Orders of the Day — Local Government and Transport

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:24 pm on 7th November 1984.

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Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment 4:24 pm, 7th November 1984

I am not giving way.

There is no evidence to support what the Secretary of State for the Environment is proposing, nor is there any evidence that public opinion, let alone the opinion of his Conservative colleague from Wanstead and Woodford.. is on his side. It is claimed that these proposals return accountability to the people and powers to the boroughs, but there is no evidence to support that either.

Indeed, it now appears that, in their haste, the Government are moving into even further difficulties because organisations such as the Greater London Enterprise Board, the joint police boards, the fire boards, and perhaps others will be involved, and there is a danger that the Bill may turn out to be a hybrid Bill. I hope, in spite of what the Secretary of State for the Environment said, that the Government's proposals for all these matters will be spelt out in detail in the Bill and not left to be subject to enabling powers at some later date. That would be an abuse of Parliament and of the procedures of the House.

The Government have produced no case for the abolition of the metropolitan counties and the GLC. Their original figures for savings have disappeared without trace, and even the Treasury—so we learn from documents leaked to The Guardian a few weeks ago—does not believe that any savings will result, unless there are major reductions in services and major job losses, in what the Treasury euphemistically describes as strict manpower control. The reality seems to be, as was pointed out in the inquiry and investigation instigated by the metropolitan counties and carried out by Coopers and Lybrand, that the Government's only effective options are to cut services, to raise rates, to disguise rate rises by so-called safety nets or to subsidise the boroughs in some other way.

In none of this can it be argued that powers are being returned to the electors or to the boroughs concerned. There will be no increase in local accountability. There will be more centralisation of control. There will be no saving of money for the ratepayers, and there will be no more effective delivery of services—the contrary is likely to be the case.

Even the London and south-east regional planning conference, much lauded by the Minister for Local Government, had this to say about the Government's proposals in a recent letter. Mr. B.T. Buckle, the secretary of the conference, said: It has become clear that the principal effect of the proposal so far as planning is concerned would be to make the Secretary of State the strategic planning authority for Greater London but without the obligation to prepare an overall and detailed scrutiny through an examination in public. So much for the claims about public inquiries. Mr. Buckle continues: This would be an outcome which this conference would deplore. Mr. Buckle is quite right.

The Secretary of State said little about services and jobs, and virtually nothing about housing. That is not surprising because in housing the Government's record is shameful and appalling. There is a real housing crisis. Some 78,000 households were accepted as homeless in England in 1983, and the figure has since increased. Over 1 million households are currently on local authority waiting lists in Britain. Over 190,000 households were living in overcrowded accommodation in 1983. Over 190,000 sheltered dwellings were still needed in England to meet the urgent needs of elderly people. Thousands of dwellings were needed for people who are disabled and unable to look after themselves physically. Over 1 million dwellings were unfit for human habitation. Over 390,000 houses lack one or more basic amenity. Over 500,000 houses required repairs costing more than £7,000. Over 2,500,000 dwellings required repairs costing up to £7,000 and over 1,500,000 million dwellings suffered from major design defects.

The crisis has been exacerbated by the annual reductions in the housing investment programme allocation, which is now down by 70 per cent. in real terms since 1978–79. It is a scandal. Ignoring inflation, for every £100 spent on public housing in 1974–75, only £65 will be spent in the current financial year.

The reality is that not only is this an appalling record, but it is increasingly recognised as such right across the spectrum—by the building and construction industry, by the Building Employers Confederation, by the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors, by the Royal Institute of British Architects, by the National Council of Building Material Producers and even, this week, by the CBI. As the Financial Times said recently: As business failures continue at record levels in this country, bankruptcies increased most steeply in the building and construction industry. Those are the real measures of the Government's approach to building and construction.