HC Deb 19 April 1995 vol 258 cc196-7
4. Tony Banks

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make it his policy to reinstate a strategic local authority for London. [17908]

Mr. Gummer


Mr. Banks

I asked the question more in hope than expectation, but when will the Government drop the dead dogma about London and accept what everyone in the public and private sector is saying—that London desperately needs a strategic authority to run it? Why is such a body good enough for every other capital city in the world, but not for London?

Mr. Gummer

I know that the hon. Gentleman has a long love of the Greater London council—so much so that he took its various insignia home to look after them at the end of its time—but he must remember that Paris, for example, has no such authority. It is not true, therefore, that every other capital city has one. The mayor of Paris controls an area which is not the whole of Paris by any means. As usual, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. That is the second time that he has been wrong during this Question Time.

The Government and the Cabinet Committee for London are our strategic authority. We deal with a range of problems throughout London, and the area covered depends on the issue. If one is talking about transport, the old GLC area is far too small. If one is talking about the Thames, it is the wrong shape and the area must go much beyond and below that. If one is talking about the problems of tourism and theatreland one is talking about two or three boroughs in the centre of London. On many of the issues, the sort of strategic authority that the hon. Gentleman wants would have no use and be very expensive and it would be largely opposed by his supporters in the borough councils, who are elected.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the GLC gave London an intolerable bureaucracy, interminable delays and frequent differences of opinion with the London boroughs? Does he accept that outside London people would have looked to the Lord Mayor of London rather than the chairman of the GLC, of whom few, if any, had heard? Does he also accept that, since I became the Member for Hendon, South, I have not received one letter calling for the resurrection of the late and unlamented Greater London council?

Mr. Gummer

I am not surprised that my hon. Friend has received no letters. After all, in the last five years of the GLC, it put spending up by 170 per cent. when the total increase in the cost of living was 29 per cent., and it had 20,000 staff and a budget of more than £1 billion. It is difficult today to find anything it did which needed doing.

Mr. Dobson

Why do the Tories refuse to restore to Londoners their right to choose who governs their city? Why do the Government insist on ignoring the views of four out of five Londoners and of the Evening Standard? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that rejection of the rights of Londoners was decided by a Cabinet sub-committee which includes the chairman of the Tory party? Is that because the Tories are scared stiff to face the voters of London, just as they are running scared of voters in every other part of the country?

Mr. Gummer

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman managed to read that out word for word because he does not believe it any more than anyone else in the House, which is why he had to have it written down. The fact is that he is wrong on every point. The GLC did little that is discernible for the good of London and cost it a great deal. The needs of London are much better served by dealing with it as it really is. That is why there are elected borough authorities.

The idea that London—meaning its 32 boroughs—cannot elect its governor can be put forward only by someone who recognises that the Labour party, which runs most of those boroughs, does not act in the interests of the electors but in the interests of the Labour party. It is no wonder that the hon. Gentleman had to read out his question, lest he be led into the facts, which are that Lambeth, Hackney, Haringey and other examples of Labour London do not give anyone in London any chance to think that it would be better if there were a juggernaut such as the GLC again.

Mr. Colvin

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is far better for the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) to be here entertaining us, rather than being chairman of one of the most profligate local authorities' ever? Can my right hon. Friend tell us when we can expect that great Lutyens building, county hall, to be put to a more profitable use?

Mr. Gummer

I hope that that will happen soon. I am glad that my hon. Friend mentioned the past because it is worth remarking that when the GLC was the so-called "strategic authority for London" it spent only a sixth as much in real terms on the London tube as is spent now that the Government have that role.