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Column 1148funded directly from the Further Education Funding Council, training and enterprise councils, city challenge, London scientific services and the various bits of what used to be London Transport--London Buses Ltd., London Underground Ltd., LRT Bus Engineering, the London Docklands development corporation and the London pension fund authority. Many of those bodies, but not all, were set up to take over former GLC functions.
There are also joint bodies, such as the London fire and civil defence authority, the organisation involved in the London boroughs grant scheme, the London waste regulation authority and the waste authorities that cover the various parts of London. We are dealing more and more often in those cases with a single-purpose appointed body.
The behaviour of such bodies is governed by rules far less stringent than any applying to local authorities, on a range of issues. Local authorities must hold their meetings in public, for instance, but many quangos do not. How do the public obtain access to information ? Again, there are statutory rules governing access to information in the local authority sector, but try to obtain information, as an ordinary member of the public, about what is happening in a hospital trust, on the governing body of a grant- maintained school or on the board of a housing action trust, and it is a very different matter.
The audit arrangements also vary enormously. Can someone who feels aggrieved go to the ombudsman ? What are the methods for obtaining redress ? Experience in my surgeries tells me that, increasingly, people do not even know to whom they should complain, because it is so unclear who is responsible.
These matters are important. As I said earlier, we are dealing with bodies that are spending public money. Several billion pounds are spent. It approaches the amounts spent by London boroughs. The figures can, of course, be added up in different ways, but, according to a conservative estimate, at least £6 billion was spent in 1992-93. I am trying to avoid double counting--counting regional and district health authorities, family health services authorities and hospital trusts twice. Often, the same money is being spent ; money spent by a district health authority ends up with a hospital trust. Without that double counting, we are still looking at more than £6 billion. It is also interesting to consider the people who are spending that money, and what they are given. Local authority members are entitled to an attendance allowance, but I guess that few members of London authorities receive more than £3,000 or £5,000 a year, and many people receive less than that. Let us consider the position in the quangos. Virtually £1.25 million is spent on annual remunerations for chairs and directors of district health authorities ; nearly £1 million is spent on the chairs and directors of NHS trusts in London ; £145,000 is spent on the chair and directors of the London residuary body.
By and large, the members of those bodies are appointed. There are no longer any councillors on regional or district health authorities. None is directly appointed to NHS trusts. There are no councillors on London Regional Transport or the London residuary body. On the bodies to which some councillors are appointed, the numbers are small. According to estimates that I have seen, about 1,700 people sit on the boards of the quangos across London whose spending adds up to £6 billion. Of those 1,700, perhaps 2 per cent. are elected councillors ; the rest are appointed.
Column 1149In some areas, it is becoming more difficult to find people to take on such jobs. The grant-maintained schools are moving to virtual independence, but, even in locally managed schools, parent governors in particular are beginning to realise the amount of work involved, and the difficulties entailed in trying to assume financial responsibilities and manage budgets--a task for which they have had no training and been given virtually no support.
It is not simply a question of financial probity and accounts ; there is also the major question of public accountability. Regardless of whether a local authority's policies are acceptable to any individual, at least it has open procedures. Local authorities are accountable. Controlling parties can be voted out of office and people can and do take an interest in what their local authorities are doing and in their performance. More local factors are now coming into play in local elections than has happened for some years. It is good for people to take an interest and to use their votes to express that interest.
In much of the system we are seeing fragmentation--fragmentation without accountability. The fragmentation into single-purpose, sometimes quite small, bodies means that there is also fragmentation of decision-making. Decisions that are essentially related are taken in isolation. There is a complete lack of public accountability and public influence. It does not matter how well intentioned the members of the quango boards are, the lack of accountability is an inevitable result of that sort of structure.
The major problem that follows from that is a lack of co-ordination and clear strategy across London as a whole. Whatever arrangements are made for the bodies to co-ordinate their activities, none of them has an overview. None has the authority or the power to develop an overview and there is little incentive for them to do so, because they are responsible for only a single service in perhaps a small area. Contacts occur, often at officer level, but there is little overlapping membership between the various quangos. Therefore, real linkages often do not develop.
The joint boards have one member from each borough and, on paper, they may seem to be accountable. However, I believe that similar problems often arise. I was a leader of a local authority in London before 1990 and we had to find people to go on the joint boards and we had to work through them. From that experience, I know that there are all sorts of problems.
First, there is the problem of finding people to go on the boards. They must be local councillors who have the time to devote to organisations such as the London fire and civil defence authority, the London waste regulation authority or the local waste regulation authority. There are certainly difficulties with local authorities monitoring the activities of the joint boards. There is the problem of local authorities, acting as an authority, rather than as an individual who happens to be on the board, having a clear influence on decision-making.
From all the fragmentation and lack of accountability there is a clear conclusion--there is a democratic deficit in London which can be remedied only by some form of Londonwide strategic authority. That can be seen by looking at service delivery, although I am not suggesting
Column 1150that we want a Londonwide authority that necessarily becomes involved in enormous amounts of service delivery.
We have just had a debate on the Northern line. Transport is a perfect example of what is going wrong in London now. Earlier this afternoon, I happened to come across a diagram showing the organisation of transport in London and the various bodies involved in planning transport in London. I appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you may not be able to see the diagram as you are too far away, but it resembles a tube map. There are so many different organisations and bodies involved in trying to plan transport in London. It is ludicrous.
The 1984 Department of the Environment paper "After the GLC" described what was going to happen :
"The Secretary of State will provide a framework of guidance on traffic matters . . . This, together with his oversight of British Rail, London Regional Transport, and their mutual co-operation of services, will ensure that a comprehensive and balanced approach is adopted towards transport to make it easier for people to move around London and to improve environmental and living conditions." I doubt whether many people who read the debate on the Northern line will agree that their ability to move around London easily has improved.
London Underground's management have spoken of the lack of investment, yet, despite their protestations, last year's autumn statement cut investment in London transport by more than £200 million. Each of London's major transport infrastructure issues that have been debated frequently in the House in the past year or two--the channel tunnel link, crossrail, the Jubilee line extension and the proposed Hackney to Chelsea line--has been at the planning stage for years. Shifts of policy lead to uncertainties about whether private finance will contribute. Nobody is in control.
Such problems apply equally to quite small matters. Quite a lot of local councils in London, of all political shades, have tried to make cycling a priority and have created cycling lanes to make life easier for cyclists. The London Cycling Campaign says that it is concerned about the confusing array of schemes that are created because of the lack of co-ordination between boroughs and the lack of a London-wide co-ordinating body.
There is a consensus among people who use public transport and the roads that travelling in London is a nightmare and that it is getting worse, yet we have no long-term strategic planning authority to deal with transport in London.
The problem does not apply only to transport. I am sure that no hon. Member can think of another capital city in Europe that must do without an elected citywide authority. Some hon. Members are aware of the difficulties that have arisen in recent years in trying to put together London bids on an individual borough basis for European money through the regional development fund and for assisted area status. Without a citywide authority, London is losing out and will continue to lose out on European initiatives. Some people believe that London would have done rather better in attracting the Olympic or Commonwealth games if it had had a citywide authority to put a bid together.
Why should we have to rely on ad hoc arrangements between boroughs, the Association of London Authorities or the London Boroughs Association to co- ordinate bids for assistance ? Why is there no London authority to offer significant assistance to local industry ?
Column 1151There are no structural connections between the training and enterprise councils. Large-scale economic development work cannot be sensibly carried out on a single-borough basis. Why is there no one to take a Londonwide view of what should be done to deal with unemployment ?
With the best will in the world, such issues cannot be tackled with maximum efficiency at borough level or by joint bids or work between boroughs, however useful such work may be--and I am not decrying it at all. That is not happening at maximum efficiency. The ALA and the LBA do not have the powers to fill some of the gaps.
We cannot afford to let the present drift continue. We need a new governing body for London--a view shared by the vast majority of Londoners. Recent polls found that four out of five Londoners believe that there should be a new Londonwide authority, one that will not get involved in service delivery on the ground but that will be concerned with the major strategic issues affecting the whole of London, such as economic reconstruction, improvements in public safety and rebuilding the national health service. The recent specialty reviews are a classic example of fragmented
decision-making. There was a review of cancer and heart specialties, among others, but no one sat down and tried to co-ordinate what was happening across the board.
We need a Londonwide authority with some responsibility for the fire and emergency services, the type of services that cannot conceivably be most efficiently planned borough by borough. We need a Londonwide authority for policing and for sport and the arts. There is lots of room for local initiative but there is no one to take the overall view.
Apart from vast improvements in planning, the existence of such an authority would mean an increase in public involvement and in public accountability. Individuals could become involved and there could be regular consultation with both sides of industry. We do not need to set up a vast bureaucracy. But what we especially do not need is what we have now- -government by quango.
Mr. Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West) : I shall not detain the House for long--I am sure that everyone will be pleased to hear that--but I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) on securing this debate. It is very significant to Londoners and to the city itself, but I am sure that it also greatly irritates Ministers because it deals with an issue that will not go away, because a glaring injustice has been, and is being, perpetrated on the people of London by the Government. That will remain the case until the transparently obvious solution that the Government have been trying to avoid at all costs--the establishment of a strategic authority responsible for co-ordinating many of the services provided to the people who visit or live and work in London--is accepted. I believe that, in the fulness of time, this issue will come to resemble the history of the poll tax. Many of those who were enthusiastic about the abolition of the Londonwide authority were also enthusiastic about the poll tax. We were told that all that was required was time for it to settle down and that, once the initial hostility and misunderstandings had been dealt with, the poll tax would be established as what one Minister who represents a London constituency described as a "vote winner". Everyone
Column 1152knows what happened to the poll tax, and the truth that was staring the Government in the face ultimately overwhelmed them and, more particularly, the previous Prime Minister. If anything was responsible for her enforced and unwilling departure from office, it was the fact that members of the Conservative party realised that they could not win a general election while attempting to defend the poll tax. Therefore, the poll tax had to go.
It is now clear that London and Londoners have lost out since the abolition of Londonwide bodies such as the Greater London council and the Inner London education authority. That is becoming ever more apparent to anyone who lives or works in London. It will be extremely entertaining to see how members of the Government manage to get out of the predicament that they have created for themselves and move back towards a co-ordinated strategic authority for London. Whenever that is suggested, it is said that we want the return of the Greater London council. People conjure up images of county hall filled again with public servants adjudicating and providing and administering services. Sadly, that is not likely. Indeed, it is not possible. I freely admit that in many cases it is probably not desirable.
In the case of education, it would be fatuous to try to recreate the Inner London education authority. However, great harm was done by the abolition of that body. The figures relating to the education of the under-fives and the post-16s show that Londoners have lost many opportunities as a result.
However, it would not be reasonable to assume that those services could be put back together under a single body. For good or ill, they are with the boroughs for the foreseeable future, if only because anything else would be far too disruptive and far too difficult for the people involved. We all know that some things, once broken, cannot be put back together. Sadly, the excellence that was ILEA has gone.
But there are other issues, and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow covered them in some detail in his quite compelling case. I refer, for example, to transport, the environment, the emergency services--including the provision, for the first time ever, of a Londonwide body for the police --matters relating to economic regeneration and, in particular, matters relating to health. The subject of health care provision in London is extremely instructive. In effect, the Tomlinson report represented the substitution of a Londonwide view of health and health requirements. The fact that the Government have drawn the conclusions that have been drawn is a different issue. That some of the finest centres of medical excellence in the world--not just in the country--are now threatened with closure, after centuries of service to the people of the capital, is a national disgrace. But this is in some respects a side issue. The main point is that Tomlinson gave the game away--that what was required was a Londonwide view of health provision.
The Department of Health is now reorganising the regional health authorities. There are to be two instead of four. The existing bodies will be abolished from 1 April this year, and we shall have the South Thames and the North Thames regional authorities. This shows that the move towards a regional view of health provision in London is inexorable. What is being done is to some extent just a shamefaced halfway house to disguise the
Column 1153Government's embarrassment. There is no doubt that London needs health care, amongst other services, at a regional and strategic level.
We have been presented with a consultation paper entitled "Making the Best Better". I wonder how long that slogan was sweated over and which consultancy was used to originate such a striking title. The very publication of that document is proof positive of the fact that even in the benighted ranks of the Department of the Environment there is understanding that the situation in London is untenable and must be addressed.
The Secretary of State started to foam at the mouth, and steam came out of his ears, when, at the press conference, people asked, "Well, what about a Londonwide authority ?" I am led to believe that the right hon. Gentleman was almost reduced to chewing the carpet, having said on three occasions that that was the one thing he did not want to consider. He did not want to know about any question of a Londonwide authority, despite the fact that it was quite clear that that was the one thing that almost everyone else did want to know about. Certainly it is what Londoners want to know about. I should not speak too unkindly about the Secretary of State, because he is a former Member of Parliament for Lewisham, West. He represented the constituency for one term but, without being too unkind, I must tell the House that the good citizens of Forest Hill, Sydenham and Catford decided that that was enough and dispensed with his services in 1974. None the less, the right hon. Gentleman is still remembered in that part of the world with what could be called a curious affection. However, I am not sure that his experience of representing a London constituency has not clouded his judgment, in that he has not forgiven the people of Lewisham, West for what they did in 1974, and now seeks to wreak revenge on them for their temerity.
I hope that when the Minister replies he will mention the result of the consultation, which we await keenly. The last time that a question was asked about it, about 10,000 responses had been garnered from the 750,000 documents circulated, and we believe that the initial findings are due to be published about now. It would be interesting to know what is recommended or suggested.
Some time ago I tabled an early-day motion--I also wrote to the Secretary of State asking for his views on the matter--suggesting a simple way of dealing with the question of a strategic authority for London. The opportunity arises once every four years. It will come round in a couple of months' time, and it would reduce all the arguments between the parties in the House. The solution would be simply to ask Londoners themselves whether they want a strategic authority.
I refer, of course, to the borough council elections, which will take place in the first week in May. It would be the simplest thing in the world to include a single question on a ballot paper for the people who take part in the elections asking them whether they want the return--or rather, the establishment--of a strategic co-ordinated authority for London. I have no doubt that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow said, that would produce an overwhelming result in favour--and that is why the Government would not even attempt to carry it out. That exercise would dispense with all the questions.
Column 1154I notice that the Government Benches are conspicuously empty, but that is hardly surprising ; the House is hardly brimful at the moment.
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : There are more Members on the Opposition Benches.
Mr. Dowd : Indeed, but one would expect that ; it is a matter of course when topics of great import are being discussed. I had half expected to see the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) in his place-- although I realise that he had the previous debate. Clearly he put a lot of time and effort into that and has now gone to seek some deserved rest and solace.
Whenever the idea of a Londonwide authority is mentioned, the hon. Member for Hendon, South usually jumps up to tell us about a zebra crossing in Ealing that was the cause of a tremendous dispute between Ealing borough council and the Greater London council in the late 1970s or early 1980s. That incident was such a formative experience in the hon. Gentleman's life, and provided him with such a scientific analysis of the dichotomy affecting the government of London, that he was persuaded that the abolition of the GLC was the only way to deal with the problem and to prevent any repetition of the trouble. People may often form their views as result of a strange array of reasons and experiences, but I have always felt that that story provides an extremely thin argument for abolishing the authority and doing away with a voice for London and Londoners. Of course there will be a problem of overlap between authorities, but that problem is happily faced elsewhere, not only in Britain but throughout Europe and the rest of the western world.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow has already said, London is the only city in the western world that does not have a citywide authority, or a single voice to speak on behalf of the capital. London is being sold short, and Londoners know it. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow gave what he said was a conservative estimate of £6 billion being spent through quangos in London. I did some calculations on this. I asked parliamentary questions, I asked questions through the Library and I put them to the various organisations involved. The figure we came to was something like £8.5 billion, rather higher than the £6 billion that my hon. Friend mentioned--and we had not even totted them all up at that stage. The money is public money, it is spent in London, and it is spent on behalf of Londoners, yet no one has any say in how it is spent.
It is perfectly proper that public funds should always be subject to scrutiny and questioning. What accountability really means is not just that those who spend the money are called to account for what they do and are forced to explain how they are deploying public funds, to whose benefit and for what reasons. The ultimate value of accountability is that it can and does exact the highest price and the most sacred element of a democracy : if we are unhappy with the explanations that we receive, we can remove people from office, from the place where the decisions are taken, and we can replace them with others.
That is what democracy, at its highest, is about. That is what the quangocracy that has grown up, not just in London but throughout the country, more and more deprives us of the ability to do. Faceless, often nameless, people decide how billions of pounds of public money are
Column 1155spent on crucial public services. The people of London have no say in the decisions and no influence on them, and as often as not they do not even know who make them.
The case for a Londonwide authority is compelling. It will continue to be compelling until such time as it is addressed and a Londonwide authority is re-established. My preference--and I will be perfectly frank about it, as I am something of a traditionalist--is for the return of the London county council. London enjoyed its greatest advances under the enlightened policies of the LCC, certainly after the war and until reorganisation in the 1960s. None the less, I must probably reconcile myself to the fact that it will not come to pass. There is a need for London to speak with one voice. London is far more than the sum of its individual parts. However hard the boroughs work in their own way to meet the needs of their communities--and, regardless of the political persuasion of any particular borough, the needs are met in a way that accords with the wishes of the local people--they will never be able to present London as an entity, projecting its full weight or focus on the value and potential that is currently wasted.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister says. I imagine that we shall be given the customary response, that everything is so much better than it was, and we shall probably hear a raft of statistics to support it. The one thing that the Government cannot run away from is the fact that Londoners do not believe them.
Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) on his good fortune in securing the debate and his good judgment in choosing this important subject. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dowd) on his contribution. He made the extremely important point that London alone, of all the major western capital cities, has no citywide government. That observation of itself ought to give us pause for thought.
Whatever one may think about the democratic implications, it ought to raise the question whether London is well served by the structure that has now been in place for eight years, with no democratic body responsible for citywide government. At the very least, we ought to compare London in that context with other cities that have the advantage of a citywide authority. When we make such a comparison, I regret to say that the results are not flattering to London. We have just had a debate about London transport, specifically on the Northern line. It is symptomatic of the decline of London transport, once the envy of Europe and the most efficient system for conveying people around a major capital city, that it is now sadly lagging in the slow lane in comparison with other European cities. Their rapid transport systems and modern metros make our system look more and more what it is--rundown, neglected, unreliable, uncomfortable and overcrowded. The Minister tried to get away from the name that the Evening Standard has rightly tagged to the Northern line--the misery line.
That experience applies not only to the Northern line. It is one with which anyone who uses the other London Underground lines will be familiar, to his or her cost. People who use and depend on Network SouthEast and
Column 1156London's buses are also familiar with the problems stemming from under-investment and the failure to maintain an adequate transport system.
Of course, it is not just a problem of transport. Across a range of services the same sad story repeats itself. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dowd) rightly highlighted some health issues. One sees the problems associated with a lack of coherent government, fragmentation, delegation of power to unelected quangos and the failure of our Government to run the services for which they have assumed responsibility.
We have seen the tragic disaster that has befallen the London ambulance service in the past two years. It routinely fails on two out of five calls to meet its performance target of reaching the scene within 14 minutes of call-out. That disgraceful and shameful record is the consequence of taking away responsibility for that service from a democratically body and giving it to an unelected quango, supposedly answerable to Ministers.
The right hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), who will wind up this debate, is responsible for housing. Sadly, we have to recognise that the symbol of housing in London in the 1990s has become the cardboard box. London still has the worst homelessness problem of any city in Britain. It still suffers a chronic shortage of affordable homes and is failing lamentably to generate the necessary supply of affordable rented homes for people in need. The most important service of all has to be the London economy. When we look at what has happened to the London economy, we see the sad truth. The city that was once the most prosperous in the world, the powerhouse of the whole United Kingdom economy, has become a city that boasts the dubious distinction of having the second highest unemployment rate of any of the regions in Britain and the city that is rapidly becoming the country's dole capital.
All that hardly supports the case that London has benefited from not having a citywide government. I am sure that the Minister will tell us that it is not the Government's fault. Someone else is always to blame. I have no doubt that we shall be given excuses. The Minister will say that the problems are nothing to do with the abolition of the Greater London council, the burgeoning quangos or the Government's assuming responsibility for various services that used to be in the remit of democratically local authorities. I am sure that we shall also be told that other European cities have their problems, too. They certainly have. But with purposeful and, in many cases, powerful city governments to represent them, they are far better placed to respond to those problems and act to promote their interests. In an increasingly competitive world, where big cities increasingly compete against each other, I do not need to remind the House of the importance of London being able to fight for its interests and secure its advantage. We have to think only about the sad saga of London's failure to secure the European central bank to realise the risks that we run in this increasingly competitive world, if London is not able to pursue and promote its interests effectively.
The document which the Government published a few months ago, and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West referred, begins with some splendid rhetoric about how wonderful London is. It describes London as a
Column 1157"world class financial capital"
"foremost European financial centre, way ahead of Paris and Frankfurt."
Would that that were the case. But if it were, would there be any doubt that the European central bank would be coming to London rather than to Frankfurt ? If such a service is supposed to be central to London's economy and we are supposed to lead the world in it, why did we fail to secure the European central bank ?
We must consider why London is failing to compete effectively in the European and international arena. Another example of where we failed was the Olympics. The city of Barcelona certainly has its problems, but it was able to host the Olympic games recently in a highly imaginative and succesful way.
We can compare its success with London's sad failure even to become the British contender for the Commonwealth games. We could not even manage to achieve that. Despite Manchester's failure in the Olympics and despite the view that Manchester had had its chance, London was unable to mount a bid to make it the British contender for the Commonwealth games. That is a sad reflection on the ability of our capital city to fight for its interests and to secure a rightful role on the world stage.
Let us consider what happened when London looked for funding from the European regional development fund under the objective 2 programme. Decisions were being made around Christmas, and there was no citywide authority in London to put together London's bid. There was no citywide authority to promote London in Brussels. Instead, it was left to the Minister for Industry to represent London's case in Brussels. There were problems because, inevitably, with no citywide authority to put the case, each individual local authority pushed for its maximum advantage. Therefore, the bid for London was far larger than was realistically feasible. Every borough rightly and properly pushed its own interests.
There was no citywide authority to take the interests of London as a whole, to consider the competing claims and to reach a decision on an appropriate- sized bid for London, within the framework set by the European Union, that was likely to succeed. Instead, all the London borough bids were packaged together and the package was submitted to Brussels, which was told to make a decision. Of course, it did so--it was good news for part of London, the Lea valley, but extremely bad news for many other parts.
I am thinking particularly of the east Thames corridor, a district that has suffered massively from the loss of manufacturing industry and from serious industrial decline and unemployment. It certainly qualified for objective 2 support, but failed to receive any. That is a further example of London's being unable to secure its best interests in the European context.
That is one part of what has happened to London since the Greater London council was abolished. Central Government not only have taken over functions that should have been discharged by a democratically elected local authority but carry them out badly. The other side of the picture shows a proliferation of quangos, rightly referred to by my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham, West and for Walthamstow. Wherever one looks around London one sees evidence of the growing power and influence of the unelected,
Column 1158unaccountable and profoundly unloved quango. The health service is overrun with quangos--there are managers, public relations staff, accountants, administrators, bureaucrats, the people who thrive under the new health service and buy cars for themselves when they are closing hospitals. That is evidence of the quangocracy of the health service in London.
Quangos affect not just the health service but education, housing, training and urban development. In all services there are quangos : funding councils, training and enterprise councils, housing action trusts, urban development corporations, city challenge boards and many others that were named by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow. I see from a report by Professor John Stewart that it is estimated that there are about 272 such organisations in London, combining annual budgets estimated at between £6 billion and £8.5 billion of public expenditure. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West suggested that £8.5 billion might even be an underestimate, because he had lost count at that point of how many quangos had been taken into account and there remained others that had not been considered.
Let us contrast that with the prospectus when the Greater London council was abolished--when the Government proposed the abolition of the GLC and when they carried it out. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow has quoted, rightly, from "Streamlining the Cities", the White Paper that was issued to justify the GLC's abolition. He quoted, with appropriate irony, those comments about streamlining local government, removing sources of conflict and tension and providing systems that were simpler for the public to understand. They have a hollow ring.
It is also worth remembering what Ministers said when they moved the Second Reading of the Local Government Bill which abolished the Greater London council. Moving the Second Reading of the Bill on 3 December 1984, the right hon. Lord Jenkin, formerly the Secretary of State for the Environment, said :
referring to us, the Opposition
"that, after abolition, Whitehall will take over. Wrong again. Only 5 per cent. of service spending in London, and virtually none outside London, will go outside local government."
It gets better :
that is us
"that the abolition councils will be replaced by quangos. Wrong again. Only two permanent new appointed bodies will be created--the advisory London planning commission and the Merseyside museums trustee body."--[ Official Report , 3 December 1984 ; Vol. 69, c. 36.]
I suppose that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster would say, "You can't expect Ministers to tell the truth to Parliament all the time, can you ?"
The truth is that the Government were profoundly wrong when they used their majority in the House to force through the abolition of the Greater London council. They were wrong in their forecasts of what would happen. They were profoundly wrong to take away from the people of London their democratic right to choose who should govern them. It was a profoundly wrong decision and it has had disastrous consequences for London.
The Government have been wrong in trying to hide themselves from the consequences of those actions. The most pathetic recent example has been the Government's glossy document "London : Making the Best Better",
Column 1159masquerading as a consultation paper, which, in 43 pages containing 53 glossy photographs and 63 itemised features on which Londoners were asked to comment, does not once mention the way in which the government of London is best organised--as though, by not being mentioned, that issue will miraculously go away.
I have to ask the Minister, how many respondents who sent in their views on that consultation paper raised the issue that did not dare to speak its name ? How many respondents, without prompting, without being invited to do so, told the Government that they believed that London should have a democratically elected organisation ? Indeed, of those who referred to that issue, what proportion said that they supported a democratically elected body for London, and what proportion said that they opposed it ? It would be interesting to have responses to those questions and I hope that the Minister will give them to us.
The Government may try to run away from the issue, but they cannot hide from the electorate. The London electorate are poised to deliver a crushing verdict on the Government, not only in the forthcoming London borough elections but in the general election that will follow. When a Labour Government are returned to power--as they will be--we will restore to Londoners the basic democratic right to elect their own citywide government.
Our commitment to London is to establish a democratically elected organisation, taking responsibility for strategic functions. It will be a streamlined body looking at matters such as planning, transportation, economic development and other London-wide functions, such as fire and civil defence. It will be a body able to speak for London and to represent it in the European and international arena. It will be able to represent London's interests and to secure London's advantage in a way that London has missed so badly in the past eight years.
Our commitment to London is to give back to our capital city its self- respect and its own democratic institutions. In place of quangos, in place of Tory placemen and in place of Government mismanagement, we shall give back to Londoners a Greater London authority that will look after London's interests.
The Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction (Sir George Young) : I join other hon. Members in commending the good fortune ofthe hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) in being selected to initiate a debate on this topic. If I were being courteous, I would say that he made a thoughtful, if rather nostalgic, speech. If I were being more critical, I would say that it was resolutely backward-looking, devoid of new ideas, firmly committed to living in the past and refusing to recognise the reality of London today. I give one example of the hon. Gentleman's misguided analysis. He said quite a lot about quangos, and one of the quangos on which he touched was the housing action trust in the borough that he represents. He sought to portray the HAT as an undemocratic and unaccountable body. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that his constituents, the tenants of those estates, were given a choice in a ballot. They chose to leave the local authority and to move to a housing action trust. Some 75 per cent. of them turned out, and 81 per cent. of them voted to move to the housing action trust. Against that background, for the hon. Gentleman to say that there is something undemocratic and unaccountable
Column 1160about the decision to move to the housing action trust is to deceive the House. Once the housing action trust was set up, the tenants elected some of their fellows to represent them. The hon. Gentleman said that quangos involved no public accountability or public interest. Having visited one of the estates last week, I tell him that I saw much more interest in what happens to the estates on the part of the people who live there than there would ever have been if they had remained tenants of the local authority.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not suggesting that if, by any chance, his party was returned to office the tenants who voted to come under a HAT would, against their wishes, be sent back to the London borough of Waltham Forest from which they had voluntarily decided to secede.
Mr. Gerrard : The Minister knows well that the tenants voted to go for the HAT because that was the only thing that was on offer. It was the only conceivable way in which the work could have been done. If the local authority had been allowed the means to do the work--it was the local authority that developed the schemes and involved the tenants--it would have been far further down the road than it is now. When the HAT finishes, the tenants will, I hope, have the choice of where they go.
Sir George Young : The hon. Gentleman is wrong. Of course the tenants had a choice. They could have voted no, as a number of tenants did when they were given precisely the choice that was given to the tenants of Waltham Forest. The hon. Gentleman's constituents voted for the HAT by a majority more substantial, I suspect, than that by which they voted for him. Against that background, for him to say that the system is undemocratic, unaccountable and run by a quango is to let down his constituents who are deeply committed to the concept of a housing action trust. When they read his speech, will they think that he is really representing their views ?
Mr. Raynsford : The Minister said that the tenants in Waltham Forest had voted to leave the local authority and to go for the HAT. Does not he recall the fairly length negotiations that took place before the tenants were prepared to consider the proposition ? They insisted that they had the right to return to the local authority after the HAT period, if they so wished. It was only when they were given that undertaking that they were prepared to vote in favour of the HAT.
Sir George Young : That is indeed the case. However, that in no way demolishes my point. The tenants voluntarily decided to leave a locally elected local authority and to come under a quango. They have that right. Not only does the hon. Member for Walthamstow criticise the Government but he criticises his constituents for exercising their choice. He will regret his comment.
I have seen estimates from the London Boroughs Association showing that, had the Greater London council continued in being for a further six years, it would have cost Londoners £1.3 billion. That money could be better spent than by continuing the GLC. The hon. Gentleman mentioned cycling. I am deeply committed to cycling. We had the GLC for 20 years, but what did it do for cyclists ? More has happened for cyclists since the GLC was abolished than it achieved in 20 years. As for a referendum on the GLC, the hon. Gentleman knows how decisions are taken in this country. We said in