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10.30 am

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): I congratulate the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman) on securing the opportunity to debate the needs of London in relation to the European Union. I congratulate him also on his stoicism, as he appears to understand the bureaucracy and the nonsense related to accessing those funds.

I was surprised to hear him describe his constituency of Putney--where I was born and raised--as having pockets of severe deprivation. That must be a triumph of rhetoric over reality. I have toured all around Putney all my life, and to compare it with parts of other cities seems a slight exaggeration.

Mr. Colman: I was referring to the Roehampton estate. Perhaps since you left Putney--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman should remember to address other hon. Members in the third person. His remark appeared to be directed to the Chair.

Mr. Colman: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I, through you, remind the hon. Lady that Putney has several parts to it, including Roehampton, which is seen within the Z scores laid down by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions as being an area of significant deprivation?

Mrs. Gorman: The hon. Gentleman has no idea which part of Putney I lived in. The old Roehampton estates

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were the jewel in the crown of the old GLC and were greatly desired by people moving out from the innermost parts of London, who regarded them as almost a rural retreat. As for the other parts of Roehampton and the appalling tower blocks overlooking Richmond park, they were a triumph for the gerrymandering of Labour Governments after the war. I deplore the blocks, but they are still much more pleasant places to live than many parts of our cities.

I wish to support, and not repeat, the remarks of the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) about the rabbit warren of regulations and the regiment of bureaucrats through which one must manoeuvre to get to the pot of gold--gold which has been enormously contributed by the British taxpayer. We are, after all, accessing our own money as we go through the European rabbit warren. It is slightly more difficult than accessing lottery funds--perhaps not much more.

I wish to correct the image of London given by the hon. Member for Putney in his quite understandable pursuit of European money. I have lived almost all of my life in London, and I have represented parts of London on a council. That has given me an intimate view not just of central London, but of many of the parts of London that he described.

I have had a lot of contact with businesses that were driven out of London. The problems that they experienced were largely made by their own councils--most particularly with the rates, which went up and up through the roof until the roof came off and the businesses had to move out of town. People may not realise that local authorities often demanded from £10,000 up to £100,000 in rates from small high street shops, which made it impossible for them to function. All the small furniture factories in the east end and areas such as Hackney and Haringey--which sustained an enormous number of valuable jobs--were driven out by the nature of the local councils.

We cannot lay the blame for the depredation at the door of central Government. If the problem exists, bringing in European money will not necessarily solve it. The costs of running small businesses will still exist.

We hear about the 18 per cent. unemployment in London. That figure beggars belief. It can be difficult to find a Londoner working in some industries--particularly the service industries. The other evening, I had the great pleasure of going to dinner at the Norwegian embassy. We were served by young women from the Philippines, the butler who handed round the drinks was Spanish and I am not sure of the nationality of the person who opened the door for us.

The point is that there are massive opportunities in London to work, particularly in the service industries. We have one of the largest tourism industries in the country, which provides many opportunities for us to solve the problems. If there is unemployment, we should look at legislation that impedes employers from taking on English workers, or we should study the nature of the councils--many of which are under Labour control. It is for a council to decide how to utilise the funds that are available. Whether they wish to give funds to the society for sustaining three-legged dogs or to the useful business of keeping the rates down for shopkeepers is a matter for them.

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I have lived in London long enough to see parts of Wandsworth that were deprived turned into desirable areas, with lots of new industries, under the stewardship of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). It is a question of management and leadership. Battersea is another part of central London which used to be considered run down. I am sure that the hon. Member for Putney would have described it as a deprived area, yet that, too, was resurrected--not by structural funds from Europe, but by the good management of Conservative councils. I urge the Minister to remember that we have in our hands the powers to restore the pockets of deprivation in London.

I read in the newspapers recently that a great many Indian restaurants are crying out for staff because of a staff shortage. Perhaps some of the unemployed Bangladeshis in London could find jobs if they looked for them a little harder.

10.38 am

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): We have had a good debate, ably introduced by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman). My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) shares with me the privilege of having been born in Putney, so this is very much a debate about Wandsworth and London as a whole.

The hon. Member for Putney's conclusion that London had lost out on the Euro-gravy train over the past 18 years rather ignores the facts. The 1998 edition of "Regional Trends" shows that gross domestic product per head in London is over £13,000, compared with £8,700 in Northern Ireland and £8,900 in Wales. By 1996, disposable household income in London was 16.4 per cent. above the average for the rest of the UK, compared with 12.8 per cent. above the average in 1992. Things were getting better in London between 1992 and 1996, yet the hon. Gentleman tried to paint a picture of things in London getting worse.

In Wandsworth, and in Putney in particular, Wandsworth council has been able to deliver improved services, which have received massive endorsement in local elections. The hon. Member for Putney, intervening on my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay, described the Roehampton estate as an area of significant deprivation, but it will not have escaped his notice that, in May, for the first time in many years, the electors chose three Conservative local councillors, whom they believed would more properly represent them. That is a reflection of the success of the Conservative council in Wandsworth.

We should consider the structural funds in context. Figures from the Government office for London show that, last year, this year and next year, £25 million per annum have been and will be allocated to London through all the EU structural funds. The revenue support grant for London, which comes from the taxpayer, is £4.4 billion, which is in addition to Government capital grants. To debate structural funds in London--which are only£25 million a year--for one and a half hours, while ignoring the much larger sums of money that are being spent on London, is to fail to see the wood for the trees.

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The hon. Member for Putney argues that small EU-funded programmes in Wandsworth should be preserved, but, this year, the Labour Government substantially reduced the revenue support grant to Wandsworth. Surely Wandsworth council is in a better position than remote officials in Brussels to judge the needs of the local community. If he believes that there are pockets of deprivation in Wandsworth that need assistance, he should be arguing for a larger revenue support grant funded from our national taxes; he should not be trying to use a complicated structural arrangement through which a proportion of the money that we give to Europe returns to us after myriad committees have determined how it should be spent.

The leader of Wandsworth council stated in the foreword to the most recent annual report:


That is the role that a local council can play in developing the local economy. With the greatest respect to the bureaucrats on the continent, I do not think that they are in a position to second guess local judgment.

I hope that the Minister, in winding up, will explain how, in what seems to be a new anomaly, the 14 new electoral areas that the Government want to set up for the Greater London authority will fit in with the five new NUTS regions for London, given that local authority and other electoral boundaries are supposed to be linked to the NUTS system.

There is also a problem with the lag in statistics. The allocation of EU resources between 2000-07, meagre as they are, will be based on average gross domestic product in 1993-95 and will be subject to a safety net to reduce the number of losers in the change from the previous system. Despite the unwieldiness of the system, that will allocate, at most, some £500 million. It would be much better if we left the Brussels bureaucracy out of it and kept the £500 million ourselves, so that Parliament could decide how the money should be allocated to individual regions or even wards.

A number of hon. Members mentioned subsidiarity. I understand that, as a result of a £90,000 European regional development fund grant allocated to the Banglatown area of Tower Hamlets, 10 historic buildings, 2 km of footpaths and one environmental area have been improved and one permanent and 300 temporary jobs have been created. Surely those matters should properly be dealt with by the local council--probably by the local councillor--rather than by highly paid bureaucrats in Brussels. One can only speculate about the amount and cost of the bureaucracy needed to allocate that one grant.

At a meeting of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, the Minister rather wriggled when she was asked whether she thought that individual member states were in the best position to decide the needs of their communities. I hope that, in responding to the debate, she will be more robust and say that, yes, she thinks that local councillors and Parliament have a better idea of the needs of individual parts of the United Kingdom, and that it would be much better if we kept the money and allocated it according to our wishes.

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