Government of London

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 3:52 pm on 5th June 1991.

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Photo of Mr Bryan Gould Mr Bryan Gould , Dagenham 3:52 pm, 5th June 1991

No, I have only just begun my speech. I may give way later.

In the meantime, we are lumbered with the highest fares in Europe—twice the European average—for a system which is barely delivering an acceptable service. The inevitable consequence of a Government policy which requires London Underground to operate without subsidy is that it is compelled to try to resolve its problems by pricing customers off its trains.

Londoners also know that things have gone wrong when they see the traffic congestion and the pollution on our roads as the traffic grinds to a halt. The average speed of traffic in London today has fallen below 10 miles an hour. That sharp fall, which has occurred in the past year or two, has brought the average speed down to not much more than it was at the turn of this century.

Londoners know that things have gone wrong when they see the filthy streets, strewn with litter and disfigured by graffiti. They also see it in the cracked pavements and the derelict sites, which go some way to explain Mother Teresa's famous comment that London to her looked in many respects like a third-world city.

Londoners know that things have gone wrong when they see the housing crisis in the capital, which has produced record levels of homelessness. More than 30,000 households are in temporary accommodation, and 8,000 are in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. There has been a rise of 300 per cent. in home repossessions in the capital, which compares with an already high figure of 100 per cent. in the rest of the country.

Londoners and visitors from outside the city have been shocked to see the revival of the shameful spectacle of young people begging on our streets by day and sleeping on our streets by night. We thought that that had been consigned to the Victorian era. That is the tip of a huge iceberg of unmet housing needs, which has produced the scandal of bed-and-breakfast accommodation and swollen housing waiting lists in every local authority with which surely every Conservative Member representing a London constituency must be familiar in his or her regular surgery. Unfortunately, it also produces the forcing ground for criminal practices such as those that are now being investigated by the fraud squad in Hackney.

Londoners know that things have gone wrong because of the swelling dole queues and the hopelessness felt by so many with no job prospects or opportunity to acquire the necessary skills. They know it from the boarded-up shop fronts and derelict factory sites, as London's role as a great manufacturing and trading centre is eroded by recession and business failures.

The facts of the recession in London speak for themselves. The latest figures for unemployment in London show an increase from 201,196 in April last year to 309,263 in April this year—an increase of 108,000 or 53·7 per cent. The ratio of unemployment to the number of vacancies in London is 26:1—the highest in the country. It is higher than the ratio of 25:1 in Northern Ireland and that of 9:1 in Scotland.

Business failures in London and the south-east rose by 109 per cent. between the last quarter of 1989 and 1990. Recent surveys of business confidence in the capital show clearly how business now fears even worse times. The London chamber of commerce survey for the first quarter of 1991 showed that, among the larger London firms, employing more than 250,000 staff each, fewer than 20 per cent. are operating at full strength. The Evening Standard/ Investors in Industry survey for April found that 94 per cent. of companies in the capital are likely to reduce, or at best maintain, their work forces in the coming year.

Londoners know that things are going wrong from the growing climate of violence and lawlessness which is the product of recession and hopelessness. It makes our streets unsafe and women afraid to leave their homes at night. The Evening Standard poll shows that no fewer than 69 per cent. of Londoners put their concern about the level of crime at the highest point on the scale that they were offered.

Londoners know that things are going wrong because the waiting lists for treatment in London hospitals are the longest in the country. They are particularly long in the North East Thames region—some Conservative Members who are present will know what I mean—where my constituency has the misfortune to suffer that problem, as does the constituency of the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert).

Londoners know that things are going wrong with schools, which are struggling with low morale and resources. They see it in local government services, which have been cut as a consequence of the poll tax, the imposition of capping and the unfairness of a grant system that has been skewed for political purposes. They see it, too, in the problems of the voluntary sector, so long one of the flagships of London's pride and self-confidence but now a further victim of the cuts imposed by the Government.

In short, Londoners have lost confidence in their city. That has not happened, as the Government pretend, because the Labour party says so or because we have chosen to debate London's problems, but because the reality of their daily experience confirms that life in our city is now difficult, bad-tempered and without much hope of improvement. Among those who share that perception are many who would not normally be counted as supporters of the Labour party. They include the editors of The Sunday Times and the Evening Standard and the European Commissioner for the Environment. They all agree that the quality of life in our capital city has declined alarmingly.

A staggering 46 per cent. of Londoners would like to leave the city in which they live. Only the most purblind of Governments would seek to dismiss that judgment and vote of no confidence by Londoners. [Interruption.]

Even aspects of London that have traditionally been its greatest strength are being put needlessly at risk. The City's role as Europe's pre-eminent financial centre is increasingly being challenged by other cities, notably Frankfurt. London's attempts to fight back are hardly helped by transport and traffic systems that are grinding to a halt. Journeys to the City from the major airports take two or three times longer than they should. [Interruption.]

In case anyone should take seriously the Minister of State's interjections from a sedentary position, may I make it clear that such concerns are expressed not only by the Labour party but also by such people as Sir Martin Jacomb, Chairman of Barclays De Zoete Wedd, and Mr. Stanley Yassukovich, the former chairman of the Securities Association. They are among the increasingly powerful and concerned voices who share the Opposition's concern on this issue.