Outside the House half-time is traditionally 15 minutes. In no way have I been discomfited. I am surprised at how quickly I have reached agreement with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) — I did not expect it so soon in this Parliament. I thank the House also for the maiden interruption during my maiden speech. It will get me used to interruptions in the further contributions that I hope to make.
Night flights destroy the peace which we believe to be our basic right when we are trying to sleep. Night flights, however quiet the modern aircraft is claimed to be, are very destructive of the chance to rest, since, when removed from the clamour of day time, their effects are exaggerated, particularly for those who sleep lightly, such as the elderly.
I admit that modern aircraft design—apart from that of the otherwise beautiful aeroplane, Concorde — has reduced the level of aircraft noise from the absolutely unacceptable to the merely unbearable. However, I believe that design improvements have now gone as far as they can and I have no confidence that to double the number of passengers using Heathrow will leave the current level of aircraft movements as they are. Greater efficiency of aeroplane use is greatly to be desired, but it has not been achieved by any airline to its satisfaction in the past and it is unlikely to be more than a dream in the future.
While I pay tribute to the excellent safety record of the British Airports Authority, to double the number of people crossing central London each day must increase the probability of a dreadful accident. I am not being alarmist, merely recognising the fact that any accident when approaching Heathrow would be catastrophic. I have a duty to point out our fears. What matters to the people who live under the flight path is not how many passengers are in each plane, but the number of occasions on which planes fly overhead. If this increases—even the British Airports Authority believes that it will—the risk must increase proportionately.
Richmond and Barnes has an even greater problem—the worst traffic record in the Greater London area. The south circular road, which sounds as though it has some similarity to the more efficiently constructed north circular road, is not at all the same structure. It is famous for its inappropriateness and inability to cope with existing volumes of traffic. It has 36 zebra crossings, 144 bus stops to block the traffic, 30 miles of single-lane road and 330 side roads. In the heart of my constituency it even makes a 90 degree turn from the upper Richmond road west into Clifford avenue. It is plagued by the heaviest traffic in Greater London, with international freight lorries thundering past narrow domestic avenues. It is admitted to be a major scandal, but no Government nor any GLC administration has been prepared to find a satisfactory solution to the waste of man-time and damage to the environment that the system causes.
The blockage caused by such chaos leads normally law-abiding citizens to throw away all moral decency and consideration and to resort to that anti-social habit of rat running. "Rat running" is when a car driver, or, even worse, a lorry driver, departs from the main route and dashes down domestic side roads to gain some small time advantage. The only occupants of those roads at those times of day are likely to be children with their mothers, the elderly and even the blind, believing that they walk in peace. No amount of road blocks and clever local traffic schemes can answer this peril; only a reduction of traffic volume on the main roads.
The recent map by the British Road Federation Ltd. of roads under construction or in the planning stage shows that the south circular road is part of a vacuum of ideas for the improvement of London's roads. It is not that there are no improvements under construction—they are not even being considered. In order to divert more of its money to the London Underground and bus system, the GLC recently scrapped any alternatives, such as the west London relief road. The north circular road, a genuine bypass for heavy traffic, is controlled by the Department of Transport and is constantly being improved.
The M25 will have some effect—estimated at less than 25 per cent. when finally constructed—in reducing cross-Channel lorry densities. However, it will have no effect on passenger movements by car 'or those travelling to Heathrow and the north from south of the Thames area, which must inexorably pass through Sheen and Kew. All this is before the completion of the fourth terminal at Heathrow.
The south circular road and its inability to cope with current traffic levels deserves urgent action. I will ask for the GLC's road responsibilities to be removed and handed over to the Department of Transport, where funds are more often available in the national interest.
I approve of the measures introduced in the last Parliament for making heavy lorries safer, quieter, of a maximum size and, by having an extra axle, cause less damage to the environment. However, I cannot express strongly enough my belief that any measures which increase lorry size will be resisted strongly by the people of Richmond, as the roads were not built for lorries of even half their current allowed size. I shall continue to oppose such orders until the heavy international freight lorries are taken off our residential tree-lined avenues and a proper alternative scheme for south and west London is proposed, such as making better use of railway lines and resuscitating the west cross route. We believe that our community has already suffered enough at the hands of aircraft noise and traffic densities. Any increase in noise or road use volume would be intolerable.
The south circular road and the way in which it is unable to cope with current traffic levels deserves urgent action, and further development at Heathrow would only make its problems far worse. During the election campaign my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for the Environment, the present Secretary of State for Transport, visited me at my office on upper Richmond road west. He, like two other Cabinet Ministers and, indeed, the Prime Minister before him, were seriously delayed by the volume of traffic. He even ditched his car and walked to our meeting, one hour late. It has been Government policy not to support the prospect of future development at Heathrow. Perhaps the experience of the Secretary of State for Transport will help him to agree that two of London's greatest problems—the south circular road and the development of Heathrow—deserve urgent solution.
I should not like it to be thought that I shall be obsessed merely with these two difficult problems. I give notice that I shall strive to the best of my ability for pensioners and will call on the Government to give them the increases which they richly deserve through a healthier economy.
I shall work for good race relations, as I believe that had race relations are far more likely than nuclear warfare—thanks to our effective deterrent—to cause blood to flow in the streets of London in the foreseeable future. The constructive attitude of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police and the new sensitivity and understanding of our police force, to whom I cannot pay greater tribute, can help to produce good race relations and a reduction in our epidemic crime figures.
I shall work for a reduction in man's cruelty to animals; I shall strive for rating reform, and, above all, I shall work to improve the quality of life of those who live in Richmond and Barnes. I thank them for giving me the great honour of being here to serve them for as many years as they choose.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), and to congratulate him on the manner in which he made his remarks. I agreed with much of the content of his speech. I even found enjoyable the quotes from his election manifesto, which he made towards the end of his speech. Whether I would phrase my remarks in the same way is another matter.
I have some knowledge of what he said about London, Heathrow and the south circular road. It occurs to me that the problems mentioned by the hon. Gentleman pinpoint the need for a more effective strategic approach to the difficulties of London and the south-east. It is doubtful whether these problems are better dealt with by a quick decision, without proper study or research, to destroy a large part of London government because of a commitment in an election manifesto.
A great deal needs to be done about London and the south-east. The Government are offering not a solution, but some kind of political reflection that has no basis in consideration. I find that ironic, to say the least, although it is now 20 years since a Conservative Government, following three years of study by the Herbert commission, introduced legislation to create the GLC, against constant opposition by the Labour party with which I did not agree either privately or publicly.
Now a Conservative Government containing a number of Members who were in the House at that time propose to abolish the GLC without any real study or research into the implications of what they propose. We in the Labour party stand united in opposition to its abolition and in defence of its retention. It is the irony of history—the turning of the wheel. I am among those on this side who have been consistent; I supported the concept of the GLC then and I support it today. The Conservatives supported it then but are opposed to it today. The Labour party was opposed to it then but now supports it.
I wish to make it clear that when the London Government Act 1963 was going through Parliament—I was not then a Member; I was active in my local authority, which was then a Middlesex borough just outside the inner London area—I took the view, as I still do, that radical major changes were required at national and local level in the way that we ran our affairs in London.
We need more radical effort and public enterprise—I use the term broadly—in London. There is urgent need for major internal reorganisation in Government Departments, in County hall and among some of the London boroughs to tackle the more pressing problems—social, economic and environmental—from which we suffer, particularly in the inner London area. For the past 20 years there has been inadequate effort in those respects under successive Governments.
The case for establishing the GLC was set out fully and clearly in the report of the Herbert commission. I wonder how many Conservatives have looked at that report and read the debates that took place in Parliament in the 1960s before committing themselves to the abolition of the GLC. For example, that report clearly pointed to the need for more effective organisation at all levels to tackle the problems of planning, development, traffic management, highways, transport, intelligence services and the application of intelligence and research.
At that time a careful study was made of transferring those functions to central Government; of establishing consultative machinery to deal with all issues affecting London; and of having joint and ad hoc boards to deal with different functions. The commission rejected them all and argued the case accordingly. It did not simply say, "We reject them all." It set out the case fully, unlike the Conservatives today who simply propose abolition. In the event, having examined all the possibilities, the commission decided on the creation of an elected Greater London council.
One can argue at length, and with justification, that local government in London should be more effective. Equally, one can argue that under successive Administrations, city problems have not been dealt with effectively enough by Government Departments. But that is not an argument for the abolition for the GLC. One might argue—it was mentioned in the Herbert report all those years ago and it has been discussed since—that we should extend the boundaries to the GLC to make it a more regional authority. Indeed, by their transport proposals, the Government are implying that. There is logic for that argument in respect of planning matters, intelligence, the problems of London airport and the problems raised by the M25.
Such arguments are worth pursuing now, as they were then. The fact that we did something 20 years ago does not mean that it must go on for ever. Nor is that an argument for abolishing the GLC. Instead, we should examine the way in which it has been operating, the way in which central Governmnt have been operating in relation to it and what those relationships should be in future to tackle the essential problems of London.
The GLC—or an enlarged authority, if that time ever comes, and there is a good case for it—should be more effective on matters such as land assembly and development. The GLC should integrate its departments more closely to tackle the problems of urban renewal. The Government should also be taking that type of action. That is an argument for improving, not abolishing, the operations of the GLC.
The right hon. Gentleman made a point which will be of interest to residents in outer London constituencies such as mine. He thinks it beneficial that a GLC with augmented powers should be able to assemble land for development. Is he aware that even the local authority of Hillingdon, when it was Socialist controlled, used compulsory purchase powers to assemble land for development? That was highly unpopular locally. To suggest that such powers should be used centrally by County hall must strike terror into the residents of many outer London constituencies.
In making his constituency or borough points, the hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that powers of compulsory purchase, to which I did not refer, exist already. They have existed for many years, so what I am suggesting is not new in that respect. Land assembly is by no means simply a question of compulsory purchase. Indeed, if only people would get rid of their obsession with shibboleths, they would recognise that about 90 per cent. of land and property bought by local authorities is obtained by voluntary negotiation. That always has been, and continues to be, the case. I am simply saying that a more effective policy should be adopted by the GLC—and by local authorities at other levels—to tackle certain key problems of urban renewal and strategic development.
Local government, the GLC and administrations elsewhere — though this morning we are talking essentially about County hall—have been moving in the opposite direction, and extremist policies have not been pursued. In respect of development, nobody can say that an over-radical policy has been pursued by the GLC. On the contrary, land is being disposed of and many properties which would be better held by the public sector, modernised and converted into decent flats, are being sold. I have in mind properties that are held by ILEA on sites that are now redundant because they are no longer required for schools. The policy has not been implemented as effectively as it should have been.
The case for abolishing the GLC has not been made. It is laughable to suggest that a few references to it in the Queen's Speech debate is an adequate basis for a major change in local government. Today the Minister chose to make a few flippant remarks about certain marginal matters concerning the GLC. He said nothing about the GLC's functions, its future and the role of local or county government. These are clearly serious matters.
The problem of urban renewal in London—socially and educationally as well as environmentally — is too serious to be treated in such a way. If we want to see it tackled more seriously, we should consider how the machinery of government can be used more effectively at County hall, with the support of Parliament and the Government, to achieve better housing provision, more land assembly, better road systems, more effective traffic management and much more co-ordination between traffic management and the operation of transport services. The Minister failed even to touch upon the need for such co-ordination.
I do not say that since the passing of London Transport to the GLC in 1969 we have seen a marvellous era of coordination between traffic managment schemes, road planning and the development and operation of transport services. It is my regret that that has not occurred. However, once the transport service was transferred to County hall, there was the opportunity—it still remains—to achieve organisational change within County hall and between County hall and London Transport. It was then possible to achieve effective co-ordination. However, we shall not achieve that co-ordination for the benefit of London's citizens by removing a huge chunk of the machinery—the responsibility of the GLC—and creating a separate agency. Still less is that achieved by abolishing the organisation that would be able, if it were so organised, to achieve the necessary co-ordination.
I plead with the Government and with Conservative Members to view more seriously the management of London. I am glad that the Queen's Speech referred merely to "proposals" for the abolition of the GLC and "proposals" for the abolition of the metropolitan counties. That will give us time to think more seriously about what should be done. In the previous Parliament better sense prevailed over the Government's rates pledge. May better sense prevail in respect of the GLC and the metropolitan counties.
The GLC should remain. We must examine seriously the problems to which I have referred. There must be more co-ordination inside Government and within County hall. There must be more co-operation and resources effectively applied by central Government, as well as by local government, to urban renewal, better traffic managment and services, more effective housing renewal and land assembly and more strategic action than we have seen so far to solve London's problems. This will not be achieved by creating a series of ad hoc boards, which have remained unspecified so far, or an overall board for London.
What would the boards, or board, do in place of the GLC? They, or it, would destroy elected responsibility. By making an overall board a creature of London, it would be even more difficult to achieve the social, economic and physical renewal of those areas that suffer the greatest deprivation in London. It would not achieve a renewal of London life and it would not reduce costs. All past evidence shows that such an approach increases costs. Dare I mention the reorganisation of the Health Service under a previous Tory Government?
We all remember what had to happen a few years later. Let us turn our attention to the real problems. Let us get off the hook of the one or two sentences that were pushed into the Conservative party's manifesto at the last moment. Let us have a proper examination of what needs to be done in London and get on with the job of serving the people of London without any more political gimmicks.
Last Friday morning I opened my post, including an envelope similar to the ones that I think Members of all parties receive from the different Whips' Offices, that told me what the business would be for this week. Suddenly I realised that for the first time for more than eight years I genuinely did not know what the business would be. I noted that on Friday there was to be a debate on London. I thought, "That would have been my first Friday off for four years but I must be in my place for that debate."
One reason I am pleased to be participating in the debate is to compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) on a remarkable maiden speech. Those who have known my hon. Friend for some years as I have will not be surprised by his maiden speech. Some of us came to know him well during the Lambeth, Central by-election, which he fought so outstandingly a few years ago on behalf of the Conservative party. It is one of the odd quirks of fate of political life that John Tilley, who beat my hon. Friend and became the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central, lost his seat, having done good service for the Labour party, while my hon. Friend is here representing his new constituency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes rightly paid tribute to his predecessor, Sir Anthony Royle. I join him in paying a tribute to Sir Anthony. He was a most distinguised Member of the House. We should not forget the part that he played in establishing new relations with China. He was the first Minister to go to China in the Conservative Government led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). He paved the way for the good relations that we now have with that great country.
Although I was not in the higher echelons to which my hon. Friend referred, I had plenty of opportunity during the election campaign to visit his constituency and to savour the beauties of upper Richmond road west as I moved on shop by shop for about three quarters of an hour. I warmly support his wish for road improvements. He rightly paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), who has frequently reminded us over the years of the problem of aircraft noise in his constituency. No doubt we shall hear even more about it. We look forward to welcoming my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes to our debates on many occasions. I believe that his constituents will soon find that, in making him their Member in place of Sir Anthony, they made an extremely good choice.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State reminded us that we now have 56 Conservative Members in London, more than twice the number of Members of the other parties representing London put together. A reference was made during the election campaign to the possible size of a Conservative Government's majority in the new Parliament. As I was only the deputy Chief Whip, I was not a special person, so I can say that I welcome the size of our majority. I have in mind especialy my constituency and the borough of Enfield. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar), having won the seat from Labour in 1979, now has a five-figure majority. My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) won his seat deservedly, in what had been a Labour stronghold for 50 or 100 years. I welcome him warmly to the House.
We like it when our party wins seats, but this involves losing friends, even on the Labour Benches. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton will remain in this place representing Edmonton for as long as he wishes to be a Member. However, I must regret the absence of a real friend, Ted Graham. He was a neighbour for many years. He did great service on behalf of the community. I suppose that as elections take place, some London constituencies will be misguided enough to continue to elect Labour Members. I should very much like to see Ted Graham return to represent a constituency other than Edmonton and to become a colleague again.
Ted Graham and I were Whips together, although in different parties, for some years. I remember a London debate in about 1977. It was rather like this debate. There came a time when we both realised that there was no possible chance for every Member to participate in the debate if speeches continued at the length which was then prevailing.
Times do not change. We had one of those conversations that do not take place and we decided to restrict our colleagues to 10 minutes each. That is easier said than done. We received an enthusiastic response. Members said, "Oh yes, I shall certainly speak for 10 minutes." Having spoken for 22 minutes, one hon. Member said, "I was one minute long, wasn't I?" Ted and I did everything possible. We wrote on a card, "Sit down". Every time one of our colleagues completed his 10 minutes, we sat in front of him with the card, so he could do little else than sit down. At the end of the debate every hon. Member who wished to speak had taken part in it.
Ted Graham succeeded me as the Friday Whip. I was pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman's sincere tribute to Ted. I regret that the hon. Gentleman is now no longer a Whip because when he and I were both Whips we were able to keep our Members quieter than they are these days.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He did me a good turn a few months ago when he spoke for a whole hour. It was just what I wanted.
I should like to pay one other tribute to a former colleague, who left the Labour party, so was not entirely popular with it. Ron Brown served it well over many years and took a leading part in our London debates. I was sorry to see him go.
The right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) understandably referred to our commitment to do away with the Greater London council. I strongly support that. Some of my colleagues think that I have been in the House for many years, but it is only a few and I was not here when the Conservative Government decided to set up the GLC. The decision seemed right at the time—the right hon. Gentleman referred to the documents and so on—but that does not mean that one cannot make changes later in the light of experience. Experience has shown that the GLC is not the right way to run London's affairs. The change that we envisage is right. I am sure that many of my constituents who live in the postal area of Middlesex are glad to do so. Middlesex is a distinguished county, although in only one or two important ways now. I discovered during the election that Mike Gatting is one of my constituents. He spends a lot of time there now because Middlesex always wins its matches in two days.
Many of the responsibilities of the GLC have already been moved. Housing has largely gone to the boroughs and sewerage has gone to the Thames water authority. Ambulances have gone to the regional health authorities and there is a new plan for transport. The new system as envisaged will be very much to the benefit of London. It is right that there should be a great deal of consultation. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State made that clear in his speech and the Minister did so in the Queen's Speech debate. There will be many consultations during the coming months before the final decision is taken on how the changes should be made.
I strongly welcome the decision to set up the new transport authority. The present system is wrong. Party politics have played too big a part in what has happened. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!] Opposition Members may think that I am wrong, but the fact remains that my constituents were upset in many ways by the Fares Fair policy which Mr. Livingstone instituted. The pensioners had to pay extra rates until, fortunately, the policy was done away with, although they obtained no benefit from the reduced fares because they already had free transport. Many of my constituents living on the edge of the green belt found that the residential streets were being blocked by many commuters who parked their cars there and then took advantage of the reduced fares, yet were not even paying the increased rates. That is an example of the confusion that arose. It is right to make the change and set up a new authority—
Does the hon. Gentleman not detect a note of inconsistency on his own Benches? The hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) was worried about traffic congestion, yet the Conservatives are likely to make it worse by cutting down on much-needed transport and abolishing the GLC, putting an end to the possibility of having a fully integrated transport system that would link the tube and bus system with the rail system and cut down traffic congestion problems.
I shall not follow the hon. Lady on that course. She is wrong, and does not understand the problem, certainly not in my constituency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes referred to the M25, as others have. I am delighted that the Government are pressing ahead with that. He referred to the north circular as though it were the opposite to the south circular. I agree that it is better than the south circular, but it is not perfect. There is more widening to do. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I both have problems in our constituencies. I understand that the Government are going ahead with improvements to that road in my area. I look forward to that happening soon.
One of the real issues in the election and one of the reasons why my party did so well was the sale of council houses. There is no doubt that when there was a switch from Labour to Conservative it was particularly done by those who had bought their council houses and saw what it meant to own their own homes. One has only to drive round and see the new doors on the houses and so on to realise the effect that our policy has had. I urge particularly the Conservative London boroughs to press ahead as quickly as they can with extending that system.
It is right that we should debate London in the week when the report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has come out. I warmly pay tribute to the way in which Sir Kenneth Newman has carried out his work in the months since he took over. He is doing so in a quiet but firm way. Londoners will be grateful to him.
I welcome the meetings between the police and local communities in all parts of London. That is an important step forward. I hope that still more policemen will come back on the beat. About 400 more policemen have come back on the beat over the past two or three years. So far, that is mainly in central London, but I hope that before long it will be extended to outer London, including my own area.
In spite of my earlier remarks, I believe that it is right that we should debate London in the first full week of the new session. Our capital city is worthy of frequent discussion. At this time we have the maximum number of visitors in our midst. It is nice to think that, when they come to Westminster, they can see the lovely effect of the cleaning of the buildings, which is making such good progress.
This is my first speech in the House for four and a half years — and almost for eight years. I wonder what category I come into. This week there have been references to virgins and retreads. I do not think that I come into either of those categories. I turn instead to a description of my more distinguished namesake, and quote the words of Cleopatra:
Give me to drink …
That I might sleep out this great gap of time
My Antony is away.
This Anthony is back, but he does not promise to be here every Friday.
I declare an interest in that I have the honour of representing Newham, North-West. I am an elected member of the GLC, which has been mentioned often in the debate. I have been an elected member for about 13 years. I still remain in the chair of the arts and recreation committee. Therefore, I can speak with feeling about the Tory party manifesto undertaking to abolish the GLC and the six metropolitan authorities. I am not prepared simply to defend the GLC because at the moment it is controlled by my party, nor am I prepared to defend the GLC in all that it does or does not do, because many improvements could be made. Of what institution could one not say that? My argument in defence of the GLC is democratic.
When we eventually see the White Paper, I hope that it will be somewhat longer than the two paragraphs in the Tory manifesto, and that it will put forward some real arguments as to why changes are required. I hope that the Opposition will then argue not for the abolition of the GLC but for a more extensive rationalisation of the powers that it should exercise on behalf of London. A great case can be made for a democratically elected and accountable authority to take over health, police powers and extended housing powers in London.
The Tory manifesto mentioned in two short paragraphs the abolition of the GLC. Hon. Members have been reminded that the GLC was set up by a Tory Government in 1964 following the Herbert report, which was a very extensive document. It is unacceptable that such thought and weight of debate and discussion which took place in the past should be set aside—set at naught—by two short paragraphs in the manifesto. The whole essence of the London Government Act 1963 and the setting up of the GLC was an attempt by the Tory Government of that day to do away with the London county council. That, arguably, was the most effective local authority that this country has ever seen. It had been Labour-controlled since 1934.
Since the Tories knew that they would never gain control of the LCC, they set about trying to dismantle it with the London Government Act 1963. Unfortunately for them, they were not able to get away with it as they wished. The intention was to drag into the GLC area certain parts of London, but those areas decided that they did not want to come into London. Therefore, the inbuilt Tory majority that they were aiming for did not occur. Since 1964, control of the GLC has fluctuated between the two major political parties. Conservative Members might dislike the policies of the Greater London council —although I cannot for the life of me see why—and they might even dislike the people who lead the council. However, the Government can be sure that in 1985 Londoners will have the opportunity to express their views. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
If Londoners decide that they do not like what the GLC has done under the leadership of Ken Livingstone, they can remove the party in control of the GLC. That is the most important argument of all. Londoners are facing a proposal not just to abolish the GLC, but to abolish an element of democracy. The pledge in the Tory manifesto to abolish the GLC has been attacked not only by the Opposition or by my colleagues at County hall, but also by a large number of Conservatives, both in the House and at County hall. One of the most memorable party attacks was that made by Mr. Bernard Brook-Partridge, the present GLC member for Havering, a former chairman of the council and a noted Right-wing member of the Tory party. Mr. Brook-Partridge publicly described his party's commitment to the abolition of the GLC as
fraudulent, ignorant and deeply insulting".
That statement was made by a well-respected member of the Conservative party. On this occasion, I do not wish to disagree with Mr. Brook-Partridge.
The Labour GLC has dared to oppose the Prime Minister; therefore, the council must go. A characteristic of the right hon. Lady seems to be that if she does not like something or someone, it has to go. A few Conservative Members have felt the force of that expression. It is a great pity that the right hon. Lady does not take a similar dislike to unemployment, poverty and homelessness. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] If she did, she alight do something about them, rather than exacerbating the position.
Local government, like public expenditure and the trade unions, has been made the subject of common abuse. I believe that the Government have been very skilful in their orchestrated propaganda campaigns, well aided and abetted by the Tory press, especially those extreme Right-wing newspapers, The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. Hardly a day goes by without virulent attacks on the GLC, the style and content of which would not have been out of place in Nazi Germany, in those newspapers. Leading County hall politicians—I especially refer to Ken Livingstone—are regularly subjected to vulgar abuse and character assassinations in those newspapers. Snooping journalists spy on GLC Labour members outside their homes, and those same journalists harass councillors' children, family and neighbours. That is the truth and the reality and something that hon. Members must be told about.
The Daily Mail has an editorial policy of "doing the dirt" on the GLC. That is a quote that I got from a Daily Mail journalist, a man whose caution will probably lead him to having a rather shortened employment record with that newspaper. I wish to illustrate this point with regard to those newspapers. The GLC has just taken receipt of an interim report by Mr. Andrew Arden on the affairs of the Strongbridge, Crouch Hall and Omnium housing associations. In that report, Mr. Arden named three Tory GLC members—Mr. Seaton, Mr. Mote and Mr. Black—against whom serious charges have been laid.
Mr. Seaton has in fact now resigned. I have no personal acrimony or feelings against those three people. Mr. Arden, in his report, says:
a group of individuals—at the centre of which was Mr. Mote, far more than Mr. Seaton, for the core of the Strongbridge committee were the Harrow builders and professionals—have so conducted their affairs as to create out of public funds a source of private income for themselves, an estate of flats with such defects that more than the original cost must now be expended to put them into proper condition, with correspondingly miserable living conditions for tenants, and a substantial debt to public funds.
In the course of this exercise, those responsible have brought into disrepute a movement into which many people voluntarily pour their energies for the improvement of others' living conditions. In the cases of the GLC councillors, they have cost their own authority substantial monies, on the part of the two of them following wilful abuse of their authority within that council. It seems to me that the features mentioned in this paragraph, coupled to the results mentioned in the last, speak for themselves and render idle any further analysis of why they represent a gross failure to strike the correct balance.
As I have quoted directly from the report, I shall make it freely available to those hon. Members who wish to read it. One would have thought that this was a matter of some public interest, as several newspapers have referred to it, but not a word has appeared in the Daily Mail, the Daily Express or The Sun. I suggest that if the politicians in this series of scandals had been from the Labour party, it would have been front page news. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] As Tory members were involved and that does not meet with the editorial policy of the Daily Mail, the Daily Express or The Sun, not a word appeared. This appalling double standard is an indictment of the journalists who work on those newspapers.
Frankly, if British democracy is really based on the right of semi-Fascist comics such as The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express to lie and distort, British democracy is shallowly based, very sick and unlikely to survive. Why has the Director of Public Prosecutions decided to take no action on this matter? I shall pursue that matter elsewhere in the House at a suitable opportunity. I am quite sure that if the politicians named in the report had been Mr. Livingstone, Mr. Scargill or Mr. Benn, not a moment's hesitation would have been wasted in prosecuting them.
Newham, North-West desperately needs the GLC as it suffers from appalling housing needs, a desperate shortage of jobs and many grave social problems. A borough such as Newham cannot possibly solve those problems by itself. It needs something such as the GLC to redistribute the wealth of London so that the poorer boroughs can attempt to solve their grave social problems. In the past three years, London local authorities have lost about £1,000 million in central Government grants.
It is often said that problems are not solved by throwing money at them, but they are certainly not solved by taking money away. Newham needs those resources. That is the only way in which we can begin to solve our problems. To do so, we need and must have the GLC. I hope that we shall be able to develop the argument in substance in the debate on the White Paper. So far, hon. Members who have said that they agree with the abolition of the GLC have given no decent reasons for doing so and have suggested nothing remotely acceptable to replace it.
If the GLC went, London would be the only capital city in the world without its own government. That must be unacceptable to all of us. If the Government intend to push ahead with their proposals for abolition, I promise the Prime Minister a real fight. I believe that the insertion of that proposal in the Tory manifesto was merely a diversion to draw attention away from the real social problems that the Government have clearly failed to meet.
Finally, I tell the House this. The GLC is not to be seen as some kind of south bank equivalent of the Belgrano, to be destroyed merely to satisfy the Prime Minister's power lust. We are made of much sterner stuff and we shall not prove so easy to sink.
This has been a memorable debate. Certainly the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will linger long in the memories of many of us. We had heard of him before he came here as it was he, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) reminds me, who abolished the champagne bar in the Royal Festival Hall. I hope that he will not follow that precedent if he ever joins the Refreshment Department or the Catering Sub-Committee of the Services Committee here.
The hon. Gentleman made a most interesting speech. He spoke authoritatively and from the heart and he made an impassioned defence of the local authority on which he sits. I am sure that the House was glad to hear him and it was right to listen attentively. I fear that his tone was somewhat embittered. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West also reminds me, Winston Churchill once described a maiden speech as not so much a maiden as a brazen hussy of a speech. The speech of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West did not go that far, but it was a somewhat embittered contribution — very different in tone from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley).
I have never gone so gladly to vote as I did on election day for my now hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes. We have been friends for a long time. Indeed, I do not think that I went with such a glad heart even when my wife and I used to go to vote for me at 7 o'clock in the morning in Bradford. My hon. Friend combines many admirable qualities—good humour, diligence and bigheartedness. He is a big man in every sense of the term. Those of us who fought beside him in the two memorable elections in Lambeth learned something of his quality. It is typical of him that he has spoken so generously of his predecessor, Sir Anthony Royle, who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Berry) reminded us, was one of the most effective Foreign Office Ministers ever known.
While we are naming names and mentioning people—not in the manner of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, which I thought inappropriate—I mention also with great pride my other fellow constituent, my hon. Friend the new Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) who, as the Minister said, achieved an outstanding result in winning that seat for the Conservative party. I am sure that he will make a forthright, well-informed and admirable contribution to the House. I should mention, too, the man whom he defeated—Neville Sandelson, a man of originality and charm, alongside whom I was always pleased to serve. I am even more delighted, however, that we now have a Conservative Member for that constituency.
I wish to speak briefly on a subject of great importance to my constituents—London Transport. It is appropriate that the debate takes place today on the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of London Transport by Herbert Morrison. The Government are introducing legislation to reform the organisation of public transport in London which, to be candid, was never entirely satisfactory even in the early days from 1933 onwards.
London Transport was created as a public corporation and remained such until the Transport Act 1947 brought it under the umbrella of the British Transport Commission. That experiment did not work well and in 1962 the commission was abolished. Between 1962 and 1969 we had what I regard as the most effective system for the direction of London Transport, when it came directly under the Ministry of Transport. I believe that that is the right way to deal with the matter.
Since 1969, London Transport has been under the political direction of the GLC. The conflict between the political directions given by the GLC and the commercial imperatives to which the London Transport board has sought to work has always been an inherent and serious difficulty—never more so than last year, which was an election year for the London boroughs, when the GLC brought in its Fares Fair policy.
The fares policy is now much better and a more appropriate balance has been struck. I welcome the 25 per cent. reduction from 22 May. Before then, my constituents had to pay almost £1,000 for annual season tickets to the City. Taken from after-tax income, that is an appalling burden. For this reason, it is essential that transport should be run commercially, effectively and well. To do so, as the Select Committee made clear, it is important that transport in the south-east should be considered in its totality.
I am somewhat sceptical about the idea of a metropolitan transport authority. I fear that it may be yet another quango. I am very much open to persuasion about it. I believe that it would be best to appoint a very tough and effective London Transport board under resolute leadership and with the maximum autonomy, probably including British Rail's commuter services. The Department of Transport would then set financial guidelines for the enlarged London Transport, as for any other nationalised industry. I would hope that the London Transport board would, by means not of profit sharing but of rewarding performance, ensure high standards of service, good commercial operation and cost-effective services, the benefits of which would be shared by the employees of London Transport as much as by the people of London and south-east England as a whole.
Substantial subsidy would, of course, be needed. In my judgment, however, as London Transport is such a national asset—there is no undertaking of comparable size and scope in even the biggest capital cities elsewhere —subsidy should be from the national Exchequer rather than from the overburdened ratepayers of the metropolis. I say so especially because three quarters of rate income comes from business, which is overtaxed and overburdened, and London has been losing jobs.
For these reasons, I advocate a very simple relationship between the Department of Transport and London Transport. I do not think that a metropolitan transport authority is necessarily the best idea. I am glad that the Government are instituting radical proposals, but I trust that they will also make sure that there is a proper consultative process, with a White Paper being published before we move to legislation. That will be the right way forward. In this way the opinions of Londoners and other interested bodies and parties up and down the country can be represented. I hope that this Session of Parliament will see dramatic progress towards improving transport in London in this half-centenary year of London Transport.
I hope that the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) will forgive me if I refer back briefly to the speech of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Berry). I welcomed his gracious comments about our previous London colleagues, Ron Brown and Ted Graham. I have happy memories of serving on Committees and taking part in debates which the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate and Ted Graham jointly whipped. They were efficiently and effectively conducted, and I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's part in that operation. I am sorry that he has been returned to the Back Benches somewhat precipitately, but there will be compensations for him and one is the opportunity to take part in London debates. Given his great interest in London matters, I am sure that he will seize those opportunities.
Like other hon. Members, I thought that the glaring omission from the Minister's speech about the abolition of the Greater London council was any mention of what was to be put in the place of the GLC. Like the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson), I think that we are in a rather odd situation when the Conservative party, which created the GLC, is now hell-bent on destroying it and the Labour party, which opposed its introduction, is now apparently fighting to the last ditch to retain it. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had remained consistent all the way through as being in favour of the GLC. I have been equally consistent, but, on the other side, never persuaded that there was a case for that sort of two-tier government in Greater London.
I have always believed that the best sort of local government is the one-tier all-purpose authority. It may not be possible in all cases, but there is a tremendous amount to be said for it. In London we ought to be aiming at a one-tier local government system with a movement towards an elected regional system bringing under democratic control the tier of regional government already existing. One of the problems of the GLC has been that as powers have gone back to the boroughs in my view, rightly—there has not been a proper role left for the GLC. It has been neither a genuine piece of local government nor an effective piece of regional government.
The question will be what sort of machinery the Government propose, especially to pick up those problems which are wider than the existing GLC area. The problems of strategic planning, of transport and so on which do not stop at the GLC boundary will need some effective answer. We shall watch with interest and care the Government's proposals in that regard.
The difficulty for any London Member coming to this debate is the multiplicity of topics from which to choose. There is the desperately serious problem of unemployment in London, especially in inner London. There is the serious and growing problem of housing. There is the difficulty of transport. The latter is an appealing subject for a south-east London Member who represents the forgotten corner of the city. It is especially appealing to me since my constituency is threatened by the destruction of the east London river crossing.
Despite those competing attractions, I want briefly to concentrate on one or two bread-and-butter issues affecting my constituents and typical of the problems faced by Londoners. The first is the National Health Service. In recent years London has suffered from the so-called RAWP formula — the Resource Allocation Working Party. It is an approach aimed at equalising standards of Health Service provision in all parts of the country.
The problem in inner London is that we have been RAWP-ed twice. The Greater London regional health authorities have their allocations reduced because they cover London. When they allocate that reduced allocation, usually they reduce what is available for inner London and concentrate resources on the well-known deprived areas such as Hastings and Tunbridge Wells. We now face, not just a standstill in health care provision in Greater London, but real cuts. Ten inner London health authorities face cuts in the current year in real terms of more than £1 million. Currently, 25 hospitals face closure. In London there is a £27 million cut in Health Service investment.
It is argued sometimes that falling populations make reductions of that kind acceptable. I do not take that view. Inner London, especially, suffers from a growing elderly population, and we know that there is a growing demand for health care. All of us who have had the sad experience of trying to explain to constituents why they cannot get an elderly parent into a geriatric bed understand the need for a greater provision of such services in inner London.
We see the phasing out of small local hospitals to which people relate and which they understand and like. They are being replaced by large hospitals which often are badly sited and inaccessible and where there are long waits for attention. I cite two examples from my own constituency. St. Nicholas hospital in Plumstead was threatened with closure in 1975. It was reprieved, following a major public campaign, by the then Secretary of State in May 1978. He decided that St. Nicholas hospital should be turned into a community hospital providing a range of bread-and-butter services for the people of the district. I said to him at the time that trusting that hospital to a health authority that had always wanted to close it was like trusting Red Riding Hood to the wolf. But that is what he did, and my prophecy turned out to be correct. St. Nicholas hospital has been starved of resources ever since and is now again on the closure list.
The second example is the British hospital for mothers and babies, a maternity hospital. The previous Secretary of State accepted the closure case in May 1978—once, he said, alternative facilities were available. The alternative facilities are being provided at Greenwich district hospital and Queen Mary's hospital, Sidcup. They are inaccessible to people in my constituency. But even after that extra provision is made available there is still a shortfall of maternity beds in the London borough of Greenwich. Despite an all-party approach to the Minister, he declines to reopen the issue. Again, we have a well-respected, well-supported and popular maternity hospital in the centre of the area being closed, with people forced to seek their maternity arrangements wherever they can find them in other less accessible positions.
The employment aspect of Health Service cuts should not be overlooked. Taking the three closures currently proposed in my borough, they will mean the loss of 812 jobs. Redeployment opportunities come to only 150, and most of those are for nurses. Over London as a whole, hospital closures could account for about 4,000 lost jobs. In my view, that is a major problem.
I accept the need to use resources sensibly. My criticism of the RAWP approach is that it is being used in an unthinking, scientific way, not looking at the situation on the ground and not recognising that many of our communities in inner London are already deprived and will suffer greatly if there are further hospital closures. The policy must be applied much more flexibly, especially in inner London.
My second point concerns the problem of caravan dwellers, sometimes called gipsies, who are more appropriately called travellers. They are a major problem in parts of inner London, as Greater London has a large proportion of travellers. There is a long history of difficulty with them in many parts of London, especially in my area at Plumstead, Abbey Wood and Thamesmead. Their caravan sites are set up on private sites, and road verges. They cause major problems for local residents as a result of dirt, noise pollution, metal breaking, dogs, horses and many other environmental problems which that type of unauthorised caravan site produces.
The normal problem is the legal one of getting the caravan dwellers to move on. It is a slow process, but it usually works, and they are moved on, often only a few hundred yards down the road. In my constituency, they are simply moved across the boundary into the borough of Bexley and the procedure starts all over again.
We now have an extra problem, in that the GLC has changed its policy. We are now told that the GLC regards travellers as an ethnic minority and that they will therefore be moved on only when they are proved to be causing a nuisance. I have never known a case when they have not been proved to be causing a nuisance, but we now have the problem of the GLC having to consult all of its committees on each case before it is persuaded that a nuisance exists and the caravans should be moved on. That is extremely unfair to council tenants, who are usually those who suffer such problems in my area. They pay substantial rents and rates and often have to put up with that type of nuisance for months on end. Greenwich council has done its bit under the Caravan Sites Act 1968 by providing a site for 54 caravans. There is a good case for much stronger powers to enable councils to move travellers on from areas which have already met their needs.
The Department of the Environment produced a consultation paper on the needs of long-distance and regional travellers as long ago as February 1982. Comments had to be received by June 1982, but, as far as I can discover, since then the Department has simply analysed and considered the comments. There is no evidence of action. I strongly urge the Minister to tackle the problem, as it is necessary to provide more sites in Greater London. That might entail the provision of Government resources to provide such sites. It would also entail giving stronger powers to councils to move on unauthorised travellers when they cause difficulties. I do not accept that we can continue to blunder on, wasting large sums of money on legal actions and clearing up the mess that travellers have left behind and accepting the impact that they have on our constituents' quality of life.
My third point concerns petty crime and break-ins. They are a major problem in many inner London constituencies, especially mine. There is now a major problem with break-ins on council estates. Especially at risk are the elderly, who find a break-in particularly traumatic. Even if no violence is involved, they fear it. I was attracted by the campaign which the Home Office and the police mounted earlier this year in an attempt to persuade people that simple precautions such as installing window locks could prevent many break-ins. The Home Office tells me that the simple step of installing window locks might cost only £25 per house. The problem is that the people who are most at risk are elderly pensioners, for example, who receive supplementary benefit and cannot get any help for the cost of the type of security that the Government recommend.
I took this issue up with the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security who, in April, told me:
I am sorry to say that security locks are not an item for which single payments can be made and it is not our intention to include them in our provisions in the future … we will only make single payments for items which are necessary for day-to-day living.
I contend that for many people who are at risk of break-ins, sensible security in their homes constitutes an elementary part of day-to-day living. Anyone who has tried to live on supplementary benefit knows only too well that it covers only the bare essentials and that there is no surplus to buy such things as security locks.
The Government appear to be saying that those who are most at risk are to be left without even basic protection such as is recommended by the Home Office and the police for other people. That is utterly unacceptable and I strongly urge the Minister to consider that problem and to be more sensible and understanding of those on supplementary benefit who need that elementary protection.
I echo what the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) said about the attitude that successive Governments have tended to take towards the GLC. There is a tendency to regard London as having every street paved with gold. That arises from examining overall London statistics. All hon. Members who represent inner London constituencies know that we have areas of deprivation that are as bad as anything else in the country. The quality of life of many of our constituents in inner London is declining. If we are to tackle the problems, London Members must be extremely vigorous in raising these matters and in fighting on behalf of their constituents. I hope that this is only the first of many debates on London in this Parliament.
It is a special pleasure to make my maiden speech during a debate on London. My constituency is in one of the inner London boroughs, and my constituents identify much more with London than they do with Lewisham. I do not know why my constituency is called Lewisham, West, because it does not contain any of Lewisham but is made up of Forest Hill, Sydenham and Catford. They are suburban areas on the border of inner and outer London, consisting largely of pleasant, tree-lined streets with a mixture of owner-occupied housing and newer council estates. It has little industry and is almost entirely residential. From the top of Forest Hill, my constituents look down on almost all of London, but I am happy to say that they still look up to Westminster.
Lewisham, West has been represented in the House by Henry Brooke, Henry Price, Jimmy Dickens and, more recently, by my hon. Friends the present Members for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). Until a few weeks ago it was ably represented by Christopher Price, who is well-known and liked in the constituency where he worked extremely hard and gained considerable respect from his political opponents. He also made a great contribution to the House both as a private Member and as Chairman of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts. Although I gained much respect for him before and during the election campaign, we differ on almost every political subject—even on his recent crusade to have the Elgin marbles returned to Greece and/or to Miss Mercouri. My view on the Elgin marbles is like that of the California senator who, when asked his opinion of American sovereignty over the Panama canal, said, "I think we stole it fair and square and we ought to keep it." Christopher Price will be genuinely missed in the constituency and by many people here. I hope that the Welsh succession in the Labour party will be maintained and that it will reward the good Welsh name of Price with a safe Welsh seat so that I need not fight him again.
My constituency shares most of the common problems of London. It experiences some problems, such as housing, transport, unemployment and crime, directly. It experiences others indirectly by being part of a borough that contains areas of real urban decay and social deprivation.
One problem that is shared by almost every London constituency is rates. Rates in Lewisham have trebled since 1979 from £250 for a typical small house to about £800 this year. The rates in my constituency are 50 per cent. higher than in the neighbouring borough. Business rates have been similarly affected, with the result of driving out businesses and jobs to neighbouring areas. The current level of rates, and the enormous and regular annual increases, are unacceptable to my constituents and should be unacceptable to the House. We must bring about the changes necessary to stop, and perhaps even to reverse, the trend.
The whole subject of rate reform is complex, and the alternatives present problems that may be far greater than in the present system. I am an advocate not of a local income tax or a local sales tax, but of extensive reform of local government finance and of the rating system. Local government must be made more efficient in its use of resources, because there are massive inefficiencies in many areas of local administration. For example, in Lewisham it costs £250 a week to keep a child in care. It cannot be beyond the bounds of human ingenuity to devise a way of doing it for less.
Too often public services are administered, not managed. Executive effort is devoted to making and following rules and to keeping the wheels turning, but we need active and imaginative management. My local council employs 7,000 people and has a budget of about £100 million a year. That is big business, and it deserves to be managed as such. Management education and training would help, as far more would the setting of proper objectives and performance criteria. We should, when necessary, bring in managers from outside local administration, but, however we do it, the quality and the approach of management have to be improved.
In pursuit of a more efficient use of resources, ceilings must be placed on councils' expenditure, particularly councils, such as my own, which have deliberately set out to defy spending targets. Lewisham council has increased its spending — the part for which it is directly responsible—by 10 per cent. in real terms this year. That is 10 per cent. after inflation. It has resulted directly in a 25 per cent. rate rise. It is simply not justified, and a straightforward reform could make it illegal.
Further, a stop should be put immediately to the arrogant milking of ratepayers that seems to go on in an orchestrated effort at political posturing by other local authorities. Why should London's ratepayers finance that junior people's republic on the other side of Westminster bridge? Why should they have to pay for gay art alliances, celebrating Karl Marx, undermining the police, and for giving so-called free food and accommodation to political demonstrators? Fortunately for Britain, it does not have too many such councils, but, unfortunately for my constituents, they suffer from two of them.
The argument that local democracy gives such councils a mandate is nonsense. The few people who know what the GLC is in this city would welcome its demise, and those who do not know what it is would welcome the reduction in their rates bills. Local authorities' areas of competence should be clearly defined, and spending outside those areas of competence should be made illegal.
We all know the history of rates, how they came to be imposed, and the ease and cheapness of their collection, but their unfairness is well known, as is the fact that their incidence bears no relation whatever to the ability to pay. In my constituency the typical rates bill of £800 on a fairly small house could fall on a family consisting of one wage earner with three or four dependants, or it could go to a household with three wage earners and no dependants. That is manifestly unfair.
I should like to suggest two simple changes in the system. The first is the introduction of a poll tax of about £25 per year on everybody over 18 who was neither unemployed nor living on supplementary benefit. The second relates to the way in which rates are collected. It should be fairly simple to arrange that the size of a rates bill is directly related to the number of adults living in a household, so that the anomaly of one person paying the same as five or six is removed. Those are two fairly simple reforms that would have the effect of giving much greater fairness to the rating system.
Recognition must be given, in the way that the block grant system is operated, to the special problems of London. The Inner London Education Authority may, as I think, be inefficient, but London faces special educational problems which are not encountered in rural areas and shire counties. Lewisham council may, as I have argued, be inefficient, but there are calls on its social services which are particular to certain inner London boroughs and which again do not occur in areas such as Sussex or Hampshire.
The Government are pledged to reforms. I hope that they will follow some of the lines that I have suggested —restrictions on the legality of certain types of spending, curbs on real increases in spending, reform of the rating system, and a sympathetic use of the block grant. The incidence and level of rates in my constituency are grossly unfair. It is extremely important that our pledges to do something about the rating system should be redeemed in a manner which will lead directly to lower rates bills for Londoners.
I want to deal with one subject only—the problem of policing in London. The police are supposed to be accountable to the House through the Home Secretary. What I have shows that the police are not making themselves accountable to the democratically elected representatives of the people. The Commissioner, in his report, which has been dealt with in the press, referred to a campaign of denigration and our enemies on the Left. That provided headlines in The Standard. Is he complaining, as he appears to be, about criticism from elected representatives, such as Members of Parliament, members of the GLC and local councils, all of whom have made criticisms of police activity in London?
I have had occasion to write to the Home Secretary over the past six months about several cases, one of which was the Colin Roach case. The Minister promised to reply to some of my questions after the Colin Roach inquest. Instead, he took the opportunity to reply to a planted parliamentary question from a Conservative Member and say that the Commissioner was to set up an inquiry into the criticisms made by the jury and others about the way in which the police at Stoke Newington police station had dealt with the Colin Roach case.
The problem was again raised in the House by myself and about 60 other Members under a motion headed
Police-Public relations in Hackney-Stoke Newington
the Home Secretary to make an investigation into the policing practices in Hackney-Stoke Newington.
We are still awaiting an answer.
The Home Secretary has received a copy of the comments of the jury which tried the case of Colin Roach, a copy of which I have obtained from the Library. The jury say that they were
deeply distressed at the handling of the case by the police regarding the Roach family. We feel that the bereaved family were kept in the dark over the death of their son and that the police were not sympathetic to the situation".
Police activities in north Hackney have caused the public to demonstrate on the streets, as a result of which about 100 people have been arrested. That is not the way to deal with the public criticisms that are now being made about police activities in a particular case. However, the purpose of my remarks here today is to point out that the Colin Roach case is only the tip of the iceberg. Several other cases have been brought to the attention of the Home Secretary, the Commissioner of police and the area commander. I have here a file of those cases which have been placed before the Home Secretary for investigation and upon which I have demanded an inquiry into the activities of the police at the Stoke Newington police station as well as into the Colin Roach affair. I am still waiting, months later, for a reply.
There is the case of Mrs. Knight, whose flat was visited by police vans, dogs and cars. Three policemen entered the flat and dragged out the family, leaving behind a six-year-old daughter to care for herself. Charges were made against members of the Knight family, but two juries failed to agree and the defendants were acquitted. They are taking civil proceedings against the police. That case provides another reason for an investigation into policing at Stoke Newington.
The White case has been going on since 1976. The police were ordered to pay compensation of £51,000 because of their actions against the White family. Complaints were made against 17 policemen, but no known action has been taken against any of those officers at Stoke Newington police station.
Mrs. Whitmarsh reported her son, Colin Barnard, missing. He was later found drowned in the Thames, but, despite the fact that Mrs. Whitmarsh had reported him missing to the police and had issued public advertisements, she was not told until six months later that he had been found and cremated. I took up the matter, but all that we have received so far is a letter of apology from the local commander, who said:
A further response will be made to you but I wanted to make it quite clear in this initial reply that the case caused the Police great concern and our deepest sympathy and apology goes to the family as I appreciate that their grief was prolonged by our error.
That is another case which needs investigation.
The Kanadu family complained to me about police harassment. They wrote to me on 14 January when they discovered that their mother, whom they had reported to the Stoke Newington police as missing, had been gaoled by the police. I took up the case with the police. The mother went before Old street magistrates' court, but no charges were made against her and she was released. That mother, a black woman, Mrs. Osie, was here legally and had not contravened any law. That is another case which needs investigation.
Another case connected with Stoke Newington police station involves Mrs. Ettie Cohen, an epileptic who had an attack in a shop. Not understanding, the shopkeeper sent for the police, who took her away in a van and imprisoned her without food. As her husband said in his letter to me, she should have been taken to hospital. In fact, she was charged with causing a disturbance, but the case was dismissed by Old street magistrates. That is another complaint against the actions of the police at Stoke Newington.
There have been many complaints about stop-and-search actions, which are quite common in my area, particularly against young black people. In one case a youth was stopped and searched in October 1981, in April 1982 and, at Stamford hill, in November 1982. He was told to put his hands against a wall and to keep his legs apart. He was searched, nothing was found and he was sent on his way by police, who insisted that he should carry his passport with him as identification. That is one of a number of stop-and-search cases that are causing considerable anxiety in the area.
The Commission for Racial Equality sent me and the Home Secretary a dossier of 40 complaints. It demanded an inquiry into policing in Hackney. Community relations are so bad that the Hackney teachers association does not allow the police into schools to talk to pupils. The National Union of Teachers takes the same attitude. That, too, is a good sign of a need for an inquiry.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. How will relationships be improved if the police are not allowed to meet pupils and teachers in school? Surely that is the opposite of what should be desired.
I shall come to that in a moment. I am dealing with what could lead to a solution to these problems.
I met three police commanders, the deputy assistant commissioner, representatives of Islington, Haringey and Hackney councils and several community representatives to discuss the problems in Finsbury Park. A number of unemployed black youths had been arrested. Their club had been closed. They were stopped, searched and charged with obstruction. Unemployed people do stand talking on the pavement. What else is there to do? They would not have to do that if they were given jobs. Bad relationships between young people and the police are created when such people are charged with obstruction.
The conference was called because of the bad feelings, and a report was made. There were complaints about the special patrol group and the instant response units. It was said that they should be cut out and that there should be more policemen on the beat to deal with the problems. A "Starsky and Hutch" approach, with motor vehicles, should not be used.
The Hackney borough council is worried. Last July it set up a consultative committee of representatives from the three political parties on the council, and from community organisations. The council has written continuously asking for police representation on that committee. The police, supported by the Home Secretary, have refused to take part. There is no question that the committee will take over control from the police. There will only be discussions between the groups about the problems in the area. The law does not provide for a borough council to take over control. It will be a genuine consultative committee.
The letter of 7 January from the Home Office stated:
It was not of course the Home Secretary's intention in issuing the guidelines to seek to impose a particular model or pattern of consultative arrangements. We recognise that local needs and circumstances vary widely from one area to another and that consultative arrangements need to be tailored to suit them.
The Hackney borough council and those who took the matter up with the Home Office wanted the pace on the committee. They are still waiting for that co-operation. The Hackney borough council has given the Home Secretary and the police until July—a year since it first raised the matter—to give a definite answer about the proposed co-operation.
The police have set up what they call a consultative panel. It is chaired by the chamber of commerce, the two local Members of Parliament have been invited to attend and it contains various representatives, but I am afraid that it will not be satisfactory. We need a body like Hackney borough council, which is extremely representative of the people of the area. Community representatives must be on the body so that all concerned can discuss the problems of policing.
I urge the Home Secretary to conduct an inquiry into the cases which I have mentioned, and others. He must inquire into the activities of Stoke Newington police and conduct an inquiry into the Roach case in view of the complaints made by the jury and others, and he should, at the earliest opportunity, receive a deputation from the Roach family, who wish to raise certain serious matters with him.
I have an interest to declare. Until 5 July I am a paid employee of the GLC. From 6 July onwards I shall be an unpaid employee of the GLC. I wish at the outset to pay tribute to my predecessor in Hayes and Harlington, Mr. Neville Sandelson, a man of much personal charm, courteous and with a ready wit. In recent years he has been under great pressure in his political life and throughout that time has shown a great deal of courage. I shall do all I can to emulate his service to the community so as to ensure for myself a long stay in this House.
My constituency is situated in west London and contains within its boundaries the world's busiest airport, Heathrow. At present an inquiry is gathering evidence among other things on the merits of developing a fifth terminal there. Many of my constituents would welcome such a development because it would bring much-needed additional employment to the area. I share those sentiments. However, I want a clear Government commitment to provide the capital resources necessary to ensure that the infrastructure is provided for the area. Without that Government assurance I could not support the fifth terminal.
In and around the Hayes town centre, especially at peak times, the traffic congestion is acute and the urgent need to get the Hayes by-pass completed is evident. I am aware that some oppose the by-pass proposals, but I believe that the overall advantages far outweigh any parochial considerations, however genuinely held. The GLC has delayed the provision of a by-pass for too long and with the demise of that authority—and as a GLC employee, paid or otherwise, I shall be speaking in favour of its abolition at every opportunity — I hope that the Government will involve themselves in that development to ensure that my constituents get relief without delay from the severe and unnecessary traffic problems.
My major reason for speaking today is to talk about the scandal of system building and the Bison wall frame system in particular. It is a national and a London issue, and I know from first-hand experience, both as a former tenant of a Bison dwelling and as the current chairman of Hillingdon borough's housing committee, that it is a local issue affecting my constituents.
"Scandal" is not too strong a word to describe what has happened to the dwellings built by Bison and, more important, what has happened to the tenants who found themselves having to live in such dwellings. It all started with central Government pressure on local authorities to build cheaply, quickly and at high-rise level. Subsidy arrangements were adjusted to encourage such building, and architects, never slow to experiment at someone else's expense, were soon persuading local councillors, come hell or high water, to use system building methods.
My authority built more than 1,400 homes under the Bison wall frame system during the late 1960s and early 1970s and has come to regret the day it ever made contact with that company. These dwellings are largely factory built and assembled like a child's Lego set on site. It is our experience that the dwellings were badly constructed at the factory and badly assembled on site. The quality of the materials that were used left much to be desired. Since 1978 Hillingdon council has spent £5 million on refurbishing four tower blocks so that about 300 tenants can live in decent accommodation. This has followed the spending of almost £500,000 on investigative work to try to solve the problems. The remaining 1,175 low-rise dwellings built by the wall frame method will be demolished. We have come to this decision because the cost of patching them up has been estimated at more than £25 million. The cost of refurbishment has been placed at £38 million.
It was beyond the ability of Hillingdon ratepayers to meet those costs. We hope that the cost of demolition will be met from the income derived from the sale of sites. Despite the involvement of central Government, my authority has had precious little help from that quarter. It has had sympathy by the bucket load but no help. The Department of the Environment has refused to act as the central point for gathering and sharing information between local authorities and in general has not been very helpful. Whatever Ministers may say to the contrary, that has been Hillingdon's experience.
The story is the same in respect of financial aid. There have been murmurs of understanding, but no financial assistance. It has been said by the Department of the Environment that the HIP allocation contained an element for Bison repairs, but it would have been difficult to find even with a magnifying glass. If the Minister says that Hillingdon has overspent on its capital programme—I apologise in advance for my absence when my hon. Friend replies to the debate—let me remind him that we asked for an allocation of up to £19 million and were allowed £8 million. The housing investment programme allocation is not Government money but merely the authority to borrow. They gave us the authority to borrow £8·8 million. We have spent all of that and some of our capital receipts. If the Minister says that Hillingdon has overspent on its capital programme, let him remember that we have spent money that we raised ourselves by selling land and houses. We spent in excess of the allocation and there was no element in the allocation for Bison repairs.
The national consequences are enormous, and I can well understand the reluctance of any Government to embark upon a course that could eventually end up with their facing a bill of between £2 billion and £5 billion. But if they do not want to face such a demand, how on earth do they expect local authorities to cope with it with their limited resources? It is a problem for which Government must share much of the blame, because of their attitude in the 1960s. They cannot and must not be allowed to run away from their obligations. Before anyone tells me that I am talking about my own Government, I stress that I am talking about Governments of both political persuasions, who were aided and abetted by civil servants. Even if technically Governments were not parties to the original contract between local authority and builder, they have a responsibility.
It must be said that Bison has acted recklessly and irresponsibly throughout. The recent "World in Action" programme on television gave evidence of its attitude. I am reluctant to be controversial in my maiden speech, but as I watched the programme I saw the ex-chairman of the company enjoying himself in the sun in Berkshire while tenants of Bison properties were having a dreadful life. However, Bison has to face the shame and the disgrace.
I call upon the Government to recognise the problem and to do what they can by way of financial allocation. For everyone's sake, they should have a public inquiry so we may know what happened in the past. We should know what went on and who was responsible. We must be sure that the public interest is served and protected.
I should have thought that in four years' time the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) will be an unpaid, unemployed employee of a non-existent local authority, if he follows the logic of his own arguments.
This is the first time that I have spoken to the House. It seems a million miles away from the constituency that I represent and the problems that the people there face. Islington, North is only a few miles from the House by tube or bus. We are suffering massive unemployment and massive cuts imposed by the Government on the local authorites. There are cuts in the Health Service. In common with the rest of inner London, we have lost all grant funding for education. That is a measure of the contempt with which the Government have treated Islington, North — indeed, the whole borough of Islington.
The borough has suffered an unprecedented media attack in exactly the same way as the GLC suffered because it was singled out as fair game for editorials in the Daily Mail, The Sun and other newspapers. The previous Member for Islington, South and Finsbury used an Adjournment debate in the House to raise complaints about the borough council on a number of matters.
It is significant that just this week the Minister received a letter from Islington borough council about objections made to the district auditor about the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the Islington News Co-operative and the council's newspaper, Focus. The district auditor replied on detailed terms. He said that he felt that there was no case for the borough council to answer in the light of the allegations made by the previous Member. It is unfortunate that little publicity is likely to be given to the district auditor's reply compared to the publicity that was given to the allegations made against the borough council in the run-up to, and during, the election campaign by Conservative and Social Democratic party members.
The borough which I have the honour to represent has suffered a stupendous loss in rate support grant since 1979. In 1979 £55 million a year was paid to Islington borough council. That was the Government contribution to the needs of that rundown inner city area. It is indicative of the Government's determination to create massive unemployment in inner city areas and demonstrates their ignorance of the problems that people face in such boroughs that the Government grant is now down to £32 million and is destined to go down further. That is a massive indictment of the Government. The hon. Members who now represent Islington will speak up continuously on that problem and will speak up for a borough that has been maligned by the Government and the press mercilessly over the past two years.
Unemployment in Islington is as bad as anywhere else in London. If one takes the rate together with those of the neighbouring boroughs of Hackney, parts of Waltham Forest and Enfield, there is a horrific picture. There is 20 per cent. registered unemployment. Far more people are unemployed than that. About one third of those who are out of work at the moment in Islington have been out of work for more than a year. Within a few minutes of the House are areas in Finsbury Park where there are black people of 20 and older, both women and men, who have never worked since leaving school at the age of 16. They have little but a great deal of contempt for the Government and for proceedings that are adopted by the Government in attacking such boroughs. They have little regard for a system that seems destined to force them to stay permanently on the dole. I shall convey that spirit to the House as often as I can. The people in my constituency are bitter and angry.
The number of jobs that we have lost in the past few years give the lie to the argument that, if workers demand high wages, somehow or other they are pricing themselves out of a job. Conservative Members have often lectured us about that. In fact, the average wages in the borough of Islington are well below the national average. At the same time, thousands of jobs have been lost in the past two years. Very few vacancies are notified to the Holloway employment office and there is a feeling of hopelessness that is perhaps paralleled in other parts of the country. That is serious.
Another factor makes people suffer. Islington is an inner city borough where less than 40 per cent. of the population can purchase a car. Presumably many hon. Members drive through it on the way to their constituencies. Day in, day out a vast amount of commuter traffic also thunders through, as well as heavy goods vehicles and dangerous overweight juggernauts. Hon. Members may have seen reports last week of a serious road accident that occurred in St. Paul's road which is a route for heavy lorries trundling through my constituency, bringing death and danger in their wake.
I hope that the call for a London-wide lorry ban is taken in a debate on London as such a danger cannot be allowed to continue on our roads. There never was a justification for allowing the size and weight of lorries that exist on our roads, and there is even less justification with the completion of the M25 for any opposition to a heavy goods vehicle ban throughout London. The argument that such vehicles serve London's industry and businesses is fallacious and wrong. At least two thirds of the vehicles that thunder down the Archway road, along the Holloway road, St. Paul's road and into Graham road in Hackney are travelling straight through London and using the city as a short cut to the Channel ports.
As the Government have taken so much money from Islington borough council and the neighbouring borough councils of Haringey, Hackney, and to a lesser extent Enfield because the Government have friends there, it is incredible that they should countenance spending more than £30 million on the building of a new stretch of motorway — the Archway motorway project — leading more traffic into inner London. That is another matter that I hope to bring often before the House.
The plight of the Health Service in my borough is serious. I am sponsored by the National Union of Public Employees and until yesterday I was employed as an organiser for that union. I am well aware of the cant and hypocrisy that is spoken about the Health Service. The Health Service in London has suffered more than almost any other service in the past few years. Cuts are made day in and day out. At this moment, 53 London hospitals are under threat of partial closure, ward closure or complete closure. Further, the jobs of about 4,000 health workers are at risk under the lunatic policy of continuing to cut health spending in every sense in inner London.
The effects of health cuts are very significant. If a hospital is closed, it might suit Health Service planners and the DHSS, as they might consider it to be an efficiency factor. What happens in reality is that people who were used to going to a convenient local hospital cannot do so, the waiting list for major operations gets longer and longer and the care of the sick is forced more and more into the home and on to women.
Yet the Government had the temerity to issue a press statement before the election about the value to society of private medicine, the development of private hospitals and encouraging people to spend their money on private health care. That freedom of choice does not exist for the constituents of Islington, North. They cannot afford private medicine. They do not wish to see private medicine develop or the obscenity of a private health service and pay beds continuing to exist in National Health Service hospitals. My colleagues and I at the National Union of Public Employees wish that topic, which is a crying scandal, to be brought before the House.
Greater scandals are also taking place in the Health Service. I could list, time permitting, all 53 hospitals in London which are under some form of immediate risk. I will not go through them all but I will draw some to the attention of the House. The south London hospital for women, which is most in the news, is due to be closed. Apparently, as a result of a decision made last night, the ball is now in the Government's court. If the Government do not provide the money for the running of that hospital, it will close. That hospital was founded because women wished to have a health service in which they felt confidence and trust. It was founded for women, run by women and continues to provide a valuable service for women in south London. It will be a scandal if that hospital is allowed to close.
I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that the closure will not go ahead and that Government money will be provided to keep that vital facility open. Women suffer more than anyone else from Health Service cuts. They suffer through having to wait for operations and it is usually they who end up caring for the sick who cannot be cared for by the Health Service.
On the arguments about spending in the Health Service and the setting of cash limits, I have some useful information—all gleaned from DHSS sources and put together by the London Health Service campaign. The cash limit revenue allocations are compared with the surplus or shortfall, allowing for 5·6 per cent. inflation. There is some argument about the applicability of that figure to the Health Service, but that is the figure used. Only two health authorities in London—Croydon and Hounslow and Spelthorne—had a surplus of cash limit allocation compared with their expenditure. Every other authority was seriously overspending. As anyone who has served on a health authority will know, overspending means cuts, longer queues for major operations and beds deliberately left vacant not because they are not needed by the sick but because the Government are not prepared to provide the money to care for the sick. That is the reality of the situation.
As I have said, north Islington has suffered Health Service cuts perhaps as bad as those in any other area. The borough as a whole has recently lost Liverpool road hospital, the City of London maternity home and the casualty facility at the Royal Northern hospital, placing frightening and devastating pressure on the remaining facilities at the Whittington hospital which itself is now threatened with the closure of one wing. Disasters of that kind occur daily in the inner city areas. That is why people are so angry and it is incredible that only 13 Conservative Members can be bothered to attend today's debate on these matters.
The DHSS has mounted a privatisation campaign in which it has consistently tried to lecture local health authorities about how efficient it would be if private enterprise played a part in running the Health Service, stressing the efficiency of laundry, catering, portering and gardening services. The private sector is already making a fortune out of drug sales to the health authorities. When Conservative Members lecture health workers who demand decent wages, they never criticise the massive profits made out of the Health Service by the drug companies.
Moreover, the lectures about the need for privatisation in the Health Service are not matched by the experience of health authorities which have brought in private enterprise laundry, portering, catering and cleaning services. In all cases they have said that the services are not only inefficient but difficult to control because one is constantly dealing with third parties whose interest is not the care of patients and the efficient running of a National Health Service that is free at the point of use but only the profit that they can make out of it.
With all the problems that London now faces —massive unemployment, problems of public transport and traffic management, and the rest—it is extraordinary that the Government should choose this moment to mount a fantastic media campaign against the GLC and, in a couple of lines in a badly written and ill-thought-out manifesto, to say that they intend to abolish the GLC. The real reason why they wish to abolish it is because they could not gain control of it at the last election. If the GLC were abolished, London would be the only capital in the world, so far as I can discover, without some central democratic and unitary local authority to administer its business.
It is amazing that the House should spend time debating the abolition of the GLC when it should be debating the lack of democracy in so many other areas of London life. I have dealt at some length with the problems of the Health Service. Greater democracy is needed in the Health Service. It would be advantageous to have a London health authority to discuss the problems of the Health Service in London rather than continuing the balancing act between expenditure in inner London and the needs of counties such as Essex, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire and so on, as the regional health authorities consistently do, with the result that London suffers from an even worse Health Service.
We hear a great deal about democracy and freedom of choice. I find it incredible that at the same time as the Government propose to abolish the Greater London council and to take away the democratic powers of the Inner London Education Authority they allow London's undemocratic police force to continue its operations and they allow Sir Kenneth Newman to make monstrous attacks on people who merely demand some form of democratic representation in the expenditure of hundreds of millions of pounds on London's police force.
I hope that the House will return again and again to the debate on the democratic running of London. It is clear that the Government are determined to take away all democratic rights of local government in London. They tried to destroy our borough councils. Now they seek to destroy the GLC and the ILEA.
I represent an area of London that has suffered as much as any other from the policies of this Government, and I shall be telling the House repeatedly that we do not intend to take these issues lying down. We shall not allow unemployment to go through the roof. We shall not allow our youth to have no chance and no hope for the future. We shall not allow our borough councils to be attacked mercilessly in the way that they have been by the Government and by the press in the past year. We shall return to these issues because justice has to be done for those who are worst off and unemployed in areas such as the constituency that I represent.
It is customary on these occasions to pay tribute to maiden speakers. I follow the convention of the House and congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) on his election and on his first speech to the House. It is clear that he has strong views about politics and the way in which London and the country should be organised. He is fortunate to have the privilege of being a Member of a democratic Parliament that enables him to express those views freely on behalf of his constituents and the party that he represents.
London is fortunate to have so early in this new Parliament an opportunity to consider the many important matters that concern the 84 London Members of Parliament, of whom 57 sit on the Government Benches. I am especially glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) remains in office as Under-Secretary of State for the Environment and is taking a close interest in the affairs of London, as is right and proper for an hon. Member who serves a London constituency. London Members can also be glad that the Secretary of State for the Environment is our right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin). In future London debates I hope that we shall be privileged to have his attendance, playing his part in considering the many important affairs of London.
I welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech to the abolition of the Greater London council. As many hon. Members know, I have pressed for its abolition for a good many years and published a Bill to that effect in July 1981.
The reason for disposing of this middle tier of government is simply that it has not worked. Since its creation in 1963, many of the functions given to it have been removed progressively. The National Health Service assumed responsibility for ambulances in 1973. In the same year, responsibility for water was transferred to the Thames water authority. More recently, housing responsibility has been transferred to the 32 London boroughs.
When one examines the subject in detail, it is difficult to see what role the GLC now fulfils. It was intended to be a strategic authority for the whole of what was called London. However, central Government takes the major strategic decisions that affect London. It was not the GLC that was given responsibility for deciding whether a third London airport was required and, if so, where it should be sited. The Government took that decision. Nor was the GLC directly involved in so relatively minor a matter as the removal of the Covent garden market from the city of Westminster to the south bank. Responsibility for that essentially London matter was retained by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
At the other end of the scale, especially in planning and traffic management, the GLC exercises parallel and often overlapping power with the 32 London borough councils. That makes for a great deal of duplication of effort and administration and provides much discontent among the people who live in London. For a variety of well-founded reasons, therefore, all of which are to do with the better administration of London, it is right that the middle tier authority be removed. I shall definitely support the Government in their proposals to transfer responsibilities to the London borough councils.
What single strategic responsibility has been taken by the Government for housing in London? Most hon. Members know that it is impossible for hard-pressed boroughs, such as Lambeth and Southwark, to sort out their housing problems alone. Where is the Government's strategic initiative on housing?
I shall deal with housing later. The GLC has never had a strategic role in the provision of housing. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that, as one goes round one's constituency and visits council estates, one notices that some of the worst housing in London was built in the decades during which the GLC has been responsible for housing. Some GLC housing estates are a scandal in terms of design, the quality of buildings and the misery that is inflicted on the wretched people who are obliged to live in them. Much must be done to put matters right.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I do not give way, as time is short and others wish to speak. It is important that I press on.
My primary concern is for the inner London area. The establishment of the GLC demonstrates how difficult it is to define the London area. London is really the inner London area under the jurisdiction of the inner London boroughs. One of the outer London boroughs—Croydon — is the seventh largest English city by population. Why should the Croydon area be included in the GLC district? That is nonsense. There is no common interest between the needs of Croydon and the needs of central London as represented by Westminster city council.
Although I advocate the removal of the middle tier of government in London—the GLC—it is essential for this Parliament to resolve several key issues that affect the better administration of London, of which housing strategy is one. Each year Westminister city council submits a housing strategy and budget for approval by the Department of the Environment. It then needs separate approval for every project in that strategy despite the fact that the council is responsible for obtaining the finance. The result is delays and bureaucratic duplication. I cannot help but think that if we get the administration of London right by removing the GLC, we must also get the administration of the Department of the Environment right in terms of its relationship with the 32 London borough councils.
Recently the Department obstructed proposals for the repair of properties owned by the Monmouth road housing co-operative in my constituency because the cost would be 7 per cent. above the total indicative costs. The Department totally ignores the housing corporation's system of local variations to total indicative costs to take into account the average costs and values of rehabilitated property in the city of Westminster. It also ignores the fact that the properties are mostly grade 2 listed historic buildings, with extensive restoration features. The Department appears to have no scruples about obstructing such home ownership, which is supported by the Conservative party, and has caused the obstruction for five years. The co-operative itself was opposed by the Left-wing Socialists on the GLC. If the position continues, the people in the co-operative will face another winter without work being done on their property, which could be disastrous for the fabric of the buildings and the morale of the residents.
As we consider the administration of inner London, we must develop policies for what I call the big clean-up in the way that we administer ourselves and in the way that people live, especially in connection with housing and the environment. In that context I draw to my hon. Friend's attention the sensible recommendations that have been widely agreed by those who have considered the report of a working party set up by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors on the management and control of mansion block flats.
One recommendation is that legislation should be introduced requiring foreign landlords to provide an office within the jurisdiction on which notices of proceedings can be served. I even question whether it is right for foreign residents to own residential, tenanted property in inner London, because of the great problems that can arise from it. Some of my constituents who live in Inverness terrace in Paddington have been exposed to the most appalling duress by a landlord who has escaped responsibility by being registered abroad. Living in that landlord's property has been made almost impossible. Gas and electricity are shut off intermittently, hot water was unavailable for four months, repairs are overdue and water is coming into the basement fiat. By being registered abroad, the landlord has managed to escape identification. He is not registered at the Registry of Business Names at Companies house, and all that his tenants know is that he has an office somewhere in Liechtenstein.
The working party recommended that schedule 19 to the Housing Act 1980 should be amended to allow a tenant to challenge the appointment of managing agents. At present, tenants can do little about an inefficient managing agent who is foisted on them except to refuse to pay the service charges, which are often in dispute. However, that does not do much good if the necessary repairs are simply not being done. It is reasonable that residents should have some choice in the appointment of managing agents so that those appointees can demonstrate their efficiency not only to the property company that employs them but to the residents of the property. There are many other very reasonable recommendations made on mansion properties in the report and I hope that the Minister will give them early attention.
As the years have passed, inner London's interests have been sadlly neglected, regardless of who have been the Government in Whitehall. Certainly those interests have not been protected or advanced by the GLC under the existing local government structure in London.
With further reference to home ownership in inner London, there is a need to extend the Leasehold Reform Act 1967. It is essential that people who live in blocks of flats or properties that are divided should have the same right to enfranchise themselves as those who live in ordinary dwelling houses. If my party is to continue to extol the virtues of home ownership, as it does, and which I support, we must also bring within the fold of home ownership those who are subject to the difficulties of living in mansion properties.
I know that the Law Commission, under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Ralph Gibson, would be perfectly willing to create a form of structure in the law for a right to buy applicable to a wider range of dwellings such as flats, maisonettes and divided houses, but the Law Commission awaits the triggering of such an inquiry from the Government. I urge upon the Minister and his right hon. Friend the need to invite the Law Commission to begin that examination as soon as possible.
I should like to refer briefly to the operation of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 in inner London. It is a very well-intended Act. The trouble with it is that, in the inner London area, because of the natural pressures that arise in any great capital city, many people tend to flood in, and under that Act they have to be housed, with the result that in inner London we are creating ghetto estates of poor and deprived people. It is socially and morally wrong that that should be so. It is wrong, too, that the children of people who were born in inner London should cease to have the opportunity to be housed by their local inner London borough council because of the operation of the Act.
I will give briefly the example of the experience of the city of Westminster, which serves the very heart of the capital. Last year the council offered 605 people permanent homes under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act, using its own housing stock—485 compared with 359 in 1981.
It is clear that if a council is having to use all its available stock under the Act, something is wrong. There should be some balance in respect of the inner London borough councils. It is not unreasonable to say that in the heart of the capital the inner London borough councils, regardless of whether they are Socialist controlled or Conservative controlled, should have the right to ensure some balance in the way that the Act operates.
I should like to conclude by mentioning one or two points which need to be explored in the course of this Parliament, and again I put the case for an examination of the way in which the London rate equalisation scheme works. It is unacceptable that the ratepayers living within the city of Westminster, not all of whom are wealthy and a large number of whom are pensioners living on fixed incomes, on retirement pensions and on invested income, should pay such high rates while the city council has to distribute a substantial sum of money under the equalisation scheme to other London boroughs.
It is basically unfair that people of ordinary or average means should have to contribute in that way. I understand that the rate equalisation scheme will increase from nearly £23 million in 1982–83 to nearly £24 million in 1983–84. The scheme is damaging the interests of central London in a big way.
The business community is voting with its feet and moving its headquarters and offices out of the city of Westminster. We are increasingly blighted by that. In addition, domestic residents are unable to keep up with the ever increasing cost of the rates and have to move out. Those are issues which cannot be ignored for much longer. They require a sensible and balanced examination so that we can put the administration of London right again.
People who live in the heart of London have many extra pressures to suffer. For example, some live in streets where the estate agents have a permanent array of signs. That may seem a small point, but such signs blight the streets and destroy the business communities there. That issue must also be looked at and is one of the many important environmental issues which I hope inner London and other hon. Members who represent London constituencies will be able to return to in future debates.
Those are the issues that concern ordinary people and on which we look to the Government for support, interest and concern. I hope that during the years ahead in this Parliament we shall find solutions to those issues on behalf of the people who live in London.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I draw the attention of the House to the fact that many hon. Members still want to speak, two of whom are new hon. Members who want to make their maiden speeches if there is time. Therefore, I again appeal for brevity.
There have been several changes in the arrangements for the Metropolitan police over the past few months. Even at the general election we had one change which might be regarded as a change for the better in that the police authority for London is no longer the Member who was elected for Penrith and The Border. The constituency has moved about 90 miles nearer and he is now the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan). We look forward to the day when a Member of Parliament for London will become the police authority for London, but I suppose that we shall have to wait for that.
In October last year we had a change of police Commissioner. In view of the previous police Commissioner's record, we could scarcely have expected a change for the worse. At the invitation of Sir Kenneth Newman, London Labour Members went to see him shortly after he was appointed. We welcomed that meeting. It was useful, because it gave us the opportunity to explain to him that we and the people we represent are sick to death of soaring crime in London and the shortcomings of the Metropolitan police in doing something about it. We made it clear that we and our constituents were sick to death of the increasing violence and rape and the massive number of burglaries in our capital city.
Following our discussions with the Commissioner, we did not expect that we would soon be accusing him of complacency. He seemed to be a committed, intelligent man who was determined to do something. It is therefore disappointing that the only way of describing his report to the Home Secretary, which was published yesterday, is to say that it is very complacent indeed. I can only presume that, as the man between the upper and nether millstones, he is accustoming himself to the low standards of performance of the Metropolitan police below him and, above that, the complacency of the Home Office.
The Commissioner tries to explain away the poor clear-up rate of crime in London by saying that the statistics do not show exactly what is happening, that they are capable of being misinterpreted and that it is not fair to say that the clear-up rate is important. The fact is that the Metropolitan police's clear-up rate is twice as bad as that of the next worse police force in Britain. That is unacceptable.
It was even more distressing to read in the Commissioner's report:
The overall clear up rate also obscures the fact that our performance in relation to serious crimes is quite impressive. For example, the clear up rate for murder is 75 per cent., for kidnapping 65 per cent.
Sir Kenneth Newman may be impressed by a clear-up rate in which no one is tracked down for one quarter of the murders and 35 per cent. of the kidnappings carried out in London, but Labour Members and their constituents are singularly unimpressed with that performance. Sir Kenneth's view may be influenced by his background in Northern Ireland. The latest figures show that the clear-up rate for murders in Northern Ireland is 44 per cent. That is understandable there, but it is unacceptable for the Commissioner to tell the people of London, and for The Standard apparently to endorse his view, that the fact that one quarter of all murderers get away with their crime is an impressive record.
There is amazing complacency in the Home Office. For example, a murder was committed in King's Cross in 1980 and the trial started at the Old Bailey in June 1982. It was abandoned because the Crown ran out of living witnesses, and the man accused of the murder is walking free in my constituency. I wrote to the Home Secretary in August last year and sent him a reminder in September. On 30 November, Lord Elton, on behalf of the Home Secretary, finally replied to the questions that I had raised about the disappearance of the witnesses. He said:
You mention in your letter a recent case where a man charged with the murder of a person involved in prostitution in Kings Cross was released because the prosecution witnesses were missing. I think you may be referring to the case of Mr. John Docherty"—
Lord Elton is obviously a very acute fellow—
who was shot dead on 18th November 1980, and the trial of the man accused of his murder which began on 8th June 1982. I will now deal in turn with your detailed points about missing prosecution witnesses: No potential witness was shot dead while under police protection.
That is a relief to us all. Lord Elton went on:
Although it was likely that Patricia McClellan would have been called as a witness in the case had she not been murdered, no evidence was found that her death had any connection with persons suspected of being connected with Mr. Docherty's murder. It is true that a man was stabbed to death outside the house where Mr. Docherty was shot but there is no evidence to connect this murder with that of Mr. Docherty … It is correct that a woman, who associated with Mr. Docherty and the man accused of his murder, was found dead in bed from a heroin overdose. There were, however, no suspicious circumstances surrounding her death.
The Commissioner has no knowledge of a person connected with this case who died of alcoholism.
As to witnesses disappearing there was one witness who did fail to appear at the trial. Police protection had been offered to him but he declined to accept it.
I have made further inquiries of the Home Office about what happened to the man who went to Leicester and disappeared. The Home Office and the Metropolitan police assure me that he is alive. However, there is a warrant for his arrest for failing to appear at the Old Bailey as a witness. If the Home Office and the Metropolitan police are convinced that he is alive, I want to know why he has not been arrested and taken to the Old Bailey to explain his disappearance. I suspect that the poor man now forms part of the motorway system. That is an illustration of the total complacency of the Home Office.
The basis of our legal, judicial and policing system is at risk if witnesses in murder trials can be murdered or spirited away. It is serious when the Home Office and, apparently, the new Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis are so complacent that they do nothing about the incidents to which I have referred. Something needs to be done.
Although the new Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis managed to make a few offhand attacks on people he called activists—I do not know what sort of activists — who are undermining the policing of the metropolis, he did not, in his apolitical way, suggest that there may be a number of other factors leading to an increase in crime. There are a number of factors to which he might have drawn attention, even if it embarrassed his political masters. He might have drawn attention to the fact that in May 30,000 school leavers in London were out of work. It would be foolish and abusive to suggest that every young person in our capital who is out of work is automatically a criminal. I am mindful of the old saying that the devil finds work for idle hands. No fewer than 20,000 of those young unemployed are 18 years old and have never had jobs. For every school leaver in London out of work in 1979, there are now five out of work. The problem is becoming worse.
The Secretary of State for Employment—Chingford's answer to the "Fiddler on the Roor—changed the basis of the unemployment figures in October last year. That resulted in a 7 per cent. reduction in the national unemployment figure. Because of peculiar circumstances in London, it had the effect of reducing the figure by no less than 15 per cent. Therefore, one can add 15 per cent. to any of the figures about which we are talking.
The unemployment figures given by the Secretary of State for Employment show a fall of 2·2 per cent. nationally, an increase of 2·1 per cent. in Greater London and an increase of 5·1 per cent. in inner London compared with those for October last year.
The Commissioner in his report — I do not think anyone would disagree—rightly stated:
crime statistics are as much a reflection of the performance of other social agencies as they are of police performance.
He said that he would like to see an improvement in the overall situation with the help of the other agencies.
The Commissioner must remember that, while his resources have been increased, all the other agencies in London about which he is talking have had their resources decreased. The Inner London Education Authority, which should be making a big contribution to keeping down the level of crime, has had its funding from central Government stopped.
If we consider what has happened to central Government funding of local authorities in inner London, in 1979–80 they received £695 million by way of rate support grant, whereas this year they are estimated to receive £407 million— a 41 per cent. reduction. Yet social service and other departments of local authorities will be expected to make their contribution to the general effort which the Commissioner is looking for from all social agencies in London. They will be grossly inhibited in their capacity to do that by the cuts that have been made.
Faced with everything that is going wrong in London, the Government come up with a few trivial by-plays to distract attention. The Prime Minister has a new motto —not, "If you can't beat it, join it", but, "If you can't beat it, abolish it." She cannot beat the GLC, so she wants to abolish it, and, because she cannot beat the ILEA, she wants to abolish that, too.
Throughout the rest of the country — in Norfolk, Hampshire and elsewhere—people are trusted with the capacity to choose a local council or county council which will carry out the functions given to those authorities by Parliament. No Labour Government ever suggested the abolition, for example, of Hampshire county council simply because it was always a Tory authority. The Conservatives are proposing the abolition of the GLC because it is intermittently Labour, and the abolition of the ILEA because it is usually Labour.
It is ironic that a woman Prime Minister should propose that the people of inner London, for the first time in 110 years, should not have the opportunity directly to elect the people who run inner London's education service, because the old London board of education 110 years ago was the first public body on which women were allowed to sit.
I am glad of this opportunity to make my maiden speech in a debate about London. I have lived most of my life in London, much of it in inner London, and since 10 June I have had the privilege of representing Feltham and Heston, an outer London constituency.
I do not think that there is need for me to give the House great details about my area because it is the same constituency that was for nearly 10 years represented by Mr. Russell Kerr, and before that he represented Feltham for seven years. Both of us share the circumstance that we were elected to Parliament on our fourth attempt. I am sure, even from what I knew of him as a candidate, that he made a valuable contribution in this House, with his knowledge of the nationalised industries, and he was a congenial companion. Whatever our differences politically, we had no personal disagreement and in defeat he behaved with a generosity and magnanimity which I hope in such circumstances I would emulate.
I have an interest in the subject under debate in that since 11 January I have been representing the Greater London council at the terminal five inquiry at Heathrow. Having been told that maiden speeches should be non-controverial, I shall not enter the debate about the GLC, expect to comment that I shall need to be persuaded that the strategic planning and road functions and overall position concerning regional planning are in good hands after any changes are made.
I have a general point to make about London which is of fundamental importance and which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) and the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), and that concerns the relationship of London with the south-east region. The present relationship is based upon plans which were made as long ago as 1967, which were last reviewed in 1978, and which assume a growing population in the south-east, a static population for London and growth to be accommodated in a number of defined growth areas outside London. It was assumed that there would be growth of population for the south-east of no less than 2 million. Instead, there has been a static population in the south-east, a sharply falling population for London—it has fallen by 13 per cent. — and a notable increase in population in some of the growth areas notably to the west of London in Berkshire. Growth in the growth areas has been no less than 13 per cent. This has all happened without any growth of population overall.
The growth areas can be seen to be attracting population out of London. That may be because Londoners, like other members of the population, want to occupy more space. The level of occupation of houses in London is certainly still higher than that in the south-east generally. To a Government who are committed to control of the borrowing requirement, there could well be attractions in the idea of reconsidering the strategy for the growth areas, which are extremely expensive in terms of new infrastructure. I suggest that in the near future the Government should review their strategy for the southeast, particularly for the growth areas, in view of the uncertainty of government in London.
I shall refer briefly to three matters that concern the quality of life in west London. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) in only one respect. I contend that a Boeing 747 makes as much noise on take-off as a Trident. I do not accept that the new and larger planes are any less noisy than their predecessors.
At Heathrow only a handful of passenger flights leave or land between 11 pm and 11.30 pm and there would be no serious disadvantage to the air transport industry in bringing the ban forward from 11.30 pm to 11 pm. I suggest that that would be of great benefit to the people of west London. The time may soon arrive when a total night ban will be considered. That is already the position in many countries in which our air transport industry competes.
There is considerable pressure on open space and parks in west London. A regional park very near to my constituency has been said to suffer from
the almost overwhelming use of space for formal and informal recreation and problems of over-use.
There is great pressure on open space in west London and temptations to develop it. Since the law was changed in 1980, local authorities have been under pressure to allow development of public open space.
Finally, I refer briefly to the standard of development in Feltham, which is in my constituency. I should welcome the intervention of the Greater London council and the Secretary of State in the decision on the station development at Feltham, where it was found that there were too many offices and that the standard of design was too low. Continued attention to the number of offices in new development and the standard of design will be greatly welcomed by my constituents.
All those features are of some importance when London government is going through a period of uncertainty. I urge that, in the next two or three years, the Government should take a particular interest in those matters in view of the uncertainty that is created by the constitutional debate on the GLC.
It is a privilege to speak after any maiden speaker. I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground), although he may not expect us to welcome his presence. We are grateful for the tribute that he paid to our former colleague, Russell Kerr, who made a formidable contribution to the affairs of the House, particularly in respect of nationalised industries. For many years he was chairman of the Select committee on Nationalised Industries, looking at many of our publicly owned enterprises. I am sure that many people regret that his chairmanship did not continue. We look forward to another such chairmen in the not too distant future, as we look forward to the hon. and learned Gentleman's intellectual observations, particularly because of his planning expertise, on the White Paper on the future of London government.
All Conservative Members, including the Minister, stood on these words at the election. I quote from the hard-to-find and hard-to-detect Conservative manifesto:
The Metropolitan Councils and the Greater London Council have been shown to be a wasteful and unnecessary tier of Government. We shall abolish them and return most of their functions to the boroughs and districts.
In London the districts did not originally have those functions anyway. The manifesto continues:
Services which need to be administered over a wider area —such as police, and fire, and education in inner London—will be run by joint boards of borough or district representatives.
There is a need for a wealth of intellectual support. Reference has been made today to the Herbert commission, a great tome of 500 pages that preceded the establishment of the GLC. After all, it was not the establishment of the GLC but the enlargement of the great municipal tradition of the London county council, started in 1888. As my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) reminded us, it was founded partly on the pioneer work of the London school board, which was founded in 1870. London's education has been in unity ever since.
The measure that is advocated by the Conservative party is much bigger than the establishment of the GLC. It is the destruction of a system of directly elected representatives to the service of central London since 1870 and 1888. I do not know what documentary evidence that statement in the manifesto is based on. Perhaps the Minister will tell us. What proves that the GLC has been wasteful and unnecessary? Hon. Members may have their views about any one administration, as we would. They may have views about the administration of Sir Horace Cutler or his predecessor. However, the word is "unnecessary". Unnecessary to whom? The Prime Minister? Unnecessary to the hon. Members who served with me on GLC committees, such as the hon. Members for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) and Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne)? Did they think that the GLC was unnecessary when they served on that body? If so, can they tell the House why, or why it has since become unnecessary?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He, like others, has referred to the Herbert report. Is he not aware that when the Herbert report was written, shortly after which the Greater London council was set up, it was intended that the Greater London council should administer many services which have since been removed from it, such as the bulk of the housing to the 32 London boroughs, the ambulances to the National Health Service, sewerage to the Thames water authority? The Thames barrier, too, is now virtually completed. There is also vast duplication in such spheres as traffic management which the London boroughs are big enough and responsible enough to run. Is not the waste and lack of necessity to keep the GLC going bound up with all that?
I am glad that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) intervened. He is right up to a point. The Conservative Government took away the water authority functions from the local authorities. That was unnecessary. It could have been done differently. A Conservative Government took away the strategic housing function, for which there is a dire need. The same Government who stripped away some of the GLC's functions now wish to destroy it. I wonder if they had in mind doing that all along. That may have been one of the reasons.
Strategic planning is an important function which has received mention, but not a great deal of attention. The hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) and the hon. and learned Member for Feltham and Heston referred to the need for recreation and open spaces. Strategic planning is a very important function for London and nobody, not even the Prime Minister, could deny that it must be done on a unitary basis. It is not possible to do it in any other way. Who must make the decisions? Strategic planning by the GLC, which may not cost very much in the GLC's billion pound expenditure, is vital. Many of our difficulties in urban areas are due to conflicting interests. The GLC must decide who should be the referee.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes does not want the new south circular to go through Richmond park, but motorways have been known to go through comparable areas. Who is to decide whether the green belt is to be nibbled at and given over to speculative builders? There is money in planning decisions, in planning permits, in loans to housing associations and in relaxing the green belt restrictions. The only body that can take such decisions must be directly elected and publicly accountable to the electors who put it there, and make its decisions openly and in a thoroughly democratic fashion. Certain interests in this country would like to dismantle the planning laws established after the war on the basis of Abercrombie and the Greater London plan. I do not believe that a joint body elected by the councils — a quango of some type—could ever do that job.
Time is short, so I shall not discuss the problems of the Health Service in Newham. If the Government wish to displace the strategic function of the Greater London council, and its relationships to transport, housing and office permits—one wonders why such a vast amount of office accommodation is empty in London—and if they wish to destroy the overall financial arrangements whereby some of the richer areas help some of the poorer areas in respect of education and public services, they had better come up with some very good solutions. Some people do not want the GLC to exist because it would be to their financial advantage if it did not. It is to the advantage of everyone in London that it should continue to fulfil the civic, central functions of democratic government that we have had for more than a century in London.
With the leave of the House, I shall reply to what has been a generally well-informed debate adorned with a number of maiden speeches. The Prime Minister will not have to look far for new ministerial talent from London Members, which should be an incentive for those of us already in the Administration to work even harder.
I commend the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) for his maiden speech from the Dispatch Box, although I must chide him in one respect. Having criticised me for making a long speech, he made an even longer one himself.
The hon. Gentleman and a number of hon. Members mentioned the police. As the House will know, it has been the policy of successive Commissioners, supported by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and his predecessors, to increase the number of police officers available for street duties. As a result of the review of force structure, almost 1,000 officers have been redeployed to such duties in recent years. The Commissioner has also said that, through savings in other areas of operation, he proposes to make available a further 650 officers for the same purpose.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-East said that some local authorities were starved of resources in their HIP allocations, but he could not answer the fact that, having bid for allocations, a number of authorities—I mentioned two — failed to spend them. He tried to defend them by saying that they did not have adequate notice, but they received notice at the same time as all the other London boroughs, which managed to achieve far better spending levels with the allocations made available to them.
The first real maiden speech was from my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) who coped like an old hand with a nautical intervention from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. His constituents have a forceful advocate on the many environmental issues affecting them and we look forward to hearing from him on many future occasions.
The right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) opposed our plans for the GLC. I should have thought that if one person in the House wished to see Ken Livingstone's power base removed, it would be the right hon. Gentleman. He must recognise that the GLC's functions have changed since it was set up in 1964. Indeed, he conceded that there was a need for reform, although he did not go as far as we did.
A number of hon. Members asked for proposals from the Government and a reasoned case for the abolition of the GLC. The White Paper will appear in the autumn and will contain a fully reasoned statement of why we think that that is the best decision for London. It will also set out the options for replacement. The Opposition ought perhaps to wait and see the proposals before criticising them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Berry) handled me with patience and courtesy when he was my Whip. As his speech showed, his enforced silence for more than four years has been a great loss to the House. We welcome his voice again in our debates on London.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) also made a maiden speech. I recall his speeches from our days together at County hall, and I have to say that age has not mellowed him. Indeed, his was one of the few maiden speeches which did not mention the Member's predecessor. Whatever one thought of Arthur Lewis, he certainly added an extra dimension to life in the House.
The convention that maiden speeches are uncontroversial has clearly been abandoned. Some day, no doubt, the convention that Ministers always say that maiden speeches are excellent whether they think so or not will also be abandoned, but not today. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West made a good speech. Perhaps I may say this, however, that the hon. Gentleman use3 the privilege of the House and of his maiden speech to do to three individuals exactly what he accused the press of doing to him and his colleagues—to attack them when they did not have the right to reply.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) made a well-informed contribution, concentrating on our proposals for London Transport. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will shortly be bringing forward proposals in a White Paper for a London regional transport authority, and it would not be right for me to go into detail in advance of that. I think, however, that my hon. Friend will find much in those proposals to give him satisfaction. The new arrangements will for the first time seriously tackle the integration of London's commuter railways and the services for which London Transport is responsible, as well as providing London Transport with the stability and policy that it needs and securing much better value for money.
The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) made a number of references to the National Health Service. I take up just one topic concerning the replacement of facilities for the mentally handicapped now that Darenth park is being run down. I understand that a 30-place hostel, the Gables, is now open in Greenwich and that another 32-place hostel at Shooters hill is due to be completed in 1984–85.
I have much sympathy with what he hon. Gentleman said about gipsies. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State who, happily, looks after gipsies, rather than me, will be writing to him. I shall take up with the Department of Health and Social Security his plea for the provision of security locks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) made an excellent maiden speech. He spoke with confidence and understanding and mentioned rates — a subject which Opposition Members carefully avoided. He made a number of positive suggestions for reducing expenditure without reducing essential services. Again, we very much welcome him to our London debates.
The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Roberts) spoke about the police and the Colin Roach case. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, in answer to a question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) on 28 June, outlined our strategy on the follow-up to the Colin Roach case. I shall pass on to my right hon. and learned Friend the hon. Gentleman's other remarks about the police.
I am afraid that I missed the next two speeches, but I understand that there was an excellent one from my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), who spoke with feeling about Heathrow and the need for Government aid to improve the infrastructure for the fifth terminal. He also mentioned the Hayes bypass. He, too, welcomed the proposed abolition of the GLC, and touched on the topical matter of the problems facing many local authorities which went in for system building in the 1960s and 1970s. The Government are giving urgent consideration to the matter, and I very much welcome the knowledge that my hon. Friend brings to it.
I also missed the maiden speech by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), who is a mild man, provided a few notes for me suggesting that the Government were attacked by the hon. Gentleman for their contemptuous treatment of Islington. I understand that almost every institution in London was attacked by the hon. Gentleman, apart from Islington and County hall. However, Islington council does not help Islington with some of its policies and expenditures. If the hon. Gentleman could direct some of his criticism and attack to Islington council, that might be in the interests of some of his constituents. We welcomed his contribution, and I shall write to him on the question that he posed about the future of the South London hospital for women.
In fairness to other hon. Members, I must try to reply to them. If I have time nearer the end of my remarks, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Islington, North.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) supported the proposed abolition of the GLC. He should have received a letter from me dealing with the specific case that he mentioned about the Monmouth road housing co-operative. As he knows, it is not just the cost of the scheme but the absence of a proper survey which is the reason for our reservations. I hope that those can be overcome. I shall look at my hon. Friend's positive suggestion about the leasehold enfranchisement of flats.
My hon. Friend also championed, as he always does, the cause of inner London. He made it clear that there were problems in inner London different from those of the rest of the capital. We shall follow up the proposals in the report of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors which we have under active consideration.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground) made an excellent speech. It is obvious that he is already deeply involved in issues that affect his constituency. He asked me some extremely up-market questions that I shall write to him about. I especially welcomed his interest in strategic planning, as I have grappled with the Greater London development plan for some time. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) also mentioned that.
There has been broad agreement on the problems that Londoners face and wide recognition of the energy and potential of Londoners but there is clear disagreement on the solutions. Opposition Members look to an increase in public expenditure, whereas my right hon. and hon. Friends recognise that higher rates, taxes and inflation would simply end the economic recovery that is now under way. The people who have most to gain from the economic recovery are those about whom many hon. Members have spoken today—the homeless, the unemployed and the ill. Their problems must be solved, but first we must create the wealth with which to solve them.