opportunity to speak on the subject that he has balloted for. I take it that he understands that position.
I remind the hon. Member that the subject for which he balloted and was due to speak upon comes under Class VI Vote 1. The subject that we are now discussing does not come within that class. I am simply pointing out to the hon. Member the difference between the two subjects.
I begin by welcoming the opening in Twickenham last week, of a jobcentre. I hope to visit it in the course of the next few days. It is regrettable that it is necessary to open such establishments in outer London. They are a reminder that the unemployment problem that besets so many other parts of the country has now come into the Greater London area.
The overwhelming majority of my constituents work within Greater London, in one of three areas. These are central London, which includes the City and the West End, locally within the borough of Richmond which includes my constituency or neighbouring centres, such as Kingston or Hounslow, and Heathrow airport, or the industrial area that surrounds it.
It is a paradox that Heathrow airport, which is the source of so much employment for my constituents and is a facility for the travel of others, causes distress to so many more through the frightful noise to which it gives rise. The aircraft noise problem is experienced in neighbouring constituencies and boroughs such as Wandsworth, which includes the Putney constituency. I regret that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins) has not been present at any time in the debate to deal with employment in London when unemployment is so serious in his constituency and the Wandsworth borough.
The hon. Member for Putney signed the list of those demanding this debate, indicating a personal interest in the subject, but he has not appeared for any part of it. This is an extremely serious matter in Putney and Wandsworth since one in five jobs in manufacturing industry in that borough have disappeared since 1971. Last year there were 8,500 unemployed in the borough. It is wrong of Labour Members to attempt to make light of this matter. The situation arises largely from the restrictive practices and high rates of the former Wandsworth council, which went out of office last May.
I suggest that the hon. Member may be a little dissatisfied in the morning when he finds that my hon. Friend was here until about 9.30 or 9.45, but then, because of a business commitment this morning in his constituency, was obliged to leave. It is unfair of the hon. Member to say that my hon. Friend was not here. The hon. Gentleman himself was not here at that point.
I am told that the hon. Gentleman was not here, but I do not think that anyone will want to continue to dwell on this matter.
I now turn to the relationship between employment and transport, which is a vital one. When the House discusses employment in the regions of the country, the infrastructure of road, rail and air connections assumes a high importance, and this is also true of London. Indeed, the transport infrastructure interacts profoundly with the whole employment scene. We need transport—road, rail or air—to get to work, transport for the distribution of goods produced, and transport to get the raw materials into the factory.
The construction of roads generates employment. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore) referred a few moments ago to the role of the Greater London Council in finding and lending the funds to promote employment.
I was therefore horrified to hear of an action by the Government which has mulcted the Greater London Council of funds, and thus curtailed its capacity to promote employment. I should like to describe what has occurred. One of the main trunk roads in the country is the M3 motorway, which comes into London from the south-west. The M3 ends near the Greater London council boundary at Sunbury, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins). Three or four years ago the Greater London council was constructing a link road from the motorway called the A305 Twickenham Road to Sunbury Way improvement scheme. It is a three-mile link road, of motorway standards, so that people coming off the motorway—
Thank you for reminding me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am relat- ing my argument very closely to the employment aspect, as the construction of this road generates employment and assists in the distribution of goods, which facilitates employment in the London region.
The year 1975 was, of course, the year of the 26 per cent. inflation, after the Lord President of the Council, then the Secretary of State for Employment, gave way to the miners in the summer of 1974, with the result that wages let rip and costs escalated throughout the economy, including the cost of that road. Its costs went up rapidly, and it amounted to an extra £1·6 million, which the Greater London Council had no option but to pay. I am informed that if the council had not paid this sum the contractor would not have completed the work and would have been forced into liquidation, which would have meant considerable unemployment, apart from adding to the cost by bringing in a second contractor at a later stage, when costs would have risen higher still. It is normal for the Government to pay 75 per cent. of the cost of trunk roads, but the Government refused to pay any part—
Order. The hon. Gentleman assured me that he knew exactly what was the difference between the subject matter under discussion and the one for which he has been selected by Mr. Speaker—no. 10 in the ballot. I deprecate any attempt by an hon. Member to jump the queue by introducing a later subject matter into an earlier debate.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As a result of this shoddy and unethical conduct by the Government, not only have the ratepayers of London just been robbed of £1¼ million; there is an added burden upon the industry of Greater London through higher rates, which must tend to drive industry out and must be damaging to employment opportunities. It is a most disgraceful episode, and I hope that the Government will produce that£1¼ million or come up with a far more convincing explanation than has so far been provided.
A great many hon. Members have contributed to this debate, though not as many as were promised from the Labour Benches. Government supporters seem to have disappeared like snowflakes in a hot sun.
First, I welcome the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), who rightly drew attention to the declining population in central London and drew from that a fair conclusion, which over the years he and I have often drawn, of a declining rate base making it more difficult for companies to continue to employ the same number of people. Had the hon. Member remained on that commonsense line, the debate could have been conducted in a better atmosphere than that which followed. Unfortunately, after his opening remarks he degenerated into his more normal political nonsense, and I shall try to demonstrate that this did no service to the debate.
The hon. Member failed totally to understand the nature of the attack upon the housing problem that is now being waged by the GLC. For the first time, it is devoting top priority to housing in inner London. The hon. Member may not like it, but it is a fact. He went on to attack Sir Frank Marshall, saying that he was in the employ of the GLC. If he had studied the facts a little more carefully, he would have known that Sir Frank had not accepted a penny for his investigation. That is on the record, and the hon. Member should know it. I find it very difficult to make my speech when the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean), having woken up, interrupts me from a sedentary position. I shall give way to him if he wishes. As he appears not to wish to do so, I repeat that I deprecate that attack upon Sir Frank Marshall, who has been carrying out his review for no fee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] It is obvious that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch will not withdraw his remarks. However, the facts are on record—
Anyone who is in employment is expected by normal, intelligent people to be accepting a fee. The hon. Member is twisting the truth again. He has launched an attack upon a man of great reputation and he has not got the political courage to withdraw it. The facts are clear, and I hope that those who understand these matters will realise that the hon. Member is doing no good at all to his tattered reputation. In any event, after a decade it is sensible to have a review of the way in which the London government system is operating.
I was sorry that the hon. Member went on to use much of the remainder of his speech to attack the GLC. He and many of his hon. Friends attacked especially the sale of council houses. What they cannot accept is that this was at the direct invitation of the voters of London, who voted consciously for that policy. Government supporters may not like it, but they will have to get used to it. This was the cornerstone of the GLC election campaign. It was also the cornerstone of the borough election campaign, and the GLC and the boroughs swung to the party which offered council tenants the opportunity of escaping being serfs of Socialist-dominated authorities. The sooner that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I are translated to the other side of this Chamber to give tenants in areas such as those represented by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch or the Under-Secretary of State for Employment the chance to buy their own homes by statute, the better.
Let me remind the House of some of the successes so far achieved by the Greater London council—a body that is operating on the basis of a manifesto, which is a device popular with Government supporters when they can quote it, but an unpopular one when they hear other people quoting theirs.
Amongst the achievements of the GLC is the sale already of 1,000 council houses, and that number will increase substantially over the coming months. The GLC has pioneered the concept of homesteading. It is putting into active use the hundreds of derelict properties that were owned by a Labour GLC that did nothing about them other than permitting them to rot, leaving people on waiting lists instead of giving them the opportunity to occupy them.
Under the previous administration at County Hall, there were more than 1,000 people squatting in GLC property. By April of this year, that number had been reduced by more than half, and the majority of these squatters have now been rehoused as tenants or licensees and are now paying rents or fees. I think that we all welcome that long overdue move, which could have been taken by Sir Reg Goodwin. The trouble was that he did not understand that to most people in London squatting was an offence against decent people who queued honestly, waiting to reach the top of the housing list. The GLC has put right a wrong, and it should have been done a long time ago.
I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's second question without notice, because I am not a representative of the GLC. The hon. Member has his own ways of getting questions put down there in order to obtain those figures. As for his first question, what he and his hon. Friends have failed to grasp is that the mobility amongst council tenants was very low. The overwhelming bulk of council tenants, not merely in the GLC area but elsewhere, stay there for life, as do their children. There is no such issue as the one that the hon. Gentleman raises.
In the year just ended, 1977–78, the GLC lent nearly £20 million to housing associations. In the 1978–79 housing programme, £27 million has been allocated to the same purpose. I am certain that this is the way to proceed with helping the people of London who want housing.
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) could not be here tonight, but he asked me to say that he believes strongly in the argument being put forward that one of the problems affecting London's employment is the loss of skilled labour and the problems caused by the lack of mobility among people in Greater London. That, I think, is an extremely wise observation.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker), following the speech of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch, brought us back to the subject of the debate. He pointed out the real dangers facing London, and he gave us the dramatic figures on unemployment. He went on to make a strong case for saying that where there is a loss of skill, skilled manpower goes, there has to be an attempt to replace it with semi-skilled manpower, and that has one of two results. Either there is a lower standard in general, because the skilled people are no longer there and plants are being operated on the basis of perhaps 80 per cent. skill, or firms close down because of the loss of skilled manpower, with the result that both semiskilled and unskilled find themselves out of work. All over London, there is either a reduction in quality or a general rise in unemployment.
Until I come to answer some of the other political arguments of Government supporters, I hope that I can return to the opening sentences of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch, and try to be non-partisan for a while.
Unfortunately, I have to come straight to the speech of the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), who flitted in and out, as he does so often. He makes attacks, then he disappears and is not seen again. I hope he will read in Hansard what is said about him. It is clear that he will not be back tonight.
The right hon. Member made a monstrous attack upon my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) and admitted that he had not had the elementary courtesy which hon. Members normally have of warning my hon. Friend of his intention to make this personal attack on him. I think that most hon. Members will agree that conduct of that kind shows a standard below that which we would normally expect. He attacked my hon. Friend for contributing an excellent series of articles in the Evening News on the problems of London. I shall not join the right hon. Member in attacking the Evening News. I shall join, instead, in praising the Evening News for having had the sense to commission such an important series of articles. If it had invited the right hon. Gentleman or me, would anyone in opposing parties have accepted as impartial anything that was said? Would not both sides have said that the right hon. Gentleman and I were too close to the issue? Therefore, was not it intelligent to ask my hon. Friend, who was a former Minister at the Department of the Environment and who, although he may live in London, does not represent a London seat and can look at these problems dispassionately? I believe that when people have read the five articles they will accept that they make a major contribution to thought in London on how we shall proceed. I think particularly of what my hon. Friend will say on the Marshall plan.
When he spoke about matters that he understood, the right hon. Gentleman was listened to by the House with respect. It is sad that he did not stick to such matters throughout. He attacked the PLA I shall not follow him along that path, except to say that I am not defending the PLA, but only one side was given. Dockers and their leaders bear much of the responsibility for the overmanning and restrictive practices that have led to job losses and a closing down of much of London's docks.
It is shocking, and that is the responsibility that many people must bear for the position in which the PLA finds itself.
The right hon. Gentleman then spoke of the need for a development corporation and how he had pressed this upon my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). The right hon. Gentleman was, after all, Government Chief Whip. Is he saying that he had no power to tell his Government "I want a development corporation for my people in dockland"? What he said tonight is an abject confession of his failure to convince any of his colleagues that what he was talking about was sensible.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I think that at that time a development corporation was the answer. It is interesting that this is a conclusion reached by Sir Frank Marshall, but I am not certain whether there is time still to have it.
I want to revert to the question of West Cumbria and the move of the Government laboratory. In an intervention in the right hon. Gentleman's speech I referred to a letter of 25th July from the Under-Secretary—the hon. Member for
Keighley (Mr. Cryer). I should now like to refer to the earlier letter of 11th July to the hon. Gentleman from Miss Shelagh Roberts, the leader of the planning and communications policy committee of the GLC. She made the point about the need to try to keep the laboratory in London and not send it to West Cumbria, ending as follows:
I would greatly appreciate the opportunity, therefore, to discuss the matter further with you or with one of your colleagues and very much hope that a meeting can be arranged in the near future.
Two weeks later that request was turned down, and the Minister's concluding sentences were:
The Government's view, however, is that the dispersal programme must be considered as a whole. This is a firm commitment which after careful review, has been reaffirmed on a number of occasions. In the circumstances it is unlikely that a useful purpose would be served by a meeting which you proposed.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he would not be fobbed off with such a reply. I challenge him to lead a deputation from the GLC to see the Minister. Let us see whether he is prepared to back up his words or whether they are meaningless. I shall gladly join him in making it a bipartisan deputation. Let the right hon. Gentleman show us whether he meant what he said several hours ago and offer to lead the deputation.
The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) expressed the wish that neither Front Bench would commit itself too far on the Port of London Authority. I will go no further this morning than to read from column 971 of Hansard of 9th May, when the Prime Minister said:
Commercial criteria must be the test against which facilities of this type are used. There will be no long-term future for this country if we continue permanently to subsidise facilities for which there are no uses."—[Official Report, 9th May 1978; Vol. 949, c. 971.]
There are three matters that arise. First, is the hon. Gentleman aware that in Lloyd's List today 21 ships are shown as using the upper docks, which proves that there is a use for them? Secondly, does he agree that the response of the Prime Minister, which he has quoted and which has been constantly reprinted in the press, was in specific response to a point that I made concerning the subsidies to Continental ports which, in comparison with London, would take much more trade from London if commercial criteria were applied and therefore the trade of London would be that much reduced? Although he may agree with what the Prime Minister said, would he not agree that the report which he has quoted was in that context because that was the question that I put to the Prime Minister?
I am afraid that I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. I occasionally do like to agree with him. The Prime Minister's reply was perfectly clear. It was not equivocal, which was perhaps unusual. He made it perfectly clear that these matters must be judged in a commercial context. The hon. Member must fight his battles with his own Prime Minister. He is quite used to doing it, and will not need much help from me.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) made a valuable contribution and reminded the House of the fascinating speech that he made on 12th July 1976 when we had another important debate upon the problems of Greater London. He supported the view that there ought to be a Question Time for London and reminded the House of the sabotage by Labour Members of vital clauses in the GLC General Powers Bill which would have helped retain jobs in London.
The hon. Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) said that he did not agree with a bi-partisan approach. Those were almost his opening words. I recall that before he came to this House he was leader of the Wandsworth borough council. It is noteworthy that the good citizens of Wandsworth so appreciated his non-agreement with a bi-partisan approach that they took the opportunity to change the political control of Wandsworth when they were given the chance. The hon. Member said firmly that he wanted jobs to come back. I somehow do not think that the policies he was putting forward are likely to persuade many employers to put their money into jobs in any part of the country, sincere though he is. I accept his sincerity. But sincerity does not, alas, create jobs. He feared that there would be little growth in jobs provided by private enterprise in inner cities.
If private enterprise listens to the hon. Member's words even fewer people will be prepared to invest because it is his philosophy that is driving people away. They will not invest their money to be hectored and lectured on planning agreements and their responsibilities. Private enterprise will do the job but it needs to do it under fair conditions. It will not do a job if it is to be hamstrung, taxed out of existence, and told that it is antisocial but will be tolerated until such time as the Socialist millennium comes—which, pray God, will never happen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) reminded us, not that we needed reminding because it is apparent for all to see, that the worst social conditions are usually to be found in those areas so long dominated by Labour councils. The London County Council was a perfect example. From 1933, for about 30 years or more, inner London rotted under Socialist control. Most of the inner London metropolitan boroughs were under Labour control and similarly rotted. Therefore, there is nothing to be proud of when looking at the record of the Labour Party in Greater London.
My hon. Friend analysed the problems of council tenants and put the blame for the failure of many of the transfer schemes on the mechanics. I think that all of us would agree, speaking from a nonpartisan point of view, that much of the trouble comes from councils controlled by either party in that the systems of transfer do not work properly. Most letters in our constituency mailbags complain of the inability, under a Conservative-controlled GLC or a Labour-controlled GLC, to get any sensible transfer offers. That is equally so under Camden borough council, whether Labour or Conservative-controlled.
I support what my hon. Friend said. It is right to get on the record that the housebuilding of this Government is one of the worst since the war. That failure by the Government, too, is making a contribution to the problems of Greater London.
My hon. Friend went on to say that he was sorry for council tenants. He thought that they were being shabbily treated. They are. But they know precisely how to act. What upset the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham), when he and I appeared on television in the "London Programme", was the fact that many more council tenants in London than ever before had voted Conservative in May to show their disapproval of Labour-controlled borough councils. They are going to do it in ever-increasing numbers when they realise that it is only the Labour Party that has deprived them of the right that everyone else has—to own their own homes. What they are not prepared to tolerate any longer is to be the captive serfs of Socialism.
The hon. Gentleman cannot ignore the fact that, on that edition of the "London Programme", a rather different pattern emerged in inner London, where people in tower blocks and without the opportunity of gardens are deprived of the result of council house sales. Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman was extremely selective on that programme. He now wants to accept one statistic, but he completely rejected the other statistic, which suggested that one factor in the election results was the racist speeches made by the Leader of the Opposition.
I could quote the racist writings of the Prime Minster and others from the late Richard Crossman's Diaries. I do not think there is any merit in pursuing that argument too far, because some of the most vicious statements have come from right hon. and hon. Members opposite. I do not think that we will pursue the point any further because otherwise hon. Members opposite might regret it.
I turn now to the speech by the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart), who is always listened to in the House with the very greatest respect. He will be missed as a good Londoner.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) has his own views of most people's speeches. On occasion I would agree with him, but I think that tonight, as this may well be the last occasion on which the right hon. Gentleman speaks, I would like to take a much more charitable view. The right hon. Gentleman said in our last debate on foreign affairs that that might be the last occasion on which he would speak in the House, so I think that he and I are guesssing pretty well that it will be an October election. I do not want to spoil what I was saying about the right hon. Gentleman because I genuinely respect him—indeed, I respected him long before I came to the House—as a superb Londoner. The House will be the poorer when he is not here.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to some of the problems that he felt were affecting housing in London. He said that outer London was not making its fair contribution of housing aid to inner London. There are two schools of thought on this issue.
The facts produced by a Department of the Environment survey three years ago showed that many of the nominations made by inner London boroughs to both the GLC and some of the outer London boroughs were not being taken up. There are two ways of helping inner London. One is by taking land from outer London boroughs and building; the other is to let the outer London boroughs, which know their areas best, build and then offer places to inner Londoners.
The facts show that many of the nominations were not being taken up—indeed, I think that about 30 per cent. were not being take up. Until 100 per cent. of the nominations are taken up, I am not sure that it is fair to be as critical as the right hon. Gentleman was of the outer London boroughs.
I take issue with the right hon. Gentleman on one thing. He praised ILEA. He must be one of the few people so to do. I agree that there is no need to attack ILEA on political grounds, because it stands condemned by vast numbers of parents on grounds of educational inefficiency, extravagance and lower standards. And this is clear again from many of our post bags. I do not attack ILEA politically, but I do attack it educationally, and to me that is very much more important, because in the end I am concerned to make certain that children coming out of schools in inner London are as well qualified as children from outer London or elsewhere in the country, and I genuinely do not believe that that is happening.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford brought us back to reality with a bang. He exposed some of the nonsenses from Labour Members and reminded us of the need to increase differentials and to reduce high taxation.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) attacked London Transport and was worried about buses travelling in convoy—the famous No. 11 buses running together for protection. That happened long before the system was run by the GLC. Buses in convoy have occurred in London since the creation of the London Passenger Transport Board by the late Herbert Morrison. It is nothing new, and I doubt whether any debate will ever take place when we do not have to refer to it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) asked whether we should reconsider the redistribution of London's available assets. I am not certain whether the assets are there in sufficient quantities to redistribute, but my hon. Friend was right when he exposed some of the planning nonsenses and the language used by planners, such as "private open space". One gets into difficulties if one starts making comparisons with the American language, for example lift and elevator, but what becomes even more difficult is when one talks of "making speeches". One can make a speech in this House only if one is fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chair. Even my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) can occasionally make speeches if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Members of the American House can have their speeches read into the record, which you might agree my hon. Friend might have managed more successfully—
Well, it will not be much longer, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but an enormous amount was said tonight and I think that it needs to be covered.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) demonstrated clearly that ODPs are driving firms away from London and losing us more and more jobs.
What I did not quite understand in the speech of the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) was her comment upon the docklands proposed experiment. Nobody has suggested that the whole of docklands should be thrown wide open free of restrictions. What has been said over and over again by Mr. Cutler is "Let us experiment on a few acres to see what can be done to help small businesses. Free them from virtually all restrictions except those concerned with health and safety". I believe that that experiment ought to be tried. I am certain that Government and local government in action will produce no jobs. Capitalism can bring life back to those areas.
My hon. Friend the Member for the City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) made the point that small firms can make a major contribution to providing more jobs, and he was right to point out the unique position of the City of London which makes a great and invaluable contribution to our economy—a contribution which many Labour Members would gladly do without because they do not understand the unique position of the City of London.
When my hon. Friend went on to talk about some of the problems in Covent Garden, again the Government did not understand that public expenditure which shows a good return is very different from that so often practised by this Government where public expenditure just goes down the drain.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), focusing on youth employment, made the point that is accepted by everybody outside Government, that the Employment Protection Act has contributed to the loss of job opportunities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) drew attention to the clear failure of the 1974 Rent Act, and I place on record my tribute to him for what he has tried to do to get some of the empty properties let by proceeding with his ideas of short-holds.
The opening words of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) stimulated the Minister and me to listen with even greater care than we would have done to what he had to say. Certainly, since his election victory he has been assiduous in attending to his duties. He told us how small firms could make a positive contribution to an increase in skills, and he made an eloquent plea for saving his local hospital in the interests of employment and of social balance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Moore) stressed the need for more time to be devoted to debates on London affairs. In particular, he drew attention to what the PSA is doing by proposing to open luxurious headquarters in Middlesbrough. I do not believe that the PSA has justified itself sufficiently to allow it to go to Middlesbrough with this major dispersal. I think that we want to look at the PSA to see if it is justifying its existence.
In his intervention in this particular debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham, helping my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins), clearly showed that there is at least an injustice and at worst, maladministration, on the part of the Department of Transport. If the Government will not budge, I hope that someone will refer the matter to the Parliamentary Commissioner.
Not too much divides Londoners on this issue of jobs—
I am sure that we are all grateful to my hon. Friend for referring to so many hon. Members who have taken part in this debate, but I should like to express my surprise at the absence of the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies), who was one of the 22 Labour Members who entered the Ballot for the debate in which we are now taking part. I am wondering why he is not here, but since he is not, I feel he would like me to say that had he been here he would have wished to praise the GLC for taking one very important decision which affects his constituency and mine, namely, the building of the North-South road. It was not in the programme as planned by the Labour GLC. It is now firmly in the programme. It will be of tremendous value to the hon. Gentleman's constituents and to mine, both on industrial and environmental grounds. Therefore, in his absence, I should like to say on behalf of his constituents and mine how grateful we are to the Tory GLC for putting this road in the programme.
I wonder whether the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) has the authority of the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) to make that statement? I take it that he has that authority.
I am sure that question was not addressed to me. I cannot answer for the hon. Member for Enfield, North. All I can say is that it is correct for Members who have not entered their names into the Ballot to speak. It seems to me rather off for substantial numbers of hon. Members who have entered their names into the Ballot not to turn up and to take part.
I am sorry, but no. I have given way very generously. I should like to continue. For a short while I should like to be non-controversial. Those Members who sit for London seats are getting sick and tired of the dog-in-the-manger attitude of many of our colleagues from outside London who do not, and will not, understand London's problems. It is clear that ODPs should go. It is clear that IDCs should go. No one will ever know how many jobs have been lost to London just because people cannot be bothered to go through the paraphernalia of completing IDC applications.
The Greater London Council (General Powers) Act will now permit London to advertise its opportunities. I want to place on record my tribute to four Labour Members who had the courage to vote for the particular clauses in that Act, which would have given the GLC power to guarantee certain loans. They were the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), the hon. Member for Paddington and the right hon. Member for Fulham. Alas, Londoners who are jobless will recall that the Members for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett), Hackney, South and Shoreditch, Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), Tooting (Mr. Cox), Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann), Brent, East (Mr. Freeson), Edmonton (Mr. Graham), Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr), Peckham (Mr. Lamborn), Bermondsey, Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), Islington, North (Mr. O'Halloran), Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), Deptford (Mr. Silkin) and Newham, South, all went into the Lobby to deny the GLC the opportunity of providing job opportunities. The record is clear, and the columns of Hansard and the Division List will show exactly what has happened.
I sum up what London has suffered under this Government. First, the Labour GLC has sought powers, which were endorsed by the subsequent Conservative GLC, to assist industry, to lend for industrial building, to guarantee rents, and to guarantee industrial loans. All these were vetoed by Liberal and Labour Members in the Commons, with the four honourable exceptions that I have mentioned, despite the findings of a Select Committee of this House. I think that it is without precedent that a Select Committee report on a Private Bill has been rejected by this House.
The Inner Urban Areas Bill will give local authorities neither the full powers nor the resources to tackle the problems, and it is clearly inferior to the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act which I have already discussed.
Thirdly, on the question of Trammell Crow, the investment which is a development would provide 12,000 jobs. The GLC has been stopped from guaranteeing the finance because the Government persuaded Labour Members to delete the clauses. The Secretary of State has powers under the Industry Act. He has been dithering for more than 12 months and eventually, if the scheme falls through, that is another 12,000 jobs lost as a result of inactivity on the part of this Government.
On partnerships, limited funds and detailed Government control exist and money will be available only on main programmes. Locally determined scheme allocations have been halved in four years. The GLC asked for £35 million. It was given £20 million. In dockland there has been less bickering between the five riparian boroughs and the Tory GLC than ever before. The press release from the Docklands Joint Committee on 27th July showed that £233 million is to be spent on dockland. This is a solid contribution to housing, transportation and jobs.
It is noteworthy that no Liberal Member has been present throughout this debate. The Liberals' sole contribution to the wellbeing of London was their effort on 24th May when the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), as Hansard records, led the Socialists into the Lobby to delete job opportunity clauses from the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill. No wonder the Liberals lost their seats, both London parliamentary seats and on the GLC, and Londoners will not lightly forget them.
This has been a long and interesting debate. The debate could have been conducted on a high note free from party bias. Over 20 Labour Members chose to put this item down and to debate it. Thirteen have not troubled to join us, and others drifted away.
The hon. Member is, as always, totally inaccurate. If he can read, he will notice that the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Acton was on the list. Alas, the hon. Member cannot read. The hon. Member chose to be political. He must not grumble if we take up his challenge and we give as good as we got or, I like to think, better than we got. Certainly the contributions from my hon. Friends were not merely better; they outnumbered those made by Labour Members, and there are fewer Conservative Members for Greater London constituencies than there are Labour Members.
On unemployment, the Labour Party has no case. It has failed abjectly and Londoners know this. What Londoners want is to complete the treble as rapidly as possible. They now have under their belt the GLC and the LBA. They want the third scalp—the Government, and they will have that as soon as the Government have the guts to let them vote.
I had intended to open my remarks by suggesting that we have had a fairly bipartisan debate, but I can hardly do that after the contribution of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg). The hon. Gentleman will have to forgive me if from time to time I stray into his had habits.
It has been a long, wide-ranging and useful debate. I do not wish to sound patronising when I say that I think that we have all learned from one another during the debate. I am glad that we have had the opportunity to discuss London's problems, especially employment. The House will understand if I tend to concentrate on employment. I think that it would be too much for even a full-blown Minister for London to reply satisfactorily to the many and varied matters that have been raised. I readily give the assurance for which a number of hon. Members have asked, namely, that I shall pass on to my right hon. Friends the relevant Ministers the various views and feelings that have been expressed and the suggestions that have been made.
As my hon. Friends repeatedly observed—Opposition Members have made the same point—there have been tendencies in the past for hon. Members from other parts of the country to overlook the severe problems that London faces. Too often horizons are limited to Whitehall, The Mall, Piccadilly Circus and glimpses of dockland, Hackney, Islington, Battersea and Brixton through the windows of trains or cars. As my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham) said, that gives people a false impression. It must be put firmly on the record that London has serious problems, especially certain parts of the capital, some of which are not more than a longish stone's throw away from where we are now sitting.
My hon. Friends quoted a number of graphic statistics on London's unemployment problems and I shall quote one or two statistics as well. Unemployment in the Greater London area in July stood at 4·1 per cent. That may not seem particularly high compared with the national average of 6·5 per cent., but it must be remembered that 4·1 per cent. means that over 158,000 people are unemployed in London. In July, London's unemployed represented nearly 10·5 per cent. of all those unemployed in Great Britain. There were more unemployed in London than in the West Midlands, the South-West or the Northern regions.
It is true that the total number of unemployed in London is now nearly 16,000 less than it was a year ago, but we are still left with the total of over 158,000 people without work. That figure is deeply disturbing but it does not tell the whole story. Over half of the total were registered at inner London offices, a total of over 80,000. That is a figure to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) referred.
Hon. Members have pointed to the decrease in employment in London. Between 1971 and 1976–1976 is the latest year for which we have figures—the number in employment in the Greater London area fell by 230,000, or 5·8 per cent. In the same period employment in manufacturing fell by more than 24 per cent. There has been a shift from manufacturing to services that has taken place nationally in recent years. Manufacturing employment declined nationally by 10 per cent. in the same five years. However, in London we see the trend superimposed on an overall decline in employment.
I do not want to indulge in a sterile debate about whether the decline in jobs was caused by the movement of working people from London or whether they followed the jobs. The fact remains that there has been a substantial decline in both people and jobs. That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. People have often wanted to move for good reasons—for example, to get away from overcrowding and to seek a more pleasant environment. Those of us who represent inner London areas are familiar with those good reasons. My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) made some valid points. Incidentally, I join the hon. Member for Hampstead in paying my tribute to my right hon. Friend for all the work that he has done for Londoners in his long membership of the House.
Jobs have gone also for understandable reasons such as congestion and the lack of physical space for expansion. Space has sometimes been unavailable because of inadequate planning policies. I agree very much with some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) on that score. At times there have been shortages of manpower. But now I think that there is a realisation that this process is being carried too far. Just as important, there is a realisation that the process leaves a fundamentally imbalanced population and industrial structure behind.
I have already referred to the rapid decline in manufacturing jobs. As for the movement of people, all too often it has been those with skills—those in what the economists call the higher socioeconomic categories—who have moved. It is the poor, the unskilled and the disadvantaged—the black and disabled—who get left behind. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch referred to the elderly. That is also very true. This is, of course, particularly true in the inner areas. In fairness, it is a feature which inner London has in common with the other inner cities.
These are some facets of the London problem. The facts about London have, I think, been submerged in the past; but the Government have seen them accurately. The problems of London are increasingly being brought to national attention, not least because of the efforts of London Members, such as my hon. Friends, who have campaigned vigorously on London's behalf.
I turn now to the effect of this awareness on the policy of the Government. In doing so, I think that we should remember the total inaction of the Conservative Administration regarding employment in London. I shall come back to that point later.
The principal and major initiative taken by the Government is our inner cities policy. I think that this goes right to the heart of London's problems. Of the seven partnerships set up in England, three are in London, involving a total of eight boroughs. These partnerships will receive a total of over £90 million under the urban programme in the period up to 1981. They have already had £30 million under last year's special inner city construction package.
In addition to the partnerships—Lambeth, Hackney-Islington and docklands—Hammersmith, as a programme authority, is to receive a substantial urban programme allocation. All the boroughs involved in partnerships will receive the powers to assist industry contained in the Inner Urban Areas Act. In the partnership areas these powers will be very considerable. Boroughs will be able to give grants to help with rents paid by firms taking new leases. They will be able to give interest-free loans for up to two years for site preparation and they will be able to give interest-free relief grants for small firms. But the effect of the Act will not be confined to the partnerships. In all, 13 London boroughs will have powers to make 90 per cent. loans for the acquisition of land and for carrying out works and will be able to declare industrial improvement areas.
I want to say something about dock-lands. I cannot add much in detail to the statement on the docks made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, but the fact that the Government have not endorsed closure of the Royals is a mark of the weight that we attach to the serious human, social and environmental problems of docklands. The docklands partnership, with a £15 million a year allocation under the urban programme, is concerned primarily with the industrial redevelopment of dock-lands, and the Inner Urban Areas Act will add to its powers in this respect.
The Opposition have really sat on the fence as regards the question of dock closures. Their transport spokesman today criticised the Government's action, but did not offer any alternative solution. Despite the shelter that the hon. Member for Hampstead sought from the Prime Minister's remarks, which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) demonstrated had been taken out of context, we are entitled to ask whether the Opposition believe that market forces should have been allowed to take full effect in the docks, just as they would have liked to see happen with British Leyland, Chrysler and a number of other similar cases. The short answer is that that is their policy. That is what they want, but they do not seem to be prepared to say so. Perhaps that is because, with the possibility of a General Election drawing nigh, they do not want to say it out loud. After all, it would not go down too well alongside their phony advertisements on dole queues.
The urban programme commitment is only a portion of the total amount that will be spent by public authorities and the partnerships. The hon. Member for Hampstead referred to the estimate of £233 million to be spent by public authorities over the next three years. I was glad that the hon. Gentleman referred to that, because it is the sort of thing that needs advertising, but he did not say that £150 million of that money is coming direct from the Government. I agree with Sir Hugh Wilson, the chairman of the Docklands Committee, who has described this as the best thing that has happened to London's docklands, which he claims will become an area in which Londoners will be proud to live and work.
I am not glossing over youth unemployment. I shall come to it later. When I referred to the phoney advertisement, nearly every hon. Member knew what I was getting at—Saatchi and Saatchi and its moonlighting employees.
A number of hon. Members have referred to the Trammell Crow application for aid under section 8 of the Industry Act. It is being considered by the Government and is being given the normal appraisal of such applications, including consideration by the Industrial Development Advisory Board and the decision will be announced as soon as possible.
I cannot do that off the cuff, but the hon. Gentleman has given his estimate of the time and I have no reason to quarrel with it. I am sure that he is about right.
Let me put a question to the hon. Gentleman. Why do the Opposition not believe that private enterprise cash could do the job? They are so concerned about public expenditure, but there is a touch of inconsistency here. In addition, on the last two occasions when the Government have sought more money to be provided for section 8 cases, the Opposition have voted against us. They do not seem to support section 8. I wonder what is their real attitude towards Trammell Crow.
That does not alter the fact that it is being considered under the Industry Act and the Opposition, were they in a position to vote again on section 8, would have to vote against it—if they were to be consistent—and that would be the end of Trammell Crow.
The increased urban programme allocations and the Act powers are, in effect, only the more formal and visible signs of the inner city policy. Just as important is the commitment given in the White Paper to give an inner city dimension to the Government's main policies and programmes. Thus, for example, when my Department considered the extension of the small firms employment subsidy earlier this year, we decided to extend it to the partnership areas of London as well as to the assisted areas. This subsidy will, I hope, be of substantial benefit to the partnership areas of London where the fostering of small manufacturing firms is rightly seen as a key element in regeneration.
We have also given an inner city priority to the special temporary employment programme, which will be of great relevance to inner London, offering, as it does, the opportunity to combine temporary employment for the long-term unemployed with projects of community value such as environmental works.
An essential element in the partnership concept is the bringing together of the many statutory agencies both in central and local government to ensure a coordinated effort to regenerate the inner areas. Too often in the past what has been done has been piecemeal, and genuine efforts to improve in one field have had undesirable side effects in another. Through the partnerships, we aim to avoid this and to draw up co-ordinated programmes of action.
I should like to give an example of how I think that partnership is beginning to work, and to work well. I take the example of my own borough of Islington. There is no doubt that there has been a real problem of mismatch of both accommodation and jobs in the past. But Islington, with substantial Government help, has been tackling the employment problem. It was very clear that while education, housing and retraining were vital, none of this would really matter overmuch if there were no suitable accommodation to attract employers.
We had over 1 million sq ft of empty industrial floor space in the borough, in mostly old, mostly dilapidated slum property. The private sector was quite disinterested in improving it, and one understands why. But the Government's allocation of construction money was applied mostly to economic regeneration. The result now is that nearly 90,000 sq ft of new accommodation and 15,000 sq ft of improved floor space in existing buildings will be available in the borough by next March. Plans exist for a further 30,000 sq ft of improved floor space with only the reservation that still more resources are needed for that.
I am told that this new space, in small units, with proper loading facilities and proper services—the kind of thing that employers want—is nearly all spoken for and that in some cases it could be let several times over.
There is now a central register of all the available accommodation. A small firms advisory centre is about to be set up. It is fair to say that already many jobs in the borough have been saved and others have been created. Various other local initiatives are in the pipeline.
Again, I am told that each job saved or created is costing as little as £3,000, and often nearer to £2,000, in relation to capital expenditure. That is a pretty good bargain. It is an immensely encouraging story.
Again, the council's initiatives have awoken private sector interests. Firms are now asking not only for floor space but for sites on which to build their own accommodation.
Of course, the borough needs more resources. But this shows that a very great deal is stirring in the inner city and that the inner city problems are certainly not insoluble, particularly given the vigorous co-operation of local authorities and the Government to get things under way. Here the Government have given a very firm lead.
I turn to the manpower measures that my Department and the Manpower Services Commission have introduced to ease the problem of unemployment in London. So far, these measures, including the temporary employment subsidy, the job creation programme and the work experience programme, have helped over 33,000 people in London. This represents an enormous amount of assistance. We are building steadily on this.
Earlier this year the job release scheme was extended to cover London. As I have already said, the small firms employment subsidy now applies in the partnership areas. The two new programmes that we are currently introducing, the youth opportunities programme and the special temporary employment programme, under which London has been allocated a total of £12 million, will further develop the assistance that we are giving to the young unemployed and those who have been unemployed for long periods.
The MSC has set itself an ambitious target for the implementation of these programmes in London. I very much hope that London boroughs, trade unionists and employers will respond fully to the need for projects.
We are very conscious of the point raised by several right hon. and hon. Members about skill shortages, even at this time of high unemployment. Mention has been made of pay policy and the effect of wage restraint on skills and differentials. One has to accept that of course pay policies have had an effect in this respect. But all I can say about that is that we believe that, despite that, there are overriding arguments in favour of a policy of this kind, and this House has very recently accepted such a policy.
Training, none the less, is a key element in this. Through the industrial training boards we have taken measures to boost the number of training places for young people in industry. Our retraining programme for adults—the training opportunities scheme—has been dramatically expanded in London since 1974. Last year nearly 12,000 adults completed TOPS courses in London. That is very nearly double the number that completed courses in 1974. It was then 6,300. A major skillcentre expansion programme is planned to take place over the next few years, with new facilities scheduled, which should provide more than 1,000 extra places.
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman. However, I am slightly concerned. In view of the fact that it was the Under-Secretary of State for Transport who asked me to speak in this debate rather than later, and as in the presence of officials he gave a definite undertaking that if I did so I would get a reply to the points I made in this debate, and as it was definitely arranged that a brief would be sent from the Department of Transport across to the Department of Employment during this debate, can the hon. Gentleman now say that he will honour the undertaking given by his colleague and will give a reply to the points that I have raised?
I was not asked by my colleague to give a specific reply, but I shall certainly respond to the hon. Gentleman if he will have a little patience. I think that he ought to have a little patience, because he was the last to come into the Chamber to enter the debate. He jumped the queue, as it were, to get into the debate, so he ought to bear with us for a little longer on this matter.
Other hon. Members made points which must be dealt with. I want to deal with the question of dispersal before dealing with the hon. Member's point. I do not think that anyone anticipates that I am likely to be able, during a Consolidated Fund debate, to change the Government's policy and their firm commitment to dispersal. Strong views have been expressed tonight on both sides and I undertake to draw them to the attention of my right hon. Friends. I must make the same response to the pleas for designation of Park Royal and Paddington.
I shall not reply to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) in the detail that he would have had if he had initiated his own debate later. The dispute between the GLC and the Department of Transport has been continuing for a long time. I am assured by my colleagues in that Department that they have gone into the matter personally, repeatedly and in detail. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to the GLC. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has written no fewer than four times since 1976 and he has seen a deputation. I can therefore assure the House in good conscience that the GLC arguments have been exhaustively considered.
I do not want to go into the detail of the argument tonight—I do not think the House would wish me to do so—but I think that the hon. Member has painted a somewhat contorted picture. The Department has repeatedly considered whether it would be right and proper to attempt to bend the rules so that an additional payment of the kind he is suggesting could be made, but after the most careful consideration it remains of the view that there would be inadequate justification for doing so. I hope that that will help to convince the hon. Gentleman and the GLC that there is not much prospect of a change of view. However, I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that my remarks were contorted, would he be content to have the matter resolved by the Ombudsman and for the Government to abide by any recommendation of the Ombudsman as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg)?
It is not for me to decide whether something should go to the Ombudsman, or what his decision or the Government's view on it might be. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to take the case there if he feels that this is a matter of maladministration. That is entirely a matter for him.
Is there any point in the Civil Service unions concerned with dispersal, which are getting from the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for the Environment a refusal to reconsider the dispersal problem going to the Department of Employment to find someone in high office who would at least argue their case with the relevant Ministries? The Civil Service unions find that their sponsoring Departments go through the motions but do not seem to accept that over a period of nine years there are changes in London employment. The Secretary of State for Employment and his junior Ministers could probably put that factor across very effectively.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his vote of confidence. I could not, however, recommend that course. We are discussing a Government policy. The sponsoring Minister is the Lord Privy Seal and the unions are certainly well aware of that. I am sure that they have been in discussion with him over a period about these matters. That is the proper way to deal with it, but where employment matters are involved my Department would have a view and would express it accordingly. I cannot, however, take the hon. Gentleman further than that.
I regret that here I shall lapse into the fault displayed by the hon. Member for Hampstead and be partisan. I said earlier that in Government the Conservatives did very little to help or recognise London's employment problems or many of the other difficulties that have been mentioned tonight. On the other hand, they seem to have some quite interesting ideas now that they are in Opposition. Some of them are especially interesting to London.
One of the most interesting has come from the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe). I quote from the Daily Telegraph of 27th June—a most impeccable source, as I am sure Conservative Members will agree. It states:
Sir Geoffrey Howe, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, launched a dramatic set of proposals last night aimed at reviving some of Britain's declining industrial cities.
He emphasised that his scheme for 'enterprise zones' on the lines of 'free trade zones' was a personal view, but Sir Geoffrey's likely position as Chancellor in a new Conservative Government, is certain to add immense weight to the proposals.
If we look at what the right hon. and learned Member was proposing, we find that he suggested that, in order to make his scheme workable, the various restrictions which would have to go would include detailed planning control. Public authorities which owned land would be required, with in a specified time, to dispose of it to private bidders, by auction in the open market. Entrepreneurs in enterprise zones would be exempt from development land tax and perhaps from rates as well. No Government grants or subsidies would be payable to any enterprise within the area. There goes the small firms employment subsidy.
The right hon. and learned Member proposed that businesses might also be exempted from the workings of price control and pay policy, and from the provisions of the Employment Protection Act 1975, which would certainly please the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), were he still with us.
That seems to me to be a totally gruesome recipe for a return to Rachmanism and to social deprivation and squalor in the inner city. I really wonder what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Shadow Chancellor knows about the inner city. He seems to me to be nothing more than a soporific symbol of the stockbroker belt. The contrast is a very odd one if we relate his remarks to a speech made a little earlier in the year by his right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), who said:
It is a depressing spectacle to watch a small but vocal and apparently influential section of the Tory Party bow down to worship the free market gods which brought so much squalor, so many slums, so much social divisiveness and injustice.
He was the Secretary of State for the Environment, of course, and he did not talk in that way when he had that job, nor did he act very meaningfully to change the situation. But he is dead right now, and that is why he languishes on the Opposition Back Benches below the Gangway.
The Conservative Party, whatever it may say and whatever advertisements it may put out, remains traditionally the party of high unemployment. However Conservative Members shed their crocodile tears, and however they may seek to equivocate, nothing has really changed. But let us just look at what their policies would produce. I am quite convinced that the return of a Conservative Government would produce a rise in unemployment. We agree that unemployment is at an unacceptably high level, but it would produce a rise of frightening dimensions, and London would certainly suffer, as would the rest of Britain.
We know that the Conservative Party would savagely cut public expenditure, and do it as an act of faith, because it is part of the act of faith. If it did so, it would inevitably spell an equally savage reduction in public sector jobs. Indeed, if we look at County Hall, we see that this is the path that the Conservatives have begun to follow. Let us look at what has happened in Wandsworth under the new Conservative council. Vital public sector jobs have been frozen. The hon. Member for Hampstead should have a look at that and tell us whether that is a desirable thing, and the effect that it is having on jobs. If the Conservatives were to come in, it would not be just the top brass at the town hall who would go, and they know it. It would be all sorts of other people in crucial areas of public service.
The Conservatives would scrap price control and dividend control, as we know. They would reduce, if not scrap, the subsidies on rents, so that rents would soar. We know that they would opt, in effect, for a wages free-for-all. It would not be much else. We know that it would not only lead us back to the social divisiveness and the alarming inflation which was piling up when we took over in 1974. It would damage our competitiveness, it would undermine sterling, and jobs would vanish as a consequence.
We know also what they would do about the docks. I put the question earlier to the hon. Member for Hampstead, and we have not had a straight answer. But we know their view of the industrial rescue operations which the Labour Government have carried out in respect of cars and shipbuilding to save thousands of jobs, and we know, too, that their opposition to these steps, if they had the opportunity, would be put into practice irrespective of the disastrous job effects. Yet this is the party which nevertheless has the temerity to criticise the Government's employment measures.
There is nothing constructive in the policies of the Opposition on employment. They have nothing to offer, apart from the spectacle of the Leader of the Opposition sitting on top of an industrial scrap heap.
The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) talked about housing, but in his usual way of misleading the House he did not go on to explain that whereas there were 8,399 homes under construction in 1976–77, there will be only 2,500 under construction by the Tories in 1979–80. Further, perhaps my hon. Friend will comment on the hon. Member's statement that there are 1,500 properties identified for sale, which will cost £327,000 in lost rents.
Perhaps I might respond briefly to that intervention. My hon. Friend made a very valid point. I add to it only that I found it extraordinary that the Opposition were able to claim that the Tory GLC was seeking to help people in inner London with their housing difficulties. Constituents whom I know have been seeking transfers and are now blocked because of the action of the GLC in selling council houses and putting a block on transfers. That is an extraordinary way to help solve the problems of people in inner London. What it is really doing is causing heartbreak.