Greater London Council (Money) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:37 pm on 11th July 1983.

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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.