HC Deb 12 June 1991 vol 192 cc889-90
1. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if the local government review will include possible structures for London.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

The consultation document published on 23 April said that the Government have no plans to change the general structure of local government in London and the metropolitan county areas.

Mr. Greenway

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the late and unlamented Greater London council, when Labour dominated, doubled the rates, doubled the fares for Londoners on London transport in 1984, and continually increased the rates by huge margins as well as giving grants to deviant groups and all sorts of unworthy causes? Does he agree that we must not return to anything like the GLC?

Mr. Heseltine

I think that my hon. Friend is right. The Government have no intention of recreating the GLC, which spent most of its time undermining the confidence and credibility of London as a great world city.

Mr. Tony Banks

I must tell the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) that he is now off the list for the first reception of the Greater London Authority.

Has the Secretary of State had a chance to study the report which I understand came out yesterday showing that mayors in British towns work longer hours and put in more effort than mayors around the rest of the world? We all acknowledge the work that they put in. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman was very much in favour of the idea of a directly elected mayor for London. Does he still favour that proposal? If he does, would he be prepared to meet me to study my completely worked up proposal and scheme, which includes the odd name that I have in mind for the job?

Mr. Heseltine

The House will know that I spend a great deal of time thinking about the way in which we can improve and encourage the partnership between local and central government. It has been a source of some concern to me today to discover that three items on my desk consist of inquiries into corruption in Hackney, of Lambeth sending out bills including the £140 because it cannot collect the community charge, and of worries about internecine warfare in the Labour party in Liverpool—hardly an encouragement to those of us trying to advocate the cause of local government in this country.

Sir Rhodes Boyson

Is the Secretary of State aware that the local government reorganisation of 1963–64 was deeply resented in many Conservative parts of London which want to return to the original boundaries and that there is no way in which the right hon. Member for Brent, North, being guided by his constituents, can support the Government on local government until we are given the right to return to a separate Wembley and Willesden? The same applies to other areas of London where we are putting at risk Conservative seats under Labour authorities.

Mr. Heseltine

rose—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speak for Neasden!"] I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) feels strongly about these matters. Having looked at the reorganisation on which we were already embarked in the non-metropolitan areas and outside London, however, the Government felt that the task that we had set ourselves was a large one which would lead to the prospect of a larger number of unitary authorities and we did not want to extend those proposals at this time.

Mr. Gould

I imagine that the Secretary of State is also concerned about the fraud squad inquiry into Conservative-controlled Bromley. May I press him a little harder on the question of London and give him a further opportunity to snub the people of London, who have shown by an overwhelming majority that they demand a London-wide voice for Londoners and their city? Will the right hon. Gentleman come to the Dispatch Box and explain why he insists on denying that to them?

Mr. Heseltine

The most graphic example of why I am so sceptical of anything that smacks of the GLC is that it fell to my responsibility and to that of the Government to cope with the 6,000 acres of dereliction in the east end of London which were a direct product of the fact that the land was owned by nationalised industries and suffocated by a combination of east end Labour boroughs and the GLC.

Mr. Tracey

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the London unitary authorities, the London boroughs, will be the model to be followed in the rest of the country, and that that will probably be the view of much of the country when he has completed his consultations? Does he also agree that the so-called lean and hungry super-tier authority suggested by some people would soon become a fat and useless body?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right, as he has much experience of this matter. I have another concern, however. The Labour party believes that it would control that authority, but it would use it not to enhance London's reputation, but to undermine it. It would use it as a source of continued controversy between local authorities and central Government, and would exploit every considerable disadvantage that it could find to diminish the reputation of the capital city and not to enhance it.