Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Greater London Council (Money) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 11th July 1983.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Minister (Health) 7:11 pm, 11th July 1983

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I introduce this private Bill on behalf of the Greater London council. It is obliged each year to promote a money Bill to give authority for capital expenditure by the GLC, the Inner London education authority and London Transport and also for lending to other bodies in London, including the London boroughs. Other councils in other parts of the country seek and usually obtain that authority direct from Government Departments, but the law requires that the GLC comes to the House with this Bill.

Like other organisations with expensive and long-running contracts, the GLC, ILEA and London Transport let whole contracts when they can get the cheapest price, but the authority to spend the money in each year during the currency of any contract is subject to the House annually approving and giving authority to the expenditure so that, for example, if a year or two ago London Transport let a four-year contract for the renewal and improvement of a tube station this year, unless we give authority for this year's expenditure, that contract will have to be prematurely terminated.

The total expenditure covered by the Bill is £534 million, of which £452 million is for spending and £82 million for lending. Of that £82 million, £50 million provides for boroughs to share loans raised by the GLC. The provision is included in the Bill only as a technicality.

I have already referred to the way in which the GLC, ILEA and London Transport let long-term contracts. It is worth saying that no less than £380 million of the expenditure for which the authority is sought is to meet contractual obligations already entered into by the three organisations before the commencement of this financial year. That leaves around £100 million for new projects, but, in line with the practice of the authorities in the past, a considerable amount of even the new projects is already subject to contracts that have been let.

I hope that I shall convince the House that expenditure on this scale is needed. London has a predominantly Victorian infrastructure. Many of the roads and bridges are old, much of the sewerage system is old and many of the public services are provided from buildings which our Victorian ancestors decided should be provided by public spending in Victorian London. Many of those buildings, roads, sewers and bridges are in decay and need to be replaced.

Not only in the ILEA area but in stress areas in outer London the schools system is under great pressure. In an effort to relieve that pressure, authorities are trying to spend money to improve the physical conditions in schools to make it easier for our teachers to provide a decent education for our children.

Our capital city is seeing a catastrophic decline in employment in manufacturing industry. Therefore, we need considerable public investment, both in the traditional form of clearing sites, acquiring buildings and providing infrastructure that will allow private owners and entrepreneurs to develop industrial premises, and through the GLC's enterprise board and enterprise boards run by the councils of London boroughs to direct provision of industrial premises and industrial jobs.

I do not want to go on about the other justifications for the expenditure, but I emphasise that the expenditure covered by the Bill is capital expenditure. It is expenditure which the Government say they want to see. They have constantly emphasised that they want to see the expansion of capital expenditure by local authorities and restraint on revenue spending. The Bill proposes a good level of capital expenditure on necessary facilities to improve living standards in London. I emphasise also that all that spending in every aspect has been discussed thoroughly with Government Departments. In some cases the level of spending has been reduced. I understand that the Under-Secretary of State will say whether these proposals have the Government's support.

A question that arises is: what is the money to be spent on? That is summarised briefly in paragraph 9 on page 2 of the Second Reading statement that was circulated to London Members. I hope that no one will think it necessary for me to read out extracts as it is both a tedious process for me to do it and insulting to hon. Members, who are as capable of reading the statement as I am. However, it might be worth while to expound briefly on some of the spending.

A great deal of the spending by ILEA is intended to improve school buildings and facilities. I emphasise that it is not an exercise in gold plating already excellent buildings. For instance, a substantial sum of money is being provided so that for the first time some of our Victorian schools can have inside toilets and proper means of escape in case of fire. I cannot imagine that any hon. Member would object to that expenditure. There is a great deal of expenditure on the provision of new nursery classrooms or the temporary provision of nursery classrooms. Over £1 million of that expenditure is intended to meet ILEA's extra obligations in trying to carry out its part of the Government's youth training scheme. Therefore, I hope that there will be no opposition to the proposed expenditure by ILEA.

A substantial amount of spending by the GLC is on improvements to metropolitan roads. There are improvements to parks. There are site works, the provision of new buildings for industrial premises and provision for improving employment. Some funds are included for the provision of GLC mortgages. This may appeal to Conservative Members. The law requires that if the GLC sells property under the right-to-buy provisions, it must provide the mortgage if the buyer wants it. The money for such expenditure is included in the Bill.

Similarly, substantial sums are included as, in a sense, a liability for the GLC, which will go to maintaining and improving large parts of the housing stock which it has passed over to the London boroughs but for which it maintains an obligation to bring that property up to date so that people can live in modern, decent conditions.

Considerable expenditure is proposed by London Transport, including general provision for track renewal, signal renewal, station modernisation, new rolling stock on the underground system and a substantial amount of money for further automation of the system. All those items should be welcome to Londoners, not only to those who live close to underground stations in inner London which are at present being improved, but to those Londoners who make use of the central underground system when they commute from outer London boroughs. The expenditure is for the benefit of all Londoners.

All this work and a great deal more is vital to maintain and improve the living standards of Londoners. All the provision in the Bill is the product of a great deal of responsible budgeting by the GLC, with legal advice—no doubt expensive legal advice—and consultation with Government Departments at every stage of the process.

It is also worth emphasising that almost all this expenditure will provide work in the construction industry and in industries which supply the construction industry. The bulk of the money will go to the private sector, because only a limited amount of the work will be carried out by direct work departments. I have before me a list of more than 50 companies which at present have contracts with the GLC and whose contractual position would be jeopardised if the Bill were not enacted. Even some of the larger companies are not in a good seam at the moment and are dependent on the Bill being passed, not for the new projects that will start next year, but for the continuation of existing projects.

If the Greater London Council (Money) Act 1982 is not renewed it will cease to apply from September and the GLC will not then have the money to pay the contractors engaged in long-term contracts. Some of the companies mentioned in the list are household names. They include Balfour Beatty, Cubitts, Higgs and Hill, Laing, Mowlem, Costain, Tarmac and Wimpey. The list continues like a roll call of companies that make substantial donations to the funds of the Conservative party. I am sure that Conservative Members would not wish to do anything tonight that would jeopardise the financial position of some of the major suppliers of funds to the Conservative party.

I note that the hon. Members for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) have blocked the passage of the Bill to date. I assume that their motive is to ensure that they have an opportunity to debate the Bill and to debate the doings and the non-doings of the GLC, the Inner London education authority and London Transport. I hope that they will not seek either to reject the Bill outright or further delay its passage. Besides doing damage to the contractors to whom I have referred and to the 40 or so other companies, that might damage the interests of their constituents.

I have checked, and the projects covered by the provisions of the Bill include, in Bermondsey, expenditure by the three authorities totalling more than £3·25 million. Projects range from the provision of indoor toilets for the Joseph Lancaster school, a nursery class for the Townsend school, improvements at Wellington youth club and expenditure to providing employment opportunities totalling about £2·4 million and, what I am sure will be welcomed in Bermondsey, £100,000 on making Kings Stairs gardens a decent local park and a great amenity for the people of Bermondsey.

No less than £13 million of expenditure is covered one way or another for the people of Woolwich. It ranges from the Galleon's Mount nursery class to whole schools at Thamesmead — we do not build many whole schools these days—£600,000 on job schemes, better sanitary facilities at a special school in Woolwich and other such developments, including a substantial improvement to the road system in Woolwich which, I understand, commands considerable public support.

I am sure that neither the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey nor the hon. Member for Woolwich would wish to jeopardise this excellent spending in their areas.

If Members have particular queries that they wish to raise I shall attempt to answer them this evening, but if I cannot do so I shall write to them or get the director-general of the GLC to answer. I hope that my explanation of the Bill will satisfy Members that it is a sound measure and that it should commend itself to the House. If my poor exposition has failed to convince the House, I hope that the eminently sensible and necessary provisions of the Bill will commend themselves to the House and that I shall not be required to offer any further explanation.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North 7:26 pm, 11th July 1983

It is not so very long since we heard the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) putting similarly persuasive views before the House in relation to a GLC money Bill —persuasive views with an element of arm-twisting about them, which we heard then and again this evening. It is arm-twisting in the sense that Members whose names appear on the Order Paper in opposition to the Bill and who have work scheduled in their constituencies have pressure and threats put upon them in a way that is unacceptable to me. It is reminiscent of the pressure and threats, which amounted almost to blackmail, from the leader of the GLC not many months ago when he said that if he did not get the money Bill that he required he would see to it that the constituencies of individual Members of ParliamentConservatives in every case, who voted against the money Bill or threatened it—would not get the works that they were due to have. In my constituency we were threatened by the GLC that we would not have pedestrian crossings and other such amenities that are fundamental to the safety of children and others. I believe that that tactic, that arm-twisting and blackmail, is a disgrace and must be brought to the attention of the House as such. [Interruption.] I am not moved by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras who, unattractively, as usual, mutters under his breath. That is not the way to operate in the House. One has to stand up to be counted and, although I did not like the hon. Gentleman's argument, he did stand up to be counted. But I am entitled to put my view and the views of my constituents to the House. That is what I am here to do.

It is impossible to separate what the GLC wants in the form of this money Bill from the way it is currently spending ratepayers' money in Greater London. My constituents take great exception to the way in which ratepayers' and taxpayers' money is being handled. It is impossible to explain to them that the two should be separated. I know that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras and the rest of the Labour party want us to make that separation clear. People in Greater London do not make that separation. They are cross that the GLC more than doubled rates in its first year and increased them substantially in its second. Moreover, although it will shortly no longer exist, it is taking on an extra 1,055 staff at a cost of £9·5 million. Those jobs are being created in defiance of circumstances in which the GLC should be reducing its functions. Moreover, it is handing out contracts that will run after the GLC has been disbanded, as I hope that it soon will be. I know that the GLC will be disbanded by 1986 but, as my hon. Friend the Minister is present and for the sake of emphasis, I should like to take this opportunity to say that I hope that the GLC will be disbanded much earlier—1985 would be much more acceptable. I hope that my hon. Friend will do his utmost to achieve that.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said that the school system is under great pressure in inner London. No one doubts that. It is also under great pressure in outer London. Having spent 23 years in schools and having run a school of 2,000 children in a deprived area for seven years, I am not sure that some of the so-called improvements which it is proposed should be made to the buildings are suitable items of expenditure. The GLC's architects' department should take a touch closer look at the way in which it works. It is wasteful. There is endless form filling. Moreover, it is a lengthy process to get work done and it is time consuming for many people, not least senior teachers and head teachers. The department is not happy and many of the so-called improvements will not improve anything.

The hon. Gentleman's mention of private contractors is welcome in a sense because it shows that the GLC has the wisdom to bring in outside contractors to do such work. They do it successfully. However, it should not be a point for blackmail and when the hon. Gentleman puts it that way he damages his case. That does not help the House to see the issues in the balanced way that we should.

The GLC and ILEA face complete reorganisation. Some of my constituents are deeply disturbed that ILEA, to which they contribute substantially as taxpayers——

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

—is setting up a unit that costs £130,000. Perhaps I should say that ILEA would like my constituents to contribute. They resent the fact that ILEA has set up a unit to fight for its continued existence in its current form. A principal of an adult education unit has been put in charge of a unit at county hall that costs about £130,000 a year and has the sole aim of setting up a political battle to retain ILEA in its present form. Such abuse of ratepayers' money is serious and cannot be separated from a discussion of the way in which the GLC and the ILEA spend public money. I say that, although I served ILEA loyally, happily and faithfully for 23 years and was proud to be a member of the service. However, I do not support that kind of abuse of public money and I know no honest people who do.

The GLC's high rates continue to be driven up ferociously. They cost jobs throughout Greater London. Any amount of capital expenditure will not, in the end, replace the jobs that are being lost because of high rates. They have increased far ahead of inflation recently. That cannot be justified.

My constituents regard seriously the GLC's pressure for capital expenditure to build the proposed Hayes bypass and its proposed end at the White Hart roundabout at Northolt. Against all good sense and research the GLC continues to press for the bypass and money with which to build it. If it is successful—I shall fight to the end to ensure that it is not—it would damage the community of Northolt so much as to make it unrecognisable. For that reason alone I am extremely unhappy about the Bill and have to make my strong opposition to it known.

Photo of Mr John Cartwright Mr John Cartwright , Woolwich 7:36 pm, 11th July 1983

I thought that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) was a little unfair to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) who gave us a lucid explanation of the Bill. He issued a warning to my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and me, but I thought that it was a much more graceful warning than we received from the GLC and the chairman of its finance committee. The warning from across the river was of the cosh-across-the-back-of-the-neck variety, whereas the hon. Gentleman's was much more the arm-around-the-shoulder encouragement not to be foolish and to "come along this way".

I do not apologise for having blocked the Bill. The tradition of seizing every opportunity to debate London issues has gone on for much longer than I have been a Member of Parliament. The Bill gives us another opportunity to debate London issues and should be grasped with both hands.

A Bill such as this, which involves about £1 billion of public spending, is something that we have a duty to examine to ensure that everything it contains is what we want. A substantial element of the Bill is directed towards housing. It will provide more than £112·5 million for 12 months and another £43 million for the following six months. I notice in the GLC capital estimates that £71 million of that is for improving existing housing stock. That is much needed. However, I hope that a good proportion of that £71 million will be spent on estates that have been transferred from the GLC to the London boroughs. In all parts of London, we are discovering—as if by magic — major headaches on estates after responsibility for them has been transferred from the GLC to the London boroughs.

I shall cite an example from my constituency. The Morris Walk estate was built during the heyday of industrialised building — the early 1960s. There were many difficulties long before the transfer from the GLC such as complaints about condensation and all the usual ones to which hon. Members representing London constituencies have become accustomed. In the years since the transfer there have been some major complaints by the tenants about dampness and condensation, rotting window frames, lifts that regularly break down and inefficient and expensive electric heating systems.

The tenants' association recently conducted a survey of a quarter of the tenants on the estate and found some revealing figures on the condition of the estate as the tenants saw it. For example, when asked: Do you suffer from dampness/condensation problems in your flat? 90 per cent. of those interviewed said "Yes". When asked: Do you suffer from problems relating to the windows in your flat? 86 per cent. said that they had major window problems. When asked: Do you think the installation of an entry-phone system is necessary to improve security? 100 per cent. said they thought an entry-phone system was most important. When asked: Would you like to see the replacement of the storage heaters supplied in the high rise blocks? 100 per cent. said that they would like to see such improvements.

The difficulty is that Greenwich council tells me that it is waiting for GLC approval for some of these schemes, such as window replacement, improvement of the heating system and action to deal with condensation. I am sure that other London Members will have had the same experience of the frustration that tenants have when they do not know to which authority to go to deal with these problems. They take problems to the borough council, which deals with some of them as routine maintenance, and says that others are the responsibility of the GLC as the original landlord and that the borough is having to negotiate with the GLC on how these problems can be tackled. I know that such problems are repeated on estates in many parts of London.

Looking at this item in the GLC capital estimates I see that it says: The Council's policy will be to meet its obligations under the various Transfer Orders to maintain and complete its rehabilitation and modernisation programme within the timescale specified provided that adequate financial allocations are made in the Housing Investment Programme. That includes transferred stocks. It would be useful to have a clearer explanation of the time scale to put these problems right in the transferred estates, particularly against the background of the performance of the GLC in 1982–83 on renovation, when the programme is expected to be 16 per cent. underspent. We have the right to expect the programme to be rather better carried out in the future.

My second point concerns industry and employment. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras made a point about this, and the chairman of the finance committee in his budget speech said that he was introducing an industry and employment programme aimed at creating large numbers of new jobs. As we know, the main instruments for creating those new jobs is the Greater London enterprise board. I have in the past been critical in the House about the salaries being paid to board members and the level of staffing, but I recognise that it is an institution which, properly handled, might tackle some of the problems of unemployment in London. We have a plethora of agencies, boards and action groups aimed at tackling employment problems. It would be useful to see what their performance has been in achieving jobs at ground level.

It is clear from the GLC capital estimates that that board will have a major financial provision. Some £18 million is to be provided for expenditure and a further £15 million for loans, which is a lot of money to get through in one financial year. It would be helpful for the House to know how many jobs are expected to flow from that money in this financial year and what progress has so far been made by the enterprise board in the tasks that it has been set by the GLC.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North referred to grants, and many of the GLC grants that have been controversial have been revenue grants. I have in mind a capital grant of £26,400 under the general heading of employment, because it was recommended by the director of industry and employment for the West London Trade Union Social Club Ltd., a trade union club established in April 1982 by trade unions in London. Its aims are described as social, educational, recreational and organisational. The club has a 21-year lease on an old co-op hall in Acton and is attempting to negotiate a loan from a brewery to install a small bar which would allow an expansion of activities in future years. I am sure that it would. It wants money from the GLC to carry out fairly extensive modernisation and renovation works, including the installation of fire escapes, proper WC facilities and opening up of the basement to provide office facilities. The report that went before the GLC shows that the efforts of the club to raise money in other directions had not been fruitful. On 9 May 1983 the club had about £250 in hand. The GLC, however, has now made a grant of £26,000 for works to be done, plus further money for the equipment of the club. The justification for the spending of GLC capital moneys on a social and recreational club is that The de-industrialisation of London, involving massive job losses, has weakened the Trade Union movement and the infrastructure of the working class communities. By assisting in the establishment of the WLTUC, the Council will be helping the Trade Union movement in West London rebuild a sense of community through the planned activities, in a form where working people themselves plan their entertainment, education and culture rather than being the passive recipients of the inane pursuits promoted as 'popular entertainment' but motivated solely by profit. That is an extraordinary justification for giving £26,000 of ratepayers' money away at a time when London needs investment in jobs. I have been involved in a number of trade union clubs in my time, and when we started a trade union club we did what this club should have done. We went to a brewer, got a loan and set the club up. We did not go to a local government source to get £26,000 of ratepayers' money.

I have one further example. In the arts and recreation sphere a grant of £25,000 has been made to an organisation called Women in Sync. This is not the kitchen sink as hon. Members might expect. The group was formed in 1979 with ten members who have had extensive experience in videoThe aim of the project is explained in the following terms: "We are setting up a video resource for women, so that women who haven't had the opportunity before can learn how to use video equipment. There is a long list of capital requirements, which comes to £42,449·97, of which £25,316 is essential for priority items. There is a further list of the tools that would be needed, which include: Long Nose Pliers … … … … …£8Ordinary Pliers … … … … … …£5Ordinary Soldering Iron … … … …£6·07Set of Jeweller's Screwdrivers … … …£4·38". The GLC decided to have a whip round for the tools, including the long nose pliers, but it has made a capital contribution of £25,000 towards Women in Sync. When I think of the needs of the arts and recreation in London for capital money, including the Tramshed community theatre, in my constituency, I realise what an extraordinary waste of ratepayers' money that is.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras referred to transport and to a major road scheme in my constituency. He did not name it, but I hope that he meant the A206 Plumstead road-Beresford street widening, as that scheme has been hanging around for a decade. It is important, because the road is a dual carriageway on both sides of the Woolwich town centre, and the town centre creates a major traffic bottleneck in the rush hour in the mornings and evenings. The road scheme would meet at least three of the GLC's criteria in that it would improve journey times for major bus routes, help commercial and industrial traffic and assist the prosperity of Woolwich town centre which desperately needs a bit of help in this economic climate. The GLC capital estimates simply say that a possible start will be made in 1983–84, so I hope that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras can confirm that this is one of the goodies that he will hold out to me if I do not do something wicked at the end of the consideration of the Bill.

My other point about transport arises on the GLC's draft estimates for the Bill—the provision of half the costs of a light rail system serving docklands. On behalf of south-east London, we should put it clearly on the record that we are not happy about the light rail system. It will serve not the docklands as a whole, but only the part on the northern side of the river. South-east London is once again to be the forgotten cornet of the city when dealing with public transport. The area has no tube provision. The roads that link us to central London are desperately congested and resemble Gruyere cheese for most of the time because of the number of holes that are being dug in them. We have what even British Rail accepts is a very poor quality commuter service.

All that is against the background of a loss of industry in south-east London and the creation, as a result, of many reluctant commuters who must travel to central London for work. Although I do not blame the GLC for the very limited docklands public transport system, on behalf of south-east London in general and Thamesmead in particular I say that it is no substitute for the original Jubilee line proposal which would have linked Thamesmead with central London.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to raise some of these issues. I do not expect the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras to deal with them all in winding-up the debate, but I should be grateful if he could get answers from the GLC to some of my questions.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham 7:52 pm, 11th July 1983

I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), and especially to what he said about the need for industry and employment in London. He said that the aim of the GLC was to create a large number of new jobs through the Greater London enterprise board. I am afraid that the policies of the GLC, although they may be intended to create jobs, actually reduce the number, because of the high rates. That view was expressed most vividly in a letter in The Times today from a former Labour Member of Parliament, Mr. Alan Lee Williams, who said: London rates have tended to increase more frequently than rents and dramatically faster than inflation and these are decisive factors in forcing companies to leave London.I believe that the GLC grossly underestimates the harmful impact of rent and rate increases on the general level of economic activity in the capital. Mr. Williams was right. I hope that some Opposition Members will comment on his letter. I should like to hear their explanation for the extraordinarily high GLC rate precept. The policy of the hon. Member for Woolwich and that of the alliance party would not give much relief in this respect, because in the general election campaign the alliance proposed to replace the GLC with a new regional provincial assembly for south-east England. That is an extraordinary idea. I believe that the alliance suggested regional or provincial assemblies for Scotland and Wales and wanted to carry that on throughout England, regardless of the wishes of the people. I cannot imagine that any sensible person would want a regional provincial assembly for south-east England, which would be one more vast and costly bureaucracy.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) asked for support for the Bill, but he will not get mine. We are asked to authorise massive expenditure. The Bill shows a gross total of no less than £957,994,678. That astronomical sum amounts to an average of about £170 or £180 per head — man, woman and child — in a population of 6 million to 6·5 million. It is about £500 per household.

The GLC rate precept in my constituency takes about a quarter of the rates. We are not in the Inner London education authority area, which is a big item for the 12 inner London boroughs. I represent an outer London borough. Twenty-five per cent. of the rates which go to the GLC provide some useful services, such as the fire brigade, which takes about 2p of that 25p.

The hon. Member for Woolwich referred to London Transport. There is much less tube provision in south London than in north London. That creates a great injustice between ratepayers in different parts of greater London. For historical and accidental reasons there is a wide network of British Rail southern region throughout south London, but only four tube lines extend to that area, and some of those are of no great length. British Rail southern region mainly serves London to the south of the river and to the west of London beyond Richmond. In the northern half of London, there is an extensive network of underground railways. That means that ratepayers in the north of London subsidise, through their rates, tubes which they can use easily whereas a much smaller proportion of people who live in south London make extensive use of the tubes. That is extremely unfair. That fact was partly behind Bromley borough council's case against the GLC.

Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith , Islington South and Finsbury

Would the hon. Member apply the same principle of separate taxation for separate services, which he appears to be enunciating, to the national education budget? People who do not have children must contribute rates and taxes for which they do not receive a service. That appears to be the argument that the hon. Member is making.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

No, I am not making that argument. There is no analogy in that. The hon. Member ought to know better than to argue on an analogy. Education is a basic need for children and we all willingly pay our taxes to provide for a system of education organised by local authorities. We all provide for that education system. That is entirely different from the difference between north and south London because of the fluke historic imbalance between an extensive provision of underground railways in north London and the relative lack of facilities in south London. The circumstances are not comparable at all.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

The hon. Gentleman's comment on the analogy is that education is a basic right, but the Government refuse to give any grant aid to the Inner London education authority, thereby ignoring the needs of inner London children who suffer greater deprivation than those in almost any other part of this country, and certainly far greater than anything in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

The Inner London education authority derives its revenue, in the main, from rates. That is a form of universal taxation applied to rich and poor households in inner London. The rich households pay more than the poor. This creates its own balance. The totality of the population in inner London provides a substantial base for the rates of the Inner London education authority. The position is not comparable with the fluke of the many underground railways in the north of London and the lack of them in the south. It is unjust that a householder in an outer London borough, such as Hendon or Barnet, which has an extensive tube system and whose householders come from the same group as many of those in my constituency, which does not have an underground railway, should receive a subsidy from my constituents who are unable to avail themselves to the same extent of the use of the underground railway.

Several Hon. Members:

rose——

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

I have given way several times so I hope that I may be allowed to continue.

The Greater London council has been useful, but it has largely outlived its usefulness. That is not a party political matter. In its 19 years it has been ruled by a Conservative majority for 10 years and by a Labour majority for nine years. Changes of power are frequent. The council changes hands at almost every election. Rule by the present administration headed by Mr. Livingstone could be temporary. Long-term considerations are involved, regardless of the party in majority at county hall.

The case for the GLC's abolition springs, not from what might be thought of the present regime led by Mr. Livingstone and his friends, but from the dramatic erosion over the years of the GLC's functions, particularly in the middle and latter part of the 1970s. Its vast heritage of council housing, which accommodates a population about as large as the entire population of Birmingham—about 1¼ million—has nearly all been handed over to the 32 London boroughs. Ambulances have been handed over to the National Health Service. The sewerage system has been handed over to the Thames water authority. Most of the parks have been handed over to the London boroughs.

The Thames barrier, close to the constituency represented by the hon. Member for Woolwich, has been completed. Only one third of the expenditure on that flood protection was paid for by the GLC. The remaining two thirds came from the Government in the form of a grant from the Ministry of Agriculture.

Three ringway roads were planned in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but the plans have been dropped. The inner London motorway box was partly built, but the rest was dropped. The second ringway road consisted of the north circular road, which has been improved, and the south circular, which was never built. Ringway 3, the outer road, was replaced by the Ministry of Transport's M25, further out in the green belt, because of the "homes before roads" lobby that prevailed 10 years ago. That is now nearly completed. A reply from the Ministry of Transport that I received today shows that the M25 will be completed and in full use by 1986. The GLC is responsible for few, if any, major road schemes. That is another function that has disappeared.

The GLC has been involved in traffic management, but today the scope for yellow lines, one-way streets, no right turns, to achieve more capacity from the existing road system, is limited. Most of the work has been done and there is not much more scope. The police have requested the GLC and the 32 London boroughs not to introduce many more schemes that require too much police power to enforce. The GLC's functions have been reduced substantially.

What is left? First, the GLC is responsible for education in inner London, involving a population of 2½ million out of greater London's 6½ million. The Government intend to set up a joint board to run the Inner London education authority. Altering ILEA's internal structure is not proposed.

Several of the GLC's functions could be transferred to the 32 London boroughs. I refer to the remaining traffic management, handling of planning applications and licensing. It would be more democratic for such functions to be handled by the boroughs, which are closer to the people than county hall.

London Transport and the fire services cannot be handed over in that way because they must operate over the whole of London. A different proposal must be made for them. It is sometimes suggested that any change may make the transport and fire services less democratic. It is not obvious to me that transferring them from the Greater London council for the election of which only 35 per cent. or 40 per cent. of the population vote to Ministers answerable to this House for the election of which over 70 per cent. of the people vote would make responsibility for such functions less democratically controlled. I think that it would make them more so.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Minister (Health)

Might there not be some merit in the democratic control of London's services being undertaken by people who are elected by Londoners rather than by the electors of Richmond, Yorkshire, who by allegedly democratic means chose the current police authority for the metropolis?

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

No. The hon. Member is elected by Londoners, as I am. From time to time the hon. Gentleman will wish to ask questions about the Metropolitan police. I do not expect many hon. Members from Yorkshire to ask questions about the Metropolitan police and they do not. I cannot see much of an argument.

Functions such as transport and fire services are important. I am not saying that the GLC is not useful, but the exercise of such functions is not enough to justify retaining a vast, expensive bureaucracy.

I regard London as the arts capital of the world. It has a vast range of museums and art galleries, and live performances of theatre, concerts, opera and ballet. London's role in the arts and the arts' role in London are not assets for Londoners alone or for people who work in London and live 40 or 50 miles out. They are national assets. They help to bring foreign visitors to our shores. They are one of our greatest attractions, especially when put alongside the traditional British scene. They provide a substantial attraction to people who come here on holiday. That helps to generate employment. It is in the national interest as well as in the interests of people living in greater London that such activities are continued and fostered.

The Bill refers to support for the arts. An assurance of continuity is necessary. I was glad to receive a reply to a question a week ago saying that in the White Paper to be published in the autumn the support now given by the GLC to the arts will be included for consideration. I hope that the arts world in London and beyond will derive some reassurance from the reply to the last question.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton 8:10 pm, 11th July 1983

I intend to comment on a number of the points raised in the debate, but first on the charge by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) of blackmail. That is nonsense. The truth is that either the Bill is passed and the capital works are carried out, or the Bill is not passed and the capital works are not carried out. That is a simple statement of law. It was nonsense to level such a charge.

One of the few humorous moments of the recent election campaign was when a London magazine alluded to the Secretary of State for Employment as Dracula. Presumably that was for his role of sucking jobs out of the economy. I recall that comparison between the right hon. Gentleman and the Gothic vampire because the latter showed no reflection in a mirror. The Secretary of State showed little reflection in his comments at an election meeting. The Standard reported him as saying The ambulance service could be organised under the area health authorities. As the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) said, it was organised under the area health authorities some 10 years ago.

The Secretary of State was also reported as saying The Inner London Education Authority could be run by the nominees of the 32 London boroughs. Why should outer London boroughs have a say in inner London education? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is contemplating one education authority for the whole of London. If so, some of his Conservative colleagues in outer London would not like their powers and responsibilities taken away. Both his statements were made with little reflection—as, indeed, was the whole Conservative policy to abolish the GLC.

The two short paragraphs in the manifesto dealing with that issue traded on a destructive prejudice—rather like the "Bomb Russia" joke at the Nuremberg-type Tory rally. No one expects the Government to do that.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but did he say that a Conservative Member had said that all the 32 London boroughs should have a direct role in the administration of the Inner London education authority, which is an area covered by only 12 boroughs?

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

That statement was made by the Secretary of State for Employment at an election meeting, and reported in The Standard.

The matter of how London should be governed, with all the facts and all the options, was not properly presented to the electorate in a studied manner either before or during the election campaign. The Government should think again before going ahead with their plan to abolish the GLC. They have no mandate for what they will put in its place. Londoners must be allowed their say about the Government's proposals at the GLC elections in two years.

The Government's alternative to the GLC is likely to be cuts, quangos or centralisation, or a combination of them. If it is cuts, the Government should have the decency to come clean and say so. Let us have no more of the nonsense about sensible savings when they really mean chronic cuts. It is incumbent on the Government to say where the cuts would occur. Will they be in London Transport, the GLC's measures to tackle or alleviate unemployment, grants to promote good race relations, mother and children projects or police monitoring? If they cut those services they must admit that they are taking a step further away from the Disraeli Conservative philosophy of one nation, which was so interestingly espoused last week by the previous Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym.

If various quangos or boards are to run London, it will mean the loss to Londoners of their fundamental right to choose people to run their city. London Transport is a prime example. There were two clear approaches to its running—the Conservative approach of commercialise and privatise, and the Labour approach of cheaper fares and more investment in our buses and trains. If London Transport is to be run by an unelected quango, the right to choose between the options, which has already been diminished by the courts, will be removed altogether. If a party stops old age pensioners' free travel concessions, it will face the consequences at the next general election, but that would not be the case with an unelected quango. How then can the Government assure the House that such a quango would not eventually stop those travel concessions?

Hon. Members committed to democracy want people to play a greater and continuous part in making decisions that affect them, not merely every five years when they vote. If the Government abolish the GLC the latter would result. Just as the Conservative Government chop the resources only of Labour-controlled councils, they care about democracy only when it suits them. Is the Conservative creed the diminution of democracy, or is it one of increasing centralisation? How long have Conservatives Members favoured that? Experience shows that local government is more responsive, accessible and accountable to local citizens, and that central Government are more remote. Local government provides services for local needs and interests, creates the opportunity for local innovation, is a counterweight to central Government, and, as such, checks national bureaucracy. Conservative Members pay lip service to that, and if the Government abolish the GLC they will move towards more central control.

It has never been made clear to the electorate that abolition will result in fewer services, more bureaucracy and less democracy. The Financial Times leader on 10 February 1983 stated: The GLC provides services which can neither be easily abolished or devolved to so small a unit as the boroughs, for example, fire and refuse disposal. It continues: The creation of a single tier of local government appears to enhance democracy, accountability and efficiency. The reality would quickly turn out to be the diminution of all three by the creation of a series of quangos, joint boards and ad hoc, multi-district committees. We must quash the notion, on which the Government pin their hopes, that GLC services can be run more effectively by the nominees of London boroughs or by the London boroughs themselves. If the nominees of London boroughs ran the services, problems would be created. In my borough, for example, the nominee may be a councillor from a ward in Chingford which means that my constituents in Leyton and the people of Walthamstow may not be represented on that board. The nominee may not be directly elected for that job, which may only be part of his or her role as a councillor. The boards and quangos would make heavy demands on a councillor's time, and with his other council commitments one of the jobs would suffer as a result. The board may then become officer-dominated and there would be less control of bureaucracy than there is now.

It is unlikely that those boards would reach a metropolitan view because each councillor would promote the policy of his or her borough. With no mandate for a metropolitan programme of action, chaos would ensue. Politics is the language of priorities, but the different boards would not determine priorities, nor would they be properly inter-related. Nominee government will be less efficient than the GLC.

It should be made clear that many London boroughs do not wish to take over the services currently provided by the GLC because they are under tight expenditure constraints and could not cope wth the extra work. As the Financial Times stated, services such as strategic planning, fire, flood and waste disposal are already cross-borough services. Another crucial point is that if services are provided by the boroughs they will cost more. The people will have to pay higher rates for poorer services. Whenever there has been a reorganisation of local government the cost of services has always increased, and the Government would find it hard to give an example where that has not been so. The wealth of the City of London and Westminster has always been used to contribute towards London's services. At present, those boroughs contribute 22 per cent. of the GLC's income. If that, or even a substantial part of it, is removed, the burden of rates will shift dramatically from the owners of office blocks to the domestic or business ratepayers in the rest of London. The case for alternatives to the GLC is very weak.

If abolition is proposed because the GLC is too expensive, I can refute that by telling the House that between 1978–79 and 1983–84 GLC revenue expenditure increased by 88 per cent., but central Government current expenditure on goods and services increased by 101 per cent. Some may argue that the GLC is remote from the people whom it serves, but central Government is much more remote. However, only an anarchist would say that we should abolish central Government because of that. The Standard may not be my favourite newspaper, but on 28 June it recorded the results of an independent survey conducted by the Harris research centre. The majority of a representative sample of more than 1,500 Londoners believed that the GLC was doing a good job. The survey asked specific questions, such as whether the GLC was doing a good job in fixing fares, in helping to tackle unemployment, in promoting good race relations and in giving grants to community organisations. In answer to all those questions, the majority said yes.

Abolition is completely irrelevant in the face of the results of that survey, and especially in the face of London's real problems, one of which is unemployment. One in eight people in London is out of work, and in some areas the figure is more than 20 per cent. Even before the announcement of the latest cuts in the Health Service, 53 hospitals faced closure. There is extensive housing decline, chronic public transport and traffic problems and rising crime. There is a case for proper regional government in London — for an enhanced GLC with powers for active intervention to tackle the problems of unemployment and urban renewal, to become the accountable health authority for London and the capital's police authority. It is a scandal that last year Londoners paid £323 million to the police but had no say in how they were run. That is a reason for improving, not abolishing, the GLC.

Finally, I shall say something about the alliance's feeble attempt to jump on the bandwagon and to snipe at the GLC by attempting to block the Bill. Alliance Members should stop wandering round like lost sheep, taking a leaf out of the Tory book on each issue. Why does not the Prime Minister put them out of their misery and take them into the fold? The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) talked about the housing capital that is proposed in the Bill. We need more, not less, capital expenditure on housing. The fact that there is probably inadequate provision in the Bill is no excuse for stopping the planned expenditure.

The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) talked also about industry and employment in the Greater London enterprise board. That board has saved over 500 jobs, which would otherwise not exist. An example of that is Austinsuite in my constituency where the GLC helped to put together a package to save those jobs. We have had the familiar sniping at a few individual grants. I do not know the details of the isolated grants to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but it seemed to me that his first example of the trade union club sounded similar to the unemployment centre that exists in my borough and in many other boroughs. Those centres are very much needed around London. They promote worthwhile projects.

The hon. Gentleman referred to women's video. Has the hon. Gentleman not realised that video and films are a part of the arts? Women have a place in the arts. The centre also has an adult education function. The vast majority of GLC grants by, for example, the women's committee go through unopposed by the Tories and the Social Democrats. Mothers and children, who would otherwise get no support, benefit through nurseries, latchkey projects, playgroups, holiday schemes, toy libraries and the like. Of course, there are some controversial grants to minority groups, but they have rights, too. The SDP should grow up and recognise that instead of exhibiting unjustified moral outrage and obstructing this formal GLC money Bill. The message to the SDP and the Tories— it will get through to them sooner or later — is that London's democratic government is not for burning.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Uxbridge 8:27 pm, 11th July 1983

This is the first occasion on which the House has considered a GLC money Bill since the Government received an overwhelming mandate at the general election to abolish that authority in its present form. It is our duty to consider the expenditure that is envisaged in the Bill in the light of that fact.

Labour Members are prone to lecture the Conservative party on the importance of the mandate, particularly when their party is in office. It is fair for me to ask what is the response of the GLC and the Labour party to the overwhelming mandate that the Government received to abolish the GLC in its present form and to crack down on some of the unwise expenditure in which many people believe that authority is engaged. These matters have an unwelcome habit of working both ways.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Uxbridge

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. If he wishes to catch Mr. Speaker's eye no doubt he will do so later in the evening. I am sure that he will find that the best way to conduct business in the Chamber is to try to make our points and to intervene only infrequently.

In looking at the way in which the GLC has responded to the mandate that the Government have received, I note that it has decided to recruit about 1,055 staff at an estimated cost of £12·5 million in a full year, according to the comptroller of financial services. It was interesting to note a report by John Grigsby, the local government correspondent of The Daily Telegraph on Saturday when he said: The GLC's job increase follows five years during which the number of staff at County Hall fell by 14 per cent. to 21,000, largely because of the savings made by Sir Horace Cutler's Tory administration.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Uxbridge

I said that I would not give way. Other colleagues wish to speak.

This is a serious matter. We have a large local authority which is deliberately and wilfully setting out to recruit a large number of people at substantial cost to the ratepayer in greater London when the Government it have announced their intention to abolish that authority. What will they be doing? Doubtless some of them will be working on some of the strange activities that the GLC believes are important to London. Perhaps they will be working on the nuclear policy unit, which is to recruit three extra full-time staff members. The women's support unit is recruiting nine extra members of staff and the police committee support unit is recruiting five extra members of staff. The GLC has no role in relation to the police and its monitoring groups, appointed at random around the metropolis, and its police committee support unit are not relevant to the policing of the metropolis, which is the Home Secretary's responsibility.

I remind the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), who queried the ability of members of the GLC to question expenditure on police, that every London Member of Parliament has ready access to the Home Secretary and to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. We are consulted frequently about the policing of London and we do our job in that way. I am of the firm opinion that the policing of the metropolis should be the Home Secretary's responsibility because it is different from the policing of other towns.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Uxbridge

The GLC acts questionably, to say the least. I cannot see why a local authority has to have a nuclear policy unit. It is not clear from anything contained in the Bill. It is interesting to speculate as to what would happen if a Conservative local authority were to take on members of staff to research into the advantages of nuclear deterrence. I am sure that there would be an uproar from the Labour members of the GLC and my constituents, and rightly so.

We must study closely the Bill which we are being asked to sanction and lay down one or two markers for the Private Bill Committee, which will consider it in detail. Hon. Members will be aware that under that procedure no London Member is permitted to participate because we all have an interest. The Committee will comprise our colleagues from other parts of the country who will no doubt wish to study the Second Reading debate carefully when they approach this substantial expenditure.

Some parts of the Bill deserve that special attention. I hope that the members of the Committee will take careful account of what I am going to say. I hope that the Committee will consider taking out or reducing certain items in part I paragraph 4 of the schedule, (e) and (f) in particular, which appear on page six. My research reveals that much of (e) relates to the Greater London enterprise board which is Mr. Livingstone's reproduction of the national enterprise board for London.

When the Minister replies I hope that he will say a few words about that operation and what the Government's view is about such expenditure, bearing in mind their policy towards local authority expenditure in general, penalties and grants and so on. I hope that the Private Bill Committee will pay close attention to that because it seems to me that there is, at least, some unnecessary and undesirable duplication. For example, in part I of the schedule, (e), dealing with planning and industry, envisages expenditure in the year ending 31 March 1984 of £24·899 million and during the immediately following six months £17·900 million.

Sub-paragraph (f) dealing with purposes not included in sub-paragraphs (a) to (e)"— a rather nebulous description—accounts for £8,605,000 in the year ended 31 March 1984 and another £3 million in the immediately following six months. Those are substantial sums of money. I hope that when the Committee considers the Bill in detail it will probe into the reason for that expenditure and consider whether it is justifiable that the ratepayers of London should have to finance it.

Under the present administration of county hall, the GLC's gross expenditure has reached unprecedented levels. In 1981–82, the GLC spent £1,174,000. In 1982, the figure was £1,351,000. The budget for 1984 is £1,479,000. In 1981–82, the GLC precept, after attributable block grant, represented only 18p out of an average rate bill of 140p in the pound, or 12·9 per cent. in 1983–84, the GLC precept of 39·9p compares with an average rate payable by Londoners of 174·8p in the pound, or 22·8 per cent.

My constituency of Uxbridge has the misfortune to be situated within the boundaries of the Greater London council. My constituents are therefore faced with dramatic rate increases which have hit them very hard. Many businesses in my constituency, especially the smaller ones, are also finding the going hard. The increased expenditure is being promoted at the expense of London ratepayers and the jobs of Londoners. On 2 December 1981 the London chamber of commerce and industry published evidence that massive rate increases in London had created severe problems for businesses, causing substantial unemployment. The survey was based on a total of 505 commercial and industrial respondents in greater London. It revealed that 38 per cent. of companies had already reduced their staff as a result of the level of rates while almost 17 per cent. of companies had already moved elsewhere and 16 per cent. had decided to run clown or close their London businesses. In addition, 37 per cent. stated that they would reduce staff if rates rose by more than 25 per cent. within the next two years, with 33 per cent. deciding to move activities elsewhere and nearly 30 per cent. claiming that they would be forced in such circumstances to run down or close down their London operations.

While the unemployment position is shown to be depressingly bleak throughout greater London, it is inner London that is suffering the greatest damage, with 54 per cent. of companies having made staff reductions in the past five years because of rate increases. In addition, 45 per cent. of inner London firms stated that they would cut back staff within the next two years if rates increased still further.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Minister (Health)

What about rent increases?

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Uxbridge

The London chamber of commerce and industry has provided us with some important facts. No London Member who has recently fought a general election campaign can be unaware of the effect of rate increases on industry and commerce in greater London. None of us wants to see jobs moving out of London. Hon. Members who represent inner London, constituencies doubtless wish to see jobs retained in inner London, whereas those of us representing outer London constituencies do not wish to see jobs disappearing over the border into Buckinghamshire, Berkshire or the other home counties. We want to keep those firms here, so that our youngsters have the chance of a decent job. However, those companies are being driven out. If they want to, they can escape that form of taxation simply by deciding to move their geographical locations. That is happening, and that is why it is incumbent on the GLC—no matter which party controls it—to have regard to the effect of rate increases on jobs.

The GLC will have exceeded its spending target this year by about £300 million or 53 per cent. The metropolitan counties will have overspent by £72 million, or 6·5 per cent. Abolition of the GLC would remove that overspending and might eventually save a further £120 million per year—[Laughter.] It is all very well for the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras to laugh. He may think it is very funny in his constituency, and no doubt the electors of Camden have great confidence in his gift of humour. However, the electors of Uxbridge do not share his constituents' taste for his brand of humour. My constituents take very seriously the GLC's failure to control its expenditure. Moreover, they are extremely angry that, due to the GLC's failure to restrain its expenditure and thus to obtain rate support grant, London ratepayers and taxpayers are having to pick up the bill. London's ratepayers are being robbed by such overspending and it is incumbent upon us to make it clear that restraint should be exercised, that expenditure should be confined to those things that it is necessary to do and for which the GLC has a proper responsibility, and that the GLC should not engage in duplication, waste, extravagance and the recruitment of new staff whose working lives with that authority are likely to be limited to a maximum of two or three years. Of course, London's ratepayers will doubtless have to pick up the bill for the redundancies, and if the GLC goes on recruiting at this rate the bill will be even larger.

Therefore, I sound that note of caution. I hope very much that our colleagues, who will consider this Bill with the care and attention that they always bring to private Bills, will have sympathy with the poor old London ratepayer and will consider the jobs of young people in my constituency and elsewhere in greater London, which are being swept away by such massive and unrestrained rate increases and by expenditure at the level contained in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West 8:42 pm, 11th July 1983

It would seem that discussing the GLC in the House has become something of a habit of late. As hon. Members may know, I am still a member of the GLC and proud of it. At one stage I thought that I might come over here to listen to other things, but I am afraid I still hear an awful lot about the GLC, and in the usual bigoted, prejudiced and ill-informed manner that I associate with the articles I read in the newspapers every day.

We are discussing the money Bill for 1983. Although one or two hon. Members have drawn a clear distinction between what is in the Bill—which essentially concerns capital spending—and the various, as they would see it, controversial revenue expenditures of the GLC, that distinction has not been clearly drawn by others.

Perhaps hon. Members are still not clear about the Bill. Part I concerns spending. In it there is £452 million of spending. However, it is, of course, capital spending. In many cases it is for projects that have already been started and that have been going on for some time. However, the GLC is required to ask the Government for permission for continued spending. Part II relates to the lending provisions. Indeed, £50 million of that lending is a technical inclusion to provide for sharing with London boroughs, and is raised by the GLC. The GLC raises loans on their behalf. If that sum is left aside, the overall total is about £484 million. About £380 million of that is for continuing commitments existing at the start of this financial year — and, in some cases, they have been going on for many years. So we are left with about £100 million for new projects, some of which have already started in the current financial year.

In past years there has been relatively little controversy. If they look carefully at the proposed capital projects, Conservative Members will see, when the cloud of prejudice that seems to sit around them when the GLC is mentioned has cleared, how non-controversial the great majority is and how worthy it is of London as a whole.

I listened carefully to what Conservative Members said about the GLC. It is clear that they still have not worked out the difference between capital and revenue expenditure in the Bill. In many respects we have parted company with the Bill and have gone on to a general discussion about the GLC, its future existence—or whether it will have an existence—and the case for its abolition. No doubt we shall come back to the theme this evening, so I am sure that it is impossible for me to avoid it.

The legislation that the Government promise for the abolition of the GLC will no doubt involve many debates about the GLC in the coming months. Whether Conservative Members like the GLC or not, or whether Londoners like the GLC or not, under the present arrangements they will have an opportunity in 1985 to say what they think about its future at the ballot box. I am sure that all sides of the House want to preserve that. It is all very well for the Government to talk in two short paragraphs about the abolition of the GLC. The real issue is abolition of another section of our democracy, and the House should be wary about that. It is possible that at some stage the Prime Minister will decide she has had enough of all of us on both sides and decide to run the whole operation from a submarine parked somewhere off the Falkland Islands. When we discuss the White Paper in greater detail, I do not think that quite so many people will be jumping up and saying, "What a good idea the abolition of the GLC will be."

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), who, regrettably, has left the Chamber, served on the GLC. Indeed, I remember looking at his face across the benches many years ago. Today he talked about GLC and ILEA rates. It is important to point out that ILEA is the only entirely rate-borne education authority in the country. It gets nothing from central Government. That is something about which London ratepayers, who are also taxpayers, have grounds for complaint, because they pay taxes which should go towards the provision of education in inner London. However, the Government give ILEA nothing.

The hon. Member for Twickenham went on to talk about the high GLC rates, as did other Conservative Members. One reason why GLC rates have gone up so much is the penalties that have been imposed by central Government. Grants have been taken away from the GLC. It is all very well for the Government to say, "You should not spend this money", but the essence of democracy is that people locally can decide how the money is to be spent. Despite what successive Governments have said about wanting to take Whitehall off the back of local government, there has been a gradual erosion of local government powers in recent years. That is bad for democracy, bad for accountability, and bad for the country as a whole.

I continue with the remarks of the hon. Member for Twickenham, because he made a most interesting speech. He complained about the non-provision of a London Transport underground in his part of the world. He also mentioned Bromley. Of course, the underground is not as extensive as we might like it to be. I should like to see a much more extensive service, although it is already the most extensive network in the world. He asked why his constituents should have to pay rates to sustain London Tranport's fare levels. Equally, in the area in which I live and which I represent, the ratepayers could ask why on earth they should be paying for all the subsidies for British Rail from which commuters from Bromley benefit. They could ask "Why can't we go to Bromley and say that we don't want to pay our taxes to British Rail because we don't benefit from its suburban services?". Such an argument cannot be used with any credibility.

I think that it was the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) who talked about the enormous size of the GLC's bureaucracy and said that it was taking on a large number of additional staff. I have looked carefully at that. The cost of all directly employed staff at the GLC represents only 16· per cent. of total revenue costs and over half of the staff are employed as fire fighters or on public health and safety duties. Administrative and managerial staff account for only 7·5 per cent. of all employees—less than 2 per. cent. of the GLC's total bill. That does not seem to me to be a vast overwhelming bureaucracy. Most of the new staff that the GLC wishes to take on are manual workers who have been recruited for work in the parks, where there has been such a deterioration in maintenance standards over recent years, and fire fighting, where we need to maintain and increase the cover that the fire brigade provides for London. If we were to move along the absurd path of abolishing the GLC merely because the Prime Minister does not like Ken Livingstone, we should be moving towards a democratic nonsense, and it would be economically absurd.

Another major financial responsibility of the GLC which could not be transferred to individual boroughs is the financing of London's debt, currently running at £2,036 million. The GLC is paying for all the capital projects that have been invested in in the past. That is an important function of the GLC. That huge debt and the debt servicing of something over £300 million cannot be transferred to the boroughs. Will the Government be prepared to fund the servicing of those debts if they succeed in abolishing the GLC? Some of my hon. Friends might say "Stuff all the debts and let the moneylenders go to hell". However, I suspect that that philosophy will not have permeated very far on the Conservative Benches.

For all its faults, the GLC exists to serve London. If one looks in detail at the various proposals in the Bill one can see exactly what is being proposed. I could speak for some time about the various worthy capital projects that are being spelt out, but hon. Members should by now have acquired the ability to read and it is up to them to look at the Bill for themselves and then to ask questions if they require some elucidation on the points raised.

Part of the £100 million in the Bill for new developments in the current year will go towards the arts. It will go to regional functions of the GLC's arts policy such as the provision of lake cleaning at Battersea park, new facilities at Hounslow heath, the development of Mile End park — another regional park that the GLC is developing—tree planting at Wormwood Scrubs, safety services in our playgrounds, and a new running track at Victoria park. Those are all projects that only the GLC can undertake on behalf of London because the boroughs in which those facilities are located, or through which they go, will not be in a position to provide the necessary money to sustain such regional developments.

I still have the privilege to be the chairman of the GLC arts and recreation committee and so I can speak with some feeling about those projects. We are talking of the £100 million within the Bill for new development. We come now to the improvements to museums and the compulsory purchase of Kelmscott house, which the GLC intends to turn into the William Morris museum. We intend to embody within that museum the principles of the work that Morris pioneered.

Also, within the £100 million, the GLC will be looking at the south bank, particularly at the Royal Festival hall. We want to improve the acoustic facilities for those who are hard of hearing— indeed, for those who are not. There will be deaf aid systems running through the whole Royal Festival hall.

Such are the projects that are spelt out. Surely no one in the House will say that it is all a load of tommy-rot and that we should not spend that sort of money. Frankly, I believe that we should spend considerably more on the arts. There are other provisions in London for the river Thames including the Richmond towpaths, the canal parks and the pier improvements. Next Friday the GLC is to open a new pier, the first on the river for 30 years, outside the Royal Festival hall. I hope that a few hon. Members will find time to come to see the good things that the GLC is doing, but about which one hears very little in the Chamber and reads nothing in Fascist comics such as the Daily Mail, The Sun and the Daily Express.

The hon. Member for Twickenham spoke with feeling and some compassion and, I am even prepared to accept, with sincerity. He said that he was concerned about the impact on the arts were the GLC to be abolished. Yes, there would be a major impact on the arts if it were abolished. At the moment the GLC arts and recreation committee spends abut £15·5 million net a year on the arts in London. We help to sustain the National theatre, the English National Opera and the London Festival Ballet. We fund theatres such as Sadler's Wells, the Riverside, the Half Moon, the Theatre Royal, the Hampstead and the Lyric. We give about £1·8 million a year to community and ethnic arts. The GLC runs the south bank arts complex, including the Royal Festival hall, the Queen Elizabeth hall and the Purcell rooms. That costs another £4·5 million net.

The GLC funds museums such as the London museum, the Geffrye museum and the Horniman museum. It runs historic houses such as Rangers house, Kenwood, Marble hill and, if the Secretary of State allows the compulsory purchase order to go through, Kelmscott house as well.

If the GLC were to be abolished, who would look after all those arts provisions in London? The hon. Member for Twickenham said with great compassion and feeling and, no doubt, with some belief in the Minister responsible for the arts — regrettably there is no Minister directly responsible—said that the Government would take that into account. That does not amount to much. They are the same Government who took into account the provision of funds for the Theatre museum in Covent Garden. Arrangements had been made for an exchange of leases between the GLC and the Government. The Government chopped it last Friday. Is that the action of a caring considerate Government interested in the arts? They cannot even spend £4 million on organising a theatre museum for London. We are one of the few major countries that boasts a theatre and arts infrastructure, yet we have nothing approaching a theatre museum. Such basic dishonesty by the Government makes me feel that the arts cannot be left safely in the hands of such philistines, particularly when they are operating under the constraints of monetarism. The Prime Minister does not appear to believe that the arts are the sort of thing that macho people should spend money on. No doubt we shall have a few more guns and bombers, but there shall be no theatre museum in London. That is an appalling indictment.

At the debate last Friday, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment—of whom I did not expect this—made some snide comments about GLC grants to certain groups. We are back on the revenue side. That has nothing to do with the Bill. At least I am honest enough to say so. However, I shall carry on talking about it if you will allow me, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Under-Secretary of State made comments about Babies against the Bomb, the English Collective of Prostitutes and the London Gay Teenage Group. We hear such comments all the time—it is like an old record. One would think that, in two years, the GLC had given grants only to those three organisations. Those are the ones about which one always reads. When Conservative Members have nothing better to say, they get up and berate the GLC about giving money to gay or lesbian groups. They should study the Benches carefully because I do not suppose that the House is made up entirely of heterosexuals. Conservative Members must investigate their own consciences when they attack the GLC for some of the grants it gives to minority interests in London.

Although one hears a great deal about those three grants, one hears nothing about the other 600 grants that the GLC has made in the past two years. In London, 600 groups received grants from the GLC. However, one does not read a thing about them in the capitalist press. Every constituency in London receives money from the GLC for a group that functions within its border. I become sick and tired of receiving letters from Conservative Members and from Conservative GLC councillors which say Dear Tony" — it is always "Dear Tony" when they want something— I do hope that you will be supporting such and such a group in my constituency. I shall start publishing those names and I shall start calling in some of those obligations. If they want the GLC abolished, why on earth do they come crawling to me to ask for extra money for groups in their areas?

In every constituency the GLC gives money to community centres, counselling groups, credit unions, disabled groups, elderly groups, family advice groups, holiday schemes for the elderly and handicapped, legal advice centres, youth organisations and church organisations, but we do not hear a word about that work.

I have spoken with feeling because I have had to suffer for two years the scurrilous attacks of Fascist newspapers such as The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express and the attentions of the Fascist goons who work for them. I am sick and tired of it. It is about time that hon. Members recognised the work that the GLC does. The abolition of the GLC will mean not merely getting rid of Ken Livingstone and a few Lefties over the water but the end of local democracy in London.

Several Hon. Members:

rose——

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. I remind the House that the debate must conclude not later than 10 o'clock. There are 58 minutes left and six hon. Members seeking to catch my eye. The arithmetic will be obvious.

Photo of George Young George Young Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment) 9:02 pm, 11th July 1983

Much of the debate has been not about the Bill but about broader proposals concerning the GLC. I shall not deal with those. The parts of the debate that have been about the Bill fall to be dealt with not by me, but by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who made one of his less provocative speeches when he presented the Bill. The hon. Gentleman emphasised the role of the private sector and showed a touching concern for the health of the privately owned construction industry in London. I hope that this will be a theme of all his speeches, because we have not always heard that concern.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the council is unique in that it and its predecessors have for many years presented an annual money Bill for the approval of Parliament for the capital expenditure and the lending that it can undertake during the current financial year and the six months following. This long-established arrangement has been modified, but not superseded, by the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980.

The Government will not oppose the Bill. That may occasion some surprise, because there is of course a great deal about the GLC that the Government do not support. We do not support the behaviour of the existing administration at county hall. We do not support a body which has become increasingly unnecessary as it has lost a number of its functions, most notably its housing management responsibilities, which are progressively passing to the boroughs, but yet remains the largest overspending local authority in the country.

We do not support some of the expenditure decisions to which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has drawn attention. He has become rather sensitive about those grants. If he wants to avoid criticism of the GLC he should stop making such grants and the criticism will smartly cease. As he knows, we are firmly committed to abolishing the GLC and giving as much of its functions as possible to the boroughs to improve the economy and effectiveness of London's local government. But that is not a reason for blocking the Bill. Between now and the date of abolition, the government of Greater London must continue and the council must have the resources for necessary expenditure.

I emphasise the word "necessary". Last week the Government announced their decisions on the extent to which rate support grant will be held back from overspending authorities. There has been adverse comment from the Opposition in the press and elsewhere, suggesting that such holdback is unreasonable.

I see that the matter came up again in an article in yesterday's The Sunday Times, which referred to an authority which is almost laughing off the holdback. The Labour chairman of the council's finance committee is quoted as saying that he had no real problem: The government gave us all the figures and we knew in February that it would be about £23 million, so we put it into the April budget. Local authority expenditure accounts for 25 per cent. of all public expenditure. Getting the economy right means getting public spending down, and local government must play its part. The GLC is budgeting to spend more than half as much again as the target that we have set in the light of what we see as London's needs. With ILEA, it will account for more than half of the overspending on revenue by all authorities in England. That is ludicrous and we have had to act. That is the only capital punishment that I shall be supporting this week.

If the capital budget in the Bill were on the same ridiculous scale, I could not ask the House to support it, but it is not. Initially, I thought that it would be. Last October the council sought an extra £75 million other services allocation, on top of the normal allocation for that block of about £10 million.

Such a massive increase would have gone partly towards developments involving, for example, the Greater London enterprise board which my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) mentioned. We rejected that. The leader of the GLC responded by threatening that those London MPs who did not support the GLC's programme when faced with an inflated money Bill in Parliament would find that no money would be spent on capital projects in their constituencies, beyond the barest essentials. What would have happened to constituencies with a Conservative Member of Parliament but a Labour GLC member was never made clear to me. Hon. Members will recall the swift action that the authorities of the House took against that threat.

I am pleased to say that the council subsequently saw reason. The usual discussions with the Government took place, after all, before the Bill was deposited. The provisions of the Bill have been scrutinised and agreed by the various interested Departments. Its proposals now reflect the level of capital investment which the Government think it reasonable for the council to be undertaking. The flights of fancy have been removed, and I can therefore commend the Bill to the House.

The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) rightly drew attention to the importance of the GLC's substantial programme for the renovation and improvement of the transferred stock to which it is committed by the transfer orders. The GLC's housing investment programme is related essentially to those commitments. Indeed, it has received an increase in its allocation for the current year to fulfil those obligations.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned a matter of constituency interest—the proposal to establish a west London trade union club in Acton. I am normally keen when public money is invested in my constituency. However, I must tell the hon. Member for Newham, North-West that we can do without that type of investment. It is a social and recreational club the membership of which is open only to trade union members. The trade unions have put in a total of about £250 and the rest has come from the ratepayers of London. That proposal has not found enormous public support in Acton. It is an example of the type of project which the GLC could well cut back on if it wished to keep its budget within more reasonable limits.

I ask hon. Members to note that the council relies on the Bill as its only authority for capital expenditure and lending. It is important that the Bill be allowed to proceed. I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading and send it to Committee for detailed consideration.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:09 pm, 11th July 1983

Some hon. Members who have already spoken have misunderstood why my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) and I have ensured that we debate this Bill on the Floor of the House. We have already achieved two things. We have heard a spirited de fence of some of the GLC's spending by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). That may stand the GLC in better stead when it fights seriously for its life in the years ahead. The debate has even seen the Minister put his head on the block both with regard to his own party and, no doubt, some of his constituents later in the week.

The reason the debate was initiated was that, unless figures have changed recently, the GLC budget is greater than 18 sovereign states. It is highly appropriate that it should be considered by this place. It is also appropriate, although the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) did not acknowledge it, that hon. Members who, like me, represent nearly 500,000 Londoners under the system that sends us here — somewhat more than my Labour and Tory party colleagues who represent between 30,000 and 40,000 each—can bring before the House issues that concern those people.

The issue that primarily concerns them is that the GLC should spend its money on things on which Londoners think that money should be spent. It should spend its money and time properly on issues that concern Londoners—transport, housing, jobs and recreation.

There have already been allusions to some of the matters on which the GLC spends some of its capital budget. I give notice to the GLC that if it wishes to enhance its prospects of survival it must respond to the clear, current view of Londoners. On many issues, such as the time spent on discussing Northern Ireland, peace, nuclear deterrence and interest groups that do not deserve money compared with others that deserve it far more, the GLC is earning a potential rebuke that will mean its dissolution all too soon. That will be of the GLC's doing, and I hope that in time it will see the folly of its present ways.

The crisis facing London's services is not often realised. I allude to the catalogue of the crisis now facing us. In the three years to October last year, unemployment in the United Kingdom went up by 141 per cent. whereas in London it went up by 181 per cent. Unemployment in inner London is now 160,000—with a higher density than any other metropolitan county — and it is still increasing. Male unemployment in inner London is 17 per cent. and in places it is 25 per cent. A total of 44 per cent. of British new Commonwealth residents live in London, and two thirds of the West Indian and African unemployed live in inner London. At least a fifth of all young people in parts of inner London have been unemployed for more than a year. Between 1980 and 1982 there was an increase of 103 per cent. in unemployment among manual workers and nearly 150 per cent. among non-manual workers. Although London has gained £30 million through various inter-city programmes, it has lost £700 million in Government penalties. Job loss has been phenomenal; and job vacancies in the same period have declined from 20,000 to 9,000.

Those are simply the employment statistics. When one considers the housing statistics and the increased demand of the rate burden, inner London is a disaster area. If we compare inner London with any other metropolitan area, there is a clear and totally consistent picture.

In the last 10 years, the population loss of inner London has been greater than any other metropolitan county — 18 per cent. The number of people aged 75 and over—those who make demands on the services — is the highest of any metropolitan county, nearly 10 per cent. The school population has declined more than anywhere else, including the primary school population. The number of children of one-parent families is greater than anywhere else. The number of children in care is greater than anywhere else. The number of people in households with heads born in the Commonwealth or Pakistan is greater than anywhere else, as is the number of overcrowded houses.

The crisis facing inner London is such that, were inner London regularly identified as an area on its own, it would be receiving enormous grants, and the GLC, as the responsible body, would be given the money to deal with the enormous and growing problems from which people and business in inner London are suffering. I speak as someone who represents the borough of Southwark, which is second only to Manchester as the authority with the highest number of indicators of deprivation. That is one side of the picture.

The GLC needs to spend its money on meeting some of those crisis needs. I shall point out some areas to which it might turn its attention so that it can, when considering its budget in future, consider the matters aright. In the office that I have in this building, I look out on to GLC county hall. I urge hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West and others who govern there to deal with the problems, some of which have been alluded to, and to bring to south-east London and inner south-east London a decent transport system.

We should have had not only a docklands-type light railway built for north of the river but, as has been pointed out, some form of transport, whether above or below ground, south of the river. It could be the Jubilee line revised. It is ludicrous how long it takes to get from places such as London bridge to places such as Surrey docks and New Cross and beyond. We are the white hole on the London Transport map.

The GLC has the responsibility of dealing with the large number of properties upon which, when they have been handed over to the local authorities, enormous tasks need to be done, such as double glazing for people who live on the edge of main roads, heating for pensioners in tower blocks and general maintenance. There are blocks in every inner London constituency on which the GLC has an obligation to spend the maximum possible amount of money.

Burgess park was started by the GLC in 1944. It will not be finished until 2020 from what I gather from the latest estimates. The GLC should address its mind and attention to trying to deal with the many empty houses, the blight occasioned by the growing park, although we welcome the park, and the problem of many old people who do not know their future because their community is being broken up. The GLC should turn its attention to dealing with problems of deployment of teachers out of some of the ILEA schools, which means that some of the courses and curricula that some of those schools have offered to youngsters will no longer be available in years to come.

I ask the GLC, as it prepares its budget for the future, to spend the enormous amount of money needed, not on the matters that give it a bad press and do nothing for Londoners, but on trying to assist businesses and people in the City to make London the thriving capital it should be. I hope that by the time this matter comes to be debated next year the GLC will have learnt its lesson. I hope too that the Government will have responded by giving all inner London designated urban area status and that the EC will have given London the grants to supplement the money it needs from the GLC. The GLC has rightly brought this Bill to the House and, rightly, it has been debated.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East 9:19 pm, 11th July 1983

I wish to earn a reputation for brevity, and I hope that I shall do so tonight. I have no objection to the exercise by the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) in blocking, at least temporarily, the passage of the Bill. That is a legitimate or at least a time-honoured device in the House to enable London issues to be discussed. The effect has been to allow some excellent speeches to be made by some of my hon. Friends.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who is not in the Chamber, urged the Minister to abolish the GLC even quicker than the Government wish. I wonder whether that is the unanimous view of his colleagues at the GLC. Many leaks took place during the general election campaign. I do not know whether the document that I have constitutes a leak, but it is addressed to all members of the Greater London council Conservative group. It is from Mr. Bernard Brook-Partridge who is a Tory member of the GLC, and written in red on the front are the words Can I have this back? I do not know where the document came from, but it came into my hands. It says: it is also clear that there are a number of us who will fight tooth and nail to prevent the present Government, or any other Government, replacing the democratically elected GLC with a quango or any other organisation which is not directly elected for the stated purpose. Perhaps not everybody agrees with that opinion. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), who is also not in the Chamber, spoke of joint boards which were precisely what the Royal Commission, which was set up in the early 1960s by the Conservative Government, rejected, because it said that they would take away local democracy. The hon. Gentleman wishes to deny Londoners the right to sack or not to sack Ken Livingstone in 1985.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who also appears to have left the Chamber, spoke much about mandates. The GLC had a mandate for "Fares Fair". However, the Law Lords took a different view and said that mandates were not necessarily binding and, therefore, the Government need have no qualms on that score should they have better thoughts in the future.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge and the Minister spoke about overspending. That concept is meaningless, as it is not based on any objective criteria. There should be objective criteria for rate support grant or grant-related expenditure, but what locally elected councillors wish to spend on local needs should be a matter between them and their electors. The Government are taking selective powers — both arbitrary and dictatorial — against a handful of authorities, such as the GLC, whose electorates had the impertinence to vote Labour and where those Labour majorities have had the temerity to implement the policies endorsed by the electorate.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who spoke so eloquently about the deprivation in the inner city areas, should bear in mind that that is why resources should be directed into the capital, as they were under the Labour Government. In the past three years the Conservative Government have taken away £1 billion from London. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey nods in agreement. His attack should be against the Government.

The Minister spoke about grants. In an excellent speech my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) referred to controversial grants. The truth is that some services are effectively provided by voluntary organisations rather than by statutory bodies. Grants work at the grass roots. It is an effective use of funding which stimulates a series of community initiatives. The constant reference to expenditure on gay and lesbian groups is absurd. In 1982–83 less than 1 per cent. of grants money was spent on those groups. That section of the population could complain that it has been under-represented.

Even the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey could not resist making snide remarks. He spoke about the GLC and Northern Ireland. As far as I am aware, the GLC has made no statement or adopted any view on Northern Ireland. Individual members may have done so, but that is their right. I agree with the Minister and hope that the House gives the Bill a speedy passage.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North 9:25 pm, 11th July 1983

I think back to what the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) was saying in his protestations of support for the GLC. His remarks reminded me of the way that a rope supports a hanging man. His purpose was to start the insidious attack that will be waged on the GLC and ILEA in the coming months. It is part of a continuing newspaper build-up against them. I commend his extensive use of briefing notes, which bore a remarkable similarity to the briefing notes published by the GLC in its defence. The statistics that he read out were a wonder to behold and bore a striking similarity to the GLC's publications.

The arguments used against the GLC and ILEA are dishonest in many ways. Government Back Benchers, of whom only one remains in the Chamber, have on many occasions berated London's Labour authorities for their alleged profligacy, waste of public money and high level of rates, whether that involves the GLC precept, the ILEA precept or the borough councils' rate levy. They know that the reason why rates have gone up for the majority of people in inner London is entirely central Government's fault for taking rate support grant away. That has happened nowhere more than in inner London and in my constituency in particular.

The ILEA is the only education authority in the country that receives no public money from central Government for its schools programme. The only central Government funding is a paltry £32 million for higher education. I say "paltry" because we are talking of a budget of £800 million. When hon. Members criticise the ILEA's programme, activities and attempts to provide a decent service, they should remember that they forced the precept up to its present level and have said to inner London "We do not care about you." They have ignored the language difficulty experienced by many inner London kids. They have ignored the old school buildings and the disgraceful housing conditions in which many inner London kids live.

Government Members who represent comfortable outer London suburban constituencies should remember that their constituents receive subsidies on London Transport and British Rail commuter services. They receive Government subsidies on mortgages, and yet continually condemn inner London and the borough councils for their attempts to provide decent services.

The GLC is a valuable authority in many ways. If hon. Members are serious in their opposition to the Bill and to the GLC's existence, they must remember the debate that we held recently about the future of London. If they have their way and remove the GLC and therefore a unitary authority for the whole of London, London will be the only capital city in the world with no overall planning or administrative authority. We shall return to the free enterprise chaos that created the original London county council towards the end of the 19th century. Government Members are trying to take us back down that road.

Mention has been made of returning to Victorian values. I assume that that means a return to Victorian values for public services. Those values were emphatically rejected in the late 19th century when the London county council and the London school board—the forerunners of the GLC and ILEA—were formed.

The criticism mounted against the Bill and the GLC's capital programme seems to be couched in strange ways. Some hon. Members claim to be speaking out and voting against the GLC's Bill, but what they are doing is reciting a litany of criticism, most of which is ill-informed, half-baked and picked up out of The Sun and the Daily Mail about a small number of grants that the GLC has made in the past two years.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, the GLC has given more than 600 grants to different organisations. I defend its right to do so. I would have thought that other hon. Members would also defend that right. The GLC is recognising that, in London, there are many people who do a great deal of valuable voluntary social work and voluntary community work, trying to bring communities together in the poorest parts of London. They try to bring together the oppressed and those institutionally discriminated against.

In the past, when local government handed out convenient long leases to private golf clubs, bowling clubs or Territorial Army clubs, not a squeak was heard against that. But when the GLC chooses to give grants to ethnic minority groups, women's groups and minority interest groups, a howl of protest is raised. During the next few months Conservative Members will find that as they try to stoke up a public campaign against the GLC there will be a massive public rejection of their values, methods and style of doing things. Many people in London have reason to be pleased with the GLC for its capital building programme, pleased with ILEA for its school building programme and, above all, pleased with the GLC for caring about the minority groups about which nobody could give a damn a few years ago. That is what will be at stake in the debate about London.

If the Bill is not passed, an important school building and school improvement programme will be seriously at risk. Schools in virtually every inner London constituency will be affected by the Bill. The papers provided by ILEA show that a number of schools in my constituency will be affected, including the George Orwell school in Tollington park. I visited it on Saturday afternoon when it held its annual summer fair. It was attended by hundreds of people, who had a good time. People told me with some glee about the building programme. They felt some trepidation about possible disruption at the school because of the programme, but pleasure at and recognition of, the amount of money that would be spent on the school. If I had told them that their school building programme was at risk because of the antics of a couple of SDP Members this evening, they would have been amazed. They would have been surprised to learn that we live in a country that elects a local authority to decide its capital building programme, publish it, prepare to put the work out to contract, and then finds that the work is subject to debate in the national Parliament.

If the GLC is opposed and the Bill rejected, not only will the House be trying to cock a snook at the electorate who elected the GLC in the first place; they will be turning back the clock on the democratic process in London. The London county council and the London school board were formed in the 19th century because the poor of London needed services, schools, sewerage systems, roads and, above all, some form of planning authority and overall local government control. Unfortunately, that democratic process has not extended far enough. We do not have proper democracy in the Health Service in London—something for which the GLC has consistently campaigned. We do not have proper democracy in the Metropolitan police. As has already been said, the only democratically elected person who controls the Metropolitan police represents Richmond — not Richmond, London, but Richmond, Yorkshire. That is the degree of control that Londoners have over their police force.

It is for the House to support the extension and improvement of democratic processes in London such as the Health Service and the police and, above all, to end that monstrous anachronism of local government in the City of London. The City of London should be the subject of debate in the House. We must end the nonsense of that individual city, that super-rich city with the poverty existing all round it, so that its wealth can be shared out to its surrounding boroughs that so desperately need it.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey made a remark about enterprise zones. I can think of nothing more insulting to the people of London, and especially to the nearly 500,000 Londoners without a job, than the idea of creating free enterprise zones to bring in a Hong Kong-style economy that allows people to grab all the money they can, make as much profit as they can, disregard the planning controls for which many of us have fought throughout the years, throw the workers on the scrap heap and then disappear to some other tax haven in some other part of the world. That is the reality of enterprise zones. If the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey supports them, perhaps he will tell the people of his constituency that he opposes planning controls and any form of normal democratic control over the ravages of private enterprise.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey said that the GLC and ILEA are bigger than 18 sovereign states that are members of the United Nations, and that the GLC and ILEA should keep out of debates on peace, nuclear deterrence and all the matters that affect Londoners. Is he saying that democratically elected councillors in London have no right to speak about matters that affect Londoners, such as the dangers of building a Sizewell-type nuclear power station, the effects of a nuclear attack on London or the nonsense and hypocrisy that is preached on the Government Benches about our civil defence in a nuclear war? Is he saying that because the Government do not like the policies of those who have been elected to county hall, because they speak up for the poorest people in London, they will wish it away? It is just like the Queen of Hearts saying, "I do not agree with what is going on so I shall destroy it."

If that is to be the form of debate during the next few months about the future of the GLC and ILEA, I look forward to going round London, speaking at public meetings and organising opposition to the Government's attempts to destroy London's democratic processes, to destroy its local government and, above all, to impose quangos where there was democracy. I shall oppose the extension of the old boy network that already exists in the Health Service and in the police authority. I welcome those terms of debate because I know that, at the end of the day, the people of London will stand up for their right to have their own local government, which this Government are trying to take away from them.

Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith , Islington South and Finsbury 9:37 pm, 11th July 1983

I am tempted to say that I was unhappy that the numbers on the Conservative Benches swelled by 700 per cent. during the past 15 minutes, because when the Under-Secretary of State was the only Conservative representative present I was going to remark that his party had made up in quality what it lacked in quantity, and that if all Conservative Members were as wet as he is Britain would have far less to fear from the Government.

This should he a standard Bill agreed by the Government and by the GLC for capital expenditure. The fact that it is not is due to a manoeuvre by the SDP and the Liberal party, which wished to take a swipe at the GLC. They have revealed themselves in their true colours by joining the chorus of opposition to the GLC from the Tory Benches. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) mentioned the crisis in housing. The way to deal with the crisis in London is to demand the resources that London needs to deal with it, which the Government have denied it, and not to join the chorus of opposition to the GLC.

The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) discussed housing in some detail. He, as is often the case with SDP Members, has rushed in to claim credit for realising something that everyone else realised a long time ago. He said that he hoped that a good proportion of the £71 million mentioned in the Bill for the improvement of existing council estates would go to estates transferred to the boroughs. I could take him by the hand round Barnsbury estate, Bemerton estate, Caledonian road estate, Cumming estate, Percival street estate and St. Luke's estate in my constituency and show him leaking roofs, dampness, condensation and graffiti. I could show the legacy of neglect from the 1977–81 period of Tory control of the GLC when there was no management or maintenance of those estates. I could show him the estates' desperate need for capital expenditure to provide the necessary repairs and improvements.

The hon. Member for Woolwich ought to be saying not that he hopes that a good proportion of this £71 million will be spent on the transferred estates but that that figure is nowhere near enough to deal with the problems faced by those estates. We are dealing with a housing authority—it still is one because it has responsibility for the expenditure of that money—which met its target under last year's housing investment programme allocation and performed well in spending capital wisely to upgrade its estates. What is its reward for that? It had to cut back on its programme for the current year because the Government would not allow it a sufficient allocation under their housing investment programme to carry out the work that was needed and which all the boroughs—Tory and Labour controlled alike—were demanding for the estates in their areas.

We ought to be sending a strong message to central Government to improve the allocations under the housing investment programme to the Greater London council. It is not enough that £112 million is allocated in the Bill. The Government ought not to be arguing that the GLC is doing things of which they do not approve. They are taking a swipe at the GLC. I remind them, as many of my hon. Friends have done, that the GLC is a democratically-elected authority. London electors have every right to remove the GLC at the next Greater London council election. That is the prerogative of the electorate. If the GLC is removed and if it is changed into joint boards with representatives of the boroughs meeting together on an ad hoc basis, the right of Londoners as a whole to decide the balance of rates and services for London will have been removed.

The closest equivalent body to the GLC is the Thames water authority which is not accountable to the people of London. Try telling the residents of St. Peter's ward in my constituency, whose basements were flooded out last Thursday in the great thunderstorm because of inadequate sewers, that the Thames water authority is accountable to them, must pay compensation and must speed the necessary programme of sewerage replacement. They have no access to the Thames water authority except, perhaps, through me or through the much-maligned borough council. The Thames water authority is not directly accountable to the electors of that area. I, for one, would hate to see the remainder of London government handled in the same way. That is the way that we are heading with the Government's proposal for the control of London, its services and rates. In demanding the debate the SDP and the Liberal party have moved to back up the Government's attack on London, not to alleviate, as they should, the desperate needs of our capital city.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. I remind the hon. Member that he should seek leave of the House to address the House again.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Minister (Health) 9:44 pm, 11th July 1983

With the leave of the House, I shall attempt to reply to the detailed points made during the debate.

Having introduced the Bill, which I have been privileged to sponsor, I sat eagerly awaiting the sensible points to which I might have to reply from the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who was the first hon. Member from the Conservative Benches to speak. I was poised in vain, because he said nothing at great length. I need to say no more about his contribution.

The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) used the debate in the way that all of us have used London debates from time to time — to raise a number of specific points directly affecting his constituents. He mentioned particularly the problems arising in his constituency and elsewhere where living in flats which formerly belonged to the GLC, and which have nom, been transferred to the boroughs, are in need of repair and attention and the fact that the benighted inhabitants of many of those flats are at a loss to know who is responsible for their repairs and maintenance.

At the risk of sounding like a latter-day Harold Wilson, may I say that if someone cares to check back to when we debated the order transferring the GLC estates compulsorily to the London boroughs, he will find that I made the point that one of the biggest problems that would arise would be that people living in the estates would not know who was or was not responsible for failing to carry out necessary repairs. It was inevitable that that problem would arise, and I regret that it has arisen on the Morris Walk estate to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I shall take pains to ensure that it is drawn to the attention of the GLC and the London borough of Greenwich, in an effort to thrash out a solution.

The hon. Gentleman asked how many jobs had been created and saved by the GLEB. When it was established, the target set by the GLC was that it would create 10,000 jobs per annum by the fourth year that it was in operation. There is no reason to believe that it will not reach that target. It is in the nature of capital expenditure that returns in terms of jobs created are limited initially and grow over a period. I undertake to ensure that the hon. Gentleman receives a written answer to his specific inquiry.

I shall not refer to the two specific grants that he mentioned, because they are matters of opinion. He does not like them. We believe that they are OK. There is nothing more to say about them.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the A206 Beresford street road scheme in Woolwich. The GLC has just approved the work necessary to start that road scheme going out to tender. He wishes it to go ahead as quickly as possible and that should be good news for him. It is expected that £700,000 will be spent on the work this year and that it should be completed in 1985–86.

The only problem is that there are 2.7 acres of royal arsenal Ministry of Defence property which need to be purchased for the scheme. It is not subject to compulsory purchase, but it is hoped that the Ministry of Defence will get itself sorted out and allow this land to be used for the road scheme, which is welcomed by everyone in the area.

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) went on, as Tory Members are wont to do, about rate levels in London and the problems that arise. I shall not list all the Tory Members who go on about them, but there are one or two points which they never seem to mention. One is that the level of commercial rents in London has risen at about the same scale and pace as domestic rates in Greater London for that period. Owners of property have to pay rents, but it should be remembered by those who bleat about the problem of businesses in London that unless the businesses have bad accountants they pay only half the amount, because they set off the rest against other forms of tax liability.

The other point that must be made is that under this Government London has suffered a substantial reduction in the amount of rate support grant. If one studies the plainest figure possible one sees that in 1979–80 local authorities in London received £695 million in rate support grant, whereas this year, in real terms, they will receive only £407 million, a reduction of 40 per cent. Such reductions have applied throughout the whole period of this Government, and that is one of the main reasons why rates have risen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) prayed in aid Benjamin Disraeli, the most distinguished politician to have been born in my constituency. I remind my hon. Friend that one of the most famous things Disraeli said was that the Tory party was "an organised hypocrisy".

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) went on at great length about rate levels in London and the burden that they imposed upon London ratepayers and businesses. He asserted that the abolition of the GLC would save enormous sums of money. I have found out that the present Secretary of State for Education and Science, when introducing the Bill that brought about the establishment of the GLC and the Inner London education authority, asserted that they would save money. When he was reorganising the Health Service, he asserted that that would save money. He will no doubt assert now that changing the arrangements for the Inner London education authority will save money.

In the same way, a number of Conservative Members have asserted that the privatisation policy of Birmingham city council has already saved money, despite the fact that what the council has done has been to make arrangements for forthcoming years. Conservatives are very strong on assertion about privatisation and the reorganisation of local government structures but not so strong on delivery, as people will gradually find out.

A number of my hon. Friends have referred at considerable length to the problems confronting London, faced with a Government who are determined to transform London's local government. I do not care a jot about forms of government. I and my hon. Friends are concerned about the services provided by those forms. We are concerned about the services provided by local government in London for those who are worst off. We are concerned about those services which make London a place in which people can work, enjoy themselves, have decent housing and be sure that their children will have good education opportunities. We are not wedded for ever and a day to any form of local government. We are, however, wedded to the concept that most services are best provided by locally elected bodies consisting of directly elected local representatives.

The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) appears to be disagreeing with me. I do not know whether he represents a greater London constituency. If he does not he should remember that under the present Government the bulk of services in those areas will always be controlled by directly elected representatives. If he represents a greater London constituency, let him consider whether there is anything wrong with the people of inner London. Are they incapable of coming to a sane decision in directly electing the people who will form their education authority? Do they lack the capacity that the people of Hampshire, Dorset or Richmond possess? Are they incapable of judging whether the present authority and the present arrangements are good enough for their children? I think that they are capable of making that judgment.

On one occasion they made the wrong decision, when they voted out the Labour-controlled Inner London education authority—[Interruption.] It was a regrettable decision, but, being a democratic party, we happily accepted it and did not suggest that simply because, for once, we had lost control of that authority we would set aside the whole democratic procedure and install either appointed boards, or indirectly elected bodies, as the Government propose.

One of our citizens' biggest problems is to find out who is responsible for providing, or failing to provide, the services on which they, their families and neighbours depend. The best way of resolving that problem is to give them the opportunity directly to elect such people. If they do not like them, they can directly elect someone else.

If the proposed changes are made, Conservative Members should consider the problems that will arise for those who are not particularly well informed about the structures of government and for those in inner London who think that there is something wrong with their children's schooling. They will not know who to go to. There will no longer be directly elected members of the Inner London education authority to turn to. If the Government's proposals are accepted, nominations will be made by the borough council out of 60 or 70 members. Most of their names will remain quite unknown to local people. They will be nominated to that body by the local council. There is no merit in such indirect appointments.They will only confuse the issue for ordinary people.

It is ironic that a unitary education authority for what is now inner London was one of the first public bodies for which most people had the right to vote. Indeed, women also had a right to sit on it. Since 1870 the ordinary people and parents of inner London have had the right to elect and subsequently "dis-elect" their education authority. They have directly exercised that right while bearing in mind the interests—as they perceived them—of their children. They may not always have reached wise decisions, but at least they had the opportunity to make them.

The Government propose to do away with that right. That will not benefit anyone. In the short term it may benefit the Conservative party, but in the long term the links of responsibility between the ordinary people, their representatives and those in authority will be weakened and damaged, together with the service that the education authority provides. I hope that hon. Members will think about that and that those who represent constituencies outside London will consider whether they would like it if the members of their education authorities were no longer directly elected by them, their friends and neighbours. I believe that they would thank that wrong.

The people of inner London think that this is wrong, and the Labour party thinks that that is wrong, and we hope to convince the people of London so well that we shall be able to resist that threat to ILEA. Despite all its shortcomings—and God knows it has a lot of them—and all the things that need to be done to improve the standard of the education service in London, the people of London treasure ILEA, just as they previously treasured the London county council and the London board of education—[Interruption.] Conservative Members may laugh, but they will eventually laugh on the other side of their faces.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.