HC Deb 21 June 1995 vol 262 cc329-30
1. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received about the introduction of regional government in London. [28027]

7. Mr. Robert Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received about whether regional government is needed for London [28033]

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. John Gummer)

I have had no recent representations in favour of introducing a top-heavy new layer of regional government in London.

Mr. Marshall

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, if London had to suffer a regional government, it would become the most over-governed capital city in western Europe? May I, as a former London borough councillor, remind him that the GLC mark 1 was an expensive irrelevance that caused confusion and cost to London's ratepayers, and that no one except the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) wants a GLC mark 2?

Mr. Gummer

I hope that the House will remember that in the last five years of the GLC's existence its spending rose by 170 per cent. while prices were rising by 29 per cent., and that in 1986 it had 92 councillors, 20,000 staff and a budget of almost £1 billion. It is difficult to see that we are missing anything.

Labour's plans for regional government—which, happily, have now been leaked in an official Labour party document—reveal that the London assembly that it wants would take economic development, the environment, planning, water, transport, higher education, health, community care, police and emergency services, energy and training away from everyone else.

Mrs. Roche

A poll conducted recently by the Association of London Government showed that 79 per cent. of people supported an elected authority for London. Does the Secretary of State agree that what has been said by the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) is arrant nonsense?

Mr. Gummer

I am afraid that the hon. Lady is wrong. We consulted 10,000 people in London, and very few of them put a strategic authority—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Mr. Dobson)—with as usual, a slight grin on his face—is trying to ask a question. The need for a strategic authority was not among the first 40 issues raised by the people whom we consulted.

Mr. Tracey

Does my right hon. Friend accept that outer London boroughs more than 20 miles from the centre have little in common with central London, and that neither a Greater London council nor a regional structure would make sense? Will my right hon. Friend encourage the "confederation" view of the Association of London Government? Surely that, rather than the imposition of nonsensical views such as Labour's, is the sensible way of promoting subsidiarity among London boroughs.

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend may have noticed that the London boroughs—even those under Labour control—do not seem very enthusiastic about yielding their perfectly proper powers, particularly those relating to education, to some regional government controlling the entire capital. He may also have reflected that the old GLC area is far too small to deal with many matters, such as transport, while in regard to others—such as tourism—central London boroughs should work together, as they do in the new cross-river partnership. The Thames covers a completely different area which extends both above and below the old GLC area. There is no doubt that regional government, as run by the GLC, is entirely unsuitable for London, and is unmourned by the majority of Londoners.

Mr. Dobson

When will the Government recognise that the majority of people in London—ranging in polls from about two thirds to four fifths—believe that there needs to be an elected, strategic authority for London to speak up on behalf of Londoners and to replace the present regional arrangements whereby a collection of faceless men and women, at the behest of Ministers who then deny all responsibility, take decisions behind closed doors that affect the future of all Londoners?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman would carry more credence in the House if he had ever produced a plan for London that he had managed to keep on the table for more than two days. Every time that the Labour party produces a plan, it has to withdraw it because not everyone in the Labour party in London likes it. The hon. Gentleman has no plan for London. The reason is that the Labour party in London does not want a new GLC because it knows how unpopular it would be. The London boroughs want to go on running their own affairs. The hon. Gentleman is, on this issue like most others, utterly incredible. He has failed to produce a policy. If he thinks that he can explain to the leader of Southwark that he wants to take away education, economic and other powers, he will have a very tough time.

Dr. Twinn

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only evidence about the desire for a GLC came when we abolished it? Labour boroughs privately gave us every support to hurry its demise. They hated it. Power is where it should be—at the local role level with the London boroughs.

Mr. Gummer

I agree with my hon. Friend. However, it is noticeable that the Labour party remains seated when anyone asks what it would do. It pretends to want regional government to balance what it wants to do in Scotland but when it comes to London, it says that no powers would be given to regional government. Labour really must make up its mind.