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In order for London to maintain its competitiveness, we need continued investment in transport. Crossrail is particularly key. It would cut through 10 boroughs just outside my constituency, but it is nevertheless important to my constituents. We need to see full and proper extensions to the docklands light railway, which has, we would all agree, been one of London’s great successes. We need to do so not only because we need the transport improvements but because we need to see a proper tackling of climate change and CO2 emissions. We ought to be thinking ahead of the game. How seriously are other cities around the world taking climate change? London is beginning to gear up to tackle that issue, and it will become more of an issue as businesses locate here and consider their carbon footprint and the ethical nature of their business with a modern, savvy consumer.

Such issues are important for the rest of the country, too. A high percentage of rail journeys begin and end in London, and so all improvements benefit other citizens of the UK. We must not be seen to be saying all this as little Londoners. Clearly, my constituents will benefit from any further investment, but it will benefit individuals from the rest of the UK in their regular contact with London, too.

Another issue that has not been raised is the high population turnover in London. In parts of my constituency, it is up to 40 per cent. a year, with a general average of around 30 to 35 per cent. depending on how it is measured. We see that in other parts of London, too. We need to keep people in London. Census data clearly shows a flight approximately at the point when families need an extra bedroom and/or when their children reach the age of 11. Our schools are improving significantly to tackle that. Without making a point against the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster, I recall that in 2005 Hackney’s school results outstripped those of Westminster. We still have some way to go.

Mr. Field: In that case, one might ask why the hon. Lady’s parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), chooses to send her son to one of the constituency schools in my area—into the private sector, no less.

Meg Hillier: I never get between a mother and her son, and I would never comment on colleagues’ family matters.

In Hackney, we have seen an improvement in GCSE results. Six new city academies have either been built or are under way. We still have some way to go, as we do across London, but thanks to the investment of the Government in London and elsewhere we are starting to make a difference.

Housing is key. Two thirds of the UK’s households in temporary accommodation are in London. More than 150,000 London households are overcrowded, including 8,000 in the borough of Hackney. I see Hackney as the Ellis island of London, and possibly of the UK. People arrive from all corners of the globe and the UK and we need to keep those people in Hackney and in London if we are to see our city stabilise.

Mr. Love: One of the most startling features of recent years has been the increasing decline in the number of new lettings available in the social sector. Does my hon. Friend agree that the only way to respond to that is significantly to increase the supply of new affordable accommodation in London?

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Meg Hillier: My constituents would be keen to see that, particularly in respect of family-sized housing. I cite the example of Thomas Fairchild primary school in Hoxton, in the heart of my constituency, which is surrounded largely by dense council estates. I went to visit in July 2005, just after the general election. Of the year 6 group that was leaving the school, less than 20 per cent. had been there since reception. The people living around that school were not middle-class people with houses that they could sell to buy elsewhere. They were finding other ways to leave. Many were aspirant, keen to buy and to move to areas such as the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) where they could afford a home, but could not afford to buy a home in my constituency. We must ensure that we take every step we can to keep people in London, whether they are indigenous or immigrants, whether or not they work for big City firms.

I shall not repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon said about skills, but I endorse every word that he said. There are huge issues in Hackney, South and Shoreditch, but, given the time, I shall not go into all of them. Twenty-two per cent. of the residents of Hackney as a whole are aged under 16, and one third are under 24. The youth and energy of those people are key potential contributors to London’s future growth and stability, if we can keep them in London. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister has heard what we have said today and will consider London kindly in the spending review.

Several hon. Members rose

Hywel Williams (in the Chair): Order. Two hon. Members wish to speak. May I appeal for concision so that both can get in?

11.50 am

Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): I thank the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) for his excellent introduction of this debate. I was pleased that he mentioned that London has some of the poorest areas of the country as well as some of the most affluent. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) made the point that some areas of London have the highest unemployment, as well as obvious wealth.

I vouch for what the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) said about London’s creative talent. I had the pleasure last Thursday of being present at the launch at the Hackney Empire of the English Touring Opera’s season, which certainly justified her claim of there being a high proportion of creative talent in Hackney. The English Touring Opera, which will go around the country, also makes the point that London is not a metro-centric body. It is a generous capital—it exports its talent to other parts of the country. The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), who, sadly, has departed—perhaps in good time, from his point of view—might bear that in mind.

The issue that I want to return to—very briefly, Mr. Williams, in view of your remarks—is transport and the point that the hon. Member for Hendon made about overcrowding. It is extremely distressing to stand out in the open, particularly in this weather, on a platform in, say, Orpington
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or any other station in south London, to find that the eight-coach train that one is expecting does not have eight coaches but six or even four, or that it is cancelled altogether and two lots of people have to get on one train. That causes problems.

The problem is the same in reverse when people are going home in the evening. We have heard about road rage, when people lose their temper on the road because of congestion. I have seen rail rage—or platform rage—at Charing Cross, when trains are cancelled and people are not told what is happening. Understandably, they are absolutely furious, and sometimes they take it out on each other and on the poor platform staff.

That does not mean that trains are not often punctual and very satisfactory, but problems occur far too often. If from time to time Members speak, as I obviously do, to people who work in the House of Commons, they will find that the constant complaint—the biggest complaint of all—is overcrowding and the conditions that people have to put up with to get to and from work. That is a dreadful state of affairs in a city as affluent as London is at present.

As we know, the situation led to an excellent campaign in the Evening Standard called “A seat for every commuter”. Unfortunately, as is usual with the Government, they responded not to the people but to the media. We had a response from the Secretary of State for Transport, who, as I said in my intervention on the hon. Member for Hendon, came out with a statement about 1,000 more carriages by 2014. My good friend Mr. Brian Cooke, who is the chairman of London TravelWatch and also a constituent—and therefore knows about commuting at first-hand—calculated that 1,000 extra carriages, apart from being seven years away, will provide only 80,000 extra places. I hesitate to say “seats”, because we know that these days “places” does not mean seats. One does not often get a seat on a commuter train. As he pointed out, given the expansion of London at the present rate, another 325,000 people will have come into London by then, so the plans of the Secretary of State for Transport are for overcrowding to get markedly worse. The promise is not for a golden future but a rather bleak and distant one. It cannot be taken at all seriously, and it is certainly no comfort to my constituents.

My plea to the Minister and his colleagues in the Department for Transport is for some short-term, quick-acting measures to alleviate the situation in the near future. The hon. Member for Hendon mentioned the fact that there is now a seventh coach on some underground trains. That improvement was effected fairly quickly. It is perfectly possible to change the licensing and franchising arrangements so that operators are incentivised to bring in more coaches when necessary. The arrangements can be changed. They were changed only a year ago, so it is not an excuse to say that they were inherited and cannot be changed, or anything like that. Furthermore, if there is a problem with platform lengths, it is also possible to do something about that fairly quickly.

I am not a fan of Transport for London, but its experts on the matter, which I clearly am not, have told me that short-term measures could be taken within a year or two to alleviate the situation that commuters in south London face. I am telling the Government that unless something is done fairly quickly, I and no doubt many of my colleagues will continue to nag them about this disturbing, everyday problem of life in London.

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11.56 am

Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): I, too, shall try to be brief, Mr. Williams. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) on securing this debate and giving his usual comprehensive account of the issue. Having tried previously to speak after him on a Friday, I am glad that he has left me at least four or five minutes to do so today.

I am also glad that there appears to be—we have yet to hear from the Liberal Democrats—a broad measure of support for my hon. Friend’s comments. I hope that the Minister in his response will echo the proposition that he made. We must put the uncharacteristically churlish comments of my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) down to second-city, or second-region, envy.

Mr. Dismore: Third-region envy.

Mr. Slaughter: It could now be third-region envy. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire is not here to bait, so I shall confine myself to saying that if Birmingham and the midlands wish to be Barcelona to our Madrid, they will have to improve the food and the football somewhat. I would add that the other difference, of course, is that Catalonia actually pays for Castile, whereas in this case London pays for the rest of the United Kingdom.

I do not want to anticipate my hon. Friend the Minister’s response to the debate, but I am sure that he was aware, before my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon spoke, of London’s contribution to the UK economy. His response may be in part, at least to Labour Members, that our party is still a redistributive party. I do not know whether that is true, but certainly the London Labour party continues to believe that to some measure, perhaps because we are more aware of the great inequalities of wealth that exist in the capital.

In the brief time that is available to me, I shall not repeat points that other hon. Members have made but say that the consequence of what is happening at present is that redistribution is not working. The example of child poverty that was given earlier is perhaps the clearest instance of that. Fifty-two per cent. of children in inner London—39 per cent. in London as a whole—live in poverty, compared with 27 per cent. in the UK as a whole. That one stark statistic shows that the money that is generated by the capital is certainly not being redistributed within it. Beyond that, it is not economically efficient to run a capital city or any region on that basis.

The problems cross the whole of the Government’s social and economic policy, but I wish briefly to mention three issues. The first, which has already been dealt with extensively, is transport. From a parochial perspective, it is necessary to deal with the scenario set out in the Transport for London 2025 document of a possible increase in demand at peak time of 30 per cent. That could happen in terms of bus, overground and tube services and, of course, Crossrail, all of which affect my constituency. I have the pleasure of travelling every day on the District line and the set-up at Earls Court station, with Bakelite telephones and flashing Christmas tree lights, is more like a fighter command than a modern railway network. It is sometimes a wonder to me how
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the tube functions at all. Investment over the next 10 or 20 years is not just an optional extra, but essential if London is to continue to function on a daily basis.

I do not have time to say everything that I wish to say about policing, but it is a truism to say that London has additional pressures not only because of anti-terrorism measures and major events, but because of the general cost of policing, salaries and other costs, which are not reflected in the figures. We often have to fall back on the Mayor’s precept yet the Opposition hypocritically demand additional policing, while at the same time condemning every increase in precept made by the Mayor. To a large extent, that is because of a lack of fair funding from central Government to the capital.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) dealt with the issue of housing quite clearly and therefore I will briefly conclude by referring to that. Housing is the single issue that London Members would like the comprehensive spending review to address by providing an increase in funding for the supply of affordable homes—as my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) said. The figures are eloquent in themselves: London has two thirds of households in temporary accommodation and half of the total national figure for overcrowding.

We are at a tipping point in London and if we wish it to continue to be a city in which rich and poor can live together side by side, as they have done over the centuries, it needs investment, particularly in housing and in the needs of the population in constituencies such a mine. That is the plea that we make to the Minister today.

12.2 pm

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): You have missed a good debate, Mr. Hancock, led by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who has set out a case that almost all hon. Members have echoed. He made two central points. First, that London makes a wider contribution to the national economy and secondly, that the basic elements of its success are its openness to trade, investment and migrant labour, and the ability to develop clusters in relation to financial services and culture.

I happen to disagree with the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) about the rather pungent but brief contribution of the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) on metro-centricity. Although brief, it was an important contribution, which reminded us of what everyone else may be thinking. I was reminded of that last week when I travelled outside London the day after the statement was made about the Olympics. The provincial newspapers were dripping with venom about the amount of money that must now allegedly be contributed to London. We need to be aware of that dimension to the debate.

I agree with the broad thrust of the arguments, but we need to be a little more self-critical about what is said on London’s behalf. I read the Oxford economic forecasting study on London’s fiscal contribution and it does not actually say what several hon. Members said it did about a net contribution of £13 billion. It says something rather different: that there are a wide range of estimates from £5.8 to £20 billion. The figure would be at the lower end of that if we looked at London residents as opposed to people who work in London and live somewhere
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else. All sorts of heroic assumptions are made in the report about how to allocate public expenditure and, clearly, there is a net contribution, but let us not dwell on that issue too much. When I lived in Scotland for some years, I was lectured on how Scotland supported the rest of Britain through north sea oil. I do not think that we should become drawn into the same kind of syndrome.

The second qualification to the argument is that we need constantly to remember is that there are vast disparities within London. It is not simply a matter of London versus the rest of the UK, as emphasised by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and other hon. Members. There are two kinds of disparities. The first is the co-existence of extreme poverty and affluence in and between boroughs. Indeed, in parts of east London, there is the extraordinary phenomenon of high levels of unemployment existing a mile or so from the most successful financial centre in the world. As someone who has lived in developing countries for a number of years, that situation strongly reminds me of the enclave economies of such countries where mines and commercial agriculture sit alongside impoverished areas. London has many of those characteristics.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab) rose—

Dr. Cable: I would love to take an intervention, but we are already behind schedule.

Secondly, differences within London exist in the enormous variations in funding support for different parts of London. There are parts of London that because of their deprivation quite rightly attract reasonable levels of grant, but as someone who represents a suburban area, parts of London at the other end of the tail of funding distribution also have a combination of private affluence and public squalor because of the lack of support for local government. When we talk about London versus Britain, such qualifications must be borne in mind.

Following on from points made by hon. Members, there is a danger of the institutions of London becoming excessively dependent on what I would call mega-projects. First, on public transport, I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Hendon and others who have spoken about the importance of Crossrail, which is extremely desirable for London. None the less, there is a real danger that a fixation with one massive project is overshadowing the large numbers of incremental projects that can be done quickly on the suburban network and on the London transport underground system, as the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) rightly stressed. Such projects are relatively low cost and, in many cases, have no costs attached as they simply provide an extension to a franchise and give greater security to investors. I hope that Crossrail can co-exist among all that improvement, but there is a danger that the fixation of people in London government with one big prestige project that may happen in many years to come will crowd out the more mundane, but equally important improvements.

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