Obviously, this is a wide subject and the debate could cover many matters. I shall concentrate on a few aspects of what is happening in London and in particular London's economy. I am sure that if we refer to the recent dismal record Ministers will tell us, as they have done on several recent occasions, that we are talking London and the country down. We must say clearly at the outset that to state the facts and the truth about what is happening to London and the south-east, as well as the rest of the country, is not to talk Britain down. Our constituents in the poorest parts of London—the people represented mainly by Opposition Members—are suffering most. We have no interest whatever in seeing their conditions worsen—quite the opposite.
What we see now in London is unprecedented and causes serious anxiety for not only the short term but the long-term future. To walk around parts of east London, such as the part of London that I represent, is a profoundly depressing experience in many ways. It is depressing to see what has happened to the environment and to public transport, how many people are homeless and what is happening to people as a result of mass unemployment.
In my constituency, I have noticed the change over several years. I have been travelling through Walthamstow Central station for several years. Certainly it has been possible to see people sleeping rough and begging on the streets in certain parts of London for a long time. But that never used to happen in most parts of outer London. Only in recent years has it become an everyday occurrence at the stations that I use every day to see people begging on the steps. It never happend a few years ago in outer London, but it happens all the time now.
While many of the comments about the rundown of the economy could be made about any large city, they are particularly disturbing as they apply to London. What is happening in London now is different from what happened in previous recessions. Clearly, the economic problems did not arise overnight, but the current problems are structural and will not go away simply as a result of a general upturn in the economy, if or whenever it comes. They require action by Government and by local government. One of the questions on which we might perhaps touch at some point in this debate is why there is no longer a strategic authority for London which could be dealing, or helping to deal, with some of these problems.
If we look at what is happening and try to measure the crisis, unemployment is a good element to consider. Certainly unemployment is a tool that has been used by the Government to control inflation; it is one of the main planks of their policy in controlling inflation. Since April 1990, the beginning of the current recession, unemployment in Greater London has risen from approximately 200,000 to 472,000. That is on the seasonally adjusted figures, not the actual figures, but it is a fair comparison. That represents 20 per cent. of the total increase in unemployment for the whole of the United Kingdom; 20 per cent. of this has happened in London over the last three years. In that same area, Greater London, we now have about 9,500 vacancies at jobcentres—a ratio of 49 unemployed claimants to every vacancy at a jobcentre.
In previous recessions, traditionally, unemployment in London has been lower than in the rest of the United Kingdom. It was in October 1991 that for the first time unemployment in London went above the average for the United Kingdom, and it has stayed above the average ever since. In fact, it is still going up further above the average. Even in the last month, when nationally there was for one month a small drop in unemployment, in Greater London it continued to go up. So we now have unemployment across Greater London of 11·7 per cent., compared with 10·4 per cent. nationally.
Within that total, there are some particularly disturbing trends. First, what happens if we look at this on an area basis? Taking my own constituency as an example, we now have unemployment running officially at 16 per cent. In some wards it is up to 20 per cent. The six east London boroughs—Haringey, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Barking and Dagenham, and Waltham Forest—put a case to the Government recently for assisted area status, and of course we are still waiting to hear how the assisted areas map will be redrawn. The case that they put showed the depth of the problems in that part of east London, with the second highest unemployment rate in the whole of the United Kingdom. Ninety four per cent. of the electoral wards in those six boroughs have unemployment rates above the United Kingdom average, and very high rates of long-term unemployment, nearly 40 per cent. of the people who are unemployed having been out of work for more than a year. That figure is a fake, of course, because someone who is unemployed goes on to a Government training scheme for maybe just a few months and drops out of the unemployment figures, then comes back off the training scheme, is unemployed again and gets counted as a new claimant. Such people are not counted as long-term unemployed, when the truth is that they are. In that part of east London the job vacancy rate is even worse than the average for Greater London as a whole. With 100 claimants for every job vacancy, is it surprising that people simply give up hope of ever having a job and getting back to work again?
The second point that I want to highlight in regard to unemployment is what is happening to youth unemployment. In my constituency, registered unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds is running at 25 per cent. That is the average for east London. In the six boroughs that have applied for assisted area status, there are 17 electoral wards in which male unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds is more than 50 per cent. Again, those are just the official figures. We should remember that official figures conceal a great deal. For instance, many 16 and 17-year-olds cannot sign on as claimants. Given that the official figure is more than 50 per cent., one dreads to think about the true figure.
The short-term costs are disastrous. The police in Greater London recognise what is happening to youth crime and are saying that social deprivation contributes to it. Again, it is our constituents in the poor areas who suffer. There are now parts of London, inevitably the poor areas, where it is virtually impossible to get insurance for one's property, so again those living in the poorest areas are worst affected by crime. Unemployment is affecting schools. It is hardly surprising that when 15 and 16-year-olds know what is waiting for them when they leave school, they are reluctant to become seriously involved in education or to care what is happening, and many drop out or play truant. To compound all those problems, there are cuts in local authority services, particularly non-statutory services such as youth services which are designed to serve those at the bottom of the heap.
The long-term consequences of youth unemployment are incalculable. It seriously worries me to talk to people whom I respect who have worked with young people all their lives and who say that they foresee enormous long-term problems. They say that there is a lost generation of young people who have never worked and will never work because after five or 10 years of unemployment they will become unemployable. Training in low skills for low-skilled jobs which do not exist offers absolutely nothing. The serious long-term implications will not be solved simply by creating new jobs. There is a great deal to be done for those who have been out of work since they left school.
The third element which I want to highlight and which is also particularly relevant to my constituency involves what is happening to the black and ethnic minority population, who inevitably suffer disproportionately from unemployment. In east London, again in the six boroughs that I mentioned earlier, it is estimated that 45 per cent. of the Pakistani and Bangladeshi population is out of work. That is the most disadvantaged group of all. When one considers the racial disadvantage alongside the age structure of the Pakistani population—which in my constituency is the largest in London, and it is a young population so it is affected by youth unemployment—there are bound to be serious long-term consequences. Another point that I have raised with Ministers recently is that grants under section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966 which are specifically designed to address racial disadvantage among people from the new Commonwealth are being cut. At the same time as the problems are multiplying, the grants are being cut.
In the past few years, public investment has been cut, everything has been left to market forces and the option has been to privatise, where possible. That has led to the decimation of London's manufacturing industry. In the second half of the 1980s, half of all the manufacturing jobs lost in the United Kingdom were from Greater London. Walthamstow and the Lea valley used to be a thriving centre of the furniture trade, but now not one factory is left. Similarly, virtually all the light engineering industries have disappeared. Discounting local authorities, the health service and other public bodies, I am convinced that I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of employers with more than 100 employees in my constituency.
The London economy is now imbalanced, because in the 1980s it became far too reliant on the boom in the financial sector. When it caught a cold at the end of the 1980s, London suffered disproportionately. Four out of five jobs in London are in the service sector and a high proportion are found in finance, banking and insurance. What is the future for that sector? What will happen if the European central bank is not located in London? I do not believe that many of the large merchant banks or finance houses will feel any particular loyalty to London or the country if they believe that there are more profits to be made and business to be done elsewhere.
Action to diversify the London economy, so that the necessary investment is created to revitalise our manufacturing and industrial base, has always been missing from Government policy. The Government do not place much priority on that revitalisation, but that is required to achieve long-term improvement in the economy.
Investment is also needed in infrastructure. Public transport is an obvious example. Why is investment in London Underground being cut? If one looks at the autumn statements for 1991 and 1992, the difference in the expenditure of the Department of Transport was virtually zero—about £7,000 out of nearly £6 million. However, that Department has now decided—it is not a Treasury decision—to shift expenditure from public transport to roads. Spending on the roads has gone up while investment in the underground has gone down. London Underground has made it clear that the reduced level of investment means that it will never reach the targets it set to deliver a proper public transport system in London, because it will not receive the necessary returns on investment to make the necessary improvements.
Once bus deregulation is introduced, perhaps within a couple of years, further cuts will be made to public transport in London. I sympathise with the action that the bus workers have decided to take tomorrow because they are being offered less pay for working more hours. It is not surprising that people who have been pushed around year after year have now reached the point where they believe that they have no option but to strike. That action may cause inconvenience to people, but it will be nothing to the inconvenience that they will experience once the bus service has been deregulated.
My hon. Friend may like to know that what he is saying is being confirmed by the various interviews being conducted by the media among the travelling public in London. The public are saying that it will be inconvenient, that it is a pity that there is to be strike action on the London transport system on Friday, but that they fully understand what the workers in London have had to put up with. There is much sympathy for the action, even though everyone understands how much inconvenience it will mean.
I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution, and I agree with him. We have experienced such reactions when previous action has been taken. lin my constituency, Walthamstow bus garage shut down 18 months ago as a result of routes going out to tender. There was no doubt that when bus drivers in that garage took strike action to try to prevent what was happening they received a great deal of public sympathy and support.
A great many socially useful jobs will disappear in public transport. Why cannot we have station staff? Why are ticket collectors being removed from stations? Why are there no staff at night? I suspect that it costs at least as much in lost fares and the fact that people are scared to travel as is saved by getting rid of staff. Walthamstow Central station in my constituency is a joint underground and British Rail station, controlled by British Rail, which unilaterally decided to take away the ticket collectors. London Underground can do nothing about that as it does not control the booking halls and such areas. People know that they can ride on the underground free, walk out and their tickets will not be checked.
Has my hon. Friend received the kind of complaints that I have from constituents who discover that ticket machines are not working because they have been vandalised or because they have not been replenished due to shortage of staff? That causes acute embarrassment to legitimate travellers on public transport. Some machines are also fouled by vandals at night when there are no station staff.
Absolutely. I have dealt with the cases of constituents who have boarded a British Rail train in such circumstances and been made to pay penalty fares when the original problem was that they could not buy a ticket.
The all-party disability group had a meeting a few months ago on the issue of the difficulties experienced by disabled passengers when travelling, particularly at night, due to lack of staff not only on stations but on trains. A person in a wheelchair attempting to travel alone depends on staff being present at the stations. That is another area of life where the public are being denied access to the public transport system.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which is becoming a bigger and bigger problem—and deregulation on the buses will make it worse. I am convinced that private operators will not be prepared to invest in mobility buses and low-level platforms.
There is a ludicrous situation on the underground system. To revert to the problems at my own local station, I wrote to British Rail and said that removing ticket collectors would cause a problem as people would take advantage of that. British Rail is not worried as it operates a penalty fare system and people getting off the train at Liverpool Street station will be caught if they have not bought a ticket. But London Underground will suffer. Having refused to listen, British Rail is now erecting notices at the station warning people that ticket touts are in operation. Immediately the ticket collectors were removed, a thriving business in buying and selling travelcards was established. Passengers get off the train, someone buys their travelcard for £1 and sells it to someone else to go in the other direction.
Yes, it is all part of the enterprise economy. It never happened when there were staff.
It would be easy to say that it is all British Rail's fault, but I do not believe that it is good enough to do that. British Rail did not introduce the philosophy of low staffing and railways having to break even or make money without any subsidies. The inevitable consequence is such policies being put into effect. Many useful jobs could be done and should still be done, at a time when we are prepared to keep people on the dole.
My hon. Friend has spoken about the impact of travelling and the loss of fares. Will he also deal with the problems of increased crime and vandalism? The latter was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms. Jackson). I had to deal with the case of a woman in Sydenham who, since staff have been taken from that station, has approached me to ask Network SouthEast to put close-boarded fencing up, backing on to the platform, in place of the chain link that is there at the moment. She said that that would give her protection from the vandals who turn up at least once every week to wreck the waiting room.
I am sure that that point will be echoed in many parts of London.
Hon. Members have asked me, when I leave late at night to travel home on the last tube, whether I feel worried about doing so. If I, or people in a similar position, do not feel safe, it is not surprising that many other people feel extremely unsafe and will not use public transport.
I have set out a whole sector where investment has been missing. That investment could be channelled through local authorities. We have a huge homelessness problem at the same time as thousands of skilled building workers are on the dole and capital receipts cannot be spent. The autumn statement did not help. To tell local authorities that only new capital receipts can be spent, when the housing market has collapsed and few will be interested in the right to buy, is to give them little. There is great potential for investment, which will get the construction industry back to work.
Reading the newspapers today about the implementation of the care in the community policy, I was struck by the opportunities that that policy could offer for the creation of useful jobs. Local authorities have to produce statements of need for the people who are their responsibility. At the same time, the Government are telling them that if it seems that, once the assessment has been done, the need cannot be met, the people concerned should not be told. Local authorities do not know where to turn. Are they supposed to produce a statement of need and then be faced with a court action when they cannot provide for it because they do not have the money?
We are told that it is all up to the local authorities. According to this morning's newspapers, the Secretary of State for Social Security has said that local authorities will have to make decisions about priorities. The trouble is that they are told the same thing about every service: their money is being cut, but they must decide priorities. Something has to give. People who should be receiving a service through care in the community will not be receiving it and local authorities will be getting the blame when it is impossible for them to deliver.
I spoke earlier of training schemes, for which there is a crying need. The existing schemes do not work. Often all that they offer is training for a non-existent job, so it is not surprising that people are not interested and that there are high drop-out rates. We need training schemes designed to produce a high level of skills. When I worked in further education before I came here, I found it extremely annoying to see the attitudes and what went on. Often in a poor area what was on offer was poor and of low quality. People took the view that a poor area whose people were unskilled and incapable of A-levels or higher levels of technical qualification and so did not need to be offered them, but rather something basic in the guise of serving the community. It was an insult to the people in those areas not to offer them high quality training.
I am sure that many other issues affecting London will be focused on during the debate—the national health service, policing, education and a strategic authority—and I am convinced that without significant changes in Government policy the present disaster that we see in the economy will continue and London will deteriorate further.
I shall not say that I shall be brief because that seems to be code in this place for going on for at least half an hour. I shall say what I have to say as quickly as I can.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) on his good fortune in securing the debate tonight. Matters relating to London and the south-east are clearly of importance to people in London and the south-east. But London, as our capital city, has a particular place and prominence which goes far beyond the concerns of simply those who live and are fortunate enough to work in London.
I want to concentrate for a few moments on the damage that Government policy during the past decade has done to the governance of London. Before the Government took office the London Boroughs Association represented all London boroughs, whether under Conservative, Labour or other control. There was a general feeling at the time that, despite partisan and political differences and despite the entirely proper change in emphasis from one authority to another because problems confronting people in different authorities vary, London was an entity, that it was far more than the sum of its parts and that it had a potential and a future from which we all, as Londoners, whether from inner or outer London, could benefit.
The Government, by their policies during the 1980s, have wrecked that consensus and, as a consequence, the people of London have paid a dreadful price. The split between the London Boroughs Association and the Association of London Authorities was solely attributable to the Government's determination to abolish the Greater London council.
I shall not call this evening for the reinstitution of the GLC or conjure up spectres of filling county hall again with various bureaucrats working on behalf of London, despite that being a far more attractive proposition than filling it up with tourists, which seems to be the prospect for at least part of the building. Only the riverside building has been sold at the moment. The north and south blocks and the island block of county hall remain a white elephant, costing London council tax payers a sum of money to keep empty for no practical purpose.
It is not necessary to reconstruct the GLC, but there is considerable need for a strategic city-wide authority along the lines found in every other city, not just in Britain but throughout the western world and certainly in our most immediate competitor countries in western Europe. London needs to co-ordinate its transport and traffic management services, health, ambulance and emergency services, waste regulation, environmental audits and scientific services.
There is also a need for strategic research on policy and planning for land use, economic development, housing, training, environmental improvements, conservation, the arts, culture, sport, entertainment, tourism and many other issues, which cannot and will never be satisfactorily dealt with by each of the London boroughs acting on its own. We now know that it is impossible to operate a different transport policy in Bexley or Croydon than in Hillingdon or Havering, and we are paying a fearful price in terms of not just the quality of life but opportunities denied to Londoners.
It is seven years to the day since the Greater London council was abolished.
My hon. Friend, pedantic as ever, reminds me that today is the seventh anniversary of the first day that Londoners had to survive without a strategic planning authority. The intervening years have brought a degree of recognition on the Government Benches that they will have to row back from that—that certain things can only be done Londonwide.
We have seen the latest fiasco this week, with the launch of the London Forum—a collection of Tory knights and business worthies who are supposed to attract tourism to the capital. Its chairman is Sir Allen Sheppard, chief executive of Grand Metropolitan, and its deputy chairman is Sir Colin Marshall, chairman of British Airways. I can only assume that Sir Colin has been brought in to do the dirty on Paris or Frankfurt and is probably arranging to have their telephone lines bugged and their computers intercepted even as we speak.
The forum's other members include Rocco Forte, the chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi, and the senior partner of Coopers and Lybrand—a rich cross-section of Londoners if ever there was—hand picked, tame individuals who will simply do the Government's bidding. They are supposed to stimulate tourism in the depths of a recession.
No one would argue with that objective and the forum itself requested local authority members—but the Secretary of State turned that request down flat. At least the forum's members recognised that provision must be made for the genuine and authentic voice of Londoners to be heard when attempting to co-ordinate strategy across the city.
The salami approach to London's problems can never be successful. I hesitate to suggest how many London-wide bodies exist now, established merely to replicate the role that a city-wide authority could play as a matter of course. They have failed one after another or have met with only mixed success, but I suspect that we will see many more created before the truth finally dawns on the Conservative Benches.
On Monday, I was interviewed on LBC and asked, "Is it not the case that most Government supporters would admit the need for a London-wide authority in private, but because it has become such a politicised question, none will ever say so in public?" That has become the truth that dare not speak its name on the Government Benches. The reinstatement of a London-wide authority will come about one day. The issue will go away. One will hardly find a Conservative supporter at the time who will admit ever to having been in favour of scrapping the GLC in the first place—just as no Government supporter will admit today to being enthusiastic about the poll tax. The explanation will probably follow the same lines—"It was that woman. She made us do it. We didn't really understand it all. She said it would all be all right." The truth for Londoners is that the absence of a London-wide authority has been far from all right.
To give right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House a grasp of London's loss, I will relate an incident that occurred last year, when I was mayor of Lewisham and had the privilege of attending the final service of the closure of Cane Hill mental institution in Coulsdon. I was pleased to observe that so many residents had gone on to receive a more caring and appropriate form of support in the community than could be offered by that place.
It should be realised, however, that, when it originated nearly a century ago, Cane Hill was a very advanced facility of its kind, for its time. It was established in the 1890s by the London county council, which took the brave step of providing for sufferers from acute mental illness by buying land in the distant area of Coulsdon, thus helping people who would otherwise have been untreated, unsupported and on the streets. That our predecessors in the LCC were able and willing to do that at the turn of the century speaks volumes for their vision.
When I attended that service, it struck me that social care should have moved on in the better part of a century. We should be able to provide a far more sensitive, secure and compassionate service. But where in London is the necessary authority? Who will provide such a service today, so that, in a hundred years, those who come after us will thank us for our perception, our compassion and our ability to make decisions and provide accordingly? I fear that the answer is "No one". I do not know who once described conservatism as an ideology that does not recognise the past and therefore makes no provision for the future, but nowhere is that clearer than in the story of London since the spiteful politicisation of its activities and the abolition of its London-wide authorities.
I cannot fail to mention the Inner London Education Authority. If anything, its abolition was an act of even greater vandalism, for which the people of inner London will pay a sorry price for many years. When the real price is known, it will be much too late to do anything about it. Conservative Members will be pleased to learn that I do not advocate the return even of an inner Londonwide education authority, because I feel that that has gone for good; none the less, I shall not allow the abolition of ILEA to pass without saying that it was an act of gross betrayal and appalling insensitivity. ILEA's reputation for provision for the under-fives and post-16s was exemplary: in many of its activities, especially post-16 provision, it led the nation, if not the world. The price of its abolition is already coming home to Londoners.
I understand what my hon. Friend has said about the impossibility of returning to ILEA as it was. Does he agree, however, that there is a crying need for the co-ordination of special education provision throughout inner London? Many special schools have been closed and children with particular needs have lost the facilities that they require. We also need much better co-ordination of education for post-16s. I feel that many young Londoners have been failed by the lack of a co-ordinating body to ensure that there is a decent range of post-16 places.
I agree. I was not suggesting for a moment that we could simply leave the boroughs to go their own way; I was simply saying that, in organisational terms, it would be impossible to recreate ILEA in anything like its old form. Once certain things in this world are broken, they cannot be put together again. Nevertheless, those who broke ILEA should be made to face up to their responsibility, particularly in regard to special needs and post-16s.
Much of ILEA's provision for special needs recognised no borough boundaries; why should it have done so? Yet, on its break-up, some boroughs were left with two or three special units within schools, while others were left with none. There followed the ludicrous spectacle of boroughs being charged to send students to special units in other boroughs simply because they happened to be a few hundred yards—or even a few yards—the wrong side of a line that did not even exist when they were created.
The other day, I asked whether figures were available to show the number of post-16 courses in the London boroughs, compared with the number in the last year of ILEA's existence. The figures did not give the number of courses, but they gave the total number of enrolments.
Since 1990, the figures show a reduction of 10 per cent., from 220,000 down to 200,000 enrolments, at a time when unprecedented numbers of school leavers are taking up post-16 further education places, not because they are choosing freely to do so—although I hope that as many as possible do take them up freely—but because there are no real jobs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow made plain, for them to go to. They are, therefore, going on to further education. I am delighted that they are not rejecting the opportunity.
My point, though, is that at a time when the pressure for further education places has grown to unprecedented proportions, a reduction in the number of further education enrolments in inner London is a matter for remark. There has been a huge drop in the number of mature people taking up non-vocational courses. Their lives were greatly enriched by that provision, but now it is denied to them. Many of the real effects of the abolition of ILEA are hard to determine and quantify. None the less, they are real. A tangible decline in the number of opportunities available to Londoners is leading to a substantial deterioration in the quality of their lives.
Nowhere is the lack of co-ordination across London more plain than in the case of transport. I can do no better than quote what was said last December by the CBI's regional task force:
Traffic congestion costs businesses £10 billion a year. A single body, working with Government Departments, would be able to co-ordinate the efforts of no fewer than 60 organisations at present responsible for transport in London.
There is little or nothing to add to that. Traffic chaos in London is a fearful burden and a great impediment to getting London moving again, in more ways than one, and attracting the investment that we need to make up for the shortfall in job opportunities that my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow so clearly outlined when he introduced the debate.
My hon. Friend also referred to bus deregulation. I draw his attention to an article that quoted the managing director of the east London subsidiary, based in Walthamstow, of London Buses Ltd. He estimates that a quarter of the mileage currently operated by London Buses will be at risk from deregulation. One bus route in four is threatened by deregulation. How on earth can the Conservatives believe that they are doing anything to regenerate London's economy when their wanton, doctrinaire and dogmatic attitude is putting it, on a flimsy pretext, at such risk? It is to everybody's extreme disadvantage.
As for the police authority for London, the drift here is in entirely the opposite direction. Last week, the Home Secretary anounced at the Dispatch Box that he intended to create a Londonwide police authority. Despite any reservations there may be over the precise proportions and the process he will use to select people to serve on that authority, his statement is to be welcomed. I certainly welcome it. Nevertheless, it seems a strange decision. Last evening, I was speaking to my hon. Friends the Members for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) and for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), because all three of us, a decade or so ago, were involved in matters relating to policing in London. In the early 1980s, one of our principal demands was for a police authority, other than the Home Secretary, for London. The three of us, and many others, were treated like subversives—we were in the pay of the KGB and various other organisations. We were a danger to civilised society. We were called harmful radicals. It is amazing: we have not changed at all. [Interruption.] I apologise to the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) for waking him up. We have continued to argue persuasively, rationally and reasonably and the Home Secretary has now come to the very same conclusion. I am delighted about that, but I shall want to see precisely what is in the small print concerning the police authority for London.
The London ambulance service is another story. In a debate later tonight, for which I hope hon. Members will stay, there will no doubt be a litany of incompetence, management failure, insensitivity and extremely bad service for the people of London. It was announced yesterday that the London ambulance board is to be replaced with a sub-committee of the South West Thames regional health authority, which is itself at least as culpable in respect of the failures of the London ambulance service. This is a furious, almost frantic, slashing around in the dark in an effort to find an answer when the reality is staring people in the face. What is needed is a Londonwide regional health authority to take control and do the planning.
London is a great city with great potential, not just for its citizens but for the nation. It is an asset being wantony and flagrantly squandered. We in the Opposition look forward to its earliest possible regeneration and to the restoration of a citywide authority—something that the people of London have a right to expect.
I welcome the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) as it deals with the area inhabited by the greatest mass of population of this country. It deals with the impact of the Government's policies not only on people in this great, historic capital, but also on people in the area of south-east England outside Greater London—an area in which more than 10·5 million people live, and where more than 5 million of them pay income tax. Since September 1959, the area has lost 157,000 manufacturing jobs. The level of unemployment in the south-east, outside Greater London, is costing the country a colossal £4·3 billion each year. There are more than 140,000 long-term unemployed, and, tragically, 163,000 young people, between 16 and 24, are either on the dole or ought to be receiving some other form of benefit because they are unemployed. It is a serious charge that the Government are indifferent to the plight of young people who are denied the opportunity of friends at work, job satisfaction and creativity. To complete the picture, I should point out that, in the south-east, there are 25 people seeking every job vacancy. That is hardly surprising as, in the past year, the region had about 23,000 business failures.
It is disgraceful that the attendance of Conservative Members representing the counties around London is so poor. Unhappily, on 9 April 1992 I became not just the only Labour MP but the only Opposition MP for many of the counties outside Greater London. Therefore, as well as speaking up for my constituents in Thurrock, which I am proud to do, and on whose behalf I shall outline the effects of the Government's policies and indifference, I can also legitimately claim to speak for not thousands but millions of people outside Greater London who oppose the Government and who are not otherwise represented in this debate.
If some hon. Members balk at that idea, I ask them to note that there is not a single Conservative Back Bencher from Essex here tonight; there is not a single Conservative Back Bencher from Surrey; there is not a single Conservative Back Bencher from West Sussex or East Sussex; there is not a single Conservative Back Bencher from Berkshire or Hampshire, even though hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed in those counties. Thousands are languishing on hospital waiting lists, thousands are homeless and many families are threatened with the loss of their home. Despite that, not one Conservative Back-Bench Member is here to defend the Government's policies, let alone represent those people for whose plight the Government are responsible.
It is a great shame that those people have been let down in that way, especially when one bears in mind that the south-east of England was what could have been called Thatcher country. It unquestionably contributed significantly to Conservative victory after Conservative victory, but its people have been betrayed tonight because they are not represented in a debate on the impact of Government policies on the people of London and south-east England. The people of Thurrock have been battered and bruised by Government policies. Some of what I have to say relates also to the thousands, if not millions, of people in the south-east outside Greater London.
I am pleased to see the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), here tonight. Although he is a courteous man and has extended the hand of friendship to me, I have to say that my constituents feel bitterly disappointed about his recent decision not to permit a public inquiry into what is known as the Aveley No. 3 pit. It is in an area where the residents close to the western boundary of Essex and Greater London will have to endure 17 years of constant tipping of rubbish, extraction and lorry movements. That will be to their great disadvantage and may also jeopardise their health. It is a matter of great concern to many of my constituents and people in the neighbouring London borough, but it is also indicative of what has happened elsewhere in my constituency.
If one were to go up in a helicopter or an aeroplane and look down on my constituency, it would look like a moonscape. For decades, it has been exploited by people with a rapacious appetite for tipping rubbish or extracting minerals. They have no regard for the long-term effects on the area, for its potential beauty or for the health of residents. We look to the Government to say, "Thus far, and no further." We want them to recognise that rubbish tipping and mineral extraction cause considerable problems, and that Thurrock has had more than its fair share. My constituents are bitterly disappointed that the Minister has so far declined to call a halt to tipping and extraction and to protect the people of Aveley by at least allowing them the opportunity to state their case before an independent public inquiry.
I take this opportunity to ask the Minister again to pause and reflect on the matter. Will he at least give me an undertaking when he replies to the debate to reconsider his decision that my constituents will not have the opportunity of a public inquiry into the Aveley No. 3 pit? Will he assure me that the Government will examine much more critically the problem of mineral extraction and waste tipping that bedevils many people in Thurrock and throughout the south-east region and many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and insist on a vigorous application of environmental impact assessments before permissions are given?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he knows that my constituency suffers from similar problems. However, he is being a little unfair to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. My hon. Friend understands what we have to put up with, which is why he has recently published new minerals planning guidance which recognises the problems and seeks alternative sources of supply for minerals.
The hon. Gentleman's constituents will take note of his defence of the Government's policy. What has been done is too little too late, certainly for my constituents and, I would have thought, for his, too. I hope that the Minister will reflect on the matter and at least be prepared to take the subject away with him for further thought later tonight.
I shall move on to the next subject. My part of Essex is very much part of commuter country, and the people who live there are suffering from a clapped-out railway system, with high fares and an irregular service, which is threatened with franchising. My constituents want not a franchised railway but one which works and which provides them with a reliable service to take them to their places of employment in London. That will not be provided by a franchising operation. Prospective franchisers will be frightened off by the need to invest both in rolling stock and in the infrastructure. There are two possible scenarios. One is that the railway operation will be flogged off as a clapped-out system and will continue as such—a private monopoly under which commuters continue to be ripped off. The second is that no prospective franchisers will come forward.
The Government cannot escape from the fact that major public investment is needed in the London-Tilbury-Southend line. I hope that that idea will be taken on board.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the need for increased investment and implies that privatisation will not help the railway industry. Is he not aware that there has been a massive increase in investment in every industry that has been privatised? If he wants extra investment in the railways he should vote for the Railways Bill.
I do not accept that. But it is true that where industries have been privatised there have been major increases in unemployment. That fact leads me to the subject of the West Thurrock power station, where yesterday the staff were told, without notice, that generation of power was to cease at 10 o'clock last night. More than 350 people face unemployment as a result, and that is in addition to the already high levels of unemployment in my constituency, in Essex as a whole and in east London.
Those people are losing their jobs as a direct consequence of privatisation. The Government refuse to adopt a co-ordinated and comprehensive energy policy that would bring together all the agencies that generate power and ensure that energy was produced effectively and cheaply while maximising the use of existing resources and plant. Instead, because the open market is competitive and unplanned, they permit electricity to be imported from France and allow the unplanned growth of new generating plant, while the recession caused by their economic policies has meant that there has been no increase in the demand for electricity. My constituents are facing the dole queue as a direct consequence of a combination of the Government's policies on energy, their policies that have caused the recession, and their privatisation programme. That is my response to the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), who defends the privatisation of power, transport and many other important industries.
What has been the Government's response to all this unemployment? Last week, we had the publication of the glossy document containing the Government's proposals on the east Thames corridor which had been much heralded. I recognise the employment potential of the river Thames and its related areas in Kent, Essex and London. There is great potential for regeneration, creating employment, and providing mobility and forms of transport, as well as opportunities for recreation. But once we get beyond the glossy covers, there is no substance.
The document talks about regeneration and creating employment, but does not say how. There is only one way to achieve regeneration and that is by a major programme of public expenditure in the key areas of health, housing and education, and the refurbishment of our clapped-out railway system, but the Government decline to do that. So there is no substance to the document. It is a smokescreen for inaction to try to cover their embarrassment about the acute unemployment in Kent and Essex.
There has been talk about homes, and I want homes for families to live in. The problem in the so-called east Thames corridor is not that there is no land to build on, but that there are no customers. There are acres and acres of land with planning permissions for residential development, but, because of the collapse of confidence in the country, people cannot contemplate buying homes. In addition, the Government refuse to allow councils to build housing estates in which families could rent houses. In my constituency, there are thousands upon thousands of planning permissions, but there are no customers.
Throughout the region and not just in my constituency there is acute depression. It is a new feature of the south-east. Hitherto, it has been an area of relative wealth, abundance and full employment, but in the latter years of the Thatcher premiership and under the stewardship of the present Prime Minister we have seen it go into decline, with high unemployment as well as a tragic number of business failures, which are increments of family grief and anxiety.
I speak for, and am angry on behalf of, those people who invested their lives in small businesses, with the prospect of being able to nurture them and hand them on to their children, only to see them fail, not because of their recklessness or lack of business acumen, but because of the failures and indifference of the Government. What a tragedy! Yet Ministers come here pretending that they are the people who defend and speak for small businesses. They have failed them. People have lost their livelihoods and homes as a consequence, and many others have lost their jobs through the failures and the reduction in demand in key industries.
In January, we had unprecedented levels of unemployment in Essex and Kent. A couple of weeks ago Members on the Government Benches were full of glee because somehow there had been a small reduction in the total unemployment figures in the region. However on that occasion unemployment increased in Surrey and in Berkshire. There was a small drop in the other counties which had already reached high levels in January and in many marginal seats which the Government were delighted to have captured at the polls just a year ago.
In an earlier debate the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) spoke at great length. I dropped him a note to say that I would be referring to him, because of the nature of his speech this evening and those that he has made on other occasions. He boasted that his victory a year ago was of great significance. I guess that is a matter of historical fact. Clearly, the Conservative win in Basildon is written into the history books. Therefore, it becomes a shibboleth and totem of what the Conservatives achieved that night. They cannot be surprised if they are subsequently shot down and indicted for all that Basildon represents and the fact that the people of Basildon now feel bitterly betrayed.
At a time when the hon. Member for Basildon is claiming that there was also a small reduction in unemployment in his constituency, there was an unprecedented council election victory for Labour in Basildon in which David Kirkman won with a 24 per cent. swing to Labour. Indeed, David Kirkman has a higher majority than the hon. Member for Basildon has in the House. This evening in my constituency, the Labour council candidate, John Kent, took 60 per cent. of the poll in a three-corner contest in Grays.
The people of Essex have had enough of this Government. They feel that they have been betrayed by the consequences of electing a Conservative Government. I see it each week in my constituency surgery as, perhaps, do other hon. Members, especially in the south-east of England. There a large number of people were encouraged to purchase their homes and seek the best for their families. I applaud that, as someone who also aspired to that for his family. But in my surgery I see people who are heartbroken, distressed and do not know where to go. They come into our constituency surgeries each week because they have lost their jobs and, as a consequence, are losing their homes. Such families are not reckless. They are husbands and wives with delightful children and they want to provide the best for their families. However, they find that their homes have gone, not through their fault but through the Government's failure to provide the opportunity and security which come from being in employment.
One could continue at great length with indictments against the Government. Conservative Members mutter because—to use the words of Corporal Jones in "Dad's Army"—
They don't like it up 'em".
I suspect that they will get more of it from my colleagues this evening because almost all of the Government's programmes have failed the British people and particularly the people of this region.
I can illustrate the matter in another way. The Secretary of State for National Heritage has failed this region and London—which is a major tourist area, in which we earn dollars and an area to which we can invite people from overseas—by his neglect of, and indifference to, the fabric of so many of our great monuments and historic sites. If I had lived at the time of the good Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, I might not have been among his greatest fans, but is not it ridiculous and absurd that, in a major tourist part of London, the Albert memorial is covered up? Apparently it is covered in scaffolding and is rotting because the Government will not ensure that the memorial is protected. The Albert memorial is located in an area which crawls with people from north America who come here to enjoy the beauty of London and spend their dollars. However, this major monument is not so much in mothballs but is rotting because the Secretary of State for National Heritage cannot or will not find the money for it.
In the past 24 hours, I have received a letter which was prompted by the Secretary of State—presumably, he does not read the letters which his underlings write to hon. Members—in which the Master of the Armouries at the Tower of London says that he would have liked to make improvements in terms of fire precautions and safety,
but lack of funds has so far made"—
He refers specifically to
the installation of full automatic fire detection and suppression throughout the museum".
He tries to reassure me, but does not, that
This … is an area of improvement which we have seen as necessary to protect the buildings and our collections rather than the visiting public, for in a fully staffed building like the White Tower any danger is soon seen by staff and appropriate measures taken to safeguard the public.
The great historic Tower of London, a symbol of our national independence, is vulnerable to fire. I am not satisfied that the thousands upon thousands of visitors who go there are safe, particularly when the management is reducing the number of staff and Yeoman warders at that great historic site.
The last matter with which I wish to deal is the health of my area. Just this evening, I have been informed by the Basildon and Thurrock hospital trust that it will have to make redundant a large number of non-clinical employees. That is not because the trust has been dilatory. It has not. It is not because it has not fulfilled its obligations. It has. It has worked hard to fulfil its contracts. The trouble is that the crazy system of funding the national health service which the Government have introduced means that the health authority does not have the funds to buy the operations which the trust can provide. The money is not there.
Yet in my area there are large pockets of great poverty and consequential poor health. The accident and emergency department at Orsett hospital in Thurrock was closed due to the Government's indifference to the representations of thousands upon thousands of people from Thurrock and, indeed, Basildon.
I keep returning to the theme that people not only in my constituency but in south-east England outside Greater London seem to have fallen off the table of the Government's consideration. I believe that that is because I am the only Opposition Member for the area and the other seats are deemed to be safe Conservative seats. However, I believe that times are changing. It is interesting that so few Tory Members have attended the debate tonight. Apart from the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw), at this moment there is not one Conservative Back-Bencher in the Chamber.
I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Dover is here, because he represents a marginal seat. His constituency will probably suffer from the construction of the channel tunnel route. There will be acute depression in some areas of his constituency of Dover and in other areas such as Thanet because there will be a gravitational pull of industry and wealth along the corridor of the channel tunnel route. That will jeopardise much of his constituency. So the mind of the hon. Member for Dover has been concentrated on the need to defend his position and his Government's policies in the period running up to the general election.
But let us give the hon. Member for Dover full marks. He is here tonight. Where are the other hundreds of Conservative Members of Parliament? They are not here. I hope that if one message comes through tonight, it will be that when the House of Commons had the opportunity to debate unemployment, health, transport, homelessness and housing, no Conservative Members of Parliament were present from the counties of Surrey, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Essex, East Sussex, West Sussex or Hampshire. That is the greatest indictment of Conservative Members. I hope that their constituents will remember it when we have an opportunity to call them to account at the poll.
This debate is about Government policies and their effect on London and the south-east. It gives me a great sense of déjà vu to follow the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). He and I last debated together some 18 years back in the council chamber of Kingston upon Thames. I could not accept his views then and I am afraid that I cannot do so now. But I have always enjoyed his conversation, especially afterwards.
The economy of Dover is much tied up with the economy and well-being of London and the south-east. The Romans landed in Dover well before they came up to see this area of London, which was eventually developed in many respects by the Romans. The Romans were unable to land directly in Dover; we repulsed them, and they were forced to go up the beach to the delightful area in my constituency known as Walmer, where they finally managed to get ashore. The reason why I mention the Romans is that one of the big concerns in my constituency is the road linkage to London, and the A2 road, among others. Indeed, the Old Kent road has a very significant meaning for my constituents.
The Minister knows well the details of my constituency; he has recently visited it and taken a great interest in one particular problem. I know that the nuns of Kearsney are very grateful to him for the considerable support and assistance that he has given them in ensuring that there has been water in the lake at Kearsney recently. His interest in that matter has certainly been very welcome indeed.
The ferries of Dover are well known to many hon. Members and many of them would perhaps accuse me of raising the concerns of those who work in our ferry industry overmuch, but they will understand that for me those concerns can never be raised too much in the House. The ferries of Dover take many millions of Londoners and residents of the south-east on holiday every year. The many transport links to Dover, the road links, are fundamental and important in helping Londoners and residents of the south-east going on those trips and holidays abroad. This debate, therefore, is in my view very important to the interests of Dover.
Many of us who have sat through recent debates on the coal industry and other issues affecting other areas of the country sometimes get the feeling that the House does not discuss the needs of London and the south-east enough. Far too much attention is directed to the needs of certain other areas of the country which have had historically important positions in the economy but may not have kept their own industries and businesses up to date with the latest technology and developments. In consequence, they are undergoing change processes which affect them very deeply, but at the same time attract far more attention than one sometimes feels that they deserve. This detracts from the attention that should sometimes be given, I believe, to the problems that places such as Dover and Deal and other areas of the south-east face.
We all face process of change, especially during a recession, because recession heightens the need within the economy for old industries to give way to the new businesses and new technology which will develop the job opportunities of the following decade. I feel that much is going on in the south-east at present which indicates that this process of change is now accelerating. We are coming out of recession and we shall be seeing considerable development in the future, and it may well be that the Government can assist in that development in various ways.
Certainly, one way in which the Government can assist is by not going down the route that Labour was offering us at the last general election, because Labour's policies would have been disastrous. It was not difficult for me to point out to my constituents that raising income tax to the level to which Labour wanted to raise it for people earning £21,000 a year or more would hit not only 50 per cent. or thereabouts of people who work on Dover's ferries but, more importantly, 50 per cent. or thereabouts of the people who use Dover's ferry industry. That would have been a fundamental disaster for Dover's No. 1 industry.
In this period of honest addressing of the facts in his own constituency, at the last general election, did the hon. Gentleman suggest that a Conservative Government might increase national insurance contributions by 1 per cent., which is the same as putting up income tax by 1p in the pound, or put 17·5 per cent. value added tax on domestic fuel?
One of the commitments that I gave in the general election was that we would ensure that the national insurance fund, which is fundamental in looking after the nation's pensions, would be properly funded. I do not subscribe to the view that one should rush around increasing national insurance and I was very much against the Labour Government when they increased it, but given that we should fund our state pensions, it is appropriate for national insurance to be increased. My constituents will see that the decisions in the Budget are entirely consistent with any election literature that I put out. I said that we would lower income tax and move towards a 20 per cent. rate and we have done that.
Especially after the Rio summit, I never said that we would not put VAT on energy. Hon. Members will know that it is not practical to go to a summit in Rio de Janeiro and give a commitment to all the countries in the rest of the world that we shall work to reduce greenhouse gases and then not take steps to deliver on that commitment. Everyone in the House who is at all honest will recognise that we have to do something to affect the price of energy so that people will be encouraged to conserve it. That is consistent with all the material that I put out in the election campaign.
I did not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman on national insurance, but if I can take him back to the situation in his constituency, what message can he give the people of Deal, particularly the large number of unemployed miners who worked extremely hard in the remaining coalfields in Kent until 1985–86 when the Government that he supports closed down the remaining Kent coalfield, brutally, in my view? We have now lost those skills and productive capacity and there is great unhappiness and misery among those who formerly worked in that industry.
In 1985–86 I was not a Member of Parliament, so I was not in a position to take an active role in supporting the coalfields that were closed prior to my election. I was elected in 1987 and one coalfield was closed after that. I spent considerable time trying to establish whether there was any way in which it could be kept open. I was on the phone to the chairman of British Coal and liaised closely with a number of miners—people of a different political persuasion from myself, perhaps of a more extreme political persuasion. I tried to act in their best interests to find an opportunity for a buy-out or some other way to keep that pit open.
One of the problems in my discussions with the chairman of British Coal was the attitude of a small group of miners who were in control of the trade union. They were so negative in their relationship with British Coal that I could not get British Coal or its chairman to the point at which we could effect sensible negotiations. Although the attitude of British Coal was not ideal in the circumstances, after the violence of the coal strike of 1984 I could not help but understand why the attitude of the National Union of Mineworkers and those in my constituency who had sided with Arthur Scargill at the time resulted in the closure of the pit.
I would have welcomed an opportunity for the pit to remain open, but the trade union was more Sheffield-orientated in its obedience to the NUM than many other pro-Scargill parts of the union. The blind attitude towards the standard policy of the NUM was outrageous. That is why, sadly, production in the Betteshanger colliery never achieved an economically viable level. I saw British Coal's investment programme for Betteshanger. It could have remained open until recently, even in the present situation, had it achieved the production levels that British Coal and I wanted. I still see many of those miners, and I believe that they were let down by a small group of trade union officials' slavish obedience to Sheffield.
Labour's policies and attitudes would have a disastrous impact on my constituency. Those attitudes, even when they are displayed by those in opposition, are sometimes extremely damaging because they encourage people to think that there are alternative ways in which to obtain jobs other than through the private sector. They encourage people to think that there are other ways in which to create successful businesses other than through existing businesses which create profits.
Many people still write to me saying, "Isn't profit a dirty word?" Even after 14 years of Conservative Government, some people do not understand that if there are no profits, one does not attract more investment, and that without that investment, one does not create jobs. People go on about the high salaries of managers and the profits earned, but they do not realise that they are taxed and that that tax revenue helps the economy. They do not realise that those factors attract people to bring their businesses here. Tremendous opportunities are often lost because people worry about what might happen if Labour party attitudes became more influential—the party need not be in government—because they believe that they are wrong and do not help business development.
Those concerns may explain why we only attract 50 per cent. of inward investment to Europe from around the world. I should not say "only" 50 per cent. when the remaining countries of the European Community attract the other 50 per cent. between them. The investment that we attract represents a major vote of confidence in the Government. I have no doubt that if the Labour party were in power we would not receive such a vote from abroad.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and I are members of the Council of the Europe. On Monday we attended a meeting of the Social and Health Committee in Brussels and were given a presentation on social dumping—the hon. Gentleman will know what I mean by that. The hon. Gentleman may speak about foreign confidence in the United Kingdom, but other members of the Council did not express confidence in the policy of social dumping, now encouraged by his Government, which operates at the expense of workers in other European countries. He should meet some of his political colleagues in Europe and learn at first hand about that problem.
If the hon. Gentleman told Sony, Toyota and Nissan that their plants in Wales, Derbyshire and Washington represented social dumping they would be deeply offended and would say, "If you don't want our investment and jobs, we'll go home." That is not the attitude of the Conservative Government, thank goodness. The Government have been successful in attracting good jobs which offer good wages and opportunities. If the hon. Gentleman is worried about what might be called social dumping, he should be concerned about low wages. We are trying to become a high-wage economy, but that cannot be achieved with the dinosaur-like attitudes of the Labour party and the trade unions to industries in the past.
If we listened to Labour party attitudes and statements we would think that we were trying to preserve the candle industry or the horse-drawn carriage industry. My constituency had to suffer in 1846 when the horse-drawn carriage industry went out of business overnight because of the railway. With the introduction of the railway, many people lost their jobs in my constituency. The same was true with the introduction of iron and steel ships, when all the repairers of wooden ships lost their jobs. The Labour party would be trying to keep wooden ships, the horse-drawn carriage trade and the horses.
There are better jobs to be had among the more efficient, technical jobs of the future. We must go forward with new technology and better jobs for the future. As the Government continue in office—I hope, for many more years—I hope that they will bring in more international investment as it often brings good ideas. Sadly, those ideas are not always developed here because we cannot always develop every idea in the world. However, we still win many more Nobel prizes than most countries per thousand of population. As we cannot develop every idea, we have to continue to attract a lot of outside investment.
The Labour party has negative attitudes to profit and business—the latest Trades Union Congress document contains no reference to profits. Such attitudes mean that we are not having an important political debate in this country. On the Floor of the House of Commons we should have debates about which side can produce better profits for British industry, which side can produce higher added value and, in consequence, higher wages, better standards of living and more taxes paid on the profits to provide a better financed health service and education system, and all the advantages that come with high profitability in business and industry.
All that we hear from the Labour party is talk of more and more regulations on business and industry. One Labour Member has just spoken of more authorities, the need to set up more bodies and another Greater London body to mimic the Greater London council. Those of us who have to live in London during the week have been far better off without a GLC and all the interference.
I served on a borough council with the hon. Member for Thurrock, who must surely remember the constant referral to the GLC that we had to have from Kingston about planning issues. There was constant interference from the GLC. If the hon. Gentleman is honest, he must surely remember that it was nothing but a nuisance constantly to have to refer issues from Kingston to the GLC.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments about the number of bodies that the Labour party want to create. How many organisations did the Conservative Government create to replace the one organisation that used to exist in London, the GLC? How many quangos now exist to do the job that that one body used to do?
Sometimes it is not the number of organisations that is important, but the powers and staff that they are given to interfere in other people's lives. An organisation which consists primarily of volunteers acting in an advisory capacity is totally different from a Greater London council with 30,000 staff which was constantly interfering in our decision-making processes. When I was a member of Kingston council, it was unable to make many important decisions without having the Greater London council interfering in the way we operated.
A Conservative Government created the Greater London council. When things were going well for them, they were pleased to gain control of the council. When they lost control, they did not like the fact that it provided checks and balances against their excessive power here at Westminster. The council was destroyed because the former Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, did not like anybody challenging her authority—for no other reason.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the real test of the efficiency of local government in London since the abolition of the GLC is the number of people employed by local authority bodies such as the London residuary body? Has there not been a substantial reduction in the number of people employed in local government in London? Furthermore, has not the LRB raised a great deal of money, to the benefit of all Londoners, by selling off surplus assets?
My hon. Friend, who knows a great deal about London, is right. In answer to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) let me say that I was coming on to make the point that the reason why the LCC was corrupt was that one of its major policy aims was to build the Conservatives out of London. Many of the social and crime problems of London are the result of LCC housing estates, many of them strategically built in the attempt to do that. That has backfired on the Labour party, because now each boundary commission change gives more seats to the Conservatives outside London because more and more Conservative-thinking people have had enough of certain areas and have moved out to the shire counties.
When one looks at Labour-run councils such as Lambeth, Haringey and Hackney, which waste money and have corrupt practices, one has to recognise that the cycle of corruption will have to be stopped soon, in the interests of the British people. Many of those councils are over-employing because they have to appease the trade unions which elect the councillors at the Labour party branch meetings. Until we can break that cycle, we shall not have proper and democratic local government. There is a particular problem in London and the south-east where Government policy must be ever more forceful, alert and aware of the problems.
My constituency is concerned about transport and transport arrangements. Those are fundamental, given the position of Dover and Deal in relation to the south-east and access to it. We are grateful to the Government for the A20 road link that is being built. We are concerned about the delays, and I am grateful to the Minister for Roads and Traffic, who has made sure that many of my constituents, especially those running businesses which have suffered, will receive compensation. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will convey my thanks, and my concern that, among his Easter recess enjoyments, the Minister will look into his red box to see the difficulty that the road construction is still creating for certain of my constituents, so that their businesses can be saved from bankruptcy. I know that he is taking an active interest, but I should like to place on record the concerns of my constituents that that should be looked at, even during the Easter recess.
I am also grateful for the fact that the former Secretary of State for Transport, now in the House of Lords—Lord Parkinson—agreed to the dualling of the A2 between Dover and Lydden, which will be of immense benefit to people in the south-east who want to communicate with the continent via Dover. The reality, however, is that the planning stages in the dualling of the A2 are taking a long time. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minster will take note of that and ensure that the Department of Transport will do everything possible to quicken the process of planning the road improvements between Dover and Lydden, which are important for my constituents.
I cannot give the Government full marks, sadly, when assessing the way in which British Rail is operating, especially in terms of rolling stock. Primarily it is a British Rail problem, however, and not a Government one. The Government have given British Rail massive investment moneys. Large sums have been directed to BR's external financing limit to enable it to undertake a considerable investment programme. Unfortunately, a large part of that programme is related to channel tunnel rolling stock. British Rail seems to be under the impression that it can continue spending on lots of lovely rolling stock for the channel tunnel and without providing a decent amount of new rolling stock on the south Kent coastal route. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will draw the attention of Department of Transport Ministers to the continued failure of BR to produce a sensible programme for introducing new rolling stock on the coastal route.
The Government, with the Opposition's full support, have implemented the construction of the channel tunnel—obviously through the private sector, but with the full approval of the House in terms of legislation. The tunnel, combined with the single European market changes, will have a considerable effect on the number of jobs available in my constituency. Unemployment will result from these changes. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take on board that sometimes far too much attention is focused on coal mining and other areas when changes are taking place elsewhere as a result of Government and international policies which reduce job opportunities. The effects of the channel tunnel and the single European market need to be considered carefully by the Government.
We shall face many changes in Dover. We can face them and handle the implications; we are not burying our heads in the sand. Much planning has been undertaken by the Conservative-run Dover district council in an extremely sensible way, but we may need some Government assistance. We are not making as great a fuss as some areas. We take the view that that is not necessary on the basis that a sensible, well put together argument presented rationally will be listened to by the Government. I hope that my hon. Friend will draw to the attention of Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry who are examining assisted area status the need for some form of assistance for Dover and Deal to enable the area to tackle the problems which lie ahead.
The designation of assisted area status is not always the best way of helping an area. I subscribe to the view that enterprise zone status offers many opportunities. I have been told that there is a ridiculous European Community-inspired principle that an area cannot have enterprise zone status without first having assisted area status. I hope that that advice is wrong, but I fear that, sadly, it is true. That bureaucratic principle may stop Dover and Deal from securing the ideal status—enterprise zone status—which would bring more assistance and benefit to my constituency.
We should like to develop an industrial park at Whitfield. The council has the land organised and there is the opportunity to go ahead. Dover's harbour board is up front in trying to get a development programme in place for the Wellington and Western docks. I pay tribute to the management team and others who have been involved in putting the plan together. There is a tremendous opportunity for Dover, and with the right roads we can move forward. We need some form of Government assistance to ensure that the various projects can come to fruition. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will confirm tonight that the Government will give Dover as much assistance as is reasonable, and a fair share of assistance relative to other areas of the country.
I know that the Government will help London, the south-east, Dover and Deal, and east Kent far more than any Labour Government would. A Labour Government's priorities would be elsewhere. A Labour Government's agenda would be elsewhere—and a Labour agenda always costs the country dear. It would be far more expensive for my constituents than any other. I want a Conservative Government with lots of energy and enthusiasm to help to tackle the problems of the south-east and to help us move forward to the year 2000 with confidence. I know that a Conservative Government will do that.
Driving to the House this evening, I travelled along St. Pancras way, in the borough of Camden, just north of King's Cross and St. Pancras stations. I saw one of London's normal sights—a group of 50 people carrying plastic bags, waiting alongside dustbins and rubbish piled up against the wall for the night shelter hostel to open. It opens each night at about 10 o'clock. The homeless can get a roof over their head and a bed for the night, and in the morning they must leave again—and spend another day tramping the streets of London.
Last night I attended a moving gathering at Islington town hall organised by a youth group called Speak Out for the Homeless. It was not a traditional public meeting, with a series of speeches by councillors, housing pressure group members, Members of Parliament, and so on. Most of the evening was taken up with young homeless people telling the story of their lives on the streets of London.
They included young women who had grown up in children's homes, and received inadequate community care at the time of leaving the home. They then found themselves in inadequate accommodation, involved in drugs and prostitution, and suffered all manner of violence against them. They ended up drugged, wasted and destroyed, hanging around Piccadilly circus and the streets of this capital city. They have got out of that, to the extent that they now enjoy some form of regular shelter and are at least able to tell the rest of us about their experiences.
It is a question not of solving housing problems in London but of witnessing a steady decline in housing standards. We are seeing young people's lives blighted by the shortage of affordable rented accommodation. We are witnessing the misery of young children suffering from chronic asthma or bronchitis living in damp, dirty, overcrowded flats that the council does not have the money to repair—and no other flats to which it can move such families.
We are seeing at the same time, still, the endless, speculative building of office blocks all over the capital, which remain empty. That is a shame, it is disgusting, and it is appalling. Responsibility for it lies fairly, squarely and totally with central Government's attitude towards the capital's housing needs.
I represent an inner-city constituency, as do a number of my hon. Friends. Our communities live for the most part in council accommodation. I am not particularly proud of the quality of much of it. It was built according to nonsensical, cost yardstick methods and too quickly, and inadequate thought was given to open space and nursery provision.
It is impossible for anyone to escape from tower block or deck access flats—there is simply nowhere to go. The idea that the Government are solving the problem is a hollow laugh. They produced a number of rough sleepers initiatives, which were introduced not out of any deep concern for the problems of London's homeless but to get them off the streets and into night shelters—to get them out of sight and out of mind.
It is no life for people to live permanently in shelters and hostels; it is no life for 18,000 to live in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. What can, must and, I hope, eventually will solve London's housing crisis is real investment by the public sector to ensure the provision of social housing, at affordable rents, for all the people of London, so that they have decent, safe, dry roofs over their heads. If anything less is provided, the city will continue to decline.
The knock-on effects of bad housing are family break-ups, under-achievement in schools, crime, unemployment and a great deal of misery. Last night, there was a repeat showing on television of "Cathy Come Home". That woman's prospect of finding a house all those years ago was much greater than it would be now. The film was moving in the 1960s, when it first came out; it is a crying shame that the present situation in London is not better, but worse than it was when that marvellous film was made. It is about time that the Government woke up to the misery that they are causing thousands, if not millions, of people in this capital city—and, indeed, outside it—through the shortage of decent, affordable housing.
The solution lies in the Government's hands. It does not lie in their constant attacks on local authorities. My authority, for example, has had to sell 5,000 homes in the past five years. It did not want to sell any of those homes: it knows that each sale means the removal of a home that could have been allocated to someone on the waiting list, or to a homeless family. But it had to sell them. It will not build any homes this year. Some housing associations, after a great deal of effort, will manage to build a very small number of places; our waiting list, like that of every other London borough, is constantly lengthening, and the only people with a chance of being housed are the homeless—provided that they are vulnerable and have dependent children. The single homeless lose out completely because of the lack of a proper housing strategy for London.
I shall give the Minister plenty of time to reply. I hope that he will tell us precisely what the Government are doing to solve London's housing crisis, and that he will not tell us that the private sector is to let rip. Letting rip in the private sector has led to private-sector rents of as much as £150 a week for a one-bedroom flat in my constituency. That is way beyond the means of anyone receiving the normal low wages that—tragically—exist throughout London. I do not want the Minister to tell me that the private sector will invest in affordable rented accommodation; that simply is not credible. The only answer is a serious attempt to invest on the part of public authorities with public funds.
Some years ago, we had an elected authority for London. We had a Greater London council; before that, we had a London county council. The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) seems to think that the London county council tried to destroy the Tory party in London by building decent houses. If the Tory party in London is afraid of decent houses, good: I am very glad. That exposes what their argument is about. The London county council's quality of construction was incredibly high. I am thinking of the Downham estate, the Debden estate and many other London estates, which were built to a very high standard. Later, building mistakes were made by every local authority, Tory and Labour, by the GLC and by other metropolitan authorities. We embarked on system building of high-rise developments far too rapidly—perhaps, indeed, we should not have embarked on it at all—with all the attendant social problems.
Exactly the same problems are being created now by the Department of the Environment's attitude to cost yardsticks and the density of public-sector building. It is about time that we began to realise that if we want decent homes with gardens for ourselves, it is reasonable for everyone else to want the same. Such homes should be available from councils and housing associations just as easily as they are available on the open market in the private sector.
I shall mention one or two other matters, but I think that housing problems are among the most serious, pervasive and destructive currently experienced by the people of London. We need a crash initiative to deal with the crisis; otherwise, we shall reap the whirlwind later.
Tomorrow, London will be paralysed by traffic jams. There is to be a public transport strike. I understand the reasons why that strike is to take place. I understand why bus workers, who have given a lifetime of loyalty to London Transport, are going on strike—they are being forced to sign documents to reduce their wages, increase their hours and put their jobs out to competitive tendering at some time in the future. They believe in an integrated public transport system, just as the railway workers do. Why should they be forced to sign their own redundancy notices? That, in effect, is what privatisation of the railways and deregulation of the buses will mean.
When people from other parts of this country, or from other countries, visit London they say to me, "Why on earth do you put up with the chaos, the congestion, the pollution, the high fares and the inadequate service in London?" I tell them that it is good, compared with what it is likely to be in three or four years' time. At the moment we still have the vestiges of an integrated public transport system, but by the time the docklands light railway has been sold off, bus franchising has gone full circle, there has been total deregulation of the buses and the railways have been privatised, there will be no possibility of an integrated and decent public transport system in London. When one looks into the minutiae of the Department of Transport's capital spending plans, one begins to see that the logic of it is to transfer yet more journeys in London and the south-east—if not directly in and out of central London—from public transport to private car commuting. That is a disaster for us all.
Another issue to which I wish to refer—the health of Londoners as a whole—is related to the two previous issues. I mentioned the pollution that results from the high level of private car ownership and usage in London and the child and adult health problems that are brought about by poor housing in London. London is not a particularly healthy city to live in. Its air is very polluted and it is very congested. There is a great deal of social and individual tension, brought about by poverty and unemployment. There are 150,000 people waiting for hospital appointments.
Logic tells me that to deal with this problem we should make full use of our existing hospitals and that we should even consider building new hospitals and providing additional health care. The Government propose to spend £170 million on a primary care initiative, which I have no objection to, except that it is far too small and is limited to only six boroughs. By using the long-arm tactic of regional health authorities, and others, the Government hope to get away with the closure of at least seven hospitals in London, with the loss of a very large number of hospital beds. I cannot understand how losing hospital beds and closing hospitals and casualty units will reduce waiting lists. Logic tells me that it is simply not possible to do it that way.
I hope that the appalling state of London's health services and the need for a London health authority and the planning of health care for London as a whole, rather than being divided between the four Thames health authority regions, will be recognised in the debate. I hope that it will also be recognised that the internal market is incapable of providing proper health care for the people of London, because all that matters to the internal market is the buying and selling of health care between health authorities and particular hospital trusts.
Both I and other Members with constituencies in the area, including my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), recently had a very interesting meeting at the Whittington hospital. At the end of it, we were appalled to find that our local health authority had yet to sign a contract for this financial year for its patients—our constituents—to be treated by the hospital trust. It is crazy to run a health service in such a way that in March and April of each year there is a panic about whether a contract will be signed so that our constituents can get the health care for which they pay through their insurance and tax contributions.
It would not be right to mention health without also mentioning the ambulance service. Later tonight my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has a debate on the subject. He is to be praised for the work that he has done over many years in exposing the way in which the London ambulance service has been run. He is also to be praised for his work with the unions and those who are employed by the London ambulance service to get a decent ambulance service for London. It was his work and that of the unions, community health councils and others that exposed the nonsensical way in which the London ambulance service was run. Eventually it led to the resignation of the director. Now the entire London ambulance service board has been dismissed. Everything has reverted to the South West Thames regional health authority.
The situation that has arisen in the London ambulance service is chronic, but it is a typical result of the notion that every public service can be run by some quango, that one has only to avoid public-sector control. The London ambulance service was founded by the London county council and was run by that body and, later, by the Greater London council. At that time, there was real public accountability. Here we have an object lesson for our approach to many other aspects of life in London.
This city is in a state of crisis. We have a crisis of housing, a crisis of transport, a crisis of health and a crisis of employment. We have 468,000 people registered as unemployed. Each of them is willing, able and ready to take a job, but the job is not there. Because of the way in which the list of the unemployed is drawn up, many people cannot even have their names put on it. Last year, fewer than a dozen school leavers in my borough went straight into a job. Obviously, some started further or higher education, but very many youngsters who had grown up in the borough, like many from other boroughs, went straight from school to unemployment.
It is an appalling crisis. We have seen the closure of manufacturing industry. There is a lack of planning and a lack of investment, yet there is work to be done in the health service, improvement of the transport infrastructure, the building of homes and the redevelopment of some areas of manufacturing industry. But unless the capital city has a planning authority, and some concept of planning, this simply will not happen. The free market has entirely destroyed the manufacturing base, especially in north and east London. We saw the introduction to the east end and the City of lots of fly-by-night office jobs, which then disappeared. Now we have the nonsense of large numbers of empty office blocks as a testament to a period of lack of planning.
If ever there was a point in the history of a capital city at which chaos had been achieved and further chaos could be avoided, this is one. But to achieve that, we need an elected authority with a mandate to plan and to ensure that Londoners are decently housed and have decent health and education services and that somebody is taking responsibility for, and an interest in, the development of industry. Earlier this week a group of Labour Members stood on the steps of Westminster pier to promote a petition for an elected authority for London. We signed the petition, and it will be signed by thousands more Londoners. They understand the situation. They want to live in a clean, healthy and happy city. That cannot be achieved if the free market is allowed to rip, resulting in the destruction of all that is good in London and in the creation of a mess in which it will not be possible to solve any of the problems.
Seeing how few Members are in the Chamber, I am struck by the thought that the House may not be taking these problems very seriously tonight. None the less, we shall have to deal again and again with the choice between a properly run capital city and the propsect of further chaos and higher crime rates. Such misery is clearly beckoning.
I am most grateful to have the leave of the House to participate in this part of the debate, and I am equally grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) for giving us the opportunity to discuss the Government's policies—or, rather, the lack of Government policy—with regard to Greater London and the south-east.
There is a popular myth that my constituency of Hampstead and Highgate is a leafy suburb populated entirely by millionaires, who drink only champagne and whose only conversational exchange could be deemed to be chatter. I feel that a similar attitude prevails in relation to London as a whole. As all my hon. Friends have pointed out, the reality is very different. Unless perceptions—in particular, the perceptions of the Government—can be shifted, the decline that we have witnessed in the capital since the onset of the present recession could become irreversible.
Another popular myth circulating at present is that we can somehow talk our country, and with it our capital, back to economic health: if we do not criticise or find fault, confidence will return and everything in the garden will be rosy. However, it is precisely that head-in-the-sand attitude which has led to London's dire economic circumstances. Unless we begin to face up to London's problems, we shall never have a hope of overcoming them.
A year ago, I made my maiden speech and referred to the 5,000 of my constituents who were without work. That figure has now topped 6,000, and a recent survey by the Association of London Authorities predicts that, by 1997, more than 7,000 of my constituents will have no job. One ward in my constituency has an unemployment rate of over 20 per cent., and unemployment in Hampstead and Highgate as a whole is worse than the average unemployment rate for any area of the United Kingdom with the exception of Northern Ireland.
Every eight hours, another job is lost in my constituency, but that is not a freak problem specific to my constituency. More than half the unemployment in the country is located in London and the south-east, and London alone has a greater number of unemployed people than Wales and Scotland put together. Indeed, last year London lost a job every seven and a half minutes, and 49 Londoners are now chasing every vacancy. That is the reality of London.
London is a city with major social and economic problems, which are not transient. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow referred to the apathy felt by young people who regard education as pointless because it will not lead to employment. That is confirmed by a case of which I heard from a dedicated worker with a group that attempts to stop drug abuse among young people. He said that he knows young people of 14 and 15 who can earn £1,300 a week selling, pushing and using drugs. He wondered what we had to offer as an alternative. What, indeed, after 14 years of Conservative government, do we have to offer them?
Unemployment in London has become structural. Even if the most optimistic growth estimates for next year and the following year are realised, London will enter the next century with more than half a million people unemployed. London has an economy which is geared to the service sector, yet it has no industrial base to service. It has an economy which is primarily geared to the financial sector, yet a country whose capital is bidding to be the location of the European central bank cannot even maintain an exchange rate comparable with its European partners, and 20 million sq ft of office space in the capital is empty.
London has an economy which depends on being the gateway to Europe, yet, even though its roads are clogged with congestion which costs this country £10 billion a year, investment cannot be found for railways to link the east of the capital to the west or the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf, but £25 billion can be found for widening the M25.
How can we expect the economy of London to grow and to compete when more than 400,000 Londoners are forced to stand idle and when, with the year 2000 beckoning, we cannot provide more than 40,000 London families with a roof over their head which they can call their own?
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) referred to the drama-documentary "Cathy Come Home", which was shown again on Channel 4 last night. It is 30 years since that film was made but Cathy still does not have a home. The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) has a theory about reducing crime and social difficulties, problems that he laid at the door of the London county council for building homes. I assume that he endorses the Government's policy of reducing crime and possible social unrest by ensuring that people have no homes in which to live.
Despite there being more than 40,000 homeless families, since September 1990 more than 20,000 construction jobs have been lost in London. Setting aside the human tragedy involved, what are the economic implications of those statistics?
How much does it cost to support homelessness in London? The last estimate that I saw said that it cost £15,000 to keep a family of four in bed and breakfast. How much does it cost to support the 20,000 construction workers who have lost their jobs? It costs £180 million ayear in unemployment benefit alone, and that does not even begin to touch the loss in tax revenues and national insurance. How much does it cost the businesses that rely on the consuming power of those who are now homeless or unemployed, and therefore are no longer consumers?
Few cities can have as much potential as the city of London—and few cities can have seen their potential so comprehensively wasted. London can still be turned round, but to do so will take direction, understanding and commitment. It is farcical that London remains the only capital city on earth that has no central strategic authority.
How can London and Londoners pull together, or have any sense of common purpose, when London is governed by a maze of unelected, unaccountable quangos, joint boards, committees and units, all with their own agendas and ideas of what London wants and needs? How can any economy flourish in an environment where planning and investment decisions must be made against such a chaotic background? Also, what chance is there for London when so many of its problems are so blatantly dismissed or ignored?
At present London is suffering economic hardship as bad as that in any area of the country. Yet because only 17 per cent. of London jobs are now based in the industrial sector London is excluded from European regional development fund assistance. That is why it is essential that when the new assisted areas map is published London does not find itself excluded from domestic aid in the same way as it has been excluded from European assistance. What London requires above all else is commitment. Assisted area help is important, but London needs the long-term investment that will enable it to help itself.
It has been estimated that 150,000 additional local authority and housing association homes are required in London over the next five years. If a programme to tackle that housing deficit were launched today, it could create 26,000 jobs in the first year, rising to over 50,000 jobs by the time the project was completed. Alternatively, if the investment to provide the rail and other transport infrastructure improvements necessary to tackle London's appalling traffic congestion were provided, the rail projects alone would provide 49,000 jobs. That is an unlikely prospect, on the day that the Government have announced that British Rail's public service requirement is to be cut by 23 per cent.—but that is the kind of commitment that London's economy needs.
Attempting to talk London up is an exercise in futility if we continue to allow a lack of investment to run London down. Rome was not built in a day, but Nero saw it burn in half that time. In the same way, we can either begin the slow, steady process of reversing the decline of our capital, or we can watch it spiral downwards, becoming little more than a curiosity, captured in the lenses and postcards of tourists who could not afford Marine World or wanted a break from Euro-Disney.
I believe that London deserves better than that—certainly Londoners deserve better than that—and that it can indeed be better. If we give London the tools, the people of London will finish the job—and what is, after all, the nation's capital can become a world capital, worthy of the name.
I shall call Mr. John Marshall, but before I do so I point out to him that, although he does not need the leave of the House to speak this time, he has a slot of his own later—No. 6—and if there were then an objection to his speaking, he would have lost his slot.
I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that Opposition Members will be as tolerant of my short remarks as we were of the hon. Member's for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson). I notice that no Liberal Democrat Members are here tonight; they are great talkers about community politics, but they have not stayed to take part in them.
I welcome the fact that we are having the debate tonight, because today we see the start of tomorrow's one-day national rail strike, which will cause great hardship to Londoners and other people in the south-east. When there was some comment on the subject earlier today, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) said that he supported the strike. I hope that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who will be speaking on behalf of the Opposition, will condemn his colleague the hon. Member for Bradford, South, and the strike.
I welcome the fact that the Minister who will be summing up for the Government is the same Minister who made announcements earlier this week about unauthorised gipsy encampments. They have caused great hardship to many people in my constituency. We have had them on the Clitterhouse and Westcroft estates. I am grateful to the Minister for listening to the representations which I and others have made over the past few months. I am glad that he intends to act—in the very near future, I hope.
I have listened with interest to what has been said about the former Greater London council. For 15 years I was an elected councillor in the borough of Ealing. One found that the GLC was a source of duplication and delay. There were frequent disagreements between the boroughs and the GLC which resulted in a Minister having to appoint a planning inspector. Sometimes decisions which could have been reached in four or five months took four or five years. The removal of the delays and the costs has benefited ratepayers and development in London, and will lead to a more prosperous London than we have enjoyed historically.
As we look around, we can see Government policies creating great benefit for Londoners in education, housing and health. Let us consider health for a moment. Trust hospitals like the Royal Free are treating many more patients than they did before. The Tomlinson report will lead to a much better level of general practitioner services in inner London. That will lead to a better, not a poorer, health service.
In housing, we have seen many hundreds of thousands of Londoners become home owners. Tonight there are more vacant beds in hostels in central London than there are people sleeping rough in the centre. We know that many thousands of council houses are empty in certain Labour-controlled boroughs which deprive people of the chance of having homes of their own. It ill behoves the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) to complain about housing in his borough when he knows that for every council house it sells in the coming financial year it can use the capital receipts to build another house or give the money to a housing association.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us the whole story—that the discount which the council will have to allow is up to £50,000 per property, so it is impossible on the income from sales to replace the houses that are sold. The hon. Gentleman should tell the House the truth, that what one is doing is selling off the housing assets of London.
One is not selling off the housing assets because the houses do not disappear. The families who lived in them before are still living in them. Islington is getting an opportunity to build new houses which would be available immediately for letting, and people would not have to wait many years for the present tenants to die or leave their homes.
One could say much more about the great education advances under the Government. Hendon school—one of the first to become a grant-maintained school—is heavily over-subscribed, which did not happen when it was a local authority school. One could compare the growth in popularity of that school with the complete failure of Highbury Grove school in Islington, which was once a popular school and over-subscribed. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) was its headmaster, it was a successful school. Today, under the Labour-controlled Islington council it is a disgrace, as the hon. Member for Islington, North will know.
I visited it when Mr. Norcross was the headmaster and it was successful then. As we know, it has been condemned now by the inspectors and even by some of the hon. Gentleman's friends in Islington.
I realise that the spokesmen for the two Front Benches have much to say, and it would be wrong of me to deprive them of the opportunity. I hope that I have given the House a few examples of how Government policies are benefiting Londoners, who can compare the efficiency of Barnet with the inefficiency of Lambeth. They can compare the school results of Barnet with those of Labour-controlled councils. Wherever they look, they will find that Conservative councils give good services at much less cost than Labour-controlled councils.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) on securing the pole position for this slot. I often wonder whether this is the way to do it at this time of night. Government policies in London and the south-east are certainly an important subject. I hope that the Government will examine carefully the possibility of giving us an all-day debate on London and the south-east so that perhaps more hon. Members can participate and we will have a little more time to discuss the important issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow talked about decline in the east end. That is something that I know well, coming from an east end constituency. He mentioned begging and sleeping on the streets. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) mentioned the same situation.
The housing crisis in London is critical. I know from my own constituency case-load that housing has become the predominant issue with which I must deal. It now takes up perhaps 60 per cent. plus of all the constituency cases with which I deal. Indeed, one need only see the number of people who are homeless or in bed-and-breakfast and temporary accommodation to realise how dire the problem is. The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) mentioned that people are able to purchase their own homes and how good that was as a Government policy. He must realise that more than 1 million people are living in homes with negative equity, of whom the largest concentration will be in London and the south-east.
The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) attacked the London county council and the houses it had built. I must remind him that that council built some of the finest public sector housing in the world, and it is acknowledged as such. It gave people the first opportunity in London to have decent, sanitary housing. It was a matter of great pride that the Labour party played such a prominent role in achieving that for Londoners—at a time when Conservative politicians also supported the housing policies of the London county council. Since I am old enough now, I remember the days when rival leaders of the two main political parties used to vie with one another to brag about who built the most homes. I would willingly see such a contest being entered again, rather than having the situation which exists in the east end, around London and in other parts of the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow mentioned begging—the young people who beg on the streets of London. It is a disgrace. When I go round the streets of London, I feel ashamed to see so many young people begging. It always comes back to me that it was the present Prime Minister, when he was the Minister for Social Security, who cut off all benefits for 16 and 17-year-olds. He need walk only a few yards from 10 Downing street or the Palace of Westminster to see some of the appalling impact of that dreadful decision to cut off benefits for young people.
We had much discussion from my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), about unemployment in London. Since the slump began in April 1990, unemployment in London has risen from about 200,000 to approaching 500,000. The increase in unemployment in London has been greater than in any other region in the European Community. That is a reflection of the way in which the Government's mismanagement of the economy has led to the United Kingdom performing much worse than all comparable countries in the current difficult times.
It is a reflection of a longer period of neglect by the Government. We look back to 1979 when the Conservative party gained office. At that time, unemployment in London was substantially below the national average. It stood at 2·7 per cent. in June 1979, compared with a national rate of only 4 per cent. under the Labour Government. Since that time, through both downswings and upswings in the economy, London's position relative to the national average has deteriorated. In June 1979, London's unemployment rate was 67 per cent. of the national average. By 1985, it stood at 81 per cent. of the national average. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow said, London's unemployment rate rose above the national average in October 1991, for the first time since records have been kept, and now stands at 11·7 per cent., compared with a national rate of 10·4 per cent.
It is evident that under Conservative Governments, London has been allowed to slide into long-term decline. London has been hit hard by the current slump because the problems that developed in its economy in the 1980s were allowed to fester and grow. Therefore, London was in no position to weather the renewed onslaught of recession.
I shall touch on just a few of the problems. There was a devastating loss of manufacturing employment in the 1980s. From 1985 to 1990, half of all the maufacturing jobs lost in Britain were in London. As a result, London has a warped, unbalanced economy. It relied too heavily on the boom in the finance sector, which gave the impression that all was well. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow said, when the finance sector caught cold, London suffered severely.
Other problems are transport chaos, collapsing rail services and clogged roads. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North said, the air is unfit to breathe. Those are major deterrents to international businesses considering locating in London, as well as to tourists. London's chronically inefficient labour market fails to supply enough workers with high-level skills, yet traps thousands in poverty. During the boom in the late 1980s, when London employers were desperately short of labour, there were never fewer than 200,000 people unemployed in the city. Low-quality Government training programmes offer no solution to the problem. They dump people on the labour market with low levels of skill, where there is already an over-supply of labour. They fail to offer routes upwards to higher levels of skill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow mentioned how the impact of unemployment hits different communities in a different fashion. Unemployment in parts of London is as bad as anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Among young blacks, for example, unemployment in parts of the inner London boroughs now touches 70 and 80 per cent. So it is not surprising that there is so much social unrest. There is no justification for crime or for people taking the law into their own hands, but if we cut off large numbers of people from having any stake or say in the way in which society is run, it is not surprising that social problems proliferate.
My hon. Friends all mentioned transport in London. It is crucial. We have the most expensive urban transport system in Europe. The frustration of everyday travel in London is apparent to all of us who use public transport in the city. The frustration of bus and railway workers has reached boiling-over point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow mentioned the destaffing of British Rail stations. He mentioned Walthamstow Central station. I could also mention Forest Gate station, which I use daily. As a result of destaffing, there is violence and vandalism. My hon. Friend mentioned fare evasion. Yes, fare evasion is happening all over London. British Rail and London Underground are losing millions of pounds in fares because stations have been destaffed. There is no economic sense in that, if one thinks about it for a moment. It certainly leads to higher levels of vandalism and violence. That is why many Londoners, particularly women, are frightened to use London's transport system, especially late at night.
Privatisation of British Rail will inevitably lead to station closures in London and the south-east. In preparation for privatisation, workers on London buses are being told that if they want to keep their jobs, they will have to take big cuts in wages. I should like to see Conservative Members be prepared to accept that proposition with any degree of equanimity. No wonder the frustration has boiled over into industrial action, which started a few minutes ago. It will lead to great inconvenience for all people who want to use public transport in the capital city.
Although people do not like being inconvenienced by strikes, the majority of Londoners will support the action taken by transport workers in the capital. They know what those workers have to put up with. In the end, if one is ignored and treated with contempt one can only take action to demonstrate one's strength of feeling. All right-thinking Londoners will be on the side of the workers taking industrial action tomorrow. They have been forced into action by Government policies. The transport policy in London is driven by ideology.
I remember that the Prime Minister was once rejected—I might add, wisely—by London Transport as a bus conductor. It seems to me that he is now trying to gain his revenge by dismantling the whole transport system within the capital city.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dowd)—who I congratulate on launching his petition, which will be signed by many Londoners, calling for a new directly elected authority—mentioned the Confederation of British Industry figure of £10 billion annual cost arising from the congestion in London and the south-east. The answer is not to build more roads—we will come on to that in the debate that follows this one. The way to deal with congestion in London is to improve public transport. That is obviously the thing to do.
The Government have said that they are in favour of a number of schemes, but we have not seen very much action in terms of getting those schemes up and working. There is the Channel tunnel fast rail link—ha-ha; fancy calling it a fast rail link; it will not be built until the next century. It has made us the laughing stock of Europe. Then there is crossrail, which is so desperately needed in London, and the Jubilee line extension. How many more times will the Government dine out on the announcement that they have given their approval to the Jubilee line extension? When is it going to happen is the question that Londoners want answered. A prosperous economy requires a modern, efficient transport infrastructure. Frankly, if we do not recognise that, we will not recognise anything at all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) mentioned the east Thames corridor, which will be started in Stratford. We welcome the announcement and we will enter, with the Government, into the consultation process, because we think that there are many things to be gained for London and the south-east from this initiative, but there are also many environmental considerations and other matters that have to be taken into account.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West also talked about the governance of London. He said that 31 March marked the seventh anniversary of the end of the Greater London council. We are the only capital city in the world without citywide government. We have no elected strategic body, but we have myriad unelected quangos and indirectly elected bodies trying to deal with London's strategic needs.
My hon. Friend mentioned the London Forum—another bunch of largely Tory business men. There are so many business men with Tory inclinations being appointed to these quangos that I am not really surprised that British business is so bad. If some of these business men spent a bit more time running their businesses instead of trying to run the affairs that ought to be run by locally elected members, Britain would be in a far better situation than it is in today.
The launch of the London Forum took place last Monday at a breakfast that I understand cost the taxpayers £15,000. Some breakfast! Perhaps the Minister would like to tell us what was on the menu.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West also mentioned the police authority—another strategic body that has been set up by the Government. We welcome this announcement. Again, we will join in the consultation process. I was on the GLC when it set up its police committee and proposed an elected police authority for London. We were denounced. Indeed, there was not a great deal of support for it among certain leading members of the Labour party at that time. But, of course, now it has come into our own election manifesto, it is supported by senior police officers, and it has been partially embraced by the Conservative Government. We welcome that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West also mentioned the county hall. It was a studied and deliberate political insult to London to allow a Japanese leisure group to propose turning county hall into a luxury hotel. The London School of Economics wanted to use it as its new base, but that was rejected by the Government. In many ways, it is symptomatic of the entire direction in which this county is going—failing to support one of the world's most eminent academic institutions and flogging it off to the Japanese to turn into a hotel. But there is a long way to go before county hall is turned into a hotel and I will use whatever influence I have to get a commitment to secure it as the natural home of a new strategic authority for London.
I say from the Dispatch Box tonight that it remains a firm commitment of the Labour party in government to establish the Greater London authority. London needs an elected voice, a body to stand up for and speak for Londoners, to restore our sense of identity in the capital city. The Greater London authority will do just that, and the next Labour Government will make the setting up of a new authority a real political priority.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) on introducing this important debate. However, Londoners will make their own judgment on Labour's continuing support for strikes and hankering for the return of the Greater London council.
It may be helpful if we look at some realities. London and the south-east have always been central to Britain's economic vitality. The region provides employment for about 7 million people and home to more than 600,000 businesses accounting for some 40 per cent. of our nation's gross domestic product. London itself is a world class financial centre and accounts for some three quarters of the financial and business activity in the country.
In recent years, as the world recession has impacted, the economic pre-eminence of the south-east region has been challenged and the legendary resilience of its economy has been considerably tested. The recession has had a considerable impact on London and the south-east, but we should not forget that this setback developed from a very high starting point. London and the south-east benefited hugely from the 1980s expansion. I firmly believe that the region's infrastructure, industry and economy are now well positioned for London and the south-east once again to take advantage of recovery, which all the signs indicate is imminent.
We are committed to rebuilding confidence in the south-east and London and to restoring their position as the powerhouse of the United Kingdom economy. A return to growth in London and the south-east will be the trigger for growth nation wide.
Our policies for economic growth provide the framework to ensure sustained recovery. They contain many elements which will be of particular benefit to London and the south-east. The autumn statement made clear our determination to give the highest possible priority to capital programmes; that will promote recovery and long-term economic prosperity.
The Budget reinforced our commitment to growth and the revival of enterprise. We now have an economic environment of low inflation and low interest rates and a tax regime which favours recovery. The south-east and London should be exceptionally able to benefit from these policies. London in particular, as a world capital and key international centre for business, culture and tourism, should be able to take advantage of them and enhance its position in future. We are committed to seeing that London maintains its pre-eminence, and that our policies continue to foster its international standing in all those areas in which it so clearly excels. My right hon. Friend, the Chancellor's Budget will ensure lasting recovery. It will boost business this year and tackle Government borrowing in the years ahead. Infrastructure projects in London and the south-east featured prominently in the Budget and fiscal measures such as the boost for export credits will see British business leading the way to recovery.
I am grateful to the Minister and I hope that he has an extra large Easter egg on Easter Sunday. However, my point is serious. The Treasury, the Governor of the Bank of England and the seven wise men—the seven economists advising the Government—are prophesying a recovery, but they are also predicting continuing unemployment at around 3 million. What are the Government planning to do about the structural unemployment in London, particularly in areas such as Hackney, Newham and the inner city?
The hon. Lady could hardly imagine that I would be responding to the debate this evening without mentioning our policies to tackle unemployment. If she is patient, I will come to that in due order in my speech. It would be suprising if I did not approach that subject.
Our policies to help industry go beyond those concerned with the economy. Our aim is to create the right environment for businesses to prosper so that they can create jobs. We shall continue in our drive to reduce the burden on industry by identifying and preserving only the regulation which is genuinely needed. We want businesses to be freer to do what they do best—creating the wealth and jobs on which the nation depends.
We also recognise the major part that small firms can play in securing economic health. Our policies offer a wide range of assistance to such companies—access to low-cost consultancy expertise, financial help for innovation and research, and support in looking for export markets. Those are practical demonstrations of our determination to help business, in London and the south-east as elsewhere.
Further support is offered through the training and enterprise councils, the TECs, which aim to ensure that their services to small businesses are employee led, fully in line with local needs and of the highest possible quality. TECs operate business support schemes for small and medium-sized companies throughout London and the south-east.
I shall not give way because hon. Members raised many issues in this three-hour debate and if I do not respond to them hon. Members will simply complain that the Government did not have the courtesy to do so.
The value of the policies that the Government have pursued has been recognised not only here, but overseas as well. A large number of foreign-owned companies have been attracted to the United Kingdom. London and the south-east are now host to well over 1,000 United States companies, more than 100 Japanese ones and more than 750 from mainland Europe. No other European Community member state can rival Britain's record in attracting inward investment. Such investment might well be curtailed if the Opposition had their way on the social charter. Those companies range from research and development operations, headquarters organisations to high growth, high productivity manufacturing and production centres. Such good quality inward investment is obviously of local benefit and can create, directly and indirectly, much-needed jobs.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor stated in his Budget speech that he would estabish a special tax regime from 1994–95 to assist foreign-owned companies who wish to set up their headquarters here. So our policies will continue to ensure that for London and the south-east, as elsewhere, we provide the right conditions for enterprise and business to prosper, to create wealth and to create jobs.
We are determined to continue to combat unemployment. Last month the Secretary of State for Employment was able to announce a fall in seasonally adjusted unemployment of nearly 6,000 in London and the south-east region. Clearly, we should be careful not to read too much into one month's figures, but that is still encouraging news.
The Employment Service currently has a budget nationwide of some £360 million, an increase of approximately a quarter on that of the previous year. Day in, day out, the Employment Service helps people into employment. The south-east programme budget of the Employment Service for the coming year will be nearly three times that for the previous year and now stands at nearly £25 million. The availability of a highly trained work force is essential to a healthy economy. The 17 independent, business-led TECs in London and the south-east have a core strategy to expand the skill base of the local work force, thereby forecasting economic growth within their local community. The TECs have taken over responsibility for youth training and the new training for work initiative. In February, nearly 50,000 young people were on youth training in London and the south-east. Three quarters of those who complete their training go on to jobs, further training or education and more than half those who complete their planned training gain a qualification.
As well as investing money in youth training, £180 million will be spent in London and the south-east on training for adults. As well as good training, a good transport system is also vital for the economic and social well-being of London and the south-east. Good transport has a key role to play in sustaining and encouraging employment. That is why we attach the highest priority to improving, modernising and, where appropriate, expanding the transport infrastructure throughout London and the south-east.
The announcements in the Budget were excellent news for public transport, because they made clear our commitment to securing the future of those projects of vital importance to the region's infrastructure—the Heathrow express, the channel tunnel rail link and crossrail. The £300 million Heathrow express project is an example of a joint venture between the public and private sectors, with the bulk of the finance coming from the British Airports Authority. It will further enhance Heathrow's position as the world's leading international hub. It will mean that all three of London's main airports will be served by fast, direct rail links.
We have recently announced our willingness to provide substantial public sector support for the construction of a high-speed rail link between the channel tunnel and central London. We are also examining the crossrail scheme, to link Paddington and Liverpool Street stations, with a view to maximising private sector involvement, so that can also proceed as a joint venture. Construction is ready to start on the Jubilee line extension, once the promised private sector contributions from property owners have been secured.
Other potential projects in the planning stage are the new underground line between Chelsea and Hackney, an extension to the east London line, a big expansion of Thameslink to improve Network SouthEast's north-south services across London, the docklands light railway extension to Lewisham and the Croydon tramlink.
We have heard all that before, and we support many of the transport infrastructure decisions, but when are we going to see some of them? How much longer will we have to wait for the Jubilee line extension, which seems to be closest to an agreement? Can the Minister give us any idea when the agreement will be signed?
The hon. Member has heard the stories before, and will hear them again. It is important that Opposition Members appreciate the good news in London and the south-east. I have absolutely no doubt that those major infrastructure projects will start in the near future. In today's debate on London and the south-east, not one Opposition Member even mentioned the fact that the channel tunnel—perhaps the largest ever major civil engineering project in this country—was due to open later this year. Opposition Members are completely blind to any good news there might be in London and the south-east; they simply do not wish to share it with the House. If the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr Banks) is patient, he will see that we shall be bringing forward the Jubilee line and other major infrastructure projects in the near future. We attach enormous importance to improving transport infrastructure. In London alone, our investment in transport is running at about £2 billion per year, out of a total Department of Transport budget of £7 billion.
There is a clear Government commitment to improving and developing the transport system within the region. To achieve that objective, we are pursuing policies which allow the different transport modes to play their part in responding efficiently to the needs of London and south-east. We are determined to harness the resources and expertise of both the public and private sectors. Just as we are determined to improve the transport infrastructure, we are also determined to improve infrastructure generally and to ensure that every family in London and the south-east has a decent home in which to live.
During last year, the housing market in the south-east continued to be severely affected by the recession. In his autumn statement, the Chancellor announced a huge cash boost to the market. Some £580 million of new money was provided to enable housing associations to purchase new, empty or repossessed homes, to use for the homeless families and others in housing need. Some £200 million of that money has been spent in London, where the pressures have been particularly acute. The housing association sector has responded magnificently to that opportunity. In just 19 weeks, associations throughout London have purchased more than 4,000 homes. Those empty dwellings were clogging up the housing market, and many homeless families have been able to move straight into them. That is helping to alleviate the homelessness problem in London, and further reducing the use of undesirable bed-and-breakfast accommodation, as well as freeing up the whole housing market.
The Chancellor also announced a further £50 million for grants to help up to 3,500 tenants of housing associations and local authorities to buy and move into homes in the private sector. Most of those resources are being spent in London. As a consequence of the relaxation of the capital receipts rules, £500 million of extra capital resources is being invested in housing in London boroughs, which means more money for home refurbishment and estate action.
Seven of the 13 London urban programme boroughs have been successful in their bids for city challenge funding—an average of £37·5 million per borough, and a total investment through city challenge of well over £1,500 million. The Opposition did not say one word about any city challenge projects, either in their constituencies or boroughs, or in London as a whole. With that investment we shall reclaim almost 200 hectares of valuable inner-city land which is currently lying derelict or contaminated; we shall improve or build 12,500 homes; we shall start 2,500 businesses; we shall bring into use nearly 500,000 sq ft of business and commercial floor space; perhaps most importantly, we shall preserve more than 11,000 jobs which might otherwise have been at risk and open up nearly 20,000 new job opportnities.
Our policies for the south-east will need to be reflected in the region's planning regime. Last week, we published regional planning guidance for the south-east in which we laid special emphasis on the east Thames corridor, which provides a focus for long-term growth in the region by recycling mainly urban and derelict land without the need to encroach further on the green belt.
London has outstanding assets as a business centre and unrivalled attractions as a place to live and visit. Like all world cities, it has formidable strengths and we are determined to build on those strengths. We have great confidence in London and the south-east. We are determined to ensure that the area will once again lead Britain, Europe and the world out of recession and into recovery. We have confidence in our policies, and when the electors again have the chance to test the Government, I am sure that they will once again return a Conservative Government, committed to ensuring the continuing revival and growth of London and the south-east.