Greater London Council (Money) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:09 pm on 11th July 1983.

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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.