National Resources

Part of Orders of the Day — Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 9:08 pm on 2nd July 1987.

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Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Bethnal Green and Stepney 9:08 pm, 2nd July 1987

There is no convincing evidence that the movement of people of this type from Britain to overseas universities and research institutes is governed by the levels of taxation in the United Kingdom. [Interruption.] I suggest that sceptical Conservative Members read the report because there the principal causes are enumerated as a result of the survey of the Royal Society's membership. By far the greatest factor is the lack of facilities and career opportunities. Those are the points that the society stressed, and I believe those to be true.

The Government's response is characteristically perverse. For years they have been cutting grants to research councils and to universities, with a minor relief announced just before the recent general election. Only yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the downgrading of Neddy, both in terms of its staff and the frequency of its meetings.

I turn now to the second of the major threats, as I see it, that we face, and that is the slowdown in economic growth among the industrialised countries. The OECD's latest projections are for a 2·5 per cent. growth in 1987, and the same figure for 1988. This is well below the productive potential of the OECD countries. Therefore, we shall see a corresponding rise in unemployment. Just as bad, the slowdown in economic growth in the industrial countries will lead to a fall-off in demand for the raw materials and other products of the developing world. How, in those conditions—and the point was made very well by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath)—the debt-laden Third world countries can continue to service their debts out of export earnings no one is able to see.

The dangers of major default, with all the implications that that would have for the western banking system, are greater now than they have been for the past five years. That is not just my judgment, but the judgment of people best qualified to give such an opinion. Those were the main items on the agenda at the summit of the Seven at Venice on 9 and 10 June. They deserved from the British Government much more than an election photo call visit by the Prime Minister and much more urgency than the Chancellor of the Exchequer showed in his speech today.

I turn now to the use of our resources to help, as our amendment puts it, the "areas of greatest need". The Prime Minister announced on the morrow of polling day that it was the inner cities that were now to be the main focus of Government policy. Heaven knows, they need to be. Ten years ago the last Labour Government made their priority the launching of a new inner-city policy involving the creation of the so-called partnership and programme authorities. Those areas were identified from objective indices of social and economic need. Those were the areas where cumulative disadvantage in terms of high unemployment, bad housing, environmental decay, population imbalances, single-parent families, unskilled labour, low education attainment and concentrations of New Commonwealth immigrants were to be found.

In the partnership areas, we identified the rotting cores of our great conurbations — inner Liverpool, inner Manchester Salford, inner Birmingham, inner Newcastle, Gateshead, and inner London — Lambeth, Islington, Hackney and the five dockland boroughs.

The Government have not disputed our judgment about those priority areas. Each of the conurbation areas has been accepted by them as an area of special need, and so have all the programme authorities as well. Because those were the areas of the greatest need, the Labour Government's policy was based upon targeting Government resources to assist them. Greater needs inevitably involve greater expenditure.

During the past eight years the Prime Minister has taken exactly the opposite view. Higher expenditure has been taken, not as evidence of need, but as evidence of gross extravagance and incompetence. They have been fined, abused and pilloried as a consequence. It is an astonishing fact that it is exactly those areas of greatest need—that point is not in dispute—that have had the most harsh reductions in rate support grant, with no fewer than 11 of those 14 local authorities rate-capped to make sure that they cannot meet the needs of their own people. It is here, too, in those 14 local authority partnership areas, that the Government have imposed the most catastrophic cuts in housing investment programmes. Let me illustrate what that means.

In the seven partnership areas to which I have referred, 14,000 new local authority homes were built on average in each year from 1975 to 1980. In the last five years, from 1982 to 1986, no more than 4,000 new homes were completed on average each year. Thus, in the las five years alone, these inner city areas have lost some 50,000 new homes which could have been provided if the Labour Government's rate of completions had been sustained. Is there any surprise that there should be a housing crisis in our inner cities today, and can there be any reasonable doubt about why the number of homeless people has doubled in the past eight years? It is no good the Government saying that the private sector completions have made good the loss; they have not.

Yesterday, the Prince of Wales visited my borough of Tower Hamlets and he was appalled by what he saw. In his words, the people of the area are working and living in conditions almost as bad as those on the Indian Sub-continent. It really is not acceptable. In Tower Hamlets alone, not a single new local authority home for rent has been completed in the past two years. Over 1,000 families are living in bed and breakfast accommodation and more than 10,000 urgent cases are on the housing waiting list.

There is something indecent, as well as unacceptable, in the fact that in that same borough, where some of the worst housing conditions in Britain prevail, homes in its dockland area, with a starting price of over £90,000, are freely available. Freely for whom? Not for my constituents, but for people who have the wealth and the savings that enable them to buy those new dockland houses. That, apparently, is what the Prime Minister means by freedom of choice. It is a bogus, spurious freedom of choice. So much for the past eight years.

What new initiatives are the Government now proposing for the inner cities? As the Prime Minister put it in a television interview on 12 June, the whole of the point about the housing and education was to bring increasing prosperity to some of those very people in inner cities who feel they are trapped and that is why I want to bring it forward as fast as possible. Does the right hon. Lady really think that permitting tenants on council estates to choose a different landlord will in itself lead to improvement in the conditions they face? Of course not. She must have in mind precisely the provision of extra funds for improvement and modernisation of those old estates—the very funds which she has denied the local councils through her cuts in housing investment programmes.

Again, does the Prime Minister really believe that by allowing the most favoured schools to opt out of the local education authorities she will be doing anything to improve the conditions of the great majority of schools in the local authority areas? Does the Prime Minister think that by allowing individual London boroughs to opt out she will do anything other than wreck the ILEA? If Wandsworth, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster and the City pull out of the ILEA as they have clearly said that they will, they will take 21 per cent. of the school population with them and more than 60 per cent. of ILEA's funds.