Inner City Areas

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:40 am on 6th March 1987.

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Photo of Mr Fred Silvester Mr Fred Silvester , Manchester, Withington 11:40 am, 6th March 1987

Like his hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) has displayed an attitude of mind that makes the wording of the motion a mistake. We could be discussing the inner cities on a much better motion. I shall return to that point later. Most hon. Members who have been considering this problem for some time will recollect that if, as the hon. Member for Tooting suggested, one takes the year 2,000—13 years hence—and then projects 13 years back to 1974, most of us were then taking part in similar discussions making similar analyses and writing similar pamphlets about the questions that were then facing the inner cities. It does not matter whether it is the Audit Commission, the Archbishop of Canterbury's report or that of the Manchester chamber of commerce; they all make the same analysis and come up with a similar list of problems.

We know that there has been a change in the industrial structure of the inner cities and that transport changes have affected the inner cities. People have moved out to the greener pastures of the suburbs. We know also that there has been an erosion of the rate base. All these problems have created the doughnut effect in the inner cities. That is not unique to this country. We have drawn on the experience of the United States and other countries which face similar problems.

Unlike the speeches of the hon. Members for Tooting and for Tyne Bridge, this motion is depressing because the problem has been placed in the context of a party political ding-dong. The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge smiles, but let me deal with what I believe to be a very important point. If one considers what has happened during the last 10 years or so to inner city policies one realises that most of the new initiatives have tried to achieve two objectives. They have tried to isolate as far as possible the practical activities that are designed to help the people who live in the inner cities from the cut and thrust of political ideology. They have also tried to involve private capital and voluntary as well as political bodies. The objective has been to initiate united and continuous activities. That is the first and most important lesson that we should learn about the inner cities. It is no use continuously analysing the problem and coming up with new proposals. It is important that those who are involved with the problems should be able to rely upon a continuity of activities.

Secondly, we now realise that the problems involved will cost a great deal of money to solve but that sums of money are not necessarily the only answer to them and that very large sums of money can be very unwisely spent and produce undesirable consequences. The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge referred to the housing developments of the 1950s and 1960s. He should not try to rewrite history and suggest that those developments were suddenly imposed upon councils. A certain attitude of mind pervaded local councils just as much as it pervaded the attitude of central Government. Many of the problems that arose from the planning to which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Sir R. Eyre) referred were in the minds of all those who were involved. Huge sums of money were spent on estates that are now the slums of our modern towns. Very large sums of money will be needed to put right those problems.

Apart from asking whether the money is there, we have to ask whether it is being spent wisely and in the light of experience. There has been a very great increase in the amount of money that is spent upon the urban development programme while this Government have been in power. That is quite different from the argument about the general funding of local government which affects the inner cities and the shire counties and other areas. Urban programme money is specifically targeted on the problems that face the inner cities, and it is that money to which we have to address our minds.

We have learnt that by means of the urban development programmes we can bring together both private and public money. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said that the docklands development is attracting a 6:1 ratio of private and public money. That is an excellent development. The Americans were there before us; they have been developing these schemes with great success. There has been a similar scheme in Liverpool. I am very pleased that the Government have introduced such a scheme in Trafford. I wish it well—as, indeed, do all the political parties.

What do we learn from all this activity? We learn not that we need to go round and round the same course arguing whether this party did this and whether another party did the other. Of course there are strong political divides. In her excellent maiden speech the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) referred to the Inner London education authority. ILEA's policies are causing great problems that are having an effect upon the training of young people and therefore on the possibility of their obtaining jobs. That tough political issue will have to be fought out. There will be arguments as to whether or not it is better for council services to be privatised or to be run by local councils. I am not suggesting naively that we can pretend that these political issues will not divide us, but we have demonstrated that it is possible to deal together with some of the practical issues. The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge referred to Newcastle. That is a perfect example of people of different political persuasions working together to produce what I might describe as an insulated activity so that an attack on a particular problem is successful and can be made to last from one generation to another. It will take a very long time to overcome these problems.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) referred to new problems that affect London but not Manchester. Those problems are caused by a city that is over expanding and therefore suffering the penalty of too much money being sucked in. New problems will have to be tackled in the same way.

I hope that it will be possible for us gradually to achieve a common policy which can be accepted, even if it means compromises. I shall give an example. There is no doubt that housing is one of the key problems in the inner cities. Everyone's analysis agrees, and we have reports coming out of our ears. We know that one problem is how to find rented accommodation which is at a reasonable price, in a reasonable state and is freely available, so that people are not on a waiting list, do not have to join a queue and go through the paraphernalia of the points system of a local authority housing department—in other words, a fluid, free and active private rented sector.

The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge said that many private houses are empty. Of course they are. It is difficult to persuade people in Manchester if a property comes on the market to keep it as rented accommodation and not to sell it off into private ownership. But there will never be reform unless people feel sufficiently confident that, if there is a change of Government, their reform will continue. There must be a means whereby parties come together in a compromise to provide stability in central areas. Unless that is done, there will not be the investment and change that will open the way to people having a housing choice.