§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
You will notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a humble Back-Bench Member advancing to the Dispatch Box for the debate. I am emboldened to do so because I understand that there is a perfectly adequate precedent that you set as a Back-Bench Member. Obviously, I have a future to look to. Because the debate may degenerate, may I take this opportunity to wish you a most happy and peaceful Christmas.
My subject for the debate is the work of the London residuary body. I last raised the topic on 23 May 1986 and I make no apologies for bringing it back again. The LRB is an unelected, unaccountable body whose members were hand-picked by the Government. It is chaired by a Thatcherite Conservative—a former local government leader—who, it would appear, is finding it a little too much for him. I understand that he physically assaulted Mr. George Nicholson, the ex-planning chair of the Greater London council, in his office recently. Clearly, the man is under some pressure and I hope that in some small way I may add to that pressure today. Obviously, I hope not to bump into him outside if that is how he deals with his political opponents. However, one should not say too much about that because my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was having his own difficulties in a curry restaurant the other night. Clearly, this muscular approach to politics is catching, but we shall try to remember that it is Christmas and he peaceful today.
Sir Godfrey Taylor's reward for asset stripping London local government and physically assaulting Labour politicians is a salary of £51,700 a year. The other members of the London residuary body board are paid at the rate of £6,246 a year for one day's work a week. That is a good job, if one can get it, but to do so it appears that one needs to be a good friend of the Tory party and Tory Ministers. When it comes to finding jobs for the boys and the girls, no one can touch the Government. I trust that we in the Labour party will learn from that.
I should like the debate to be as constructive as possible, so throughout my speech I shall direct questions to the Minister. I hope that he can answer them, but I shall understand if he cannot do so today and will give me 1516 answers subsequently. On the composition of the London residuary body, why are there no obvious Labour politicians? Why has Margaret Hodge, for example, the chair of the Association of Local Authorities, not been appointed? I understand that she was approached earlier. Why, for example, is councillor Peter Bowness still there, bearing in mind that he was appointed because of his position as chair of the London co-ordinating committee which has ceased to exist? Do the Government intend to appoint any new members to the London residuary body board in the next six months?
Last month the House received the annual report of the London residuary body. It is a slim document, in size and in information content. The report covers only the period from August 1985 to 31 March 1986. That is the period when the GLC was in existence. The House did not receive the report until November 1986. The next report will cover the period—very important for us—from April 1986 to March 1987. On past record, it would seem that we shall not receive the next report of the London residuary body until November 1987, which will probably be after the next general election—which of course the Labour party will win—when the LRB will be packing its bags to go.
Will the Minister undertake to present the next annual report of the LRB to the House before the summer recess of 1987? There are Adjournment debates on the activities of bodies such as the LRB, but other residuary bodies exist and we shall not be given an opportunity to debate any of them in the House.
I have a letter from the Leader of the House dated 30 October which is a point-blank refusal of my request that there should be debates in Government time on the activities of those residuary bodies. That refusal highlights the Government's contempt for democratic accountability. In 1986–87, the LRB, for example, handled a budget of £480 million. It makes decisions on behalf of 7 million Londoners and is responsible for a wide range of services and public assets. Indeed, the services for which it is responsible are somewhat greater than the Government originally designed because, of course, the shambles of abolition has taken much longer to clear than the Government thought, although we told them that that would be the case.
All of the proceedings of the LRB, which are very important to Londoners, are held in secret. It is under no obligation to make information available to the public and the press and positively resists doing so. The LRB has replaced a directly elected and open council—the Greater London council. The GLC would not have wished to conduct its business behind closed doors and in secret, nor, indeed, would it have been allowed to do so. The terms of the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960—an early piece of activity by the Prime Minister—do not apply to the London residuary body, or do they? I do not know.
Why did the Government table Statutory Instrument No. 1929, with the catchy title of the Local Government Reorganisation (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 6) Order 1986 that trips easily off the tongue? Was it tabled because the LRB and all the residuary bodies should have held their proceedings in public with admission for interested parties from the press and from the local areas? I should be interested to know the real reason for tabling the statutory instrument. We are told in the House that the 1517 LRB is accountable to Parliament through Ministers. There are ways in which we can try to drag information out of Ministers, but it is a difficult job.
In my speech on 23 May, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment referred to answering 50 parliamentary questions from me on the LRB. I am sure that the number of questions from me has gone up somewhat, but the amount of information coming from the Government has not moved very much from its general level of unwilling co-operation with a Member of Parliament who has some political and personal interests in what is going on in county hall.
When I asked whether the LRB would hold its meetings in public or issue minutes or agendas to London Members or Members generally, the answer in each case was no. One can imagine the outcry that there would be if a directly elected public authority attempted to do likewise but, as I have said already, most of them would not want to do so and any of them who did would fall foul of the 1960 Act.
Clearly, information is the lifeblood of democracy, but information is a scarce commodity in the LRB. During the debate in May I was told that the LRB would be answering the points that I had made in the debate. But it took a series of letters and further parliamentary questions from me before the chairman of the LRB deigned to supply that information in a letter dated 24 October 1986. It took five months before I could get the information that was promised to me by the Minister in the House last May. No wonder I was less than impressed by the Minister's answer to my question on 21 October when he said:I am confident that the residuary bodies are providing information in response to all reasonable queries."—[Official Report, 21 October 1986; Vol. 102, c. 831.]All my queries were certainly reasonable, but the response was not a ready one. I trust that if the Minister promises me answers from the LRB when he replies, I shall not have to wait five months before I receive them.
On the issue of county hall, we know that the LRB is out to sell county hall. Indeed, it is spending £350,000 of ratepayers' money to encourage bids. The preferred option is a hotel and of course, with the Waterloo terminal for the Channel tunnel being located very close to county hall, that would make some sense to the hotel business. Office units are another possibility—perhaps preferred by the Prime Minister who undoubtedly would like to see county hall broken up in such a way as to make it exceedingly difficult for a Labour Government to take it back into public ownership.
At the moment, the Inner London education authority is the major user of county hall and it has been told that it must get out by 31 March 1988. In December 1985 and then in January 1986, the chair of the LRB told ILEA that if the authority was requested to move from county hall it would be provided with a capital equivalent asset at no cost to itself. That was the promise that was given by the chair of the LRB, but in summer 1986 that promise was withdrawn.
I ask the Minister whether the Government influenced the decision of the LRB to withdraw the promise to ILEA. ILEA has been in county hall since it was officially opened in 1922. The ILEA covers the same London county council boroughs that built and paid for county hall, so county hall belongs to the inner London ratepayers. Indeed, it is possible that it was paid for by those inner London 1518 ratepayers before the LCC was abolished. I should be interested to know whether the Minister has any information on that.
It is monstrous that the owners of county hall—the inner London ratepayers and the Inner London education authority—should be evicted. There is no guarantee even that the Prime Minister would allow it to purchase its own property if it could afford it. If I was advising ILEA, I would tell it to go for a judicial review and to challenge its eviction in the courts. It would have a good case. It is certainly a good case on moral grounds, even if not in law. Sometimes morality and the law do not coincide.
One can imagine the outcry if a Government took over ICI, Unilever, the clearing banks, British Gas and British Telecom and offered those enterprises back to the shareholders for sale. But that is precisely what the Government are doing with county hall and with much of the property that belongs to the London boroughs. The LRB is saying, "If you want it, you can buy it back." They are being offered their own property. It is monstrous, but it is something that we have come to expect from the Government. Why can public property be disposed of as though it belonged to no one while private property is always sacrosanct? The ratepayers of London are being robbed by the sale of county hall as the British taxpayers are being robbed by the privatisation of our public enterprises.
I have more specific questions about county hall. Will the Minister say how many offers the LRB has received for county hall? What are the preferred uses for the building? What is the current asking price for county hall? When will the announcement of the successful offer or offers be made? The Inner London education authority's consultants have estimated that if the authority is forced to find alternative accommodation, it will cost between £100 million and £200 million. Of course, ILEA will be strappped to find such resources. Will the Secretary of State allow ILEA to stay in county hall? I realise that the Minister will have to refer that question to the Secretary of State.
The Labour leadership has made it abundantly clear that, whatever happens, county hall will be compulsorily purchased by the next Labour Government if it is disposed of to the private sector. Therefore, all prospective purchasers have been warned—not by me, but by the leader of the Labour party and the shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham).
I deal now with the 3,500 seaside and country homes. As late as 21 November, the Minister was assuring me that negotiations were on course to transfer the homes from the LRB to Anchor housing association. But, on 12 December, the LRB announced that the deal was off and that negotiations would start afresh with several housing associations. What is happening in respect of those seaside and country homes? Why did the transfer to Anchor housing association fall through? What discussions took place between the Department and the LRB on the decision to dump Anchor? Will the Minister guarantee that London will continue to enjoy 100 per cent. nomination rights for its pensioners going to those GLC seaside and country homes? Will he give a guarantee, as his predecessor did on 20 February 1986, that, on transfer, the housing associations will broadly maintain GLC levels of rent, management and maintenance expenditure? That 1519 is important. He must tell the occupants of those 3,500 properties that their rents and the standard of maintenance will remain broadly as they are now. He must tell the House that soon so that the elderly people who live in those houses and who are worried by the confusion surrounding the transfer can have their minds put at rest. Finally, when does he expect the transfers to be effected?
I now turn to mortgages since I am receiving a growing number of letters from the holders of GLC mortgages. Because of my position as the last chair of the GLC, I tend to attract much extra constituency work in respect of abolition matters. The letters that I have received—the Minister must know of similar letters coming into his Department—show that people believe that they are being harassed by the LRB, which wants to get rid of the mortgages to building societies. But at least 60 per cent. of the mortgage loans are at fixed interest rates, so new arrangements could cost the mortgagors money in the long run. We must also add the cost of making the transfer arrangements, which will run into hundreds of pounds in legal and valuation fees for each mortgage holder.
Will the Minister direct the LRB to pay the costs associated with the transfer of mortgages to building societies? Will he confirm that no mortgagor is obliged to transfer to a building society? We know that to be true, but it would be helpful if the Minister would underline it. What will happen to the mortgages when the LRB is wound up in four years' time, assuming that it has that amount of time left? Will those mortgages be compulsorily transferred to a nominated building society at the mortgagor's cost, or will yet another successor body be set up to handle those mortgages? How many mortgages are currently held by the LRB? Thousands of former GLC mortgage holders want to hear the Minister's answers, and I hope that he will give us some this afternoon.
I now come to the matter of Thamesmead. As a member of the Committee that considered the GLC abolition Bill, I well remember the claim of the former Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), that Thamesmead would be transferred "within days" of the GLC's abolition. Nine months later we are still waiting for that transfer to take place. On 17 November, the Minister told me that the transfer of Thamesmead from the LRB to Thamesmead Town would take place on 1 January 1987. Does the Minister stand by that reply of 17 November? Will the transfer take place on 1 January 1987?
I am open to correction, but I have heard that the Government have been putting pressure on the LRB to hand Thamesmead over to the trust with a subsidy. But the LRB says that it is under an obligation under the 1985 Act to secure the price put on Thamesmead by the district valuer. Of course, it cannot do anything else unless the Government issue a directive to the LRB. Is it, therefore, the Government's intention to issue such a directive to the LRB in respect of Thamesmead, allowing the LRB to transfer the property to the trust at less than the district valuer's price? If so, why did not the Minister issue a similar directive to the LRB in respect of the 3,500 seaside and country homes? The same problem was confronted by the LRB in its negotiations with Anchor.
I turn now to something a little more personal, which relates to the matter of the GLC's heritage collection. I wish to put something on the record. There have been 1520 some good humoured exchanges and some very bad humoured exchanges over the GLC's family silver, as it has come to be known. As chairman of the GLC, I was responsible for having the GLC's entire collection catalogued for the first time in nearly 100 years. That collection of artefacts and documents represents the history of London local government since the middle of the 19th century. I wanted it catalogued and transferred to the Museum of London in order to keep it out of the LRB's preying hands. The decision to take that action was taken by the GLC on 17 March 1986.
As chairman of the council, I heard nothing more and assumed that all was OK. On 31 March, I removed the contents of the chairman's office from county hall, as I believed that all the items in the office belonged to the Museum of London. I was safeguarding those items for the Museum of London. I have all the documents here, although I shall not bore the House by reading them all out. However, they are here if the Minister or anyone else is interested.
On 4 April, a few days after abolition, I wrote to Max Hebditch, the director of the Museum of London, enclosing a list of the items that I had, and asking him what arrangements he would make to have them collected, or to tell me how I could deliver them. I received an acknowledgement on 7 April, and heard nothing more until I was written to, on 27 May, by a Mrs. Wendy West of the LRB. She said that she was acting on behalf of Mr. Hebditch, and offered to collect the items.
At that point, I was deeply suspicious. What was an employee of the LRB doing writing to me, saying that she was acting on behalf of the Museum of London? If the Museum of London owned all the items, why was it not writing to me saying it would come and collect those items, just as I had asked it to do on 4 April? Consequently, I started to make inquiries, and I made it clear that I was not prepared at that stage to hand over those items to the LRB, and that I wished only to hand them over to the Museum of London. Again, I heard nothing more until Sir Godfrey Taylor wrote to me on 9 July, informing me that the LRB owned the collection. That came as something of a shock to me, as I thought that I had speedily arranged the transfer of all the items to the Museum of London.
I asked for clarification from Sir Godfrey on 31 July. Dates are important. On 9 September, Sir Godfrey wrote again, laying claim to the collection. I now know that the instructions of the GLC to transfer the collection to the Museum of London were never carried out, and that they were blocked by the late, unlamented Secretary of State. Unfortunately, no one saw fit to inform me, as chairman of the GLC.
Under threat of High Court action, I handed over the catalogue of items to the LRB. I did not hand them back, because it had never had them. However, I have not handed over the catalogue itself. I had three copies made, and I asked for one for myself because I wanted to make sure that there was at least someone with a record of all the items who could be relied on to preserve their integrity as a collection. When I made that request, no one challenged it. The LRB has secured two of those catalogues and is now after the third, which is in my possession. I have offered, through my solicitors, to place that catalogue in the Library of the House of Commons, because I have now heard that senior LRB officials have been told verbally that the GLC heritage collection will be broken up, and that items will be sold if they cannot be 1521 transferred or are refused by museums. If that is true, it is a scandal, and it justifies and vindicates all that I have said and done since 31 March. I want that collection to stay in one piece. It represents an important account of London's local government history, and it would be monstrous if the Government allowed the LRB to sell it off.
Will the Minister direct the LRB to maintain the integrity of the entire collection by transfering it to the Museum of London? If not, will he direct the LRB not to sell off any items? Will he allow me to place my catalogue in the Library of the House of Commons for the benefit of students of London local government and to preserve an independent record of the GLC's collection? The LRB has two catalogues. If it gets a third, no one will know what represents the entire collection, and what I feared back in April will then take place. Those items could start to disappear and if they do not go legally, they might go illegally.
I want to finish with a few quickies. Has the Minister received the LRB's recommendations about Hampstead heath, and if he has not, when does he expect to receive them? What will happen to the research and intelligence unit at county hall? What will happen to the scientific services, the computing service and the welfare benefit service? These are all small matters at the end of a speech but major items when one is considering the impact of the abolition of the GLC on a whole range of services vital to Londoners.
I know that I have directed many questions to the Minister, and he does not have a great deal of time to answer them, but I shall not rush him. I am happy for him to think about these questions over the Christmas period in between his turkey and his Christmas pudding, and jot down a few notes and come back to the House and let me know whether he is able to answer them. They are important questions. Let me give him some more.
Will the LRB distribute to the London boroughs all the money that it now has available? I understand that it has about £20 million in capital receipts. When will that money he distributed? It also has £300 million of notional receipts. These are very important—everything is about creative accounting and notional receipts these days. If those receipts could be transferred to the boroughs, it would relieve them of a number of capital problems. Why is it that, with all its resources, the LRB still seems intent on setting a levy for next year? I am informed that the LRB has sufficient funds to enable it to set a zero levy for 1987–88. That, of course, would mean transferring real resources to the boroughs.
Why is the LRB allowed to build up assets and resources that it clearly does not need? After all, we were told that the work and function of the LRB were all about redistributing the spoils from the GLC to the London boroughs. It would be wrong and improper for the LRB to hold on to the money that the hard-pressed ratepayers of Greater London could use during the arcane discussions about the rate support grant settlement for 1987–88.
I am obliged to the House for giving me the opportunity to raise a series of points and matters relating to the work of the London residuary body. It will be a late body when the next Labour Government is elected. I look forward to that day. Until that day arrives and the LRB is despatched, it will be up to people like me to raise the important matters about its activities.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Christopher Chope)
I join the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) in wishing you seasonal greetings, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I regret that many of the hon. Gentleman's comments were not made in the spirit of Christmas. It was particularly unfair of him to make an unwarranted attack on the chairman of the London residuary body. The chairman has done much to steer the procedures forward and to overcome all the difficulties that he inherited from the GLC largely because of the behaviour of some elected GLC members in the last months of the life of that organisation.
It is particularly inapposite that the hon. Gentleman should attack the chairman of the residuary body, when I understand from an extract from the 19 November edition of The London Evening Standard that he himself made threats against officials of the LRB because of his concern about what happened to the so-called GLC treasure. I understand that he said bitterly that clearly the people who were working both for the GLC and the LRBfelt it was in their career interests to thwart the wishes and instructions of the GLC.'I won't forget that, and I won't forget the names of the persons either. If that sounds like a threat it is meant to be'.
§ Mr. Chope
The hon. Gentleman hopes that he can carry out his threat. That is a sad reflection on what should be a time of Christmas cheer.
Luckily, last night's issue of The London Evening Standard was able to put into context the abolition of the GLC and its inability to provide good quality services at. reasonable cost to London. Under a leader headed "A Christmas Bonus", The London Evening Standard recorded:
It will be particularly galling to supporters of the late unlamented Greater London Council that the one area in which it most prided itself on its service to ratepayers—public transport—has prospered even more mightily under the successor authority. Ratepayers' subsidy to London's tube and bus network has been dropping steadily since London Regional Transport took over from the GLC. This Christmas they are being given a further bonus of £36 million in lowered contributions, giving boroughs room to cut their rates, should they wish to. LRT has achieved this by carrying more passengers more efficiently. We wish them an even happier New Year!It is significant that the hon. Gentleman spent two thirds of the time available for this debate dealing mainly with more detailed matters. He spent little time commenting on the major achievements of the abolition of the GLC and the major achievements of the London residuary body.
§ Mr. Chope
The hon. Gentleman said that that is not his job. Hon. Members must bear in mind what he said before the abolition of the GLC. He predicted doom and disaster. He was sceptical about the savings that could or would be made and suggested that the LRB would cost more money and be less efficient. It is worth pointing out exactly what has been achieved so far. Far from the 1523 problems worsening and the predictions of doom and gloom being fulfilled, matters are much better. Tasks assigned to the London boroughs are being carried out without many effects, except beneficial ones, on consumers. It is worth paying tribute to the boroughs for the way in which they have taken over new and enhanced functions.
I do not think that any reasonable Labour politician really believes that a Labour Government—in the unlikely event of there ever being another—would wish to reinstitute the Greater London council. The GLC was attacked privately by Labour party members while it existed, and now it is not lamented at all. Only the hon. Member for Newham, North-West and one or two of his hon. Friends seem to have a sentimental attachment to the GLC.
It will not be long before the GLC is completely forgotten but the savings which will have resulted from abolition will not be forgotten. The manpower savings which were expected to result, and which my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for the Environment predicted, are being implemented. In London there has been a net reduction of 4,600 full-time posts because of abolition. This will bring a continuing annual saving to London ratepayers. In the first year following abolition, the saving net of one-off redundancy payments and of detriment payments will be about £30 million. In subsequent years, savings will rise to an estimated £52 million a year. Further significant savings will come as the LRB winds down its activities.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West raised many detailed issues. I shall try my best to answer some and reply by letter to those which I cannot answer. I hope that those questions which are for the LRB will be answered faster than in the past. I do not seek to defend the position where the LRB has apparently overlooked replying to letters. The hon. Gentleman, by raising many questions to which he already knows the answers, causes a certain scepticism to develop in the minds of members of the LRB.
Those members were appointed by the Secretary of State under section 57 of the Local Government Act 1985, including a member of the co-ordinating committee as provided under section 57(4). My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State sees no need at present to make further appointments to the LRB. It is well on the way to fulfilling its objective of doing itself out of a job. There seems to be no reason to change its membership.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the report and accounts of the LRB and referred to those for 1985–86. Obviously, no annual report and accounts can be laid before the House until they are received, so I cannot give any guarantees. I take the hon. Gentleman's point that he wishes the LRB's activities to be subject to debate. By raising the matter, the hon. Gentleman has been able to achieve that objective. I am sure that he will not be slow in coming forward to raise issues of concern to him.
The Government have always accepted that residuary bodies need to be accountable. That is why the 1985 Act imposed on them an audit regime giving public access to their accounts, with the provision that they should produce annual reports. That is an appropriate regime of accountability for such bodies, but for the public to have the right to come to their formal sessions is inappropriate 1524 and unnecessary. It would be wrong to impose such a burden on bodies which are largely administrative with a limited life and no powers to initiate policies. That is why the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 was not applied to residuary bodies. The order to which the hon. Gentleman referred was laid to avoid any doubt that the 1960 Act does not apply.
The future of county hall is a matter for the London residuary body. The building has been put on the market and, in answer to the question of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, so far there have been some 250 enquiries. Perhaps those enquiries are further evidence of the view held outside the House that the Labour party has no hope whatever of being elected to Government. In view of the background of threats to compulsorily purchase county hall—that apparently is Labour party policy—there would be little interest within the private sector in purchasing it if it was believed that those threats could ever be implemented. Those 250 enquiries speak for themselves.
As a former member of the Inner London education authority, I am aware of that authority's interest in county hall and its continuing need for headquarters accommodation. The LRB has given ILEA notice to quit by 31 March 1988 but ILEA has asked the Government to direct the LRB to make a proposal for the free transfer of the building to ILEA. That request is receiving careful consideration. I must emphasise, however, that we have always taken the view that ILEA's continued occupation of county hall and the question of alternative accommodation are matters for negotiation between ILEA and the LRB.
§ Mr. Chope
I will not give way as I have only four minutes left. This is a 45 minute debate and the hon. Gentleman took up half an hour.
The LRB has also submitted planning applications to Lambeth, but it would not be right for me to comment on those matters as they may well come before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in due course.
With regard to ILEA, it is worth reminding ourselves that it employs around seven administrative staff for every 1,000 pupils or students and that is against an average in England of three administrative staff. Even after allowing for London weighting, ILEA spends twice as much on administration per pupil as the average.
§ Mr. Chope
It spends 30 per cent. more per pupil than the inner city authorities of Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle and 60 per cent. more than the Labour authority in Birmingham. Last year, ILEA kept nearly 500 teachers supernumerary to its own generous establishment. ILEA's finances should be considered in that context and especially as it employs many more administrative staff than would seem to be necessary.
The matter of mortgages has been causing concern to a number of people. I would like to respond to the comments of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West in some detail. The fact is that no one who has a former GLC mortgage would be compelled to pay any charge for the transfer of his or her mortgage. The letter from the LRB was an invitation to borrowers to refinance their 1525 mortgages through one of five building societies. The offer is entirely voluntary. The letter did say that anyone who took advantage of it would have to pay certain charges, but there is no obligation on any borrower to refinance his mortgage through this initiative.
When the LRB is wound up any mortgages remaining with it must be transferred to the successor body. I assure the House that, whatever arrangements are made, they will take full account of borrowers interests. I give the categorical assurance that there will be no question of any fee being charged to borrowers for the transfer. It is not yet possible to say what those arrangements will be. It is for the LRB to propose a scheme for the disposal of any properties, rights and liabilities remaining with it when it is wound up. In due course my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will consider carefully the scheme brought forward by the LRB and will take appropriate steps to see that mortgages are transferred to a reputable successor and that borrowers' interests are fully protected.
With regard to seaside and country homes, I understand that the LRB is now inviting offers from six or seven housing associations. After discussions with the Housing Corporation, a decision will be made on those housing associations which can fulfil the responsibilities. That offer has been made following the breakdown in negotiations with the Anchor housing association. It is a matter for the LRB. There have been problems in making progress because of a wide difference of view on the valuation of the homes. That is why those negotiations are now being widened. But, given that the LRB has a duty to London's ratepayers to secure the best price reasonably obtainable in the circumstances, it is understandable that it should now wish to pursue those alternative options. I hope that satisfactory arrangements will shortly be concluded for the future of those homes. It is not fair to alarm the residents in the way in which the hon. Gentleman sought to do. The residents of those homes have nothing to fear.
I do not have time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to deal with the other points that were raised, but, as I said earlier, I