HC Deb 23 May 1986 vol 98 cc638-48

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Maude.]

9.36 am
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Mr. Speaker, may I be the first to wish you a restful Whitsun recess.

For the benefit of future generations of insomniacs who may stumble across the Official Report of this debate, I shall give a brief account of how the London Residuary Body came into existence and what it is expected to do until the general election, when a Labour Government will abolish it.

In short, the LRB is the Government's dumping ground. It exists in a vain attempt to clear up the appalling mess left in London following the Government's ill-conceived, ill-considered and ill-finished abolition of the Greater London council. The main responsibilities of the LRB are set out in a written answer to me from the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. They are: —to make compensation payments to staff of the GLC who were made redundant or employed on less favourable terms at abolition; —management of the GLC's debt, and superannuation fund; —to close the GLC accounts; —to sort out records and files for onward transmission to successor bodies, and to tidy up unfinished business generally."— there is a deal of that— —to manage inherited property, and unextinguished rights and liabilities not transferred to functional successors; —to provide certain specialist services, including computer services, scientific services, research and intelligence, and miscellaneous transport services (all at the request of London boroughs), and Urban Traffic Control, on behalf of the Secretary of State for Transport; —to plan the onward transfer, disposal or sale of property and for the continued provision of any of these services that remain necessary after the residuary body has been wound up."—[Official Report, 21 April 1986; Vol 96, c. 67.] In other words, its object is to try to make sense of abolition, which all objective and thoughtful people—of course, I exonerate the Under-Secretary of State from such accusations—continue to regard as one of the crudest acts of party political spite in recent years.

Those functions must all be completed in five years, had the LRB five years to look forward to, but since it has only until the general election, perhaps the whole matter is academic.

I have said in the House on many occasions, and I suspect that I shall say it again before the next general election, that the abolition of the GLC had nothing whatever to do with the efficiency of local government. The Government are still unable to tell the House how much money will be saved by abolition or how much money it will cost. They do not know how many jobs will be lost or how many jobs abolition will create. They are unable to make accurate figures available to the House, for the simple reason that they do not know. The abolition of the GLC was all about the Prime Minister's personal hatred of county hall. It revealed her as petty-minded, vindictive and autocratic, and it has left London as the only capital city in Europe without citywide government.

Abolition of the GLC also removed from Londoners a sizeable chunk of their democratic rights and vested control of GLC services in a bewildering complexity of successor bodies: quangos, joint boards, joint committees, Government Departments and borough councils. Few, if any, of the GLC's services have been abolished. However, the democratic accountability of those who administer many of the services has been abolished.

The Government have said, among many other things, that they are taking those services out of the political arena. They are weasel words. What the Government are really doing is excluding from those areas of activity everybody's politics but their own. Disraeli's words about a Tory Government being an "organized hypocrisy" are just about as true today as when he uttered them in the middle of the 19th century.

Whatever their prostestations, the Government dislike democracy, and they certainly mistrust the people. The test is there. If the GLC had been so unpopular, why were the Government not prepared to let the people of London decide at the ballot box whether they wanted to kick out Ken Livingstone and his colleagues? The Government were not prepared to do so, because they could not trust the people. Instead, they are seeking to take more and more services out of the hands of democratically elected representatives and put them under the control of Tory trustees: business men, bankers, accountants and the like, who do their business behind closed doors and away from the glare of public scrutiny and public accountability.

The London Residuary Body is a typical example. The Secretary of State picks seven people who are completely beholden to him for their very lucrative appointments and are answerable only to him for their actions. Then he appoints as chairman of the London Residuary Body a true blue Tory whose Conservative party allegiances are beyond doubt. If the Labour party, when in government, had done that, they would have been a great row in Fleet Street. There would have been accusations about "jobs for the boys", but because the jackals of Fleet street serve mostly the interests of the Conservative party, they have uttered not a peep.

The chairman of the London Residuary Body, who is elected by no one and is accountable only to the Secretary of State, then makes a serious of partisan political statements attacking the GLC and its democratically elected councillors. As an elected representative I consider that to be the height of impertinence.

If all this were free for Londoners — the studied insults, the pay-off to Tory friends — the ratepayers might not have such a major area of complaint. But this particular Tory stooge who chairs the LRB is being paid a salary of £50,000 a year. That has to be compared with the salary of the last director general of the Greater London Council, who received £44,000 a year. I admit that was not a bad screw, but it was for a very full working week, for controlling three times as many staff as those for which the LRB is responsible and for a budget twice the size.

The chairman's salary of £50,000 a year should also be compared with the £7,000 a year that Ken Livingstone received. Whatever people may think of him, Ken Livingstone worked very hard on behalf of London, and he did it for a pittance. The money that he received in taxable expenses and allowances ought to be compared with the remuneration of the part-time members of the LRB. They are doing very well indeed. They are receiving £6,000 a year for one day's work a week. That is an insult to all those GLC councillors, both Labour and Tory, who gave up their job prospects to run London's services and received very little for doing so.

I want to ask the Minister a series of questions. First, when will the LRB salaries be reviewed? One knows that they will be reviewed upwards but, when they are, will a public announcement be made, or will it be similar to what happened to the salary of the chairman of the board of London Regional Transport? His large salary increase was revealed only through an answer that I received to a parliamentary question. It came as a great surprise to LRT workers, who were being asked to take a cut of £50 a week in their fairly low wages, to find that the chairman of LRT had received a salary increase of no less than £7,500 a year. That was done secretly and behind closed doors. There was no public scrutiny and no public announcement. That is the way in which this Government behave. I want to be told that that is not the way in which the salaries of the members of the London Residuary Body will be treated.

I was also intrigued to learn that no women have been appointed to the LRB or to any of the seven residuary bodies that were set up after the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. In reply to my question, the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, told me that no fewer than 10 women were included in the 220 people who had been considered for appointment. But of course none of them was chosen. One can only conclude that the previous Secretary of State was a closet misogynist.

We know that the hand-picked men on the LRB employ over 4,000 staff and that they are responsible for a budget of £600 million. Beyond that, we know very little, if anything, about their day-to-day activities. That has to be contrasted with the GLC which, despite its faults—I am prepared to admit that it had a few — conducted its business in the full glare of public scrutiny. The press and the public had full access to all the deliberations at county hall. Despite that, the GLC was grossly misrepresented in both Fleet street an this House. The Minister is a living witness to that fact. There he sits today in his present position by virtue of the action he took in attacking the GLC, when the more thoughtful of his colleagues expressed public and private reservations about the Government's proposals to abolish the GLC.

In contrast to the GLC, the London Residuary Body holds its meetings in secret and its minutes are not made available. I have asked the Minister many times in the past, and I ask him again now, whether those minutes can be placed in the House of Commons Library. All that he has said to me is that it is a matter for the LRB. Naturally, the LRB refuses to disclose its minutes. They are made available only to Ministers and to Department of the Environment officials. This is offensive and undemocratic.

The Government have abolished democratic accountability over a large number of London services. They have set up a quango, called the London Residuary Body, and then refuse to answer questions in the House about its activities. What are the Government trying to hide? Why will the Minister not tell me how much London ratepayers' money is being spent by the LRB on, for example, consultancy fees or expenses, or its general running costs? Why does the Minister not tell us more about payments to ex-GLC staff? Why will he not tell us how much it has cost Londoners for the London Residuary Body to remove the GLC insignia from buildings and vehicles? That was a priority programme for the LRB, because it moved very swiftly to do just that after midnight on 31 March when the GLC was abolished.

Ministers are not consistent. I have asked questions similar to those that I have just asked about the activities of the London Docklands development corporation and about the South Bank board and I have received very full replies. I am not encouraging those Ministers who were courteous enough to give me those full replies to adopt the same attitude as the Minister at the Dispatch Box. I want that Minister to start following the example of other Ministers who are prepared to come to the House and give full information to hon. Members who are trying to carry out their democratic responsibilities. The London Docklands development corporation and the South Bank board are also non-departmental public bodies, like the LRB, and I do not see why the LRB should be treated differently.

When I started asking questions about the activities of the LRB I received from the Under-Secretary silly, glib non-answers. Then, I am pleased to say, older and perhaps wiser counsels prevailed and the replies became slightly more forthcoming. I am marginally grateful for that, but the position is still far from satisfactory. In a letter dated 29 April to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), the previous Secretary of State said: Residuary bodies' day-to-day policy concerns are matters on which it would not be usual or appropriate for me to intervene or comment. Why not? The Government set up these wretched bodies to replace democratically elected councils; surely it is their responsibility to answer for the actions of their creatures.

In the same letter, the Secretary of State spoke about a degree of independence that residuary bodies have from Ministers. Yet in an answer to me on 11 April the Under-Secretary said that his Department was in regular contact with the London Residuary Body about the discharge of its functions. If the LRB is as independent of Ministers as we are told, why are there so many meetings? Why is Parliament not informed of what is transacted at those meetings? In his reply of 21 April the Minister said that no central record was kept of all the meetings.

Again I ask: why not? Why are central records of these meetings not kept? It was Parliament that decided to abolish democratic control of many of London's local government services, and Parliament should also be prepared to make itself accountable to Londoners for the efficient running of those services. Of course, Parliament and the Government have not been prepared to make themselves accountable, and that is an insult to London and to democracy.

According to a reply that I received on 11 April from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Londoners have very few rights in respect of LRB activities. He said that, subject to statutory requirements, it was for the LRB itself to decide the information it makes available to members of the public. Imagine a local authority being given that sort of right, being able to pick and choose the information that it made available to the press and the public.

In reply to further questions from me, the Under-Secretary said that residuary bodies had been asked to prepare their first annual reports for the past year from their establishment to 31 March, 1986 and to adopt the financial year thereafter. This means that the first LRB report will cover the period from 12 August 1985 to 31 March 1986 — a period prior to the abolition of the GLC, when the LRB had no effective responsibilities for London's government.

I hope that messages will continue to flow from the civil servants to the Minister, so that he will be able to answer some of my questions. It seems that the earliest the House will receive the inadequate first report of the LRB will be in about the autumn. That means that we are not likely to receive the post-abolition report until the autumn of 1987. I understand that to be the position, but the Minister can correct me if I am wrong. We might have a general election before then. in which case the matter is academic, but I suspect that that report will be hushed up, because it will be too politically embarrassing for the Government to reveal it in the run-up to the general election.

The whole situation is unsatisfactory and smacks of a cover-up. When will the first and second reports of the LRB be laid before Parliament? Will Parliament have a full opportunity to examine and discuss these reports on the Floor of the House? What matters will be covered by the reports? As I understand it, the content of the reports is a matter for consideration.

This is the first opportunity that the House has had to debate the affairs of the LRB, and because of that I should like to ask the Minister another series of questions about the board's current activities. First of all, what percentage of ex-GLC staff have received redundancy pay? How many of them have received their redundancy pay in full?

Is the Minister aware that a number of ex-GLC staff who have received neither redundancy pay nor unemployment pay are being refused unemployment pay at Department of Employment local offices because officials in those offices are trying to establish whether any of the staff received pay in lieu of notice? We all know that no staff received pay in lieu of notice. I hope that the Minister will speak to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment in order to ensure that those ex-GLC staff receive some money to live on, because the Government are responsible for the economic distress of those people.

Secondly, is the Minister aware of the appallingly low morale of LRB staff? How many staff have quit the service of the LRB since 1 April? Is it true that so many staff are leaving at the moment that the LRB is having to rely on agency staff and outside consultants to do its work? The notes keep coming and I hope that that will continue, because the Minister is cleary in need of information. Thirdly, is it true that, on the 10 completion teams that have the job of trying to tidy up the mess after abolition, there are 109 vacancies, about a 30 per cent. shortfall? If that is true, what reasons can the Minister advance for such an unsatisfactory state of affairs?

Fourthly, is it true that the sum of £1.4 million or thereabouts has been made available for selective pay increases to staff who are proving difficult to retain in the service of the LRB? Fifthly, is it true that all the notepaper with the heading, "The LRB—An Equal Opportunities Employer" was destroyed on the instructions of the chairman of the LRB? If that is true, why was it done? Is the LRB not an equal opportunities employer? How much did that little exercise cost London ratepayers?

Sixthly, has the Minister read Building magazine dated 9 May? That quotes the Building Employers Confederation which says that its members are owed a total of £500 million for completed work and that the LRB's paperwork is in complete disarray. When can those contractors expect payment? Clearly, delays in payment have serious consequences for the future of their businesses.

Seventhly, what is the current disposals policy of the LRB in respect of GLC property? I understand that the Minister's Department has issued draft guidance notes advising residuary bodies to consult successor bodies before disposing of any property. I assume that that will cause considerable delay, because time must be allowed for those consultations to take place. I do not moan about such consultations, but I should like to know what the situation is at the moment. The Minister should now be able to tell the House about the projected sales figures for property disposal by the LRB in its first and second years.

Eighthly, why have the Government delayed the announcement of the distribution to the London boroughs of some £18 million of GLC balances? I understand that the distribution was agreed by the LRB on 28 April but was then vetoed by Ministers.

Ninthly, why is the LRB being allowed to sell off the Elephant and Castle shopping centre for less than its commercial value to a company called Land Securities plc? I thought the LRB was there to get the full market rate for properties that it sold privately, so that the benefit would go to London ratepayers.

Tenthly, when will the LRB be able to make an announcement about the future of Hampstead Heath and Covent Garden? Those matters need to be sorted out. It is over two years since abolition was first proposed, and we still do not know about the future of Hampstead Heath and Covent Garden. I am particularly concerned about Covent Garden, because I would like to know whether the Covent Garden Area Trust will be allowed to purchase all the ex-GLC property, or whether the Minister will allow property speculators to make a fat killing in this prime area of London.

My 11th question concerns what is happening about Thamesmead, because that intrigues a number of people. Is it true that the Thamesmead Trust expects to receive Thamesmead for nothing, plus £15 million from the LRB, and that the LRB is refusing to oblige? We understand that this is what the chairman of the trust is expecting. Is the Minister prepared to publish the study by the Department of the Environment on Thamesmead, drawn up by Coopers and Lybrand?

Finally, what is happening about county hall? When are the consultants due to report to the LRB? I am sure that the Minister is aware of the great anger that will arise in London should the LRB, with his approval and that of his colleagues, sell off county hall for a hotel development. Is he aware—if he is not, he should be, and so should a potential purchaser — that if county hall is sold as an hotel and goes into the private sector, the Labour Government will compulsorily purchase county hall and return it to public service?

The Minister should answer these questions. I am not so naive or optimistic as to expect that he will give me a fulsome reply now to all these questions, but I hope that he will be prepared to write to me. I shall keep returning to this matter and asking these questions. It is not just me being nosey. The Minister and his Government have set up this unelected, unnacountable quango, and it is incumbent on them to answer for the actions and policies of that quango—here, where it matters, in the House of Commons. I shall be returning to the House time and again to ask questions on matters relating to the abolition of the GLC and the work of the LRB, because in that respect, my patience and determination are infinite.

The Government have a duty to answer these questions. If they do not, the accusations that are being made—that they are not interested in open government, that they want to take more and more powers from local authorities and vest the powers in unelected, unaccountable quangos made up of hand-picked political trusties and passing out of the public domain—will be seen to be true. Such a course of action would be anti-democratic. It is the antithesis of everything that this place is supposed to stand for, and of everything that the Government mouth from the Front Bench, but one gets used to that level of cant and hypocrisy from this Government.

The Government will curse the day when they decided to abolish the GLC. As I correctly predicted before the elections on 8 May, the GLC factor, which ran heavily through the elections in London, and which was one of the reasons why the Conservatives were so badly beaten in the elections, will continue to affect the people of London. The Minister may care to reflect on the fact that I now represent the only one-party borough in the country. That is a reflection of the trust and faith that the people of Newham have in the Labour party.

When we occupy the Government Benches, we shall amply reward the people, and we shall look after our friends just as the Tories have looked after theirs. The Government now know and understand that they made a monumental error of judgment in abolishing the GLC. That fact will haunt them right the way through to their certain humiliation at the next general election.

10.4 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Richard Tracey)

I join the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) in wishing you a happy and refreshing recess, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is always a great pleasure to listen to one of the delightfully restrained performances from the hon. Gentleman, to which the House has become accustomed. No one doubts that he was one of the most highly political chairmen of the Greater London council—an office that had traditionally been a non-political position. He will never lose an opportunity to re-run what has begun to sound like one of the old movies that one sees flickering on the television screen—the story of the GLC that has now gone.

However, for the second time in two months, I have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. When he secured the Adjournment debate on 27 March this year, his forecast of chaos and disaster when the GLC was abolished was wrong, and it is still wrong—even more so that it was then.

The truth is that the hand-over of functions to successors went extremely smoothly, and as we have always said, the boroughs and other successors were perfectly capable of taking on their new responsibilities. After all, the boroughs have run over 80 per cent. of the local government of London and are now, quite rightly, running the rest as well. All the excessive advertising that was going on when the GLC was spending London ratepayers' money has, quite rightly, stopped.

The number of redundancy claims submitted to the London Residuary Body suggests that we were right to estimate that about 3,500 posts would eventually be saved. We have just announced that the number of claims was 3,000. Additional posts will be saved, for example by voluntary early retirement and by further redundancies. There have been widespread and significant reductions in rates—nobody can be in any doubt about that—and they are directly attributed by many of the London boroughs to the abolition of the GLC. Voluntary bodies have found, as we never doubted, that the overall funds available are perfectly adequate for their needs.

It is hardly surprising that, in the hon. Gentleman's disappointment, abolition is bringing about all the benefits that we said it would, with none of the chaos that he forecast, the hon. Gentleman should turn his attention to the London Residuary Body as a target—as he sees it, the fresh ogre. The hon. Gentleman has painted what one can only describe as an imaginative picture of some secretive, all-powerful organisation running out of control.

The truth is rather more modest. The LRB's role is limited, technical and transitory. Its role is limited and technical because its sole purpose is to wind up the affairs of the GLC. We always recognised that, in bringing to an end an organisation of the size and complexity of the GLC, there would be residual issues that would need to be resolved and which could not readily be transferred to successors. These include disposing of surplus property, making compensation payments to GLC staff made redundant or re-employed by successors on less favourable terms, managing debt and superannuation and dealing with certain oustanding legl rights and liabilities.

The hon. Gentleman has read out a written answer that I gave him in the Official Report, which spelt out in precise detail the role of the LRB. Its task has been likened to that of the executor of an estate. It is to finish or liquidate the transitional items and return any cost incurred, and, more particularly, the receipts and surpluses generated to the ratepayers of London, where they rightly belong.

When formulating the LRB's powers and duties we also recognised that there would be a limited number of common specialist services and other functions which successors would find useful but for which there would be no time to make permanent arrangements before abolition. The Act therefore provides for the LRB, if requested to do so by successors, to act as a temporary home for these services, provided that there is a prospect of permanent arrangements being made in due course. The services which the LRB has taken on include research and intelligence and scientific services, which are being run at a level agreed with the boroughs and on a recharging basis. The LRB is also maintaining on a temporary basis the GLC's former central computer service. In addition to these services, the LRB is acting as a temporary home for Thamesmead which will pass to the elected local trust later this year. As the hon. Member has mentioned it, perhaps I can take this opportunity to say something about the LRB's role at Thamesmead.

The hon. Gentleman criticised the way in which the LRB has acted, but he has been very unfair. The LRB has temporary ownership of Thamesmead. By agreement, the day-to-day management of the area is already being undertaken by Thamesmead Town, which is the private company controlled by residents, and which will assume full ownership very shortly. Thamesmead Town is currently using the LRB staff who were previously employed by the GLC on the Thamesmead operation. Everyone concerned agreed that it was better for the new company to become immediately involved in running Thamesmead from 1 April to make for the simplest and smoothest transition from the GLC. Residents and staff have benefited from this arrangement.

The company will shortly make offers of employment to the LRB staff at Thamesmead. There will be no compulsion on the staff to work for the company, but there is every indication that the large majority of them want to do so. Mr. Clive Thornton, the company's chairman, has been greatly encouraged by this support and by the commitment shown by the staff to the new company and to continuing to work for the good of Thamesmead.

The process of selling Thamesmead is a matter for the LRB and Thamesmead Town. The valuation process is now proceeding. The LRB and the company are anxious to finalise matters as quickly as possible so that Thamesmead Town can become fully operational and serve the residents to the best of its ability. The LRB has taken an enlightened and practical approach to the problems of Thamesmead and Lam pleased to be able to endorse it.

I have said that the LRB's role is transitory. The Act requires the LRB to endeavour to wind itself up by the end of five years but, in practice, most of its work will have been completed long before then. The task of making redundancy payments is virtually complete already. The common specialist services will be handed to the boroughs before long. The LRB's property disposal programme is already under way, particularly in respect of individual sites and properties. Of course some groups of properties must be considered together and their future must be considered more carefully, but even here the LRB is making progress.

The LRB is already discussing in detail arrangements for the disposal of Covent Garden with those directly concerned — the City of Westminster, the London borough of Camden and the Covent Garden Area Trust. This is a quite proper concern for local anxieties about the future of the area, and gives the lie to claims that the LRB has embarked on some reckless asset-stripping programme. In short, the LRB is pressing on wieb its duties in abusinesslike, speedy, and effective manner.

The hon. Member asked whether all of this does not cost a lot of money, is not the LRB's budget huge and does it not employ a vast army of people.

Mr. Banks

I never said that.

Mr. Tracey

Once again, I fear that I must draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the facts. The LRB's budget for 1986–87 provides for net revenue expenditure of about £480 million. But, of that, some £300 million is accounted for by debt charges. Most of this sum relates to housing stock already transferred to the boroughs. The boroughs were paying for that anyway, and it did not feature in the GLC's budget. A further £100 million is accounted for by charges to the boroughs and other successors for services provided by the LRB on their behalf. It is imposing a levy on the boroughs of £48 million—equivalent to a 2.5p rate, block grant apart. Thai: should be put in the context of GLC budgeted expenditure of more than £700 million in 1985–86, and a precept of 34p, although I readily accept that the LRB's functions are more limited.

Mr. Banks

That is generous.

Mr. Tracey

Apart from those figures, there are substantial balances in the GLC's accounts. The Budget forecast that these balances would amount to at least £116 million. The LRB has just announced that it is distributing a further £18 million to the boroughs. That shows the extent to which the GLC took money endlessly and, unnecessarily from Londoners, who will get it back.

We expect even greater capital receipts to accrue from sales of surplus GLC property. The LRB has forecast some £30 million net coming from this source in 1986–87 alone. The bulk of those receipts will be returned to London's ratepayers. The Act enables my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, to provide for certain of these receipts to be paid over to a trust for the benefit of voluntary organisations in London. We shall shortly be consulting on the terms of an order which will require the LRB to make over funds to the trust for London, which is presently being set up by the City Parochial Foundation. We intend that some £10 million will be paid over for this financial year.

On staffing, one has only to consider the facts to realise how groundless are the claims that have been made. The LRB employs about 4,300 staff at the moment. That includes staff required for a short time to clear up the GLC's offices. For its own requirements, the LRB employs fewer than 2,000 staff, and many of these are needed for only a short time.

The hon. Gentleman made much of the fact that members of the LRB are not directly elected. That is a funny old criticism coming from him when one bears in mind the jobs-for-the-boys antics that used to go on in the GLC. I think especially of London Transport before it was rightly changed to London Regional Transport.

What the hon. Gentleman said is quite untrue. The LRB is not a local authority and does not exercise local authority functions. As I have explained, its role is defined precisely in the Act and it is limited and technical. Parliament has accepted that it would not be appropriate to have an elected board of management to run the LRB. It is best managed by a small body of members appointed for their expertise and understanding of the job that the body has to do, in much the same way as development corporations are managed. It is always open to Ministers to review salaries, but we have no present plans to do so.

The LRB must be subject to public scrutiny and accountability. It has gone to some lengths to discover the views of boroughs about various aspects of its activities. I assure the hon. Gentleman that a report will be lodged in the Lirbary. The first one will be in September and they will follow annually.

Ministers are answerable to Parliament for those of the LRB's affairs over which they have control. The fact that I am here today, and that Ministers have answered more than 50 questions tabled by the hon. Member alone about the LRB's affairs is proof of that. On those matters over which Ministers do not have direct control, the LRB is quite ready to respond directly to questions and requests for information from hon. Members and the public at large. I do not need to tell the hon. Member that the LRB has responded quite openly to the seemingly endless stream of questions he has put to it from time to time. Furthermore, the Act requires the LRB to produce an annual report which, as I have said, will be lodged in the Library of the House. We have subjected the LRB to the scrutiny of the Parliamentary Commissioner.

The LRB will handle public money, and must be accountable for it. Therefore, the Act requires it to publish an annual statement of accounts, which will be laid before the House. These accounts will be subject to audit in the same way as local authority audits and any report the auditor makes will also be published.

You will agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that these are clear, firm and effective measures for ensuring that the LRB is fully accountable for its actions to Parliament, to the London boroughs, and to the public. It is frankly difficult to see what additional safeguards the hon. Member for Newham, North-West could reasonably expect there to be provided.

Once again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I must disappoint the hon. Gentleman. There is no chaos, no disaster. The LRB is in place, performing its limited and short-lived duties economically, and openly. We shall respond by letter to the hon. Gentleman's detailed questions and we shall presumably continue to receive a stream of parliamentary questions from the hon. Gentleman, to which we shall also respond.

In my concluding remarks on 27 March, I said that in a very short time people would be asking what all the fuss over abolition was about. Given the hon. Gentleman's contribution to today's debate, they must already be doing so.