London (Government Policies)

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 9:36 am on 13th March 1981.

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Photo of Mr Jock Stallard Mr Jock Stallard , Camden St Pancras North 9:36 am, 13th March 1981

I hope that the motion is broad enough for hon. Members to point out other problems of reorganisation from their experience. I agree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend.

In the past few years many of us felt that there was a recognition that the massive reorganisations had been largely mistaken. Politicians and experts in the disciplines immediately involved accepted that the reorganisations may have caused more problems than they solved. In the early 1970s steps were taken to try to cure some of the problems. We were geared for what appeared to be a major and constructive attempt to return to solvency in our great capital city. Recognising that, Labour Governments made changes in the rate support grant system. They did not go far enough, but the changes at least recognised the problems of inner cities. The foundation was laid for further steps to be taken. Those small and hesitant steps have been destroyed by this Government's intervention in London's affairs.

In 1977, Mervyn Scorgie, who is not a member of my party but was chairman of the industry and employment committee, stated: The Greater London Council is now embarked on the huge task of transformation. That was a recognition of the need for transformation. In the same year, Richard Brew, leader of the policy and resources committee was demanding more money for London, as we all are. He said of a Labour Government that their additional financial contribution is insignificant in comparison with the GLC's investment programme. He called for more money and greater powers for the GLC to help industry. That was at a time when Tories were attacking a Labour Government. The GLC did not get additional money. What it had was dramatically cut and is being cut still further. Instead of being given additional powers, the powers that they have are being taken away from London and London authorities. Richard Brew seems to be ignoring this Government's actions. He is silent.

In 1979, the Secretary of State for the Environment said: We cannot afford the waste of resources, of people and of land represented by areas of dereliction and desolation around our city centres. He had just toured London. He went on to say: We cannot risk the build-up of frustration and anger to which such decay gives rise. In 1981, after presiding over catastrophic inner-city decline, he said: Inner cities remain vitally important to the health of the economy … the changes I have made … should ensure that we can mobilise resources as effectively as possible. If that is not a major example of humbug, I do not know what is. The Government's speeches do not match their actions.

In the past two years the Government have not only halted the progress that we hoped to make; they have made matters much worse. Without further thought, I can find no adequate words to describe the damage that the Government are doing. They have shown a callous disregard of London's needs. They are placing any and every obstacle in the way of inner city revival. Their policy will lead to social disaster.

I shall mention one or two problems of major importance. I hope that other hon. Members will mention other aspects of our inner city problems. I come first to housing. Inner London's housing capital expenditure for 1981–82 was cut by 31 per cent. from the 1980–81 allocations. In anyone's language, that is a massive cut.

In addition, the system of allocation is based on a general needs index. In the view of many who are far more expert than I, that index is open to serious criticism. It does not take into account the resources available to local authorities, such as finance, staff and land. It does not take into account the statutory responsibilites of local authorities. I refer, for example, to their responsibilities towards homeless families. It does not take into account the contributions—or lack of contributions—to meet the housing needs of the private sector. It does not take into account the assessments made by local authorities of their housing needs. Therefore, it does not begin to understand London's special needs and the need for more resources.

London's share of the housing investment programme allocation for England will fall from 35 per cent. in 1980–81 to 30 per cent. in 1981–82. Therefore, London has a far smaller slice of a much smaller cake. The exact opposite is needed. Last autumn's moratorium and the freeze on contracts mean—as we all know—that there will be no new housing, that there will be an even greater housing shortage, and that councils will have no new flats after those presently under construction have been completed. Those flats will probably be completed in 1981–82. If no new flats are built there will be only relets—dead men's flats—or flats available due to medical transfers, despite the fact that the situation is worse than it has ever been in the city's history.

A report recently commissioned and produced by the GLC was suppressed. I do not know why it was suppressed, but I have a good idea. From that suppressed report we know how serious is the housing crisis in London. More alarmingly, we know that it is likely to become much worse in the immediate future. Yesterday, I happened to read an excellent article in the winter edition of the magazine Roof. Many hon. Members may be familiar with that magazine. In it Nick Raynsford states: The Greater London Council's latest analysis of London's housing makes a complete mockery of earlier claims that the capital's housing problems were well on the way to being solved …But the GLC looks set to ignore its own evidence and will not be making the report widely available. As far as I know, that report has still not been made widely available. We all know why. But the people of London are entitled to see what is in it. Certainly, local authorities and councils are entitled to do so. The article goes on to describe the assertions that were made in previous reports and states: These assertions were made on the basis of grossly misleading and selective statistics … Indeed, this new GLC Housing Strategy Appraisal provides chilling evidence of just how serious a housing crisis London is currently facing, and, even more alarming, of how much worse it is likely to get".