Employment (London)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:15 am on 26th July 1979.

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Photo of Sir Brandon Rhys Williams Sir Brandon Rhys Williams , Kensington and Chelsea Kensington 2:15 am, 26th July 1979

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have joined us in what until now has been a most constructive and helpful debate. Although there have been certain points of acrimony, we are obliged to the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) for starting it off so well. Let it not be said that Greater London Members are slow to put forward the cause of their area.

We must see employment in London in the context of the Government's general economic policy. Labour Members are wide of the mark in implying that the Government are acting in such a way as to depress all economic activity. The Government's intention is to achive a shift from current consumption to investment. As the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) said, we accept the need for public investment as well as investment in the private sector.

As to public investment policy in the centre of London, I hope that we can rationalise all the schemes, not too successful, that have been launched in recent years, and that instead of having partnership areas, programme areas, designated districts, special areas and the rest, the Government will simply make inner London a development area. In that way it will qualify for the sort of aid that the Government feel able to give to areas with special needs for important investment programmes and for aid from the European Investment Bank and the regional fund.

We must think of transport within London as well as between London and the rest of the world. We should not be afraid of the proposed major road schemes simply because of the oil crisis. People will need to travel. Even if we have a high oil price, before long other methods of transport will inevitably be evolved, and we shall need a modern road system in London as much as in any other capital city. I endorse the pressure from the Opposition Benches that the Jubilee line should be completed. This is an important aspect of public investment in London's transport which must not be indefinitely delayed.

As regards travel to work, it is not productive to press for shorter and shorter hours of work within the context of the five-day working week. It would be far better to move towards the four-day working week, working the same number of hours but spreading them over four days instead of five. That would immediately relieve pressure on public transport services at peak times.

With regard to transport between London and the rest of the world, I place particular emphasis on the importance of the Channel rail link. It seems that at last our railways and the French railways have worked out between them a practical scheme which is not too expensive and not environmentally damaging. We should not now continue to discuss the matter for years without coming to a decision: we should aim to make an early start. It is extremely important for our exports that we should not have the handicap of the additional handling in order to cross the Channel. In that way we permanently handicap ourselves within the Common Market, because all British exports have that higher cost, which French, German and other manufacturers do not have to suffer when they export their goods across frontiers. The Channel rail link is, therefore, exceptionally important to the future of Britain's trade.

From the point of view of the transport of people, we need to use railway services and not press more and more people to use the airports.