HL Deb 07 December 1993 vol 550 cc816-8

3 p.m.

Baroness Jeger asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the cost of publication of London—Making the Best Better; and what was the purpose of the publication.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Denton of Wakefield)

My Lords, the cost of producing the document and associated questionnaire, including distribution and publicity, is estimated at £168,000. The document aims to promote the best aspects of London—the achievements and successes of all in the capital—and to seek views on what people appreciate in London and their ideas for improvement.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House why £168,000 of taxpayers' money is being asked for to deal with that document, when I and millions of Londoners can give that information to the Government for nothing? Londoners do not want to be imprisoned under their capital in dangerous, clapped-out, under-funded tube trains. We do not want our hospitals closed down or mutilated and we do not want anybody sleeping on the pavements of London. If I can know that for nothing, why did the Government not find it out?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am delighted to tell the noble Baroness that there are many areas for which the Government have concern and are taking action. As the noble Baroness knows, there is the Rough Sleepers Initiative which was given £96 million and reduced by two-thirds the number of people sleeping rough. Another £86 million has been put into that project. The Government's total support for London transport will be nearly £3 billion over the next three years. I am sure that the noble Baroness is not suggesting that before making our decisions we should not ask for the views of those who live and work in London.

Viscount Caldecote

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the cost is chicken-feed compared with the great importance of London as a tourist and financial centre, with the large amount of foreign currency that is earned thereby? That creates the wealth to pay for alleviating the problems mentioned by the noble Baroness.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Caldecote for that question. It is important that the strength of London as an economic centre is recognised and built upon. Of the Financial Times top 500 companies, 121 have chosen to put their headquarters in London. A survey of overseas businessmen found that 88 per cent. of them wanted to be based in London. Very few of them seemed to want to go home.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that that suggests that London requires its own authority instead of relying on 32 different boroughs?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am pleased to tell the noble Baroness that the local London boroughs are most accountable. Had we continued with the GLC, over the past six years it would have cost £1.3 billion. That suggests to me that Londoners might not want it.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, as president of the London Boroughs Association and a member of London First, I welcome this publication as evidence of recognition by the Government of the enormous importance of London as one of the three global cities in the world. Does my noble friend agree that it comes a little oddly from the party opposite to complain about £168,000 expenditure when the GLC spent £45 million on trying to save itself?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, my noble friend puts the whole issue well and truly into perspective.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the figures given by the noble Lord just now are totally fictitious and have no basis in fact whatsoever? Is she further aware that if she wants to ascertain the opinion of Londoners, the best possible way to do so is to restore to them the power to elect their own government? Why does she not do that, or is she afraid that the result might not be in accordance with her wishes on the matter?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, the noble Lord looks at the matter from a different point of view. We are not talking about another level of bureaucracy. We are talking about what people want and what they are proudest of in London and asking for their suggestions. We are in fact looking forward.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the Government have not heard either from volunteers (such as the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, and many other noble Lords) or indeed from Londoners and the London boroughs? What efforts are being made to ensure a proper demographic and geographic spread of responses to the questionnaire, given that the main vehicle appears to have been the Evening Standard, which I imagine is read more by commuters than, for instance, people living in poorer parts of London? Can she also tell the House how a sensible analysis can be made of the questionnaire when five of the six questions are entirely open-ended?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, we are looking for views, ideas and input from the people who live and work in London and who do not come with prejudices but simply with concern for the community.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that on the questionnaire in addition to question 1 ("What do you most appreciate about London?"), there should be a second question: "What do you least appreciate about London?"? If the noble Baroness is short of a list, like the one containing the 63 items under the first question, would she bear in mind the questions raised by my noble friends and add perhaps: rubbish piled up in doorways, rats running in the streets, traffic snarled up, crime on the rampage, pollution of the environment and homeless people begging from doorways?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I suggest that the publication takes exactly the opposite view to that of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. It is positive, forward looking and not running down London.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

My Lords, my noble friend spoke about suggestions from the people of London. Can she inform the House how many letters have been received by her department since this initiative was launched?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I am pleased to tell my noble friend that since it was published we have received almost 6,000 replies. We have deliberately kept the subject open-ended so that we can keep collecting information from Londoners