|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Spearing : The length of the very thorough speech of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) is, I think, justification for the tabling of the amendments. I am grateful to him for the content of his speech and for the spirit in which he spoke, and I shall comment briefly on his remarks.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the drafting of the Bill. I agree that it was a difficult Bill to draft because the LDDC cuts across this country's customary habits of power and law-making. In a case such as this, where byelaws are required, a complicated Bill is required, and I appreciate some of the problems faced by the officials. However, it certainly provided a lesson in law-making.
It is correct that the Cody road basin is not in the schedules. A relevant amendment was tabled in Committee and, as the hon. Gentleman said, it had to go back to
Column 1240another place. On a point of procedure, the Government or anyone else could, when tidying up, move an amendment to the relevant schedule to have the Cody road lagoon, or the Bromley dock-- whatever one likes to call it--included in the Bill once again.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey says that we should not strike out such a provision because to do so under amendment No. 4 would mean that the areas in question would be excluded. He thought that it could mean only extending them improperly, so the areas would not go as far as Forest Gate or up the road to Plaistow because there would be no reason to do so. I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, and he is probably right. It could be extended up the River Lea to Riverside walk--perhaps with moorings or a boatyard--in which case the retention of flexibility might be advantageous, although I go no further than saying "might be".
I hope that the London borough of Newham, the British Waterways board or a combination of the two might have the law-making powers. That might be the best solution. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey has managed to persuade me that to remove the Cody road basin from the ambit of byelaw- making as a whole might be to the public's disadvantage. The problem is that, used in the wrong way by the Secretary of State, such a provision could be to the public's disadvantage.
The hon. Member also referred to amendment No. 5, which seeks to prevent the reduction of the areas in question. Whether in the Royal docks or anywhere else, inside or out, it should not be possible to reduce the area without putting the issue before the House, which brings us to the substance of the hon. Gentleman's argument. He said that it will be all right on the night and that we do not need the affirmative procedure because a negative one will be adequate. I must say that never in my life have I heard or read such an eloquent half-persuasive justification for the suspect negative procedure as opposed to the affirmative procedure which most of us would prefer. However, I then remembered that the hon. Gentleman has an occupation that has given him enormous skill in advocacy, which was why his argument sounded so persuasive.
I hope that I highlighted some of the faults in the hon. Gentleman's argument by pointing out that the negative procedure does not require much of the House's time. If it is passed on the nod, it can be can be dealt with in less than 30 seconds--in fact, in 10 seconds--at 3.30 pm. As far as I know, there is no Privy Councillor here. In any event, I do not think that the mumbling takes much longer in the Privy Council--it has to go before the Privy Council, whether under the affirmative or negative procedure.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey did not mention the great virtue of the affirmative procedure, which is that it acts as a template. If an order is not good enough, the Government know that there will be a bit of a kerfuffle, perhaps involving even some of their own Back Benchers. This is not a party issue ; it is an amenity issue, and other development corporations across the country might be going out of existence. The Government will avoid any trouble not by using a negative procedure but by ensuring that the affirmative procedure is all right. I remember reading a text book about this written by Mr. Jennings in the 1930s. The mere threat of opposing the affirmative procedure was enough to get an amendment withdrawn and retabled. Alas, those days are gone--we have what I call a procedural slippage.
Column 1241We must consider the practicalities. The alternative open to me is to press the matter to a Division. The extension for which the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey was so stretched to justify a rather dodgy procedure can, I hope, always be prayed in aid by anyone who thinks that any extension or reduction of the areas in question is unreasonable. I am, therefore, not really content because the balance is not right.
Mr. Simon Hughes : I apologise for intervening, but I thought that the hon. Gentleman was getting to the end of his remarks. Before he finishes his remarks, I should like to give him an assurance and, if he will allow me, I shall use this intervention to say that I can expressly give the same assurance to the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms Gordon) in relation to King Edward memorial park. I assure her that the LDDC will not extend in the way that she feared, not only because it has no intention of doing so but because Tower Hamlets owns it and would, in all certainty, have to agree. I therefore hope that the two hon. Members can be reassured in a practical rather than a theoretical sense.
Mr. Spearing : I was about to say that there had been limited assurances, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the LDDC will disappear. However, when that happens, the affirmative procedure will be needed to decide who will succeed it. In that instance, a debate will be in order.
The hon. Gentleman did not raise this point and I am almost arguing against it myself, but it would be in order to debate how powers are exercised, provided of course that there were sufficient people present to ensure a debate. I hope that my proposal would ensure that there would be a debate, even if it resulted in byelaw-making powers going to the London borough of Newham. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) is still a councillor, so perhaps we could have a debate to ensure that the trusteeship of byelaw-making powers was in the right hands. Even if those hands did not have the full confidence of all hon. Members, we could be sure that they would exercise those powers responsibly.
I shall not press the amendment to a Division, despite the mass of hon. Members of all political persuasions who would come flooding in having been transfixed and persuaded by the proceedings on television that they have been watching avidly. I shall therefore withdraw the amendment.
We cleared a great deal of ground in our debate on the first set of amendments. This amendment relates to clause
Column 12425 which I believe is perhaps the most important clause. I should perhaps read clause 5(1), which is the pith of the whole clause. It states :
"It shall be the duty of the Corporation, in formulating or considering any proposals relating to its functions under this Act, to have regard to the desirability of securing the use of the designated areas for a diversity of purposes which may include sporting, recreational, cultural, commercial, energy-related and navigational purposes."
That clause was not in the original Bill. It was put in by the LDDC after discussion and representations. As time goes by, we realise more about the advantages of recreation in the dock areas, not only in Newham, but in Millwall--the LDDC is proud of its centre there, although it does not cater for as many people as the Vic does--and in the Greenland dock and the South dock.
However, the commercial operations there have not been quite as successful as some people hoped or assumed. There is little money in water sports and recreation. They are, above all, rather like our public parks--something which costs a bit of money to keep up, and ought to have no revenue charge, or at least only a notional charge, especially as people living nearby can get to them so easily. The docks are a wonderful water resource for sport ; the surface never wears out and they are relatively cheap to maintain.
However, in connection with clause 5(4), which I am about to discuss, there is a cost in keeping up the docks. We do not know the cost ; it is not mentioned in the Bill, but we must pay great attention to it. There is maintenance for water areas--the locks, the dredging, the walls, the patrolling and policing, the people who open the swing bridges, those who lay down the buoys and so on. That all represents an ongoing cost, and when the Government introduced the LDDC they did not think much about it.
Subsection (4) looks a little ominous on the face of it. It says :
"No legal proceedings shall be brought, with regard to any byelaw under this Act, in respect of any failure or alleged failure by the Corporation or the Secretary of State to comply with the duty imposed by subsection (2) or, as the case may be, subsection (3) above after the expiration of a period of 72 days beginning with the date upon which the byelaw is confirmed."
We can probably reach an accommodation, but anybody reading that would think, "Good Lord. You mean that they can make the byelaw, and if something has gone wrong, after 72 days we cannot go to the court ? Finished ?" If people tried to go to court, the solicitor would say, "Sorry, mate, you can't. The Act says that's it. And you can't appeal against it."
Some people reading that would be a little suspicious, because the governing subsection (1) does not give much protection. It does not say that rowing, sailing, surfboarding, sub-aqua diving and so on are a priority in the area. I believe that they should be. The area is unique. We would not think of building on Hampstead heath, or putting an airport in the middle of Hyde park, any more than we should think of filling in the Royal docks--but that is what some people once wanted to do.
Subsection (1) gives no priority. It says simply :
"It shall be the duty of the Corporation . . . to have regard to the desirability of securing the use of the designated areas for a diversity of purposes".
It does not say that one purpose will have priority over another. I argue that the docks are a unique resource for the young people of east London, the rest of London and even further afield.
Column 1243A regatta was held on the Albert dock not long ago in which there may well have been more boats and more competitors than at Henley. In my view, it was more important than Henley, because there were more ordinary people and more young people rowing there on that one Sunday than there would have been at Henley. Nobody knew about it ; nobody was there to photograph it, but in toto I believe that it was more important. However, that fact does not give those activities priority, much as I should like it to.
If someone decided to challenge a development in the court, after 72 days, their chance would be gone. I want to know why that restriction is there, and what sort of protection we have. In expressing what I believe the priorities under subsection (1) should be, I hope that I have advertised what I should like to happen in future. I want to know why we cannot do anything after 72 days. No doubt the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey will tell us why.
Mr. Simon Hughes : I can speak much more briefly on this amendment, Madam Deputy Speaker. As I have informed the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), in one sense there would be no problem in accepting the amendment, but there is no need to do so. Indeed, there is merit in not doing so.
If the Bill goes through unamended, clause 5(4) will state : "No legal proceedings shall be brought with regard to any byelaw made under this Act, in respect of any failure or alleged failure by the Corporation or the Secretary of State to comply with the duty imposed by subsection (2) or . . . subsection (3) . . . after . . . 72 days beginning with the date upon which the byelaw is confirmed." In lay terms, it says that if somebody wants to challenge procedurally at law the making of the byelaws, that has to be done within 72 days. That gives some certainty for the corporation, as the promoters, and the Government, as the authority within the Act, but also for members of the public.
We could do without the provision, but if it were not there it would be possible for someone to use the normal rules of court. There would be no statute expressly governing the procedure, so the normal rules of court would be used. I know for a fact what those rules say, because we have just been involved in considering them in connection with a prospective legal challenge to the Secretary of State for Health over her announcement on 10 February about Guy's hospital. The same issue arose for the people who want to keep Bart's hospital open. Because of his experience in his previous career, the Minister, too, will know what those rules say.
The rules of the Supreme Court say that someone who wants to take out judicial review proceedings has no more than three months. But that is an outer limit. Even if people apply within the three months, the courts may still rule that they have not come as quickly as they could have done. Therefore, if someone sought to challenge after 71 days, 70 days, 69 days or even 60 days, he could be told, "Sorry, you are too late. You could have come earlier." Out of the theoretically available three months--that is about 90 days--the provision in subsection (4) gives the absolute certainty that within the 72 days one can go to court and challenge the byelaws by way of judicial review if one wants to.
Column 1244The normal reason for a challenge to the byelaws is the fact that certain procedures have not been carried out. For example, perhaps there should have been consultation and there has not been. I tell the hon. Member for Newham, South that the 72-day rule is actually a better safeguard, because it is a clearer safeguard, for his constituents and mine, and for the constituents of the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms Gordon) and those of the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore)--for everyone in the four docklands constituencies. It means that our people in the three local authority areas concerned could challenge within 72 days and know that they could get into court, and no one would say that they were too late.
I ask the hon. Member for Newham, South to accept that that is a better protection. In theory, there would be 18 more days without the provision, but in practice there could be far fewer days. As the clause is written, there will definitely be 72 days. So long as people act within that period, they will definitely get through the door of the court. That is clear on the face of the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's proper concerns have been met by my explanation, and that he will be able to withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Spearing : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that helpful explanation. I am grateful that it will be on the record because, as he rightly says, despite appearances, the provision is there for a purpose contrary to that which some people may assume. I shall therefore accede to his suggestion that I withdraw the amendment. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
-- Amendment made : No. 3, in page 11, line 21, leave out limits of jurisdiction', and insert
designated areas, as defined in section 2 (Interpretation) of this Act,'.-- [Mr. Spearing.]
Order for Third Reading read. [ Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified].
The Bill has had quite a long life. Like many private Bills, it has crossed over more than one Session of Parliament. It began its passage at the beginning of 1993, so it has taken about a year and a half to consider. Since it came to this place at the end of last year, it has been changed a little. It was changed a little on Report, thanks to the efforts of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), but it was also changed in Committee. I want to say one or two things about the changes so that the House is clear about them, because we have not had a chance to report them and I especially want to deal with a matter which may be of concern to the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms Gordon).
The purpose of the Bill is to allow the corporation to catch up, as it were, with the real world and to give the byelaw-making power for the docklands area to the people who are running it at the moment and their successors, rather than to people who ran it in the past. The purpose of the Bill is for the benefit of the community, especially
Column 1245those who visit the area, as well as those who live there. The changes made since the Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Commons are as follows.
First, there have been revisions to the Bill to make it clear that the Secretary of State's power to transfer functions of the corporation relate only to functions created by or under the Bill and not to the transfer of, for example, land or assets. Secondly, charges which can be imposed by virtue of the Bill, especially under clause 8, will be reasonable. Thirdly, the transfer of functions, pursuant to clause 33, which is the matter that has most exercised the mind of the hon. Member for Newham, South as well as my own and that of other hon. Members representing the docklands, including I am sure the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford), who speaks for the Labour party, are subject to affirmative resolution procedure. That was not the case when we began discussing the Bill, but it is now the case. The Bill has been made tougher in that respect. Fourthly, the Bill has been changed to ensure that concerns raised by people during its passage should be met. Those concerns were met by amendments to protect landowners or occupiers of land lying in the designated areas, or to protect those who have private rights of navigation.
Finally, protection has been provided for a variety of affected statutory bodies, such as the National Rivers Authority, the Port of London Authority, Billingsgate market, the fire authority and the Port of London health authority.
Since the Bill last appeared, there is also one obvious, significant and substantial change. If the House considers the way in which the Bill is laid out, it will see there is a new part III. Under the new part III, there is a list of protected provisions. I shall spend a minute explaining why they are in the Bill, because they were not listed when the Bill originally came to the House. I was alarmed to discover an issue that the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar rightly raised with me yesterday. Suddenly, I discovered that parts of the Bill exclude Canary wharf. It struck me that if a byelaw-making Bill about the docklands excluded Canary wharf, it was very odd, since the biggest building in the whole of the docklands is on that site. The hon. Member for Bow and Poplar may well want to make points about that matter, but I shall first deal with what has happened as the Bill has proceeded through the House.
The new part III gives protective provision for people who have private landownership interests in the designated areas. Everybody who is not a docklands corporation landowner--all the other owners in the area--have the same protection. So if the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar owned her house and I owned a house there, we would be assured that we would receive the same protection.
Mr. Raynsford indicated assent .
Mr. Hughes : I see that the hon. Member for Greenwich is nodding. He is welcome to intervene, but, perhaps, he will want to deal with that point in his speech. The important matter is how we reached that position.
Part III lists the other big landowners, which are Canary Wharf Investment Ltd., The Daily Telegraph , Clippers Quay (Millwall) Management Company Ltd., Billingsgate
Column 1246market, the London City airport, the port health authority, the fire authority, the Crown and telecommunications operators, which, I am told, means, in effect, Mercury Communications plc. Part III means that either the provisions of the Bill or byelaws made under the Bill will not apply in the areas in which those companies have landownership interests, without their consent in writing. In some cases, as part of the negotiations over the clauses, the docklands corporation did, I am told, enter into private agreements relating to how the consent of the bodies would be given and the circumstances in which consent might be withheld. When the Bill was drafted, it was thought--it was a negotiating tactic as much as anything else--that it was a good idea to include the privately owned land, such as Canary wharf, as well as land owned by the LDDC. I have not checked, but it sounds right that, in the area of the three boroughs concerned, and in the LDDC area, about 95 per cent. of the territory, which is mainly water, is LDDC owned, and about 5 per cent. only is owned by other people. Canary wharf may seem big, but it is mainly upwards and not along the ground.
I am told that the LDDC had hoped that it would receive the agreement of those other landowners so that the byelaw-making powers could apply to their lands, too. However, the Bill has now reached Third Reading, those other landowners have not given their consent and, therefore, they have to be taken out of the Bill because they will not be governed by the byelaw. Therefore, the Bill does not seek to interfere with or take away the pre- existing rights in law of the owners of the land in the LDDC who are not the LDDC itself. The vast majority of the land is owned by the LDDC or by one of its subsidiaries. All land and waters owned by the LDDC adjacent to LDDC waters, even in private ownership, were originally included in the designated areas shown on the map, as the hon. Member for Newham, South said. That land has now been taken out of the Bill and we are left with the LDDC-owned territory alone. Had that not been done, I understand that there would have been a large fight and the private owners would have not allowed the Bill to get to this stage. That is the history of the addition of part III.
I shall deal with one or two other matters concerning what has happened between Second Reading and Third Reading.
The hon. Member for Bow and Poplar specifically raised matters which were not do with the technicality of the drafting, but real matters of substance and concern. I hope that it is not betraying any confidence--I am sure that it is not, because she has said it many times outside the House as well as inside it--to tell the House that the matter that she had at the top of her list was that she believed that her constituents were effectively promised that the extension to the docklands light railway would include a station at Island Gardens. She made it clear that they were effectively told that that was guaranteed. When the Bill was last before the House, that had not been delivered.
The hon. Member for Bow and Poplar raised a few other issues of equal importance, such as the lack of affordable housing on the Isle of Dogs, the lack of jobs for locals in the activities of the LDDC--a matter which I raise regularly on behalf of my constituents and which I am sure
Column 1247that my two colleagues do on behalf of theirs--delays in starting the Jubilee line extension and the specific local matter of the lack of access by the Docklands sailing club to a slipway.
I do not seek to persuade the hon. Lady of the unmitigated merits of the LDDC. She knows that that is not my view of it. I shall tell her the facts and leave her to decide whether what could have been achieved has been achieved. As she knows, on the key issue of Island Gardens station, outside forces have intervened--we hope, to help us all.
I am told that the corporation has contributed to the provision of 315 social housing units--homes, better called--in the hon. Lady's constituency at Timber wharves and 187 at Masthouse terrace. The corporation has also facilitated--I do not know quite what that means--65 self-build units at Maconachies wharf.
Ms Gordon : It is only fair to point out that the 300-odd houses that were provided at Timber wharf were built to replace 500 houses that were destroyed to make way for the Limehouse link. So that is not a fair way of putting it.
Mr. Hughes : The hon. Lady is right. I was not seeking to pretend otherwise. I remember that debate. It was extremely controversial. Schemes have apparently been set up that would produce another 68 homes on another three sites on the Isle of Dogs. I should add from a personal point of view that there is a huge remaining need for affordable homes in Tower Hamlets, as there certainly is in Southwark and Newham. Affordable homes are needed to rent, for shared ownership and to own. We need many more of them. If we were led by need rather than demand, we would do better.
I will tell the House what the brief says about jobs. It says : "It is not possible to quantify among the jobs created on the Isle of Dogs those which have gone to pre 1981 residents."
To be fair, I do not think that the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar was asking about pre-1981 residents. She was asking about residents whether pre -or post-1981. All that the corporation is clear about is that before 1981 there were 9,000 jobs on the island and now there are 20,000. Unemployment in Tower Hamlets is almost as bad, if not as bad, as unemployment in Southwark and Bermondsey. I know that many of the jobs that have been created in Southwark have not gone to people who live in Southwark, let alone to people who live in Newham or Tower Hamlets. Many people have been brought in and continue to be brought in. The hon. Member for Bow and Poplar and other colleagues must keep pressing within the law for much more commitment to delivering local employment possibilities for the remaining life of the LDDC.
Mercifully, the Jubilee line extension has now begun and work is well advanced. I welcome that, as I am sure the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar does. I am told that the Docklands sailing and watersports centre has permanent rights to the slipway. It is not a matter for the corporation. The sailing club is entitled to make arrangements with the watersports centre. I understand that Lord Cocks has written to the hon. Lady on that matter. I hope that she will be able now to facilitate the conclusion of that for the purpose that she wanted. That is perfectly reasonable.
The Chairman of Committees in the other place determined only last week in private business that the docklands light railway had given an undertaking to Parliament to build a new underground station at Island
Column 1248Gardens when the docklands light railway extension to Lewisham was built to replace the existing terminus station there. Docklands light railway and the corporation had proposed that Island Gardens station and Cutty Sark station on the other side of the Thames in the constituency of the hon. Member for Greenwich should be omitted from the scheme to reduce the capital costs of the project and ensure its financial viability.
The new station must now be built as part of the project. If it is not, docklands light railway will be in breach of an undertaking given to Parliament in 1992 when the enabling legislation was before the House. That means that £3.5 million of capital costs cannot be cut from the project as originally proposed. The conclusion is that if the docklands light railway extension goes ahead--we await an announcement--it will do so only with Island Gardens station as part of it. I know that the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar welcomes that confirmation of the undertaking and what the law says. All that we must do now is press the Government to make the DLR extension go ahead.
It would be wrong of me to take up further time to put my views about what is needed in docklands. I put them fairly succinctly on Second Reading. As long as there is a London Docklands development corporation--I did not support its creation--it is important that it responds to the needs of its community. The Bill seeks to give it the power to regulate safety within its area.
I hope that, on that basis, the House will support the Bill on Third Reading and allow it to go on its way towards the statute book soon. I have no doubt that we shall continue having debates about the merits of development of the docklands in London and about the best way forward, long after tonight. That is justifiable. I hope that that will not prevent our saying tonight that the Bill is a good thing which the House can support.
Mr. Raynsford : On the face of it, the Bill, which empowers the London Docklands development corporation to make byelaws to regulate the former docks area, should not be a complicated or controversial measure. There is wide agreement that new byelaws should be made that reflect the dramatic change in the character and use of the docks in the past 25 years.
In his speech on the Second Reading on 14 March, my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) described the transformation of the docks from a heavily policed working area surrounded by high walls, dock gates and high security to an area predominantly given over to leisure, public access and recreation. Other hon. Members who represent the docklands area, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms Gordon) and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who has sponsored the Bill, echoed that view.
The new role of the docks calls for a different system of regulation or byelaws. On that point there is unanimity, but that is about as far as the unanimity reaches. The progress of the Bill through the House and the other place has been marked by controversy. It has raised many more questions than answers. It has unlocked an extraordinary number of skeletons, which have taxed the ingenuity of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey when he tried to give us answers not only tonight but on Second Reading and in the intervening period.
Column 1249The first question is whether it is appropriate to give the powers to regulate the docks to the LDDC. It has specific and special powers for the whole docklands area, but it is an unelected and unaccountable quango. Perhaps even more to the point, it is due to go out of existence within the next four years. Why we should go to such lengths--the Bill has taken an extraordinary time grinding its way through the parliamentary process--to give byelaw-making powers to a body which is about to be wound up is a cause for some astonishment.
Mr. Spearing : May I suggest to my hon. Friend that there is a simple answer to that. The Bill is not about giving byelaw-making powers to the LDDC. It is about giving such powers to its unnamed successors, albeit by affirmative order of the House, not the promoters of the Bill.
Mr. Raynsford : My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Indeed, I was about to say that the whole question leads immediately to the issue which has rightly exercised many hon. Members. It is the curiously worded-- indeed, some might say injudiciously worded--clause 33 as it now is, previously clause 32, relating to the transfer of functions from the LDDC to its successors.
As previously drafted, the clause gave sweeping powers to the Minister to assign the functions of the LDDC with regard to the management of the former dock areas, and possibly much wider powers--not only management powers--to anyone chosen by the Minister, without any reference to Parliament.
On Second Reading, the Minister put forward an interesting and fascinating defence. He said that we should not get worked up about these draconian powers, because he already had them under existing legislation, and the clause was unnecessary. If that is the case, the question arises why the Government allowed their creature, the LDDC, to waste parliamentary time promoting an unnecessary clause. We never had an explanation for that one.
Clause 33, as it now is, is indicative of the whole sad, sleazy approach which the Government take to issues of public interest and accountability. It is born of the Government's enmity to democratically elected and accountable local authorities, which would naturally be the appropriate bodies to make byelaws and manage these areas for public recreational use. That would ensure not only consistency with the byelaws applicable in other local parks and recreation areas but continuity of management because, unlike the LDDC, the local authorities--the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Southwark and Newham--will continue to be there after 1998. If the Minister contributes to this debate, he will undoubtedly argue that local authorities have not opposed the provisions giving those powers to the LDDC. The truth of the matter is that the local authorities would undoubtedly have been more than happy to assume responsibility for the management of the former dock areas if they had been given the resources to meet the potentially high costs of maintaining the docks, the dock walls and the dock gates. The Government have given them no option. They squeezed their budgets year on year while lavishing £1.6 billion on the LDDC. If the three dockland boroughs had
Column 1250received a fraction of the sums paid to the LDDC, they would gladly and willingly have taken on responsibility for managing the docks--and I am sure that that is the case today.
What will happen when the LDDC is wound up ? On Second Reading, the point was expressed most forcibly both by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey--I quote my right hon. Friend : "the logic points to the return of not merely the land in docklands to the boroughs of which they are part, but to the management of the water and of the docks in whatever local authority boundary they fall."--[ Official Report , 14 March 1994 ; Vol. 239, c. 678.] The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey made clear his preference--he has echoed it tonight--for the democratically elected local authorities to be the successor bodies. At the same time, he confirmed his inability to assure us that that would happen. He reported to the House that the Bill does not stipulate who should be the successor, because no decision has yet been taken. He expressed the hope that that might be clarified during the later stages of the Bill's passage. Those stages are now being completed, and we are no wiser.
Clause 33 makes it clear that the Secretary of State may, on an application from the LDDC, transfer these powers to any person. I am sure that the Minister will find the freedom to hand over these powers to whoever he wishes very convenient and agreeable. Indeed, who knows who he will propose ? Those of us who have watched the lamentable way in which the Government sold out the public interest to Tory placemen and a few Tory placewomen, as well as rewarding contributors to Tory party funds, will rightly feel concerned that this could be yet another example of the confusion of public and private interest which has become such a hallmark of the Government. The nub of the matter is that the management of the former docks area should be undertaken not by bodies which are not publicly accountable and do not have a responsible position, unlike democratically elected local authorities. The management of these areas and the byelaw-making powers should be given to bodies which can recognise the distinction between public and private interest, and which will be acting in the public interest.
The Minister, from a sedentary position, frequently quoted Lord Cocks, who is a member of the London Docklands development corporation. He will recall that I was not talking about the LDDC ; I was talking about the successor bodies. If the Minister will give us an indication who the successor bodies will be, and whether they will be publicly accountable--whether they will be democratically elected--I will willingly give way to give him an opportunity of doing so.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry) : I do not intend to engage in this debate, for the simple reason that this is the second time that we have debated the issue. As the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, this is a Bill within a narrow compass. It has taken up a considerable amount of time not because of any of the complexities in the Bill but simply because Opposition Members have dreamed up a number of fantasies with which they have wished to detain the House.
The Bill is more about Labour Members wishing to vent their spleen on the London Docklands development
Column 1251corporation. If the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard tomorrow, he will see that his points seem to suggest that LDDC could not distinguish between public and private interest. I challenge the hon. Gentleman to give any instance when the LDDC has not acted in the public interest.
Mr. Raynsford : The first instance that I shall give is the extraordinary way in which it has lavished large sums of public money on bankers, property developers and people who have contributed considerably to the personal profits of individual shareholders, many of whom are contributors to the Conservative party, but who have failed to meet their responsibility to meet the needs of the people of the Isle of Dogs.
If the Minister had gone to the Isle of Dogs in the local elections earlier this year, he would be only too well aware of the dangerous consequences of the neglect by the LDDC and his Government of the legitimate concerns and grievances of local people who have seen little benefit for all the sums of money which have been lavished on the LDDC.
I note that the Minister, in his response, sought immediately to change the subject of the debate. He did not want to answer my specific question whether there would be an undertaking that the successor body, which is what we are talking about, which would assume these byelaw-making powers, would be a democratically elected and accountable body. I note, and the House will note, the Minister's silence on that point.
The Minister claims that the delay in the Bill going through the House is because of Opposition Members. That is an absurd suggestion. The delay has been entirely to do with trying to sort out some of the technicalities which even now--even tonight on Third Reading--still have not been sorted out. How the Government can allow their creature, the LDDC, to bring forward legislation which includes a map identifying the Cody road balancing lagoon as one of the areas but cannot get a mention of it in the Bill is simply one more indication of the problems.
The issues of jurisdiction and areas of responsibility under the Bill are technicalities which rightly and properly should be identified by the House as part of parliamentary scrutiny. It is far from satisfactory, as we have recognised tonight, to have to allow a Bill to go through which is in some ways defective--some of the language is dubious, and there are discrepancies between the maps and the schedules--purely because there is no further opportunity to do anything about it if the LDDC is to have its powers in time for the summer.
As I have said, the nub of the matter is that management of the former dock areas should have been undertaken by democratically elected public authorities. At the very least, the three local authorities concerned--the London boroughs of Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Newham--should be given the first option of taking over these responsibilities from the LDDC.
I understand that the London borough of Tower Hamlets recently made representations to that effect, and I hope that the Minister will give a commitment to the House that the three local authorities will have the right of first refusal when the LDDC comes to transfer those powers. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response to that point.
While that issue has remained unclarified during the Bill's passage, other changes have been made which