I beg to move,
That this House condemns the growing division between rich and poor in London; deplores the damaging effects of poverty on the health and welfare of the worst-off Londoners, which is reducing their chances of decent homes, worthwhile jobs, sound education and satisfying leisure; recognises that this will be made much worse by the Government's poll tax, Housing, Education and Finance Bills; notes the contrasting luxury of the rich who have benefited so much from this Government's policies; and calls for new policies to secure for all Londoners the benefits enjoyed under this Government by the privileged few.
It would be difficult for anyone in possession of his senses to deny that our capital city at the moment presents a sharp contrast between those who are doing well and those who are not. On the one hand we see people who are affluent and arrogant revelling in a display of wealth both tasteless and joyless, while on the other we see people degraded and demoralised, with no jobs, no homes and no hope. All that would be bad enough if it were the accidental by-product of circumstances beyond human control, but it is not. It is the direct product of Government action and Government inaction.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You informed us that a number of hon. Members wished to take part in the debate. As only two hon. Members representing London constituencies are present, would it be in order to adjourn the debate for a short time so that more hon. Members can come into the Chamber to participate in the debate?
It seems to me that it is a gross abuse of the House for a Tory Whip to go to the Back Benches and ask his hon. Friend to raise a false point of order.
Nowhere is the contrast between rich and poor greater than that between those who have a pleasant home of their own and those who have no homes of their own and are forced to share with parents or in-laws or dwell in squalor. No fewer than 15,000 families in London are officially homeless. About half those families live in bed-and- breakfast hotels. For most of them, their lives are like hell on earth.
Conservative Members need not take my word for it. A recent report by the British Medical Association stated:
Even if hotel accommodation is in good order, it is rarely appropriate to the needs of young children. It is difficult to maintain hygiene while washing, eating and sleeping in one overcrowded room. High levels of gastroenteritis, skin disorders and chest infections have been reported … The stress … undermines parents' relationships with each other and their children. Normal child development is impaired through lack of space for safe play and exploration. High rates of accidents to children have been reported.
That is not a report on the Third world. The people described are our fellow citizens living today within two or three miles of the House, and we should all be ashamed of ourselves.
Thousands more of our fellow citizens in London are living in overcrowded homes. Thousands of young people with children are sharing with their parents or in-laws. The Government have put the clock back. Once again many poorer families are living with three or four generations in one crowded house or flat. To put that right, the Government will have to spend more money on housing.
Mr. Speaker asked us to keep our speeches to a minimum so that everybody could have an opportunity to speak, and I shall stick to that request.
With all the recent preaching that we have heard from the Prime Minister about the need for Christian virtues, we might have hoped that the precepts of the New Testament would illuminate the Government's housing policy, but I suppose that we can hardly expect the Prime Minister to practise what she preaches. Nevertheless, it was the Prime Minister who, in 1980, shocked the Sunday audience of "Weekend World" with the statement:
Nobody would have remembered the Good Samaritan if he'd only had good intentions. He had money too".
The recent Budget showed that the Government have the money but lack the good intentions. At least the Levite and the priest confined themselves to passing by on the other side. The Government are actually making matters worse. The only characters in the parable of the good Samaritan whom the Government resemble are the thieves who mugged the poor traveller in the first place.
No, I shall not give way—that would not help at all.
The housing crisis did not happen by accident. Much of it is a direct result of Government policies. In 1979 councils and housing associations in London started to build nearly 11,000 homes.
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but it is the only time that I shall give way to a Conservative Member.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he agree that, although the good Samaritan did indeed have a kind heart, what was of more practical significance was the fact that he had two pence in his pocket? Was not my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister therefore making a quite legitimate point?
If the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), who is of course entitled to intervene in this debate about London, had listened to what I had said, he would know that the Prime Minister said:
Nobody would have remembered the Good Samaritan if he'd only had good intentions.
People remember the good Samaritan because Jesus Christ preached a parable about him. It is not a question whether he had money or good intentions—the story appears in the Bible because somebody preached the parable. To suggest, as the Prime Minister did, and as the hon. Member for Eastbourne does, that that parable would not have been remembered if there had not been money around is preposterous. We can assume that the Levite and the priest had money, and that they passed by on the other side, and that what were missing were good intentions. That is precisely what the Government are lacking.
Subsidies have been cut and rents have soared. As now, the highest council rents in London in 1979 were charged by Kensington and Chelsea borough council. In 1979, its average rent was £13 a week. It is now £33 a week, but that is nothing on the private sector, where rents of £300 a week have been sought for three-bedroom flats. One-bedroom flats can command more than £100 a week, and £115 a week was recently registered as a fair rent for a three-bedroom maisonette.
Rents have risen, but house prices have soared. In some parts of central London very ordinary flats go for as much as £250,000, and one-bedroom flats go for £100,000. Most people on average incomes in London have been priced out of the house buying market. How many nurses, bus drivers or teachers can afford the current prices? By contrast, some of those who have benefited most from the Budget are doing very well and their extra wealth contributes to the house price spiral which does so much damage to people who are less well off than they are.
Conservative Members need not take my word for that, either. Last week, from a profession to which the Conservative party appears to be entirely devoted—the estate agents—came a letter through the letter boxes of Kensington. It said that one single factor had contributed most to the buoyancy of the recent London property market, and that was the Budget. It went on to say:
The lowering of the top rates of tax has resulted in a large increase in the disposable income of those who command salaries between £40,000 a year and £50,000 per annum … In consequence the considerable demand for quality flats and houses is in part fuelled by many people who are seeking to trade up. The demand for quality family houses with gardens in all price ranges is especially high.
What a record combination the Government have put together for housing Londoners: record low house building, record high rents and record high prices, combined with record levels of homelessness and of overcrowding, in modern times.
The Housing Bill will make matters worse. In the time available I shall not repeat the arguments put so forcefully over the months by my hon. Friends—especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), who has done such sterling work. I shall merely remind the House of what happened the last time the Tories put their faith in private landlords. Kensington contributed a new word to the English language, for it was in Notting Hill, following previous Tory attempts to bring market forces back into housing, that the crooked landlord Rachman used harassment and physical violence against his tenants to such effect that the whole squalid process was named after him. Between them, the new Housing and Finance Bills will not only conjure Rachman's spirit from the grave, but will give it a tax incentive to come out and haunt us again.
In many parts of London today we see much building work on areas of derelict land. In a decently ordered society, the priority for that land would be the needs of the local communities that surround it. What are the priorities for the development of such land, whether in docklands or behind King's Cross station in my constituency? Are they to be homes for local people, parks and playgrounds for their children, hospitals and clinics or jobs that local people will be able to take up? Not likely. Under the new dispensation the local community comes last.
The main use for property now is property speculation, which has caused a fivefold increase in land prices in London. The property speculators now decide what gets built, and if anyone objects the Government back the speculators. Not for them any finely balanced judgments of local housing versus a local park or local industry. The first priority is profits for the speculators, which rise in direct proportion to the damage that they do to the rest of society.
If any Conservative Members challenge my views on this I recommend that they read what Winston Churchill said about property speculators in 1909 ——
Who are these speculators? Are they especially well equipped to take the decisions on what should be built where in our capital city? I have always believed that many of them are crooks, but apparently the Government have great faith in them. On 7 March this year the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Minister responsible for inner cities told a press conference:
Business men in the past … provided the leadership that made their cities great … It can be done again … Our business men today have the resources, the expertise and … the commitment to help the Government to make lasting changes in our Inner Cities.
I wonder whether that golden vision of civic leadership was what inspired the Brink's-Mat bullion thieves to invest their loot in docklands. I know that Proudhon said that property is theft, but this is ridiculous. Surely Ministers do not expect us to believe that these rich thieves took courses in urban design before putting their money into Cyclops wharf. Instead of undeveloped land being used to help the whole community, it is being exploited to benefit a few rich property sharks and their friends in the Tory party.
If the housing and planning system is penalising the poor and benefiting the best off, what is happening to education, for education is one way in which a whole society, or a few individuals, can improve their prosperity and prospects? Here again the Government are hammering the schools used by most London children and at the same time increasing public subsidies to private schools. Worst of all, many caring education authorities are being forced to reduce their efforts to help the poorest children most. Units for children with special learning difficulties have had their staffs reduced. Grants to help poorer children stay on at school are being cut or are under threat, and it is the same with clothing grants and grants for school trips.
School meals were described by The Lancet as the "sheet anchor" of child nutrition. When the Government came to power, about half of London's schoolchildren could afford to buy a school meal. Tory education authorities, encouraged by the Government, raised prices of meals from 25p to as much as 75p and as a result, by last autumn, only one third of London's children could afford to buy a school meal. To its everlasting credit, the Inner London education authority—whatever the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) may say about it —and the Labour outer London boroughs struggled to keep their prices down. They also used their discretion to give wide entitlement to free school meals, but the social security changes have put an end to that.
From April this year, at least 34,000 children in London have lost their entitlement to free school meals. Two thirds of those children got nothing in place of their free meal, while the parents of the rest got anything between 66p and 38p a week instead of a free school meal. In contrast, schools for the well-off are receiving more and more subsidies—for example, through the assisted places scheme. Recently we have even had to endure the graceless spectacle of some of these academies for the grasping qualifying to receive cheap food from the Euro-surpluses.
On top of that, the Education Reform Bill, by abolishing ILEA, will impose further years of turmoil on London's schools and children. Teachers, who should be concentrating on the job of teaching, will be distracted by wondering whether they will have a job at all. At the same time, the Government will insist that less and less is spent on the schooling of London's children. All those decisions are being taken by Ministers who spend more and more on the private education of their own children.
When it comes to health care, the contrast between rich and poor grows more stark in London every day. When the Government came to power, the number of NHS beds in London was 64,000 and the hospital waiting lists—far too high—totalled 104,000. The number of beds has been cut to 52,000, but the number of Londoners waiting for operations has soared to 133,000. Those figures are not and statistics: they are lists of human beings suffering pain and misery.
While the Government cuts have reduced the number of beds in the NHS, Government encouragement and subsidies from the taxpayer have expanded the number of beds in private hospitals in London from 1,900 to 3,200. That is all very well for those who can pay, but it is no help to those who cannot. The cost of private health insurance is way beyond the reach of the less well-off. The extra private hospital beds in London have actually extended NHS waiting lists, because most of the work at the private hospitals is done by doctors moonlighting from the NHS.
By the Government's calculations, the 10 most deprived local authority areas in England are all in London. Needless to say, Government support to help local councils to maintain and improve services to local people has been reduced. More reductions are promised.
Whilst average incomes have continued to increase, the gap between the poorest and the more affluent has widened. The difference is most marked in London, where real incomes of the poorest households have gone down by 17 per cent. and real incomes of the highest households have increased by 18 per cent.
The social security changes did not just deprive 34,000 London children of a free school meal. They took money from tens of thousands on housing benefit and hammered the worst-off most of all. Families who used to get single payments to help them over a crisis no longer qualify. A family, after a year in bed and breakfast, still needs help to get a few sticks of furniture together, but now such families are not entitled to a grant. They have to go cap in hand to apply for a discretionary grant from the social fund. This was introduced to cut the money available to help such people.
The Ministers concerned must be proud of their handiwork. "Didn't they do well?" Grants under the social fund in London in May this year total just 6 per cent. of the average monthly grants made before the system was changed—a mean 94 per cent. cut in grants for those in desperate need. Meanwhile, the Budget poured millions into the pockets of the rich and the Finance Bill is strewn with more tax loopholes for them to exploit, including extending the business enterprise scheme to promote Rachmanite landlords.
In the end, Londoners do not want welfare. They want to be able to fend for themselves. Above all they want jobs, well paid and decent jobs. When the Government came to power, 136,000 Londoners were out of work. The London total in the prosperous south-east now stands at 311,000. Despite the massive increases in schemes of one sort or another, that includes 91,000 young Londoners who are starting their would-be working life without the money and self-respect that go with a job.
What of the people in work? Some salaries in the City are ludicrous and indefensible, with people getting paid more in a week than a qualified nurse gets for a whole year. It costs a lot of money to live in central London. Again, Tory Members need not take my word for it. They can take the word of a former Cabinet member, Lord Gowrie, who resigned from the Government because £33,000 a year was not enough for him to live on in central London. Is that is so, and he has not resigned from the Tory party, how do he and his friends expect one of the firefighters who did their gallant duty at King's Cross to get by in central London on £13,000 a year?
Many people in central London now rely on casual and part-time work—work that usually means insecurity, poor pay and bad working conditions. Contrast that with the situation in the City, where gilded youths flit from job to job with golden handshakes both when they start and when they finish.
Perhaps they should be gelded, and we would have fewer of them in future.
On top of all that, Londoners face the poll tax. The poll tax is a deliberate attempt by the better-off to transfer the burden of local taxation on to the shoulders of people worse off than themselves. It is an effort by the well-off to abandon their obligations to their fellow citizens. It is bound to add to the growing divisions between rich and poor in London and throughout the whole of Britain.
What sort of society have the Government helped to create in London? It is a society in which old people are afraid to go out at night, drug addiction is at record levels, racial attacks fill fellow citizens with fear, violence and vandalism are commonplace, and the streets are filthy.
The Tory creed of greed worsens old wrongs. Their worship of selfishness mocks those who feel some responsibility for their fellow citizens. It stifles the generous instincts of ordinary Londoners, but it cannot stamp out concern for family, friends, neighbours and whole communities. All over London those concerns are growing. The Government will not be able to ignore them much longer. If they were to ignore them, it would be not so much at their peril, but at our peril, because as Abraham Lincoln said:
A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Our capital city is now socially the most divided in Europe. We wish to unite it and give everyone a common faith in our city, but we will never achieve it while we have this Government.
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the question and to add instead thereof:
'congratulates the Government on those economic and social policies which have created conditions in London in which real incomes are rising; notes, with particular satisfaction, that between 1981 and 1985 the real incomes of the poorest rose faster than average; endorses the Government's policies to alleviate inner city deprivation in London through the programmes set out in Action for Cities, including economic regeneration through the encouragement of enterprise, employment and training, improved housing, through such programmes as estate action, the establishment of Housing Action Trusts and the extension of the role of housing associations, education and revitalising the urban environment.'.
I take part in this debate, as does the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), as someone representing a London constituency. I am a Londoner, having been born, educated and earned my living in the centre of London. I did not recognise the hon. Gentleman's description of London. I did not recognise it. because it does not exist—it is a fantasy.
I know about the Embankment; I have been more concerned about the homeless and down-and-outs in London than the hon. Gentleman has during his political career. I have played my part in trying to alleviate their plight. I shall have a word or two to say about the homeless and where the blame for homelessness in London should lie. I advise the hon. Gentleman to hold his horses for a moment.
I have considerable admiration for the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras. His contributions are refreshingly frank. On television recently—perhaps he will correct me if I have his words wrong—someone suggested to him that the Labour party had lost the general election because of a muddle over defence policy, and he said. "No, we lost it because no one believed that we could run a whelk stall." It is 12 months since the Labour party lost that election, and I wonder how much its position has improved in the intervening 12 months.
I was disappointed that we had an ideological tirade from the hon. Gentleman. He should go out and look at London today and see whether private landlordism or public landlordism has contributed more to the squalor of our capital city, and decide where the right lies.
I recognise that the probable reason for this debate today is the by-election in Kensington the day after tomorrow. I look forward with some relish to the result on Thursday night, and perhaps some of the contributions will help to ensure that the Tory candidate wins that by-election. It is interesting that in the first by-election in this Parliament—in a Tory "marginal" seat, with a majority of about 4,500—the Leader of the Opposition swans off abroad, leaving behind the smiling predator for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). I would not leave the country with the hon. Member for Brent, East hanging around Parliament.
The Leader of the Opposition deserves the Milton Obote prize for overweening self-confidence. But perhaps he was accurately predicting the result of the by-election on Thursday and, as he would not want to comment on it, he thought he should be several thousand miles away.
I am a Minister in the Department of Health and Social Security, and eventually the decision on the restructuring of the hospitals in that part of London will have to come to the DHSS for ministerial decision. It would not be proper for me to judge that in advance of the decision that my Secretary of State will have to make in due course.
The Labour party's approach to this election was well heralded in the title of its motion, "Inequalities in London"—the Labour party's old obsession with equality rather than the quality of life. It is interested not in maximising human life chances and increasing people's choices about their lives, but rather in the drive for equality at all costs, despite the lessons that it should have learnt from its past about the direction in which that policy——
If the Minister is concerned about equality, can he justify, and say whether he agrees with, the fact that between 1976 and 1987 the gap between the average earnings of the top and the bottom 10 per cent. in London increased by 50 per cent.?
I shall deal in some detail with equality and the increasing standards of living at the higher and lower levels later in my speech.
Nationally, we have the option of one party or the other being in office. But in London local government, we have the benefit of seeing two separate ideologies at work, two different political philosophies——
The hon. Gentleman's party multiplies so often that it is difficult to tell how many there are at any one moment.
Let us contrast how the two main parties approach their task. The main local authorities dominated by the Labour party are characterised by extravagance, loony left nonsense and absolute contempt for the interests of the ratepayers in their boroughs. Last year, Brent overspent by £104 for every adult in the borough; Camden by £352; Ealing by £100; Greenwich by £178; Hackney by £263; Haringey by £151; and Lewisham by £246. None was underfunded.
Compare that with what happens in Kensington and Chelsea. Three years ago, the council reduced its rates by 30 per cent. It has held its rates steady ever since and provided a first-class service to its ratepayers. It has given a good, effective service and looks forward to the savings that it will make in the not-too-distant future when at last we remove the burden of the Inner London education authority from its back.
If the Minister believes that the Labour local authorities are betraying their ratepayers, can he explain why at the previous local elections, the London borough of Newham returned 60 Labour councillors and none from other parties? How did we betray the electors there?
I contrast that with our recent victories in two by-elections in Hackney— [Interruption.] We do not have a universal pattern. In some parts of London, at last Labour voters can see the advantages that Conservative administrations can bring them—the freedom to move away from the dull dependence on public landlords and Labour authorities.
I was talking about the prospect of removing the Inner London education authority from the backs of London voters. About 20 per cent. of the school leavers in ILEA leave school with no graded exam results, compared with an English average of half that figure. In 1987–88, ILEA expenditure was 75 per cent. above its grant-related expenditure. If it is argued that ILEA must deal with special inner-city problems in its schools, I say that ILEA spends 50 per cent. more per secondary school pupil than outer London boroughs, and 60 per cent. more than Birmingham, which has similar problems.
The Metropolitan police provides specialist services to a number of other forces. In effect, it is a central police resource as well as being the police force for the metropolitan area. ILEA educates 4 per cent. of the children and uses up 8 per cent. of local authority expenditure on education. Children who enter ILEA schools have IQs of the national average, although twice the national average fail to get grade results at the end of their education.
There is no doubt that, at vast expense, ILEA has been failing the children of inner London. I am confident that, when that education is removed to the boroughs, a much better service will be delivered to those youngsters.
Of course not. The hon. Lady knows that few people face the prospect of change with enthusiasm. They do not like it. They are conservative. With the fears whipped up by the Labour party many people were panicked into thinking that education standards would fall once ILEA was abolished. However, once the new system gets going, no one will want to return to ILEA. Who now worries in London about the death of the Greater London council?
There are one or two.
We have heard a great deal about the down-and-outs, those living rough and the youngsters in London whose numbers, we are told, are increasing. The evidence in the DHSS does not support allegations that the numbers sleeping rough have increased under the new rules. The two main offices in central London dealing with itinerant claimants have found an overall decrease in callers since 11 April. DHSS resettlement units in London still have available for homeless people beds which are not taken up.
is the Minister aware of a pamphlet, which was launched yesterday with all-party support, pointing out the trap into which the single homeless, especially in London, have fallen, because of the social security changes? Income support is paid two weeks in arrears, so people do not have the money to get bed-and-breakfast accommodation. No one will take their word that they will have the money. Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to consider having emergency payments for the single homeless in London and elsewhere?
Evidence of the problem is not apparent to DHSS offices—[Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members could contain themselves for one, brief, shining moment. As reported in The Guardian this morning, I have asked DHSS officials to meet the organisations concerned and to listen carefully to their evidence. Of course we will do that. As I have said about all our social security reforms, we shall monitor carefully and note the impact of changes. As the House will have noticed, we have already made changes to the system of housing benefit and income support to take account of the places where the shoe was pinching unduly harshly.
It comes ill from the Labour party to criticise the Government for failing to help pensioners. The Labour Government presided over levels of inflation which virtually wiped out the savings of pensioners. They failed to pay the Christmas bonus an 1975 and 1976. They failed to honour their commitment to link pensions to earnings——
The hon. Lady cannot remember Labour Governments. Perhaps that is just as well, because some of their actions would certainly not square with her compassion. Labour cut the Health Service, reduced pensions in real terms, and so on. I suspect that, so long as the Labour party retains its present leadership, the hon. Lady will not need to worry about assuming the burdens of office, however charmingly she might do it.
I have no hesitation in saying that in London, as in the rest of the country, we have presided over a situation in which the incomes of pensioners have been rising twice as fast as for the population as a whole. We hope that that process will continue during the period of this Government.
I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman has just marched in and has not heard any of the speeches. I see no reason to give way. I made it clear when I gave way to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) that I wanted to proceed with my speech.
I suppose that quite a lot of statistics will be bandied across the Floor of the Chamber. We know the old definition of statistics. I remember being told by the young lain Macleod when he worked in the Conservative research department that Churchill had sent for him and asked for statistics on infant mortality, when what he wanted was one side of a paper which showed that more babies died under Labour Governments than under Conservative Governments. Nevertheless, there are statistical arguments. The Select Committee on Social Services published a report today, and it would not be right for me to comment on it.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras asked about the outcome of the survey of the living standards of the poorest and the richest. It is right that we should have a clear idea of the authoritative statistics. The first and most authoritative statistics we have derive from the family expenditure survey, which describes the position of all those living in households in the lower half of the income distribution. Those statistics offer a wealth of information and repay careful study— [Interruption.] Hon. Members should listen, because they may just learn something.
There is one important message for the debate: in recent years, the living standards of people in all income groups have been rising substantially. Claims that the poor are getting poorer do not stand up to examination. If the Opposition want to find the facts, table A1 of the households below average income statistics shows that between 1981 and 1985, on average, real incomes for the population as a whole rose by no less than 6·4 per cent.
That in itself is a substantial achievement, but it is clear —although I understand that some Opposition Members may wish to ignore this evidence—that the lowest income groups shared fully in that growing prosperity. Between the same years, those in the lowest tenth of the income distribution saw an increase in average real incomes of more than 8 per cent. while those in the lowest 20 per cent. saw an average real terms increase of 6·6 per cent. Not only have the lowest income groups been sharing in the growing prosperity, but, between those years, they did better than the average.
I started by saying that I failed to recognise the description of London given by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras. The Government's overall economic policies have seen not just our country as a whole but London boom and all sections of London society benefiting from that boom. Average weekly earnings are now the highest in the country and unemployment, which is falling steadily, is below the national average. However, many people in London are hit by high rates and the mismanagement of council housing because of the incompetence and indifference of Labour councils.
In London, GDP per capita rose by 92 per cent. between 1979 and 1986. Average weekly earnings in Greater London rose by 5·8 per cent. between April 1986 and April 1987, to become the highest in the country. That is the London in which we live. Unemployment has fallen by 105,000—more than 25 per cent.—since June 1986, and vacancies are steadily increasing. The story is good and London is performing strongly. Youth unemployment has fallen by 33 per cent. from its peak. Government Departments are spending millions of pounds in supporting the urban programme and a number of projects providing training and employment for many people, especially the young.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras particularly mentioned homelessness. Yes, we suffer from homelessness.
No, as a society we suffer from homelessness. There are 16,000 homeless households in the Greater London area. There are 33,000 empty council homes in the same area—twice as many—and what are local authorities doing to make sure that those empty council properties are brought into use? The Government will make extra capital allocations available to local authorities to help them bring those empty properties into use. Let us hope that they are put to the purpose of solving the problem of homelessness in London.
There is no need for gloom and doom as we contemplate London today. What we need to do is to build on the strength of the economy of this country as a whole and to lift the yoke of Socialism and bureaucracy from the backs of our people, as well as the political ideology of the loony Left councils. We said goodbye to the GLC and nobody shed a tear. Shortly we shall say goodbye to ILEA and nobody will shed a tear except tears of joy as we see education standards improve in our inner city. We are committed to helping all Londoners.
I shall certainly give the hon. Lady the figures. More serious offences involving violence against the person fell by one fifth in 1987, thus making a substantial improvement.
Living standards are now rising sharply in London, not least among the poor. I recognise that the debate is an attempt to influence the outcome of the Kensington by-election. I very much hope that it will and that it will not be too long before Mr. Dudley Fishburn appears at these doors to take his seat. I commend our amendment to the House.
I speak as a London Member, as someone who was born and went to school in London and who has worked in London all her working life. I also speak as someone who is tired and weary of the implicit contempt for the people of the inner city that comes out in every statement from the Conservative Benches.
The Minister said that he did not recognise London from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). Indeed, that would be so—things look different from Chelsea. The Minister talked about figures. He talked about London in the abstract. He talked about GDP. The one thing that he did not talk about was people. I challenge him to come to Hackney, talk to people and ask them, as people, as individuals and as families, whether their GDP has gone up, and whether they feel richer or better off under Thatcherism. I think that he would find that the answer is no.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my point.
As the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, I am particularly well placed for observing growing chasm between rich and poor in London. In Hackney, we have the poorest borough in the country but in the south, at the tip of the borough, we see people who have made billions under Thatcherism. We see the contrast there.
At the most recent general election, the Government expressed a wish to do something for the people of the inner city. The Prime Minister said that the Government must now turn their attention to the inner city. She has turned her attention to it much in the way of Hitler's Luftwaffe. Instead of any concern or measures aimed to help the inner city, my people in Hackney have seen legislation in this Parliament that represents a series of hammer blows to their welfare, the welfare of their children, their standard of living and their hopes for the future.
If the Minister met the two Conservatives who won in New River ward, particularly Mr. Christopher Sills, he would not be sitting there gloating. They do his party no credit. If the Minister met Mr. Sills, the smile would be wiped off his face. In Hackney we are confident that we shall take those seats back at the next borough elections.
I have already given way. I should appreciate the opportunity to develop my argument before I give way again.
As I said, in Hackney, we have seen a series of hammer blows aimed at our welfare and standard of living.
The Government talk about concern for the inner city year after year, but we are rate-capped in Hackney. The pattern of the allocation of the rate support grant over the eight or nine years of Thatcherist rule has resulted. in relative terms, in taking money away from the poorest and the most deprived in the city and giving it to the shires.
In London and the inner cities, we have also seen a Government bent on a spiteful, ideological holy war against areas whose only fault is that they vote Labour. Under the Government and under Tory boroughs in London we have seen the utter degradation of the notion of municipal virtue. Who would have thought that one would see a responsible London borough sell off its cemeteries for 15p? I am waiting for a single Conservative Member to get up and condemn the activities of Westminster council that have earned it the attention of the fraud squad.
After the abolition of ILEA, Hackney will lose £60 million on present figures. I am waiting for a Conservative Member to get up and make a commitment that we shall not lose money in real terms as a result of abolition. With the prospect of abolition, we face a net loss in money terms and the falling apart of the education system.
On housing, the Minister has sneered at inner-London authorities and the number of empty flats. Inner-London Labour authorities would say to the Minister, "When will you give us the money to do up the flats? When will you allow us to spend the full sum of our receipts on doing up those flats?" The Minister's talk about empty flats would be more impressive if the number of council house starts was not at its lowest for many years under this Government. Also under the Government we see moves to deregulate rents in the housing association sector and the private sector.
On the poll tax, in my constituency, which is the poorest area in the country——
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that that was the case.
In the poorest area in London, we shall pay a poll tax of between £500 and £600 a head. Is that fair?
There have been hospital closures all over Hackney with the resultant problems for services and a loss of jobs in the area.
We heard the Minister talk about the elderly. Will he say what I should tell Mr. Fisher, one of my pensioner constituents, who under the housing benefit changes and despite the transitional arrangements, finds himself with a rent that he cannot pay? He is piling up arrears and is facing the prospect of going to prison. What has the Minister to say to thousands of pensioners in London and elsewhere who cannot pay their rents, despite the transitional arrangements, because of the changes in housing benefit?
The Minister talked about maximising life chances—a wonderful phrase. Will the hon. Gentleman tell me how the Government have maximised the life chances of the girls who come to my surgery, who live in overcrowded flats in fungus-ridden tower blocks with no hope, because of the Government's policies, of ever having decent accommodation? Will the Minister tell me how he has maximised the life chances of the skilled men in my constituency who have been made redundant in their 40s and will never work again? Will the Minister tell me how he has maximised the life chances of the young black men in my constituency who face an unemployment level for young black people in Hackney of one in two? Above all, will the Minister tell us all how this Government have maximised the life chances of the hundreds of people who can be seen every night sleeping out in cardboard boxes on the South Bank and the Embankment?
I believe that, if there is one message that should go out to the electors of Notting Hill—and I speak as someone who was born not far from Notting Hill—on the eve of the by-election, it is that we are seeing a Government who have brought about the greatest and most grotesque contrast between rich and poor in London since Victorian times. Above all—and this has particular relevance to Notting Hill—we are seeing a Government as a consequence of whose policies—the systematic draining of money from council housing, the deregulating of rents in the private sector and housing associations, the extension of the business expansion scheme to private landlords—Rachman will walk again in inner London. That is the message that should go out to the electors of Notting Hill.
My hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and the Disabled gave us a very sound analysis of the situation, which certainly brought the debate back to reality, and I want to try to continue that reality. Like him, I can claim to know London and be a Londoner. I have represented an inner London marginal constituency for 18 years. I won my council seat, a Socialist seat, from the late Tony Greenwood, and I want no lessons from the Opposition about knowing the problems of Londoners. I noted very carefully the comments of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), speaking from his normal seated position, which do not help us very much.
The only comment made by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott), when asked why Labour lost two council seats in New River, was to make a vicious personal attack on Christopher Sills, who is a very good councillor and understands the needs of the people. I noticed that she was not able to give the reason. The reason is that people are sick and tired of those who control Hackney from Mare street.
This is a short debate and I shall follow the example —the only time that I am likely to follow his example—of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). I shall give way only once, and then only if I make specific reference to an hon. Member, because I know that a lot of my hon. Friends want to speak.
Of course there is poverty in London. There has always been poverty in London. One has only to look at Hogarth, one has only to read Dickens, to know that full well. There was poverty in London, in the east end, when my grandfather's generation of Jews came over from Russia; there was abject poverty. But those in that generation pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. They wanted no state aid; they wanted no subsidies. That is the contrast between what happened then and what was alleged in "Faith in the City" to be happening.
No, I will not. I have made my position very clear, and I thought that that would have reached even the hon. Gentleman.
A rundown London, recovering from the war, with a policy of building new towns, which in the main took out the young, active workers from London, was accompanied by a general attitude from what was substantially a Socialist London that could be described, as my hon. Friend said, as levelling down. At that time, profits and enterprise were dirty words. Those who thought that way could not see that people had to be set free in order to rise.
I did not interrupt the hon. Lady. Perhaps she might do me the courtesy of not interrupting me.
Winston Churchill had a slogan: set the people free. This was translated into the removal of a mass of controls and restrictions. But, as I want to illustrate a little later, that was not sufficient. He also believed that in the provision of social benefits the ladder to rise out of poverty was perhaps only as important as the safety net to look after the poor, the sick and those who could not help themselves. It took the vision and determination of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to see that the people had to be set free from crippling taxation and that the ladder of opportunity was more important because those climbing it were positively able to help those who still needed the safety net.
What is poverty? It is a combination of deprivation through poor housing, poor health and low incomes—a combination of any or all of these. I should like to analyse those for a moment.
First, let me take poor housing. For almost the entire post-war period London suffered because much of it, particularly inner London, was run by the Labour party, whether the old London county council or the old metropolitan boroughs. My knowledge of the east end of London goes back to fighting seats in Islington, Hackney and Stoke Newington. I know those areas and I know the problems. I saw how people suffered because of the policies adopted by the Labour party in those days. What people wanted in housing was not Ronan Points, but small houses with gardens. I can remember a debate in the House when we were talking about planning in London and blaming the planners for much of the evils of London, and Bob Mellish made it clear that he, like me, endorsed the view that London had been ill served by its planners over those years.
Today, the Labour party has two stock excuses: lack of funds owing to Government policies, and massive homelessness. Both are untrue and largely self-inflicted. If the Labour authorities in London did not have £60 million of uncollected rents, they could do up the 33,000 vacant dwellings without the need to use capital receipts, and rehouse the 16,000 registered homeless. One does not, as all hon. Members—or all hon. Members bar one—know, count arrears of housing rent as capital. It is revenue, and one uses the revenue to do up dilapidated council properties. Thirty-three thousand empty properties, £60 million, 16,000 people—even the Labour party, in spite of the poor education record of ILEA, can do that bit of arithmetic.
On health, all the statistics show that there have been massive improvements. In 1986, the four Thames regions treated 1,792,000 in-patients, compared with 1,610,000 in 1979. They also treated 266,000 day-patients in 1986, compared with 144,000 in 1979 [Interruption.] It is interesting that empty kettles still make the most noise.
In 1979–80, expenditure by the Thames regions was £1·7 billion. In 1986–87, after allowing for inflation, the figure was £3·2 billion, an increase in real terms of over 10 per cent. Had it not been for RAWP, the creature of the Labour party, London would have been even better served. Those two figures put to bed the cant and hypocrisy that we have seen in the past few months from the unions and the Labour party which are trying falsely to claim that under this Government the National Health Service is dying.
The third of my three poverty factors is income. Let us look at the incomes of full-time employees in Greater London. In 1979, average gross earnings were £101·50. In 1987, they had risen to £255·70. If we look at the net amount, we find that in 1979 it was £71·90 and in 1987 it was £169·80. That means that average earnings are up by almost 30 per cent. in real terms. That gives the answer to those that say that Londoners are not doing well.
About 115,000 Londoners have bought their council homes. As those of us who have been in local government know, people are rehoused not according to the size of their bank balance but depending on their housing need. People are slowly—all too slowly—being able to buy their homes and are climbing the ladder, dragging themselves up as they would wish, despite restrictions put on them by authorities such as Camden.
Some of the worst areas of poverty, deprivation and dereliction were in London's docklands which were left to rot for a decade and more because of the interminable internecine battles between the GLC and the London boroughs. The vision of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) enabled us to put into legislation ideas that some of us had put forward, which said that it was time to remove from the clutches of Labour authorities the people in docklands. We wanted to give them the chance to have their area properly revived.
One merely has to walk through docklands today to see the enormous benefits for the people there. Whether those benefits are new housing or new employment at the London City airport, they are there for those who want to see. The trouble is that many Opposition Members do not want to see them. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) is right. He and I have known each other for a long time. The House would not be discussing this subject if it were not for the impending by-election in Kensington.
The Labour party is not interested in London because its members are no longer in touch with real Londoners. The party does not have people like Bob Mellish or the original Ron Brown. It is a collection of people spewed up by the Left, and they are so out of touch that, in spite of all the evils we are alleged to have committed, there are now more Tory Members in London than at any time in our history. That is because the average Labour voter of the type that existed 20 years ago will not come out and vote for the modern Labour candidate. I do not blame them.
The facts speak clearly for themselves. I remind the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that just prior to the last general election he and I took part in a radio car interview. In the radio car in Soho square he finished by saying that the Labour party would do well at that election. I was asked if I would be satisfied if we had the same number of seats in London, and I said that I would not and that, as party vice-chairman, I had my eyes set on winning more seats. I was right, and, as so often happens, the hon. Gentleman was wrong.
The hon. Gentleman will remember that the car had to go back twice for equipment. Either the car or I was misdirected. My point is that the hon. Gentleman was wrong in what he said.
If we are to finish the debate on a useful note, we shall have to pay more attention to the way in which we can help people to climb out of poverty. We should do that rather than just increase the size of the safety net. We must realise that it is kinder and wiser to assist people to become more independent and to take responsibility for themselves and their families than to trap them for ever into the dependence on the state that the Opposition want.
My first election was in Islington in 1949. I remember going into the courtyard of a block of flats and hearing the Labour party loudspeaker cars saying, "Come out and vote for the Labour party because it is the party that gave you these flats." If we now ask those tenants whether they want the flats or the right to own them, I know what the answer would be, and so does the House.
We can all quote statistics. I remind the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) that at the last election, as at the one before, the majority of Londoners voted against his party. Opposition Members representing London constituencies speak for more than half the voters of London.
I want to start with people and not statistics. It will not be surprising if I speak about people that I have come across in the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Yesterday morning I took part in a press conference for my colleague William Goodhart, who is our candidate in Thursday's by-election. On the way back I walked through the underpass at Notting Hill Gate. That underpass leads to the tube station and also serves as a means of crossing the road. I was approached by a young man and a young woman who were begging for money. The young man was called David and was an 18-year-old Scot. The girl was 19 years old and Irish and her name was Renèe. They go to Notting Hill every day because there are rich people in Kensington. They think that in Kensington they may get money, in one case to visit a boy friend outside London or in the other case to buy the other contact lens that David needs.
People are begging in the streets of Kensington in 1988. The two people that I have mentioned squat in Peckham in a one-bedroom flat that houses at least six people every night. They wait for the person who occupies the flat to come home and let them in but last night he did not come home at all and one of them slept in the lift. They do not find London a place of equality of opportunity or choice.
Somebody in my office dug out a short quotation which is perhaps appropriate. It says:
Whene'er I walk the public ways,
How many poor that lack ablution
Do probe my heart with pensive gaze,
And beg a trivial contribution!
Perhaps the one quote we have not yet heard from the Prime Minister will say: "For ye have the poor always with you and they are to be blessed." In London there are now more poor people than when the Prime Minister went to No. 10 Downing street.
I should like to mention two other people, who feature on this poster. One is the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensbury, a resident of the London borough of Kensington. He lives in two houses, 44 and 46 Bedford gardens. He pays rates and he will have to pay poll tax, but he will save £1,757 under the poll tax. He and his wife will have to pay about £470. Of course, he voted for that inequitable tax in the other place. In the same area, Fred Leaney works as a porter in a block of flats and lives in Henry Dickens court, W11. He and his wife will have to pay the same amount of poll tax, because they do not qualify for benefit. They will have to pay £433 more than they pay in rates. That is how the Government legislate for equality in London. A porter in a block of flats will pay the same as one of the richest Members of the other place.
Does not the Liberal "Focus" leaflet that the hon. Gentleman produced also say that the community charge will account for only a quarter of the cost of local government and that the Duke will be paying as much as 16 times more for local government than Fred?
The leaflet does not say that, because the principle of taxation, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is that the more one has, the more one pays. The poll tax is different in that the more one has, the less one will pay relatively. That does not make a taxation system more equitable.
Library statistics show—the Minister may challenge me if he wishes—that, between April 1978 and April 1987, the difference between the highest and lowest 10 per cent. of earnings increased by 50 per cent. I concede that both lower and higher earners earned more, but the lower earners increased their earnings by 133 per cent., whereas the higher earners increased their earnings by 199 per cent.
In London in 1980, only 450,000 families—I say "only"—were in receipt of supplementary benefit. By 5 May 1987, 760,000 families were receiving supplementary benefit from offices in Greater London. I know what the Minister will say: if more benefit is paid out, more people will receive it. Supplementary benefit is meant to be the test of basic needs income, and the number of families receiving benefit has nearly doubled in that short time. As the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said, the real incomes of the richest 10 per cent. rose by 18 per cent. between 1979 and 1985, while the poorest 10 per cent. lost 17 per cent.
If the level of benefit is improved, the number of people in poverty will seem to increase. About 60 per cent. of increases in expenditure during this Government's period in office have been accounted for by real-terms increases in the level of benefits rather than by increases in the number of people coming into benefit. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that. Let us take an absurd example: if one doubled the level of supplementary benefit, one would bring a huge number of extra people into poverty. The figures need to be cited with caution.
All Governments in recent times have assessed what is necessary as the basic level of income, to which the state then adds. This Government have fiddled the figures and reduced them several times. The figure below which one is entitled to support has nearly doubled in a few years. The Minister cannot therefore argue that there are not more people relatively poorer in a richer Britain. We are a richer country—of course we are—but the rich are getting richer still and the poor are poorer relative to their fellow citizens. That is the unfairness, and Londoners are sick to death of the inequality practised by the Minister and his colleagues.
I can tell the Minister all about it. I live in docklands—the area praised so graphically by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg). I know the difference between someone living in a grotty damp council flat on an estate in Southwark and someone buying a £2·5 million penthouse flat with a view of Tower bridge. That is not equality: it is gross, obscene and absolute degradation.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, according to official statistics, the number of people claiming means-tested benefits increased from 4·4 million in 1979 to 8·2 million in 1987? Does he regard that as one of the problems of success that we have been told about by the Government?
We are a richer country, but the wealth is being divided up in a grossly unfair manner. That is our complaint; it is very simple. A Government who wanted to be fair would not give away massive tax handouts to the rich in the Budget, while people on social security got less. Some pensioner couples in my constituency now have to pay £32 a week for housing instead of £16 a week in April, although they have no more income. That is not fairness, when people in high-paid jobs in the City take home substantial amounts every week—sometimes hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds in real income.
Three quarters of the London elderly and two thirds of the London disabled are now below the Government's level necessary for supplementary benefit. The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) accurately said that she represents the borough which, according to the indices of the Department of the Environment, is the poorest local authority in England. The 10 poorest authorities in England are all in London, and Southwark is also one of them. Even in Tory-controlled Kensington and Chelsea——
I shall not give way.
In Kensington and Chelsea. 30 per cent. of households lack basic amenities in two wards, and in two wards 54 per cent. of people are pensioners living alone. Boroughs have pockets of poverty no matter who runs them. The reason why boroughs such as mine do not elect Tories and why Tories get about 10 per cent. or less of the vote is that poor people do not trust the Conservatives to help them to get richer. They know who will best look after them. It is not the Conservatives. It never has been and it never will be. The Tories look after themselves and their friends first.
No, the hon. Gentleman can make his own speech.
Did the great docklands boom reduce unemployment in Newham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets? It did not. Unemployment increased more in those boroughs than in Greater London as a whole. From October 1982 to September 1987, there was a 15·5 per cent. increase in unemployment in the docklands boroughs. I concede that unemployment is now falling, but the jobs are not going to the people who most need them. In July 1986, 51 per cent. of unemployed people in Southwark between the ages of 16 and 24 had been unemployed for more than 26 weeks. The numbers of Southwark's unemployed have doubled in 10 years—not relatively, but in real terms.
Let us consider health. Directly opposite the Labour party's headquarters in Walworth road, a Southwark building carries the slogan
The health of the people is the highest law".
Having done some research, I gather that that is a quotation from Cicero. The trouble is that health care is not available to all on an equal basis. Let us consider the figures cited by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate, which show relative benefits to authorities in the Health Service. The four Thames health regions are the only regions to have suffered a 2·8 per cent. real cut between 1982 and 1986. I can give the Minister the evidence to prove it.
Since 1981–82, 14 per cent. of hospital beds have been lost in London and more than 1,400 beds were lost last year. The waiting list for those needing urgent treatment in 1986 made up 29 per cent. of the national list, although London has only 14 per cent. of the population. Last year, the numbers on the waiting list went up nearly 10 per cent. Meanwhile, between 1982 and 1986, there was a 45 per cent. increase in private hospital beds in the four Thames regions. At the same time, the Thames regions had to write off nearly £500,000 of unpaid private hospital bed debts to the health authorities, including £71,000 in Paddington and North Kensington, for people who had already got advantaged treatment.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the number of patients cared for in London has been rising steadily? For example, the number of day cases in inner London went up from 48,000 to nearly 80,000 between 1982 and 1986 and the number of accident emergency attendances has increased. Does he agree that for many years, including 1986, inner London has had twice the number of acute beds per thousand of the population as the rest of the country and twice the number of consultants and junior doctors?
Very good. The Minister's colleagues are easily deceived. Of course the figures are true, but many people who have received health care in London come from outside. Also, many of the people covered by the Department's throughput appear twice or more in the figures because they were discharged so quickly that they had to go back to hospital. The figures are not all different people. They are the same people, often the elderly, who were sent home and readmitted. They could not stay in hospital to convalesce, because the beds were needed for other people to leap into as soon as they were pushed out.
The private sector has benefited. Private sector recruitment has grown at the expense of the Health Service. Beveridge and Nye Bevan sought to provide not a Health Service that would be selectively available for those who could pay, but a Health Service for all, free at the point of delivery.
In social services there is exactly the same crisis in London, with 600 suspected victims of child abuse not getting professional help because there are no social workers to help them.
In education, before the Government's reforms the borough of Westminster pays 27 per cent. of the bill for ILEA but receives only 6·5 per cent. of the available money. After abolition, Westminster will have a massive windfall to spend on three county secondary schools whereas a borough like Greenwich which pays 2·5 per cent. spends 10·3 per cent. and, like Tower Hamlets and Hackney, will have to pay massively more.
I will end where I began, with the homeless. Last year, there were 30,000 registered homeless in greater London. The number had gone up by 75 per cent. in five years. That excluded the 10,000 in hostels, the 12,500 who were squatting, the 2,000 approximately who were sleeping rough, and many who were staying temporarily with friends. There were about 64,000 homeless people in the capital city last year.
Houses are being built in my borough, but at an average price of £80,000, where the average income in only £8,000. There is not much prospect of many of the homeless, let alone the homeless who are out of work, getting accommodation. There are more than 1·5 people per room in many homes in many boroughs—Kensington and Chelsea, Southwark, Camden and Haringey first among them.
The reality of Britain today is that the challenge that Beveridge, Nye Bevan, Lloyd George and others sought to put before the country has been grossly neglected by the Conservative Government. Beveridge, who was a resident of Kensington, where he had his first home—
He did have a vote to begin with, but not there when he became a Member of Parliament. He said:
Liberals believe that our guiding force should not be self-interest or class conflict but the determination not to rest while any are condemned to want, disease, squalor, ignorance or unemployment.
That resident of Kensington would not have been voting Conservative in Kensington on Thursday, nor anywhere
else in London, because the challenge which he gave us has been grossly neglected by this increasingly divisive and self-interested Tory Government.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his excellent speech, which was not only thought-provoking and interesting, but put the case fairly and squarely for London as it is today. [Interruption.] I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) would at least listen for once, not only because it would be courteous, but because it would be educational for her.
I was disappointed that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) would not give way to me. I was appalled at how frightened he seemed to be, and also distressed at his view. He seemed to suggest that he would have preferred a derelict wilderness in docklands. We all know that docklands had died and needed to be rejuvenated. Many people who work in docklands are grateful for the development that has taken place, because they have jobs in an area where there were no jobs before.
I am delighted that today we are having a debate on London. As a London Member, I believe that we have too few debates on our great capital. I know that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is of a similar opinion. I am disappointed and surprised, because the Opposition motion does not give a true picture of London today. I am a Londoner, having always lived in Greater London. I worked in London and I represent an outer London constituency. My parents were Cockneys, born in Bow in the 1920s. I know what things were like in their early years in east London. My grandparents also came from Bow, and throughout my life I have heard of the real hardship, suffering and deprivation in London in the 1920s.
Again the hon. Lady is not willing to listen to my speech, although she has already made hers. That is symptomatic of what is wrong with the politics of London from the Left. They are unwilling to listen to the points of view of other people who were also born in London and who have been involved in Hackney. I shall give the hon. Lady a few lessons on that in a moment. She seems to be living in the past. She seems to glory in the past, and she refuses to look at the present and the future.
We are looking to the future for London. No one pretends that everything is perfect in London, because it is not. We accept that there is homelessness and deprivation in the capital city. We want to try to improve the position and change the lot of those who are homeless.
The Opposition do not like it. There are more ordinary Londoners on these Benches than on the Opposition side.
I was involved in Hackney in the 1970s. I was a parliamentary candidate in 1979, and I was a school manager and governor in the borough of Hackney from 1976 to 1980. I was distressed by the standard of education that was provided in Hackney at that time. [Interruption.] was a teacher in outer London, but I was a governor of a number of Hackney schools and I was a school manager. I was appalled at how ILEA had allowed the children of Hackney to receive inferior education. I could not believe that children who in the past had had good schools had no passport to a good future because of the poor education being provided in Hackney.
The position in the 1980s is even worse than it was in the 1970s, and for that reason ILEA's abolition will be good for Hackney, for the children of Hackney and for inner London in general. Much money was spent on ILEA and on Hackney schools, but to little effect, and the children there were left without a decent education. That is one of the real deprivations in London, but it is a problem that the Opposition will not face. Under Labour control ILEA has failed the children of London, and Hackney is a classic example of where that has occurred.
My own home borough of Bexley is Conservative-controlled and provides excellent education, whereas neighbouring Greenwich is under ILEA control. A number of parents from Greenwich come to see me, wanting their children to be educated in Bexley schools because the standards there are better. That cannot be right. It must be unfair to Greenwich children that they are receiving an inferior education. The Government have put forward many policies to improve the lot of children and of education. which must be welcomed.
In the matter of housing, there is a chapter of woe to be read about many London areas. Many Londoners wanted to buy their own council homes, but only the Conservative Government allowed them to realise that ambition. Opposition Members were not interested in the aspirations of those ordinary people and voted against council house sales, yet those sales have been a tremendous success story. People now have an opportunity to do as they want with their own home and no longer have to conform to the painted front door that the council insisted they had. That is what the Government offered them.
Not everyone can own his home, and there is still an important place for the public housing sector, which we believe is right. However, we cannot support that sector—I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington did not mention this either—when, as was the case in Hackney for many years, councils will not sell off large areas of derelict land for development. It is no use the hon. Lady complaining 10 years later that there are not enough council houses, when part of the reason for that is that in the 1970s Hackney council refused to sell land for development, to provide more homes.
We hear also of the number of empty council houses in Greater London. The public would be appalled if they knew that there are about 30,000 empty council dwellings in Greater London. That is scandalous. The hon. Members for Southwark and Bermondsey and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington mentioned the homeless. In Greater London there are about 30,000 empty homes. Something must be very wrong, and we ought not tolerate such a situation.
My hon. Friend the Minister said that one can interpret statistics in any way one likes, but the fact remains that most people living in the capital are enjoying a higher standard of living than ever before. There will always be a less fortunate minority, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) reminded the House that the poor are always with us and that they should receive the help that they need.
However, the vast majority of people, at whatever level and whatever their income, are better off now than they have ever been. I refer not only to their income but to their status. A higher percentage of households include in their possessions the so-called luxuries of life, such as tumble driers, washing machines and television sets. We welcome that and would like to see more and more people enjoying such possessions. We do not want to depress the number of people who already have them, but wish to elevate those who do not, so that everyone may enjoy a better standard of living.
Over the past decade most Londoners have enjoyed advances in their living standards and quality of life. More has to be done, and action is being proposed by the Government—but only by the Government. It would be disastrous just to throw more money at the problems that exist, because that will not solve anything. What is required is an investment in housing, education and employment. As ILEA has shown, throwing money at problems does not bring results. We must pursue instead a constructive programme, which is something that the Government are doing.
The Opposition motion proves that the Labour party is out of date and out of touch. It is out of touch with reality, out of touch with the wishes of the people of London, and out of touch with 1988. I look forward to the Government's reforms for dealing with those London areas that require urgent attention. When the Education Reform Bill, the community charge, housing reform and so on, are on the statute book and operational, more of London's problems will be attacked and solved. We shall not see that being done by following the lines of the Opposition motion. It is a trip into yesterday, and yesterday is history. We are looking instead to the future, for all of London's people.
When a proper audit is undertaken of the effect of the Government's policies on the people of London, the indictment will be devastating. The Government will be condemned for promoting the ethic of greed and self-interest as foundation stones for our society. It is an ethic based on the pauperisation of the many to enhance the wealth of the few. I hesitate to use even the word "ethic" to describe a set of values that are so uncaring, so damaging and so complacent that the Prime Minister could stand at the Dispatch Box one month ago and say:
Everyone in the nation has benefited from the increased prosperity."—[Official Report, 17 May 1988; Vol. 133, c. 796.]
It is obvious that the Government are applying their usual technique for dealing with a problem, and have redefined the word "everyone". To be included in the Prime Minister's concept of "everyone", one must be more than a citizen of this country. It means also having a job,
owning a car and a house, having shares, and paying for private health care. As Orwell would have appreciated, "everyone" really means being part of an elite.
"Everyone" does not include those without a job, those who do not own a valuable property, or the young forced to live a nomadic life moving from one bed-and-breakfast place to another. Neither does it include YTS trainees stuck on a scheme, the women who are struggling on income support, or the many of my constituents who have not seen any "prosperity". Instead, those people are by all means possible to vanish from the statistics, from the benefit system, and ultimately even from the electoral register—thus relieving the Government of any burden of responsibility.
In their deconstruction and redefinition of society, the Government are undertaking the task of taking apart the welfare state, that symbol of collective provision. In its place they have resurrected the concept of the individual within the family as an ideal social unit. If I understand the theory properly, it follows that those units are to operate within the free market, creating wealth that then results in the abolition of poverty as the incomes of the poor are pulled up by economic growth. That has not worked in the past, and it is not working now.
The Prime Minister recently enunciated the requisite moral values that underpin this organisation of society: self-reliance, personal responsibility, good neighbourliness and generosity. According to her, those are traditional values of British life which have been undermined by state intervention to a point of moral crisis. We have had nine years in which to assess the validity of those beliefs. All the figures show that, far from abolishing poverty, the Government's policies are widening the gulf between the rich and the poor. There is a liberalising state structure for the rich, but an increasingly authoritarian structure for the poor, in which the state polices their activities and punishes them for their poverty.
I rarely agree with the Prime Minister, but I agree that people want self-reliance, self-respect and responsibility. All my constituents want those things, but it is an act of cynicism and hypocrisy to praise such values on the one hand and on the other to push through a range of policies designed to constrict and stifle people's independence and freedom. It is clear that just as "everyone" means only some, true self-reliance and independence are to be available only to the rich.
This year's Budget was a clear example of that, favouring the rich at the expense of the poor. The Chancellor's £6 billion handout was apportioned thus: 31 per cent. for those with incomes already over £50,000 and 2 per cent. for those with incomes under £5,000. Do the Ministers sitting opposite me really not believe that that reflects the growing divide in this capital city? The Budget was a blatant example of the Government's basic strategy of increasing the earnings of the highly paid as an incentive, while at the same time holding down the wages of the low paid through deregulation of employment, job schemes linked to low pay and the constant fear of unemployment.
In Lewisham, we see at first hand how Government policies are accentuating the divide in our society. There, the divide has widened. A recent study conducted by Goldsmiths' college shows that, across a wide range of indices, poverty and deprivation are increasing. One in eight people are still unemployed, and in some of my wards 40 per cent. of young people are without work. Two in five households receive housing benefit and 32,000 receive income support. Lewisham and Deptford in particular rank high among authorities with one-parent families, overcrowded conditions, a lack of amenities and single-pensioner households—which, combined with the loss of manufacturing jobs and a decaying environment, has led to multiple deprivation and an increase in poverty. I defy Conservative Members, two of whom also represent Lewisham, to say that that is not the case, and that constituents have not come to their surgeries complaining of such problems.
In such circumstances, the local authority plays a vital role in providing services and support. But Lewisham, of course, is rate-capped and has been for years, by a Government whose prime motive is not to help individuals and communities to improve their lives, but to silence and marginalise a dissenting voice. Nowhere has the Government's fight against Labour authorities hurt our community more than in the cuts imposed on social services in Lewisham: cuts that affect the quality of life for all except the ultra-rich.
None of us—home owners, dual-income families or even yuppies—can be sure that we will never need our social services departments. The private health scheme and the private school soon abdicate responsibility for the most acute problems. To meet the budget constraints imposed by the Government, Lewisham's social services department has had to close two homes for the elderly, two children's homes, two day centres for the active elderly and a holiday centre that catered for no fewer than 1,800 people a year.
Where is the freedom, dignity and personal responsibility allowed to those people and their families? They have paid all their lives for that provision, and the Government are denying it to them. Such people do not seek an act of charity; they seek the community rights of the society that we used to enjoy. In every aspect of Government policy, there has been a deliberate acceleration and legitimising of the two-tier society.
The Government have long promoted the idea of a property-owning democracy geared towards owner-occupation for those who can afford it and rented accommodation for those who cannot. But my constituents have an average income equal to only two thirds of that in the south-east as a whole. Most of them will never be able to purchase even a one-bedroomed flat with today's escalating London prices. Many must therefore rely on public sector housing, which the Government have starved of funds since 1979.
Why are the Government so determined to destroy publicly owned, affordable housing in London? Why are they determined to make second-class citizens of people who work in jobs that do not happen to finance a £50,000 mortgage? Against all those odds, Lewisham council cannot deal with the problems of homelessness and bad housing. Its housing investment allocation for this year is only £18 million. If that programme were being funded at the same level as in 1979, it would have received £70 million. Where does the fault lie but with the Government?
Nowhere is the problem more acute than in our tower blocks—cruel monuments indeed to middle-class architects who would never have chosen to live in them. Such is the present housing shortage that people who obtain their first flat in such a block are condemned to stay there when they start a family, because Lewisham council is allowed no new building. How many Conservative Members would care to struggle up 13, 14 or 15 floors with 18-month-old twins and the shopping when the lift is out of order? Why should people who pay their rents and are prepared to be independent be penalised because the Government will not allow the council money to repair their blocks?
Let me now turn to education. In Lewisham, parents, governors and teachers are resisting a proposal to turn the Haberdasher's Aske's schools into a city technology college. Such colleges were intended to be financed by industry to provide young people with a technological education. They are to exist entirely outside the state system, and their implicit role is to be that of the elitist school. They are to have funds to pay for better equipment and higher salaries for teachers. They will take our education back into the two-tier system.
It is rumoured that the Government are prepared to put £4 million into the creation of a CTC in Deptford—£4 million to destroy effective comprehensive education in that area, where real equality of opportunity has been constructed through a five-school consortium. Yet again, we see elitism triumph over the provision of education for all. When I see the willingness of the Government to pour money into projects such as the CTC, which will benefit only a minority, I know that Conservative Members have no wish to close the growing divide in London.
Last week, the Prince of Wales visited Deptford and praised the efforts of the people there, as he put it, to break "this terrible vicious circle" of deprivation. I echo his praise. I hope that the Government will stop blaming the poor for being poor and will take on board the many expressions of concern being voiced about the effects of polarisation of rich and poor. I bleieve that the Government, who ally themselves closely to a policy of self-interest and promotion of the rich at the expense of the poor, are coming dangerously close to authoritarianism.
In my constituency, the ideas and initiatives that are still to be found in our schools, community projects and workplaces are a tribute to the energy and enthusiasm that motivate people to improve their lives, despite the Government's indifference and active obstruction. Whatever the entreaties of Conservative Members and Ministers, we will continue to join those people in their struggle for self-improvement, better communities and better environments. We live among them and travel on public transport and see what is happening. We know that the squalor of our environment is not due to our neglect or the neglect of our councils, but to the policies of the Government. I commend to the House the motion in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
I do not doubt the sincerity of the hon. Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) and for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). However, let the House not listen to what they say, but watch what the Socialists and Liberals do. I have lived and taught in Tower Hamlets, and I have taught in London schools for 23 years. Twelve of them were in the King's Cross area and seven were in deprived parts of Lewisham. There were children of 95 nationalities. I take no lessons in deprivation or knowledge of ethnic minorities from Liberals or Socialists.
I remind the House that between them the Liberal party and the Labour party have controlled local government in Tower Hamlets for nearly 90 years. Billions of pounds of public money has been poured into that community, but one sees a concrete jungle of deprivation, unimaginatively and badly planned housing and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) said, communities destroyed by the corrupt administrations that we have seen over the years. We have seen appalling planning and people not being consulted.
I know from experience—I have fought three general elections in east London——
In that society in the east end there is no grass, except for that around the high-rise blocks. There are concrete playgrounds for children, and if they want to play soccer they have to play on concrete. All recreational facilities are concrete. That area, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate reminded us, used to be full of fine open green spaces. That is Socialism and Liberalism at work. The hon. Member for Deptford believes what she said, but that is not the way that Socialism works in practice.
The homeless have been much discussed in the debate so far. I shall tell the hon. Member for Deptford about the homeless in the London borough of Ealing. When the present Labour council took control in May 1986 there were 30 families on the homeless register, costing the people of Ealing £300,000 a year. The council promptly abolished residence points, which took away the right to be housed, from people born and bred in the borough and who had lived there for two years or more. It sucked in all sorts of people from all over the country and all over the world who had no relationship with Ealing. Within a year there were 1,000 people on the waiting list, at a cost of £13 million or £14 million. If two homosexuals are living together and then quarrel and decide to part, the council believes that they must be housed separately, so that uses two housing units. That is but one example of why there is an increased need for housing.
I shall not give way to the hon. Lady. Let her go back to Cambridge. She did not give way to anybody.
That is one of the ways in which homelessness and the demand for housing has increased. The Labour party needs to think about what it has done to the people.
Homeless people come to see me in my surgery.—[Interruption.] I have at least one surgery every week, sometimes two and sometimes I have a surgery every day. Those people will give me addresses of properties that have been empty for two years or more. They say, "Can I have that home? Will you write to the director of housing?" Somebody told me about a house that had been empty for three years. I wrote to the director of housing some seven months ago and asked for that home to be allocated to a lady. He wrote back and told me that it was already allocated. Three months later the lady came back to see me and said that there was still nobody living in it, so I tried again. Three months later the lady came back again and said that there still nobody in it. I have just written again to the director of housing, but I shall get the same answer. That needs to be sorted out. I commend my hon. Friend the Minister for tackling that problem.
That is very decent of you. Harry.
No Opposition Member would defend a system whereby empty council properties are kept empty because a council does not know that the property is empty. One understands that that happens. However, will the hon. Gentleman accept that 72 per cent. of all empty properties in Greater London are in the private sector? The largest number, in percentage terms, are owned by Government Departments.
I am not talking about council properties where the council does not know that they are empty. I have given an example in which the council was told by me that a property was empty, and I was being rung daily by people who wanted to move into the property. The councils know which properties are empty. The hon. Gentleman is attempting to mislead the House and it is mischievous of him to do so. I am sure that he does not mean it.
I have visited the Embankment homeless regularly in the worst of winters. A great deal of insincere cant is talked about those people. The truth is that many of them have refused to go into accommodation. That is not to say that I condone the fact that anyone is in that position. I have attempted on many occasions to persuade people to get out of that situation. Sometimes, even in the most bitter weather, one cannot persuade them to go into hostel accommodation, which I find for them. During the terrible winter before last I suggested, both in the House and outside, to anyone who was interested that we should do something. I said, "Open your halls, open this and that and take them in." I explained that those people would die outside on those terrible nights. Only the Salvation Army responded. What a fine job it does. It has a right to speak about the problem, but that does not apply to many Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey.
Learned articles in The Sunday Times, The Observer, and other reputable newspapers and journals have described people who own cars and have petrol allowances as being in poverty. One has to be honest when one talks about poverty. If one investigates the word "poverty" in the Oxford Dictionary, it is clear that someone who is in poverty has absolutely nothing—virtually no food to eat, virtually no clothes to wear and no home. We are not talking about poverty in London in those terms, and it is hypocrisy for the Labour party to table a motion in such terms. I hope that the House will reject it strongly and thoroughly.
A very serious form of poverty is poverty through education. It has been said in Ealing, it has been said by the Labour party today, and I have heard it said by many Socialists, that one must not push children of a single parent, or children from ethnic minority backgrounds, especially if they are poor, because they are deprived and cannot take the pressure. One cannot do children a bigger disservice than to push such a policy.
No, I shall not give way.
If ever children need extra help and pressure to succeed it is the children of single parents, and children from deprived backgrounds, whether they are white or from an ethnic minority background. We have heard such sentimentalism from the Labour party in London and elsewhere for many years.
I have marked the examination papers of such children at CSE and O-level—not at A-level, as they did not get that far—for many years. Their lack of a good grasp of English shows that they have not been pushed in the way that they could have been pushed and their grasp of the language improved. Such an improvement would have enabled them to write better examination papers and they would have been better equipped for work. That serious deprivation has emanated from parts of the ILEA and from other Labour authorities.
For 20 years, the education of children in secondary schools in London was secondary to the reorganisation plans of the ILEA and the old LCC, which wanted to create a unitary system of education which they hoped would produce a flank of Socialists right across London and lead to the end of Conservatism. The education of those children was secondary to that political aim. That was disgraceful and should not be forgotten. That generation will be deprived for life, and that is well known.
Finally, rates have rightly been mentioned in the debate. Let us examine what the Labour party does in power, and consider the rates damage in Ealing. In Ealing last year the Labour council increased rates by 65 per cent. Poor people, old people and deprived people went without food to pay their rates. For some of them, that huge increase cost hundreds of pounds in a year. In addition, the rates on factories went up and there was a £500,000 rates increase for Ealing hospital—that from a party that cares so much about the sick and about the NHS.
To take one example, the £750,000 rates increase for Lyons in Greenford meant that the price of tea, Ready Brek, ice cream, puddings and so on went up.
Where could it find £750,000, other than from increased prices? Some employees also lost their jobs. My constituents have been struggling to pay a 65 per cent. rates increase and the higher cost of tea and food.
No, I shall not give way. I have given way once and I shall not give way again.
Even the price of hair cuts went up by 50p. What a way to run a borough.
If I have not got my point across to Opposition Members, may I stress that within the past month Ealing council, which has £192 million to spend, compared with £151 million only two years ago—an increase of £41 million—has stopped all discretionary grants to pay for an extension or an extra downstairs lavatory for disabled people in Ealing. That is wicked.
It is absolutely true. It has not been denied. The hon. Gentleman should get his facts right. I have council letters to prove it.
A family in Costons avenue, Greenford, with two severely disabled sons aged 23 and 20, need downstairs accommodation for them. They negotiated a grant and worked out with an architect what was needed and were all ready to go. But that grant has been stopped by a council which does not care a damn about the disabled. Those two young men still cannot live at home. It cares only about its own equality policy. It will put on a party costing £1,000 for lesbians with the Hot Doris band, but it will not give grants to disabled people who need them.
There are fewer home helps, and those who need them get them less regularly. The council has allowed people to be violated by unchecked invasions of gipsies—in one area, 12 times in three months. That is the extent of the mis-spending in Ealing. The council is seeking to put a second playground next to a perfectly good existing playground, in Perivale park, at a cost of £16,000. It spends millions of pounds on Labour party propaganda in "Voices", its own magazine, and in other ways.
People in Ealing were very pleased when the Secretary of State for the Environment rate-capped Ealing for the current year and rates were forced down by 25 per cent., but they are trembling in their shoes because Ealing is not rate-capped for next year. Just to stand still, rates will go up by a minimum of 50 per cent., and they will probably go up a great deal more. That is Socialism. That is what a so-called caring Socialist party, or SLD party, means in practice. Let the House know about it, and let it throw out the motion this evening.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) made a speech which seemed to owe more to his imagination than to reality. I grew up in Tower Hamlets, and before the war most people there lived in the most dreadful hovels. The council housing that he decried was the biggest slum-clearance scheme in Europe. The people who received a council house received a new life. At that time the caring Tories were saying, "It is no use giving working people a bath; they will only put coal in it." That way of thinking still exists today.
Tower Hamlets is one of the poorest boroughs in London, and certainly in England, and, according to figures published in 1984, 70 per cent. of households survive on £6,000 per annum. Conservative Members should think about what that means, if their imaginations will take them that far. The link between poverty and ill health has now been proven. While richer London boroughs, such as Bromley and Sutton, have death rates comparable with those in Europe and the United States of America—the richer countries in the world—the death rate for men in the poorer parts of Tower Hamlets is comparable with those in Uruguay and Argentina. The standard mortality rate for Tower Hamlets is the highest in London.
Professor Peter Townsend, a social scientist of world renown, recently condemned the Government for pursuing policies that promoted poverty, and therefore ill health. His words have been illustrated dramatically by the report of the Social Services Select Committee which is published today, the majority on which, as hon. Members know, are Conservative Members. The Observer says that the report shows:
The number claiming means-tested state benefits has climbed from 4·4 million, when Mrs. Thatcher first took office, to 8·2 million.
That is nearly double. The report says:
another million live below the level of meagre benefits but do not claim.
The Government's policies have doubled the number of people who live in dire poverty. The result is early and untimely death for many of my constituents. I can justifiably say that, because of that, the Thatcher Government's policies are annihilation policies for many people.
Time after time, the Government utter pious words about the Health Service and how the health of our people is safe in their hands, but a healthy population cannot be achieved just by tinkering with the NHS. That view was expressed most eloquently by the British Medical Association Board of Science and Education report of 1987, entitled, "Deprivation and Ill Health," which says:
No amount of redistribution of resources within the health and social security sector will resolve the health problems caused by deprivation. Increased resources for housing, work creation, income support, education and health and social services are needed although low cost initiatives are possible which will alleviate the health experience of some disadvantaged groups. The problem is so great and so entrenched within these structures of society as to be insoluble without significant diversion of public resources.
It is such a significant diversion of public resources that the Government constantly refuse to make, whether to health and social services or to anything else. As a result, the problems are perpetuated.
My hon. Friend is right when she says that the Government refuse to give figures about deprivation. They gave what they called the Z scores index of multiple deprivation on the 1981 census, which showed that 11 out of 12 areas in London were deprived and that 16 out of the 24 most deprived areas were in London. Those are the Department of the Environment's calculations of deprivation.
I am grateful for that information.
The divide is widening. I should like to give the Government's own figures. The Department of Employment family expenditure survey for 1980 to 1986 shows changes in gross household incomes at 1985 prices. Between 1979—a significant date for poor people—and 1985, the income of the bottom decile—10 per cent.—fell by 10 per cent., and the income of the bottom quartile—25 per cent.—fell by 7 per cent. During the same period, the income of the top decile rose by 10 per cent. and the income of the top quartile rose by 12 per cent. It is therefore clear from the Government's figures that the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer.
The figures for Greater London are even worse. The income of the bottom decile fell by 17 per cent. and that of the bottom quartile by 8 per cent. The income of the top decile rose by 12 per cent. and that of the top quartile by 18 per cent. So much for prosperity! The rich got their share, but the incomes of the poor deteriorated. That problem has been exacerbated by the Budget, but the Government hide what they do not like. They have now stopped compiling the figures in the form that I have just mentioned, so comparisons can no longer be made.
Yesterday, the Minister for Housing and Planning announced that a housing action trust will be set up in Tower Hamlets. People were shocked to hear that announcement, even before the Housing Bill has gone through Parliament. Council tenants are in ferment, and have been since they first heard of the Housing Bill.
It has been asserted today that nobody cared about the Greater London council being abolished. Poor people in Tower Hamlets cared very much. The GLC built excellent houses in the borough and the Inner London education authority has cared about children's education there. People's right to elect whom they please to run their schools and to build council dwellings has been eroded by the Government.
The people of Tower Hamlets feel that the Government have declared war on Londoners—they have abolished the GLC and they propose to abolish ILEA. My mailbag reflects the dreadful fear of old people in Tower Hamlets that they will lose their homes. I receive many letters asking whether the Government will prevent them from living out their old age in the council flats where they have lived for years. They see the safety net being ripped from under them. The outlook is grim. They see ward and hospital closures and the education authority being destroyed. Benefits are being cut. Their circumstances are getting worse rather than better.
Conservative Members are in cloud-cuckoo-land when it comes to what is happening in poor areas. Those who go to Bethnal Green tube station will see women and small children begging. I have not seen that in the east end since the 1920s. That is the pass that the very poorest people have come to, and it is a disgrace for one of the major cities in the world in one of the richest countries in the world.
The Government's game of dividing communities to deflect attention from their policies works for just so long. In my maiden speech a little over one year ago, I said that Londoners in the east end will fight back. They are beginning to rally to do just that. The London Docklands development corporation taught those people a sharp lesson. They saw that dictatorship being set up and public money being poured in, but there was a net loss of jobs and increased unemployment. They saw houses being built, but for £200,000, which they could never afford. They knew that it was not to benefit them.
They now know a quango when they see one, and the housing action trust will be just the sort of dictatorship in housing that the LDDC has been in docklands.
They are reacting violently against it, and they regard the HAT as a con trick. First, the rate support grant was taken away; our taxes were stolen; then Tower Hamlets was rate-capped and it was announced on Thursday that it would be rate-capped again. So there is no money for repairs. Then the Government say that the estates are in a state of disrepair so they will take away the democratic right of the elected authority to handle them and put them in the hands of an appointed quango.
A few weeks ago, the new rich who have moved into Tower Hamlets on the Isle of Dogs held a charity ball to raise money for the London hospital—at £200 a ticket. Local people were shocked. That is the divide between rich and poor, between people living on less than £6,000 a year and those who have moved in and can afford £200 a night. The local people do not want their hospitals funded in that way. They had enough of charity hospitals before the war, and that does not please them one bit.
I am reminded that the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), writing in the Sunday Telegraph a few weeks ago, said that we must honour the philanthropists of the past century who provided money to build schools, hospitals and workhouses. The people of Tower Hamlets are not going back to the workhouse. The Government have a workhouse mentality and workhouse aspirations for the poor of this country.
There is a ferment in Tower Hamlets. Last week a local tenants' meeting was held on a small estate. We thought it would bring out about 40 people—but they had to shut the doors because 800 people turned up from all around. On Thursday the tenants' federation is calling a meeting to discuss what to do. I warn the Government that in Tower Hamlets anyone who lives near the river, or a canal, park or any other desirable natural space feels threatened. They believe that their houses will be grabbed, that they will be squeezed out and that the new HAT will eventually cause rents to go up so that they will not be able to afford to pay them and will have to leave. They will be pushed out by people who now find the area desirable for various reasons that we all know well.
I warn the Government that they have been pushing people too far. An explosive situation is building up in east London. People are saying that they will fight to defend their homes and that Government policies will not help them. Their lives have become much worse since 1979, and they are in no doubt about that.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms. Gordon) the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) was reading a newspaper—he is still doing it now, or perhaps he is eating his chips off it.
I see that only two Conservative Members representing London constituencies are present. Does that not show a contempt for the problems of London?
I was working on the assumption that if an hon. Member was reading a newspaper he was preparing his speech, but I remind the House that in other circumstances it is not in order to read newspapers.
I want to make three brief points. First, I want to challenge the nature of what we are debating. We are discussing the gap between the rich and the poor, and we have been told by Opposition Members that it has widened. On the face of it, that seems a reasonable proposition. Opposition Members have produced statistics to back it up—even Members on the Opposition Front Bench, who seem to have spent all afternoon playing musical chairs, coming and going and not listening much to the debate.
People want a reasonable society with a sense of justice and fair play, so the remarks of Opposition Members might strike a chord. But they are not based on reality. To believe what Opposition Members have said, one would have to believe that the mere existence of some who are wealthy impoverishes people with less money—and I do not believe that. There are people in parts of my constituency who live in the stockbroker belt, earn substantial incomes, possess Rolls-Royces and live in houses that are worth anything up to £1 million. That compares with my income as an hon. Member and the rather more modest house that I live in. So one would have to believe, to follow Opposition Members' arguments, that the existence of such people impoverishes me, which is not true.
Neither has this ever been true of London. London has always been a patchwork quilt of poor and wealthy areas co-existing. But to say that because more people are wealthy in London others are impoverished is nonsense. Opposition Members know it is nonsense; more importantly, the people of London know it is and will not fall for it.
Exactly what useful work did those stockbrokers do to gain their enormous wealth, other than to exploit the people who work in industry, to take their money away and to make no useful contribution to society? Does the hon. Gentleman think that the working people of London are so stupid as not to realise that stockbrokers are parasites?
That remark is part of the pattern. Perhaps to try to keep its spirits up, the Labour party tries to make us believe that areas of London that used to be Labour's strongholds, such as Walthamstow and Battersea—and Leyton soon—are giving increasing numbers of votes to the Conservatives because so-called yuppies are moving into them. But canvassing in working-class areas contradicts that notion. The constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) is an ex-Labour stronghold which now has a 15,000 Conservative majority, which was created not by yuppies or stockbrokers but by people on council estates who had been lifelong Labour voters but came over to the Conservatives.
What is the legacy of Labour in London? In places such as Tower Hamlets, the Labour party deliberately created a captive vote. It set out to control from the council the vast majority of housing in an area, and what a terrible job it made of that control. The party thought that the only way to build political control was to own property. It was warned about that in the last part of the last century. It was told that it should not control the votes of the people and collect their rents.
The hon. Gentleman should look at the works of Mrs. Hill, who created the National Trust. He should also learn something about London, instead of interrupting the debate in his broad Glaswegian accent. Those of us who were born and brought up in London and know a great deal about it know that the Labour party prospered for some time in Tower Hamlets only by making promises to people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) has talked about the phenomenon in 1949 and I should like to talk about it 30 years after that. The phenomenon was that of Labour councillors standing outside polling stations telling people to give them their vote and they would make sure that they got another flat. But they never had any intention of doing that or of keeping up the maintenance of the properties. That is why, in the end, those properties were taken away from them.
Like me, my hon. Friend has fought general elections in east London. Labour Members will not like it, but what he says is true. I have seen Labour councillors walking down streets and canvassing, and I have heard them say to people, "Who got you that flat? Be there next Thursday." That is corruption.
The hon. Member has just walked in, straight from the bar. He knows nothing about London, and I shall not give way.
This debate is about political control. Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning made an announcement about housing action trusts. Listening to what was said yesterday and what is being said today by Opposition Members would make one assume that the maintenance problems in the areas that have become subject to HATs are a result of what the Government have done, and the money that they have taken away. However, anyone who knew the Ocean estate or any of the areas that are being talked about during the 1970s knows that they were the pits then. They know that Tower Hamlets could not control them. and that the council did not even know what it owned. It left properties empty, it did not maintain the lifts, and the staircases were a disgrace and dangerous—and all that was in the Labour 1970s. It is the same now; that is why they need to be taken out of the control of Labour authorities, which have deliberately kept people in poverty and badly maintained estates in order to maintain their political control.
No, I have already given way quite a lot.
A particular problem has arisen in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, and it concerns those Bengali families who were declared to be intentionally homeless by the SLDP-dominated council. I am in somewhat of a quandary because I do not know whom to blame. Last week, I was talking to a Bengali gentleman in Spitalfields after a large meeting that I had addressed. Perhaps I should blame the Labour council, which left him, his family and another family in the same one flat since 1973, refusing to rehouse them. I do not know whether it is the well-known racialism of the Tower Hamlets Labour party, which goes back such a long way, that is to blame. Is it the SLDP council, which has taken the disgraceful step of treating people who are in this country legally and who are entitled to be here and who want to be rehoused as if they could be put back on boats? That is the SLDP in action, and I challenge the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) to distance himself from what the Tower Hamlets council has done.
The hon. Member knows my view. I disagree with, and disassociate myself from, that decision. However, on other housing matters, the council has made substantial progress and it believes that it could put much of the housing stock into good condition before the next borough elections.
Those are the weasel and mealy-mouthed words that we hear from SLDP spokesmen all the time. The reality in Tower Hamlets is that 3,500 properties are empty. Organisations helping the homeless say that they could bring many of those properties back into use within weeks and use them to house local homeless families. The SLDP council is keeping people out of these houses. It is deliberately taking an attitude towards Bengali families that I can only describe as racist. That is the real gap between rich and poor, and it has not been caused by the Government. They are trying to do something about it with the HATs and allowing opting out under the provisions of the Housing Bill. The people who are responsible are those sitting on the Opposition Benches, and at least one word of apology would help.
The argument in the House today is not so much about whether there is inequality of opportunity in London as about who is responsible for it. I see this inequality every day in Greenwich. We have already heard many statistics, and I do not propose to add to them. I shall draw the attention of the House to some of the human consequences of this inequality.
Let us assume that all babies born in Greenwich today are born equal. However, by the time that they are only a few weeks old the inequality of opportunities that they face will be manifest. The first inequality that they will face comes when they go home. They go to estates such as Springfield Grove, Cherry Orchards, Mascalls Court and the Ferrier. Those are all pretty sounding names, but they are not pretty places in which to live. They are often damp, cold, miserable and concrete. They are overcrowded and subject to intolerable noise. Violence and crime are common, and dirt is just taken for granted.
I have heard a typical example of what happens, although the results of this example are rather more extreme than others. Earlier this year I received the following letter:
Dear Rosie Barnes,
I am writing to you about the letter I got on the 3rd February. Does it mean that I am not going to get rehoused because I don't think I can take this place much more.
It is so cold and my children are so bad that they will not settle down now and not sleeping. I have been up day and night for a month. The Hat is getting very bad now. Every time it rains or snows it comes in and my children are still not well.
I received a subsequent letter from that woman two or three months later, in which she said:
Thank you for your letter you sent to me. I am writing to you to let you know that I have had my baby. I had him on the 4th March. He has got a cold allready and he is only 6 days old. So now I have three kids with colds.
I wrote to Greenwich council, and received a reply, which said:
I refer to your enquiry … This family now have a total of 26 points which, as you know, is far below the level required for rehousing. As previously reported, no medical priority has been awarded to this family.
On 13 June, I received a letter from the same woman, who said:
I am writing to let you know that I had my baby. He was born on the 4th March but he died on the 16th May.
That was not the first unexpected child death that I had been told about in my short time as Member of Parliament for Greenwich. It happens often to children who are taken home to these appalling estates. They have no chance, if they do not have a decent home, of growing up healthy
and free from asthma and bronchitis. They should at least have a warm start in life. Warmth would be a step in the right direction.
Poverty is the next big battle that these families face. Housing benefit has been cut and the poll tax in Greenwich is expected to be £500 or £600 a year per person.
The hon Lady has rightly outlined a number of problems that poor families have to face. Another problem is racism, which we have discussed in the debate. Both sides of the House will, I think, agree that to some extent this is a by-election debate. I should be interested to know the hon. Lady's view of her party's candidate in the by-election, who has been putting material through my letter box saying that the Notting Hill carnival, which I happen to enjoy, should be banned. Does she stand by that policy?
I stand by the policy that the candidate has set out, which is that the carnival should not continue unless it is made safe. I strongly deny any allegation of racism against the SDP candidate in the by-election. The fact that he has a black adopted daughter should go some way to allay the Minister's fears. That was an outrageous intervention.
Housing benefits and the poll tax will take their toll of the already limited income of poor families in Greenwich. Money for food and fuel bills will be even harder to find and the families and their health will suffer accordingly.
We have not been helped by some of the actions of the local council, including a rent increase in sheltered housing of £18 a week. For many elderly people who are not on full housing benefit, or on housing benefit at all, but are of limited means, that is an unacceptable increase, which will mean that their limited savings for their old age will have to go much further than they imagined.
I draw attention to the plight of families in London when they need hospital services. We have spoken about housing and poverty, and health is another major requirement for equality of opportunity. If the Health Service is not functioning when needed in a way that will restore health, there is no equality. I endorse may of the statistics on the closure of hospitals in London and the cut in the number of acute beds.
Let me illustrate what is happening in one of the two major district hospitals in my area by reading an extract from a letter that I received from a paediatrician. He said:
In view of your interest in our Department I thought I would bring you up-to-date with our present problems. The downstairs ward at the Brook Hospital has been closed since shortly after the hurricane. This was initially as a result of an invasion of sewage flies from the overloaded Brook Hospital sewer. These have proved extremely difficult to eradicate. However, I was informed today that the ward now remains closed because the hospital cannot find enough domestic staff to open it. We therefore have to cram all our medical and surgical patients into the upstairs ward which makes life very cramped and possibly contravenes health and safety regulations.
In view of the high, and rapidly rising, rate of child abuse in Greenwich District … we have a requirement for 2 full time Social Workers in Paediatric Social Work at the Brook Hospital. One Social Worker recently left and it has proved impossible to replace her. I think that Social Workers have been put off applying for this post because of the risk of being embroiled in child abuse scandals …
The Medical Secretarial service at the Memorial Hospital has been radically curtailed. As a result I am still signing letters dictated in early January"—
this letter is dated 15 March—
and there are some letters which were dictated for Paediatric and Gynae Clinics in late December which have still not been typed.
The letter also stated:
The whole of the Brook is a depressing and depressed area. For a while this year the children were given sandwiches for their evening meal. As you might imagine many of my patients would not accept strong cheddar cheese and Branston pickle sandwiches. Following a strong protest we have reinstituted cooked food for the children though I am not sure whether this applies to the rest of the hospital.
That is a bleak medical picture.
Much needs to be put right in Greenwich. Poor housing, poverty and the Health Service must be sorted out. There will be much argument about whose fault those problems are. I have no doubt that the people of Greenwich are suffering because of the combination of a harsh Tory regime towards alleviating poverty, of not allowing money to be spent on building new homes for those who desperately need them and on restoring dilapidated homes, and the ideological conviction of the hard Left council in Greenwich and its inflexible approach to the problems that ordinary people face daily.
People such as the lady who wrote to me about her baby and those going into the Brook hospital and receiving that sort of treatment do not care whose fault it is. They just want it put right. Such suffering can and should be alleviated. Some things could be done immediately. We could eliminate the 20 per cent. ceiling on reinvestment in housing. We should use the money from the sale of council houses to build new ones, which are desperately needed in south-east London. We should seriously consider allowing portable discounts for tenants who are trapped in those miserable council properties so that they can buy a decent home. That has been SDP policy for some time.
We should reconsider the poll tax and ask whether it is right to expect people to pay £500 or £600 a head when they have no means to pay that sort of money and never expected having to do so. A tax of that sort, which does not reflect people's ability to pay and comes out of the blue, is uncalled for.
We should invest more money in our National Health Service. It cannot exist on a shoestring budget. If we want our children to get better, we must do more than give them cheese and pickle sandwiches in sewage-fly-infested wards. That is a disgrace in modern London. The suffering and the excuses must stop. Action must be taken to resolve some of the problems with practical solutions.
This has been a useful debate in which 15 of the 23 Labour Members of Parliament for London have been present in the Chamber at one time or another and at least four other Labour Members of Parliament have been trying to speak. Compare that with the Conservative party, which has been rooting around in the back streets of Westminster trying to dragoon its Members in.
To put the matter properly on the record, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the 15 came in seriatim—one after the other? There were never more than four in the Chamber at a time.
We carry out our operation in waves. I make no excuses about that.
The real issue is the ideological commitment of the Government to the market economy. They believe that if everyone is allowed to do his own thing, without any thought for the community or society, everyone will be better off. That has been spelt out by Conservative Member after Conservative Member, but they forget that the market is already distorted. In April, the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced a Budget that gave millionaires a rise of about £430 a week, and the Secretary of State and the Minister introduced housing benefit cuts that took £10 and £20 a week from the lowest paid.
That is the moral crisis of the Conservative party. However many times they try to use North sea oil to bribe the voters of the south-east to maintain their majority, they cannot hide the fact—as the Churches have rightly pointed out—that the Conservative party is devoid of morality on such issues.
Interestingly, the market will not be allowed to rip in the south-east. There, if people build houses where they are wanted, all of a sudden 100 Conservative Members sign motions saying that there must be planning controls and that local authorities must be allowed to step in. To his credit, the Secretary of State says no. I think that it is a mistaken policy. but at least he is consistent in saying, "No, you must not." But 100 Tory Members are constantly saying, "No market in my back yard," because the market is too embarrassing.
The same philosophy justifies the rise for the millionaires: to encourage people who are well off to work they must be given more money, but those who are badly off must be given less money to encourage them to work. There is no consistency in their philosophy.
The Government are abolishing the Inner London education authority not because it is expensive to run—the Metropolitan police are three times as expensive and local authority social services are twice as expensive—but because ILEA, like the GLC and the metropolitan counties, is run by the Labour party, and they want to smash anything resembling local democracy that they cannot win in the normal democratic way.
When the Inner London education authority goes, nursery education, school meals and the adult education service will he squeezed in some boroughs. We know that that is true because in the Kensington by-election, the poor old Secretary of State for Education and Science was wheeled out to try to explain the bizarre figure of £122 per head for the poll tax in Kensington. When asked about education, he said that it would be cheaper to collect. Price Waterhouse has said that it will be more expensive. The Secretary of State for the Environment has issued figures showing that the poll tax will be more like £380 per head in Kensington. Let us have no more nonsense about this wicked and regressive tax imposed on the people of London.
As for jobs, the Minister said that the homeless do not exist any more. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) pointed out, the homeless do not apply for bed-and-breakfast accommodation because they no longer get in advance the money needed to pay the rents for which the landlords ask. The homeless do not exist—just like the jobless! I was mistaken in thinking that there were 3 million unemployed people. It is just a wicked rumour put about by 3 million people with nothing better to do all day. The homeless do not exist. We cannot really see those people who live in cardboard boxes. The doubling of the number of people who present themselves to local authorities as homeless is just a statistic. That is what the Government say.
I was fascinated to see the hon. Members for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) and for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) quietly take the comment of a Home Secretary who says that they are to blame for the crime wave. This group is a new scapegoat for the Government—perhaps not all that new, because the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) also blamed them. Teachers and parents are to blame, we are told. The Home Secretary has discovered another group to blame—broadcasters. Everyone is to blame, except the Government—yet under the Government the figures have been rising faster than under any previous Government and faster than in any other western European country.
More important, they have been rising when they should have been falling. The age range of those who commit crimes is falling. Normally, when that demographic change takes place, there is a decline in the crime rate. There has been a decline in some sectors, but in others—especially the deadly crimes of casual violence—there has been an increase. I sadly predict that that increase will continue. If people are driven into homelessness and their benefits are slashed in a way that breaks up communities, the crime rate will be pushed up.
As I have told the Government before, some aspects of crime have become dramatically worse under the Conservative Government. Of the many causes of crime, three of the most important aspects are consistency in parenting, love in parenting, or other relationships within a family, and the strength of the community. In all three the Government are guilty, by making it more difficult for families struggling to maintain themselves on the margins of survival to carry on building up family bonds. The phrase introduced by the right hon. Member for Chingford, "On your bike", sums it up—it means "Get on your bike, leave your family and look for work." When kids came to London, what accommodation did they find? The Government said that they would improve housing and free the market. As a result of freeing the market in London, more than half the lets are already outside Rent Act provisions and the private sector is drying up faster than it has done since this idea was last tried in 1957. What a disaster this is.
The Government pretend that unemployment is not a factor and say, "These are youngsters. They are not at work." The Government forget that a family which is only just managing to cope and has to face additional pressures—perhaps unemployment for the father or rent arrears for the family—can be expected to run into more difficulties. It is no good the Home Secretary blaming teachers like the hon. Members for Ealing, North and for Erith and Crayford—if they had taught me, it would have been enough to drive me to crime—or blaming broadcasters.
Even the Evening Standard is getting worried. It has been ranting and raving about crime while at the same time encouraging it by some of its articles, especially those on race aspects. The Evening Standard has editorials which show that it is worried. In floundering around in a desperate attempt to find a reason for our problems, that newspaper recognises that the breakdown in the community is one factor. The Government, in their attack on local authorities and communities, are bringing that about. That is why the crime rate will continue to increase.
I challenge the Minister to say what he would do about the four hospitals that will close in north-west London. The Westminster, the Westminster Children's, the St. Mary Abbots and the West London are all to be closed because the Government want the money to close a fifth hospital—St. Stephen's—and reopen it in three year's time. Riverside district health authority wants £25 million, or it will close those four hospitals and rebuild the other. I challenge the Minister to say what he or the Conservative candidate in Kensington would do about that. The answer is nothing, as everyone knows.
I should like to put this firmly on the record. As the hon. Gentleman knows, these decisions, which are not yet final, involve the choice of building a new £100 million hospital at St. Stephen's. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he does not want that hospital? It is important to know the answer.
I should love to see that new hospital but, more important, I do not believe that it is necessary to close four other hospitals to do so; nor does anyone else, including the medical staff and the district authority. That authority has clearly said that it cannot manage without the £25 million. That amount is a tiny percentage of the amount given in the Budget to millionaires. Where is the morality in that? Where is the morality in the Conservative party?
The Government say, "Let us do something about transport." They are to drive a dirty great west cross route through Kensington, which will blight homes on either side of it. The Government are doing that in the belief that somehow it will improve internal transport in London. Have they ever thought that perhaps we should give a little more support to the public transport system as one way of improving it?
We come to housing—the Government's big failure. Housing troubles people in Kensington perhaps more than anything else, other than the poll tax. There are 16,000 homes in multiple occupation in Kensington, all eligible for the van Hoogstratens of this world. Because the Minister cares about this matter, I hope that he will respond when he gets my letter asking him to meet two women who were driven out of their home by Mr. van Hoogstraten. One of them appeared in the television programme on him. Those women will tell the Minister, in ways that he does not seem to accept from me, why Mr. van Hoogstraten is able to succeed.
The Minister could help by saying that tenants of non-resident landlords in the private sector can pick a landlord. Was that not what the Government were talking about in the Housing Bill? Was there not supposed to be something about "pick a landlord"? The Government turned it into "pick a tenant". The Bill allows people in the private sector or in housing associations, which I support, to take over public property in the form of council properties. The Government have not allowed a person in the private sector to say, "I have a Mr. van Hoogstraten on my back. I want a different landlord." The Government could have given local authorities a power and, more important, a duty to ensure that they had a tenants relations officer to check up on such properties and take action. We must remember that people cannot necessarily get legal aid for such cases, but the Government do not provide for all that. To them, it does not matter.
Buying a house? Forget it in London. One cannot buy a house in London any more unless one is earning a very good salary—well in excess of £20,000 per annum. Where is a person supposed to get a mortgage for houses and flats that cost more than £100,000? Where is a person supposed to rent when the market is well over £100 a week in most areas—one of the lowest estimates I have been able to get. The Conservative candidate in Kensington is offering a flat in Kensington for £500 a week. One must apply to the economic adviser in The Economist who is none other than the Conservative candidate for Kensington. It is £500 a week, so presumably he knows——
I thank the hon. Gentleman. So one has to apply to him for that flat at £500 a week. Do Conservative Members really believe that ordinary Londoners can afford that? Could a bus driver or a teacher afford it, or others who are desperately in need?
The Government tell us about empty properties. We have heard all about housing action trusts. One can have anything one likes except a vote. One is not allowed to vote just in case one does not vote in favour. The Government say that they want to deal with empty properties. The Minister ducked the question when I challenged him yesterday. He said that there are not many empty Government-owned Ministry of Defence properties in London. Actually, there are quite a few.
But it is not just that Department that we are concerned with—what about properties owned by the Home Office, London Regional Transport or the Department of the Environment? There is a whole range of empty properties in the Government sector, which are not being mentioned. Some 6·9 per cent. of Government-owned properties are empty, compared with an average of 2·5 per cent. of local authority properties, 4·1 per cent. in the private sector and 3 per cent. in the housing association sector. What matters is bad management, whoever manages the property—local authorities, the Government, private owners and so on.
The Government are not doing anything about that. All that they are doing is driving a wedge between the people of London, which is reflected in the rest of the country—a wedge between rich and poor, black and white, old and young, male and female. That is why Ann Holmes will be the new Member for Kensington on Thursday.
During the debate I was almost converted from my views on televising Parliament, because, if the debate had been televised, it would have been worth another 10,000 votes to us in the Kensington by-election. Never have I heard such sterile speeches as we had from the Opposition. As for the dying swan songs of the splintered centre, we had better pass them by in silence.
The tone was set by the speech by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott), who spoke in the inimitable accents of my late and much-lamented aunt, Joyce Grenfell. She gave a catalogue of the past gamut of Labour analysis. It was only with speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) and for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) that we began to grapple with the problems.
The saddest intervention was by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock). The hon. Lady made an eloquent speech, in the course of which she said that nothing was the fault of Labour councils. Even the leader of her council, Dave Sullivan, knows that that is not true, as he says in the secret reports that leak out of that council all the time. He admits that, despite the great expenditure and politicisation of officers recently, criticised by the ombudsman, there has been no improvement in services.
Not on the objective evidence of looking at the competence of highly politicised housing departments, which went to the point of writing unsolicited letters to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan), the Minister with responsibility for sport, criticising his political views. When the politicisation of officers has gone to that extent, can the hon. Lady he surprised that we begin to doubt the competence of such authorities?
Opposition Members will be astonished—the hon. Member for Hammersmith will not, because I suspect that he has had the same experience—to hear that when I meet Labour authorities in the midlands and the north of England, which I do regularly, their opening words are, "For goodness' sake, we are not like those Labour authorities in London. We understand your problems with them. We are different. We are good Labour authorities." They are anxious to put a gap between them—[HON. MEMBERS: "Name them."] I shall give Opposition Members some names. Let us take the Labour council in Blackburn, which was the most recent one to put that point to me clearly—and why not, because such a council is a different kettle of fish? Why are those councils so anxious to put as much space as possible between the London Labour party and themselves? They know that we are right in our criticisms of Labour in London.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) spoke about homelessness. The trouble is that the feebleness of the Opposition that we have had to face today makes it all to easy for us to pass over the fact that there are real problems in London. The right hon. Gentleman is right that there are problems, and many of my hon. Friends recognise that.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey should be careful in using the 30,000 registered homeless as if that were the permanent picture. That figure represents the annual acceptances, half of which go into permanent accommodation. We recognise the problem and that is why today we are giving the third set of additional allocations to several local authorities, to deal, above all, with the bed-and-breakfast problem. It is wrong that families should be in bed-and-breakfast accommodation.
I am happy to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that there has been a steady reduction, which was repeated in the last quarter's figures, for those in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. I know that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who is an expert and is anxious about the problem, will welcome that fall. It is not the beginning of a total solution of all the problems, but to get those families out of bed-and-breakfast accommodation must be a high priority for all of us.
The Opposition did not convey a vision of how we should manage housing in London as a whole. In London, about one third of all the housing stock is social housing—council or housing association property. Do Opposition Members think that that is enough, too much, or too little? With a stock that size, if we cannot manage to meet the needs of those in real housing need, with one in three of all the dwellings in London in the social rented sector, it is the incompetence of those who are responsible for it to which we must look first.
The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) put forward a radical new proposal, which is relevant—that we should have transferable discounts so that there is better use of the stock. I know that she voted against the Housing Bill, so she might have missed it, but we are doing exactly that. That is what we must now do. We must get the housing to those who need it most. Equally important, we must make sure that in this great city we are not polarised between the very rich and the very poor. That is why the right to buy and home ownership in London are so vital.
No, because I have only four minutes left.
The 120,000 families who are now home owners, having bought council property, or the 300,000 new home owners in London since 1979, represent a far more practical step towards building a city that is balanced in tenure than any of the rhetoric and nonsense that we have had from the Opposition today.
Opposition Members often say that the right to buy has caused a huge loss of new lets, which results in homelessness. It has not. I can give the House some new figures. During the period 1983–84 to 1986–87, which is a reasonable period on which to calculate, 4,650 potential new lettings were lost as a result of right-to-buy disposals, but that loss was far more than offset by the addition to the London council housing stock, leaving aside housing associations for the moment, of just under 26,000 houses. So it is a myth to say that the right to buy has contributed to homelessness in that way. A more careful analysis is needed if we are to proceed in the right direction.
The Labour authorities in London, which the hon. Member for Deptford so touchingly said were responsible for none of the problems, are in fact in possession of billions of pounds worth of public property of one type or another. It is their duty to use that money efficiently to meet the needs of the people of London. Some of their confreres in other parts of the country and, indeed, some in London, can achieve that. But while the London Labour party dominates those councils and while we have rent arrears of £30 million and the slowness of the lets in Southwark, the muddles and confusion in Tower Hamlets——
All right, but even the hon. Gentleman would not want to say that he was proud of that organisation. He distanced himself from it today in one important matter of policy which he and I have discussed a number of times, so he is not too proud of the Liberal organisation of Tower Hamlets.
Today we have had nothing but sterility from the Opposition. From the Government Benches we have had a number of excellent speeches which analysed the situation, looked to the future and rubbed the noses of Labour Members in some of the truths that they like to forget and that their colleagues throughout the country know to be one of the reasons why they lost the last election. It was London Labour areas, where we did better than anywhere else in the country, that helped us to power in the last election and will doubtless do so again in the next one.
|Division No. 407]||[7 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Cox, Tom|
|Allen, Graham||Cryer, Bob|
|Alton, David||Cummings, John|
|Anderson, Donald||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Cunningham, Dr John|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Dalyell, Tam|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Darling, Alistair|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)||Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)|
|Barron, Kevin||Dewar, Donald|
|Battle, John||Dixon, Don|
|Beckett, Margaret||Dobson, Frank|
|Bell, Stuart||Doran, Frank|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Dunnachie, Jimmy|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Eadie, Alexander|
|Blunkett, David||Evans, John (St Helens N)|
|Boyes, Roland||Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)|
|Bradley, Keith||Fatchett, Derek|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Fearn, Ronald|
|Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)|
|Buchan, Norman||Flannery, Martin|
|Buckley, George J.||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Caborn, Richard||Foster, Derek|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Fraser, John|
|Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)||Fyfe, Maria|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Galbraith, Sam|
|Canavan, Dennis||Garrett, John (Norwich South)|
|Cartwright, John||Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Clay, Bob||Gordon, Mildred|
|Clelland, David||Gould, Bryan|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Graham, Thomas|
|Cohen, Harry||Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)|
|Coleman, Donald||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Corbett, Robin||Grocott, Bruce|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Cousins, Jim||Haynes, Frank|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Henderson, Doug||Murphy, Paul|
|Hinchliffe, David||Nellist, Dave|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Holland, Stuart||O'Brien, William|
|Home Robertson, John||O'Neill, Martin|
|Hood, Jimmy||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Parry, Robert|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)||Patchett, Terry|
|Howells, Geraint||Pendry, Tom|
|Hughes, John (Coventry NE)||Pike, Peter L.|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Prescott, John|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Radice, Giles|
|Illsley, Eric||Redmond, Martin|
|Ingram, Adam||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Janner, Greville||Reid, Dr John|
|John, Brynmor||Richardson, Jo|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Kennedy, Charles||Robertson, George|
|Lambie, David||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Lamond, James||Rogers, Allan|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Rooker, Jeff|
|Leighton, Ron||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Lestor, Joan (Eccles)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Lewis, Terry||Ruddock, Joan|
|Litherland, Robert||Salmond, Alex|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Sheerman, Barry|
|Loyden, Eddie||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|McAllion, John||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Short, Clare|
|McCartney, Ian||Skinner, Dennis|
|Macdonald, Calum A.||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|McFall, John||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)||Smith, Sir Cyril (Rochdale)|
|McKelvey, William||Snape, Peter|
|McLeish, Henry||Soley, Clive|
|Maclennan, Robert||Spearing, Nigel|
|McNamara, Kevin||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|McTaggart, Bob||Steinberg, Gerry|
|McWilliam, John||Stott, Roger|
|Madden, Max||Strang, Gavin|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Straw, Jack|
|Marek, Dr John||Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Turner, Dennis|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Wall, Pat|
|Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Martlew, Eric||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Maxton, John||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Meacher, Michael||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Meale, Alan||Wilson, Brian|
|Michael, Alun||Winnick, David|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)||Worthington, Tony|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Wray, Jimmy|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Morley, Elliott||Mr. Allen Adams and Mr. Ken Eastham.|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Bevan, David Gilroy|
|Alexander, Richard||Biffen, Rt Hon John|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Blackburn, Dr John G.|
|Allason, Rupert||Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Amess, David||Body, Sir Richard|
|Arbuthnot, James||Bonsor, Sir Nicholas|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Boswell, Tim|
|Ashby, David||Bottomley, Peter|
|Atkins, Robert||Bottomley, Mrs Virginia|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)|
|Baldry, Tony||Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Bowis, John|
|Batiste, Spencer||Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard|
|Bellingham, Henry||Brandon-Bravo, Martin|
|Bright, Graham||Grylls, Michael|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Harris, David|
|Burns, Simon||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Burt, Alistair||Hawkins, Christopher|
|Butcher, John||Hayes, Jerry|
|Butler, Chris||Hayward, Robert|
|Butterfill, John||Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hind, Kenneth|
|Carttiss, Michael||Hordern, Sir Peter|
|Cash, William||Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Churchill, Mr||Hunter, Andrew|
|Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)||Irvine, Michael|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Janman, Tim|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Jessel, Toby|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Jones, Robert B (Herts W)|
|Colvin, Michael||Kilfedder, James|
|Conway, Derek||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Cope, Rt Hon John||Knapman, Roger|
|Cran, James||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Critchley, Julian||Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Knowles, Michael|
|Curry, David||Knox, David|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Lamont, Rt Hon Norman|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Lang, Ian|
|Day, Stephen||Latham, Michael|
|Devlin, Tim||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Lee, John (Pendle)|
|Dicks, Terry||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Dover, Den||Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)|
|Dunn, Bob||Lilley, Peter|
|Durant, Tony||Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)|
|Dykes, Hugh||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Eggar, Tim||Lord, Michael|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Lyell, Sir Nicholas|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)||McCrindle, Robert|
|Evennett, David||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Fallon, Michael||MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)|
|Farr, Sir John||Maclean, David|
|Favell, Tony||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Madel, David|
|Forman, Nigel||Malins, Humfrey|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Mans, Keith|
|Forth, Eric||Maples, John|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Marlow, Tony|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Franks, Cecil||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Freeman, Roger||Mates, Michael|
|French, Douglas||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Fry, Peter||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Gale, Roger||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Miller, Sir Hal|
|Gill, Christopher||Mills, Iain|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Mitchell, David (Hants NW)|
|Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)||Moate, Roger|
|Green way, Harry (Ealing N)||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Gregory, Conal||Moore, Rt Hon John|
|Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')||Morrison, Sir Charles|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)|
|Ground, Patrick||Moss, Malcolm|
|Moynihan, Hon Colin||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Mudd, David||Speed, Keith|
|Neale, Gerrard||Speller, Tony|
|Needham, Richard||Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)|
|Nelson, Anthony||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Neubert, Michael||Squire, Robin|
|Newton, Rt Hon Tony||Steen, Anthony|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Stern, Michael|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Stevens, Lewis|
|Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley||Stokes, Sir John|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Sumberg, David|
|Page, Richard||Summerson, Hugo|
|Paice, James||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Patnick, Irvine||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Patten, John (Oxford W)||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Portillo, Michael||Thorne, Neil|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Price, Sir David||Thurnham, Peter|
|Raffan, Keith||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Rathbone, Tim||Tracey, Richard|
|Redwood, John||Tredinnick, David|
|Renton, Tim||Trotter, Neville|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Riddick, Graham||Viggers, Peter|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Walden, George|
|Rossi, Sir Hugh||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Rost, Peter||Waller, Gary|
|Rowe, Andrew||Walters, Sir Dennis|
|Rumbold, Mrs Angela||Watts, John|
|Ryder, Richard||Wells, Bowen|
|Sackville, Hon Tom||Wheeler, John|
|Sainsbury, Hon Tim||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Scott, Nicholas||Wilkinson, John|
|Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Wood, Timothy|
|Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)||Woodcock, Mike|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Yeo, Tim|
|Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Sims, Roger||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Skeet, Sir Trevor||Mr. Robert Boscawen and Mr. David Lightbown.|
|Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
That this House congratulates the Government on those economic and social policies which have created conditions in London in which real incomes are rising; notes, with particular satisfaction, that between 1981 and 1985 the real incomes of the poorest rose faster than average; endorses the Government's policies to alleviate inner city deprivation in London through the programmes set out in Action for Cities, including economic regeneration through the encouragement of enterprise, employment and training, improved housing, through such programmes as estate action, the establishment of Housing Action Trusts and the extension of the role of housing associations, education and revitalising the urban environment.