Greater London (Government Assistance)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:07 am on 17th December 1980.

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Photo of Mr Reg Race Mr Reg Race , Haringey Wood Green 5:07 am, 17th December 1980

The debate has been lengthy, and I shall not detain the House for long. I am sure that that will please many of my hon. Friends and perhaps some Conservative Members. I shall refer to several factors arising out of problems in my borough of Haringey and, in particular, to housing. That is the most important issue in the borough and the most important social priority.

The hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) spoke about the development of industry in London and about the impact of rates on location decisions by capitalists setting up industries and by firms that wish to find the most beneficial sites. In reply to the hon. Gentleman's strictures, I would argue that the rate burden on a company represents only a small part of its total costs. Recently, I visited all the industrial estates in my borough that have been developed by the London borough of Haringey. It was clear that those industrial estates, which the borough had let to ordinary commercial companies—some of them small companies—were developed because the borough could inject the right level of expertise and could impose rates at the right level. Rates in Haringey are higher than those in the neighbouring London borough of Enfield, but they were no disincentive to firms that chose locations in those industrial estates, some of which are on the border with the London borough of Enfield. Therefore, the argument that somehow the overall level of rates is a major disincentive to the location of industries in particular parts of London which have high rates is nonsense.

I asked the hon. Member for Ravensbourne to name firms and industries that had been badly affected by that problem. My question was not answered satisfactorily. I do not believe that it could be answered, because there is not the evidence to sustain that argument.

We have had two arguments advanced with no evidence to back them up. We had the argument by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) about rises in wages in the social services department of his borough council. That clearly was not sustainable on the facts.

We then had the argument about the location of industries in relation to rate levels. I do not believe that that argument is sustainable on the facts. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have a duty to relate their arguments to the facts, not to produce airy-fairy generalisations that do not stand scrutiny.

A more general point relating to London's problems was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) when he argued—correctly, in my view—that public enterprise and expenditure were beneficial to the development of employment, particularly in inner city boroughs. The Library brief makes clear that the cost of unemployment anywhere in the country, let alone in London, is £440 million for every 100,000 people on the register. That being so, the argument for sacking public or private employees involves the taxpayer and the ratepayer paying out more money to keep people idle. I am against keeping people idle for no purpose. It is a nonsensical political decision. I am sure that that policy breeds only frustration among the unemployed and creates no social product or utility.

Housing in Haringey is the most important social issue. Yesterday morning I went through my constituency files and discovered that I had dealt with nearly 300 families with housing problems during the past year and written more than 1,000 letters relating to them. I am sure that that is nothing out of the ordinary for any inner city Labour Member of Parliament. However, it shows that the housing problem in my borough is extremely serious and is likely, as a result of the Government's policies, to become more serious.

Haringey has the third highest crude deficit of dwellings in London, the deficit being the difference between the number of households and the number of dwellings to be lived in. It has the sixth highest percentage of households sharing dwellings and the fifth highest percentage of households lacking sole use of basic amenities. The 1979 Greater London housing condition survey shows that 14·4 per cent. of dwellings in the borough are unfit for human habitation, that 8·8 per cent. of the stock is lacking one standard amenity and that 17·4 per cent. of dwellings need at least £3,000 to be spent on repairs to bring them up to a satisfactory standard. That is the accepted, factual background to the housing crisis in the borough that I represent.

It is disgraceful that a Government can impose a policy that makes people in those conditions wait many, many years to be rehoused. It is outrageous for Conservative Members to talk about the need to cut back, to sack people and to reduce our spending, as if those are abstract phenomena and do not matter to anyone. It is as if we are talking about hot lunches. In fact, in Bromley the issue is hot lunches. The local authority in the constituency of the hon. Member for Ravensbourne has just decided to cut hot lunches for schoolchildren from 1 April. Some hon. Members talk as if we are debating philosophical abstractions that do not matter. However, we are talking about housing conditions that are becoming substantially and not merely marginally worse.

In my borough, it is unlikely that the housing authority will be able to sustain its statutory responsibilities under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 in 12 or 18 months' time. The problem will not be solved by changing that legislation. The answer is to provide the resources so that the authority can meet its statutory duties and take people off the waiting list, which is the purpose of a public sector housing authority. The private sector cannot and never will produce the number of houses necessary to fulfil the housing needs of the people. If the market could do so, it would. It has not done so for many a long year. It has been in decline since the First World War. Since 1914, the percentage of private sector rented housing has been declining, and it will continue to decline in the foreseeable future, irrespective of what the Government have done about shorthold tenancies.