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House of Commons

Wednesday 1 March 1995

The House met at Ten o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Government of London

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Chapman.]

10.4 am

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): This is an unusual occurrence. We are meeting on a Wednesday morning to debate the government of London. We have to hold such a debate in our national Parliament because there is no government of London that can debate the issues affecting the people of this capital city.

Over the years we have had many debates on the issue, and there is a growing consensus throughout London about the need for an elected authority for the capital city. Indeed, ours is the only capital in Europe without a single, elected government. The steady stream of history shows that when cities remove their elected tier of government, or any sort of central authority, chaos ensues. The central government commission of 1837, looking into the administration of the capital, concluded that it was necessary to set up a single authority to deal with London's affairs. That authority eventually became the London county council, which in turn became the Greater London council in 1965.

The GLC had a good record of administration of services, of pioneering work in education, architecture and housing, and of delivering to Londoners real hope for the future. A whole generation of good council housing would not have been possible without the work of the LCC, and later the GLC. Similarly, the body had an imaginative transport policy, and a highly imaginative arts policy--especially in the latter period of the GLC under the able arts section leadership of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). When, in 1983, the Government published their document on the so-called streamlining of government in the major metropolises and in London, the GLC responded with an interesting document called "The Future of the Greater London Council", published in January 1984. It stated prophetically:

"There is no doubt whatsoever that in the next 20 years metropolitan areas throughout the world will pose greater and greater problems. For, unlike the United Kingdom, the rapid expansion of metropolitan populations of many other countries increases apace. Every day another 100,000 people join those living in the urban areas of the world. By the turn of the century, it is estimated that over half the world's population will live in metropolitan scale cities. Given this future, what example is this democratic country to set the world in 1984 of how to organise its public affairs to meet the metropolitan needs of its capital city, London?"

Despite that statement, and the enormous campaign demonstrating the popularity of a central authority for London, the Government, with their large majority of the

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time, hammered through the destruction of the GLC, together with the sale of a large number of its assets. This achieved, not a cut in public spending or a saving on bureaucratic expenditure, but a transfer of power away from democratically elected politicians and accountable officials to wholly unaccountable but equally-- if not more--expensive quangos throughout London.

A large number of organisations surrounding London Pride recently produced a document describing the money that London puts into the national Exchequer, and the money that it gets back in return: "Yet for decades London's contribution has been taken for granted. While other European cities have been investing heavily to secure long-term success, so long as central London has seemed crowded with tourists and commuters London has been assumed to be doing all right. Benign neglect is no longer good enough. The time has come for the capital's needs to be recognised and its potential fully realised."

The document goes on to describe what constitutes a world city. London fits all the criteria to qualify as an important world city; the only thing it lacks is a unifying authority that can deal with the serious problems that it faces.

I have mentioned how the government of London has been broken up since the GLC finally went out of existence in 1986. There is, for instance, the sad sight across the river of that empty mausoleum County hall, which has been surrounded by scandals--a point to which I shall return.

All around London we see the problems bequeathed by the lack of a central authority. But more than anything, we must examine what is democratic and what is undemocratic about London. Londoners elect about 1,600 councillors every four years by an elective process. Those councillors are elected to run their local authorities. They take considerable personal financial responsibility for the affairs of those local authorities and risk surcharge and personal debarment from office if they are deemed to have overstepped the mark in any way, whether justifiably or unjustifiably.

However, Londoners have no say in the non-election of an equally large number of people to a series of quangos and appointed bodies all around London. They have enormous access to expenditure--£6 billion a year-- they are accountable to no one, they are not open to the public in the way that local authorities are and hardly any of their members are elected to any other body. The Government are essentially appointing their friends to organisations that they think are appropriate to run the affairs of Londoners.

In 1995, it simply is not good enough to say that Londoners do not have the right to elect their own local authority to deal with the important strategic issues facing London. The expenditure of more than £6 billion a year is the responsibility of a mixture of health authorities, housing action trusts, city challenges, London Regional Transport and the London Residuary Body, which manages to get through £72 million a year.

The London Residuary Body sounds like something out of George Orwell. As it was created in 1984, it is highly appropriate that its Orwellian nature should be examined. What is the body for and what has it done? It has an appointed board of directors who are paid. Its job was to oversee the disposal of the assets of the Greater London council and the transfer of its staff.

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One of the London Residuary Body's greatest claims to fame must be its treatment of County hall. That building was built by public subscription. It is a fine building for all to see across the river, as are its ancillary buildings, the north and south wings. I make no such claim for the architectural beauty of the island block, having suffered many meetings there in the past in my days as a trade union organiser within the GLC.

What is happening to County hall? When visitors from all over the world come to the House, hon. Members take them out on to the Terrace and point to all the wonderful buildings along the Thames--where the Archbishop of Canterbury lives, the United Nations office, the Shell centre and south bank. But Conservative Members seem to forget about the large building opposite and when visitors ask what it is, they say that it is County hall. When they are then asked whether that is the home of London government, they say, "No, it's empty." The only thing that it seems to be used for is the training of police dogs. They charge up and down the corridors looking for phantom thieves, whereas the thieves are elsewhere around the world at the present time.

We must examine seriously what has happened to County hall. The London Residuary Body told the world that it had sold County hall to a Japanese property speculator known as the Shirayama corporation. I understand that Mr. Shirayama had a wonderful deal with the London Residuary Body in that he did not have to pay any money straight away. He was allowed a considerable delay on payment. I understand that £10 million due under a secret agreement has still not been paid.

The Government intervened on a number of occasions to ensure that the building went to a group of Japanese property speculators rather than the London School of Economics, such was their obsession to ensure that the building was not seen to be in public hands in any way.

The National Audit Office is looking into the matter, which I believe to be a serious scandal. I hope that when it has reported, the Government will be prepared to take action and return County hall to the purpose for which it was always intended--a centre for the government of London.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South): Is it not a fact that that building hosted meetings of huge numbers of organisations, which may have been unstatutory, semi-statutory or fully statutory, representing the people of London in dealing with all-London strategic matters? Is it not also a fact that the final decision about the destruction of one of the finest and oldest civic councils in the world was made by a single leader of the Conservative party because policy is vested in the leader of that party?

Mr. Corbyn: My hon. Friend is right. A vendetta against the GLC was promoted by the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. She sought to destroy the GLC because it represented a central authority and because of its popularity among people who saw life in London improving under the imaginative policies of the GLC.

The GLC was also a valuable resource for meetings for all kinds of community organisations, groups and others. Under the leadership of my hon. Friend the Member for

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Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), the GLC was an incredibly open building. Anyone could go in and hold meetings there. It was a real resource for the people of London. Its destruction is bitterly resented by many people to this day.

The Action for London group has done marvellous work in demonstrating the appalling waste of resources that that empty building represents. I should like to know how much of our money is being spent on guarding, sealing off and securing that empty building, denying its use to the people of London. That is an appalling vista.

In December last year, David Puttnam, in his London lecture, spoke at some length about the artistic merits of London and its abilities to promote good theatre, film, the arts and so on. He said: "Bette Midler once said, in her inimitable and caustic way, `When it's 3 pm in New York it's still 1938 in London.' And that was before the democratically elected authority for London was wiped out by a vindictive Government eight years ago.

In a very real sense it's not 1930-anything in London. It's far closer to 1890-something and all of us are losing out in consequence. The self-same reasons that led our Victorian fore-fathers to establish the Metropolitan Board of Works and then the London County Council--the need for better planning, better transport, better housing, better education, better public health and civic amenities--all of these are once again zooming up the agenda and crying out for clear and forceful solutions; not solutions thought up by concerned groups of well-intentioned citizens, but long-term strategies argued, implemented and resourced within the framework of the elected and democratically answerable city government." That is what we are searching for today.

If one wants to know what the people of London think, one must look at the recent polling evidence produced by the Harris research centre for Carlton. There is incredible pessimism about the future of London which I see every day in my community and my constituency. I find it among young people, the unemployed, the homeless, the rootless and the poor in London.

The survey showed that 61 per cent. have no confidence in London's future, an incredible 61 per cent. felt that their children probably would not have jobs when they left school and 77 per cent. believed that the next generation would be unable to obtain decent housing in London. It showed that 17 per cent. were deeply concerned about crime, 16 per cent. about pollution and 15 per cent. about traffic. It showed that 43 per cent. believed that travelling in London had become harder during the past five years and 81 per cent. believed that there was insufficient decent housing in London. When asked whether they thought that there should be an elected council or authority for London, 61 per cent. were for that and only 29 per cent. against. That is an enormous figure.

We must bear in mind all those concerns about the future of the capital city and address them urgently because they are deeply important.

In 1984, the GLC produced a document on ministerial commitments made during the passage of the Local Government Act 1985 which abolished it--page after page of them, from the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) on auto-pilot in all-night sittings, droning out soothing words in an attempt to appease my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West. He did not succeed one jot, but he tried hard. Those commitments will come back to haunt the Government. I could quote them all, but I do not have time, so I shall simply quote one concerning housing resources.

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The right hon. Member for Acton said:

"Although the boroughs welcome the chance to take over and manage the GLC stock, I know that many councils and tenants still need reassurance that resources will be available . . . We have repeatedly made it clear that abolition will leave that total resource to London essentially unchanged. London's HIP allocation will be shared among the boroughs alone without a top slice being pre-empted by the GLC". He continues:

"The distribution of allocations will take account of expenditure liabilities inherited from the GLC . . . We cannot guarantee the availability of a particular level of resources for London beyond the assurances that we have already given."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee G , 5 February 1985; c. 1107.]

Many of us would be quite happy to get the resources at the level of the assurances that he has already given. My borough and those of every one of my hon. Friends around me are building almost no homes at all at present. Some 12,000 families are on the transfer list in my borough. There are 8,000 on the waiting list. Every homeless family hostel is chock-a-block. Bed-and-breakfast millionaires abound in London. Why? Because of a vindictive attitude by the Government towards expenditure on housing in London. Those are the issues that must be addressed.

Poverty in London is absolutely appalling. London is a city with more than 6 million residents in 2.8 million households. Some 1 million people in London claim income support and 733,000 claim housing benefit. About 831,000 existing households, plus an estimated 250,000 households, need a new dwelling. About 500,000 people live in households with more than one person per room. More than 500,000 households in London share or lack basic amenities. One million people are over retirement age--50 per cent. of them rely on state benefits. Some 40 per cent. of pensioners live alone. As one who spends a lot of time working with or meeting pensioner organisations in London, I can attest to the misery and poverty of many older pensioners in London, particularly the older women pensioners, who have no access to occupational pension schemes. About 400,000 people are registered as unemployed in London, including 100,000 young people and 175,000 long-term unemployed. About 300,000 children live in non-earning households and about 300,000 are eligible for free school meals. Some 100,000 households include lone parents looking after children. Some 780,000 people in London have a limiting long-term illness, including 32,000 children.

Living in London ain't nice. It ain't happy and it ain't healthy, and those issues must be addressed. That cannot be done while we fail to address the need for a central authority for London to tackle those issues. When one looks at the national statistics for poverty, misery and homelessness throughout the country, one finds that the worst areas are all in London. Seven of the 10 poorest parts of the country are in London.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): The point that my hon. Friend makes is reinforced by a report, "Out of Sight--London's Continuing Bed-and- breakfast Crisis", which I and, I suppose, all hon. Members received today. Is my hon. Friend aware that Wandsworth, the borough that I represent, has one of the worst bed-and-breakfast records in the whole of London? Hundreds of properties are boarded up and are waiting to be sold rather than the council allowing homeless people whose roots are in the

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borough to live there. It is interesting that the Minister who will reply to the debate was the leader of the authority that encouraged that policy.

Mr. Corbyn: It is nice of the Minister to be here this morning, as I understand that he is quite busy in the dental surgery some mornings of the week. It is good of him to come at all.

We must look seriously at the problems of homelessness and the misery that it causes in London. What is it like for children to be brought up in bed- and-breakfast hotels? What is it like for their parents? What play space is available? What quality food is available? What cooking space is available? It is not even cheap. It costs us millions each year. People who have been allocated a hostel or bed-and-breakfast place by the local authority, because they are homeless, come to me and ask: "Mr. Corbyn, is it sensible to be paying out several hundred pounds a week for me and my family to live in bed-and-breakfast when the council could buy or build a flat for less than that?" I tell them: "You are absolutely right. The council agrees with you, but it is not allowed to buy or build." It is nonsense and something must be done about it.

The problems of poverty and ill health in London are often related to other factors. Air quality and water quality in London are poor. The quality of air in London is seriously damaging to people's health, particularly during a period of still weather. One in seven of London's children now suffers from asthma. If one goes into any school, particularly infant or primary schools, and goes into the school secretary's office, one will see all the inhalers on a shelf above the secretary's desk, to be given out to particular children at lunchtime. There is an epidemic of asthma among London's children--and, indeed the elderly. If one goes into a children's ward in any hospital, one will find many children suffering from chronic asthma, related--not entirely, but mainly--to air pollution in London. Those issues must be addressed.

Some 150,000 people in London are waiting for access to a hospital bed, to undergo elective surgery. In my own borough, no elective surgery is being carried out until after April. I was trying to explain to somebody from another country how it is unfortunate if someone needs an operation in the latter part of the financial year in London. That person could not understand the concept of having to be ill in the early part of the financial year, not the latter part. Again, we have the nonsense of the internal market and fundamentally unaccountable health authorities that administer Government health policies for London.

Transport--the one area in which the GLC gained the most publicity during its latter years--is the greatest concern to everyone in London, whether they are waiting for a bus that does not come, as the buses are held up on overcrowded and congested roads, or whether they are trying to get on an overcrowded train, paying through the nose for the highest fares anywhere in Europe. London Underground and London Transport as a whole are entirely strapped for cash and unable to invest in the vital new railway and tube lines that are needed. A proposal is made for the Chelsea to Hackney line-- a proposal that has been around for a very long time--but then we hear that it is unlikely to be even thought about until the start of the next century, despite there having been reports for the past 30 years of the importance of that particular line.

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That area requires the attention of democracy in London. There is a need to address the problems of the democratic deficit in London. The purpose of the debate is to highlight some of those problems. Indeed, many of my hon. Friends wish to make, I imagine, broadly similar points to those that I have made on health and housing. We must address the problem of the lack of a democratic, accountable authority for London. Londoners need to have some pride in their city as a whole. It cannot be governed by a plethora of 32 boroughs, one City of London, a couple of dozen quangos and a Government office for London, which is handing out Government money through the single regeneration budget without the agreement of elected councillors, or of any elected authorities. Indeed, it is being done solely by an appointed civil servant answerable only to Ministers and not to anyone to do with London.

Mr. Spearing: A gauleiter.

Mr. Corbyn: As my hon. Friend says, a gauleiter for this capital city. Those issues must be addressed.

Once a year, the London Labour Members of Parliament go in delegation to meet the Home Secretary, who is the police authority for London for the time being, and, in a separate meeting, to see the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. I used to think that the worst possible way to run a police force was to have the Home Secretary as the police authority, answerable to the House for his actions once a year in an Adjournment debate. I now find that there is something worse--the Home Secretary being the police authority for London, being advised by a group of bankers, appointed by himself, to say how the police authority should be run.

A proposal must be made by the House, at the earliest possible opportunity, for the creation of a new authority for London, which will have responsibilities for overall planning in London. What mad schemes have been approved in the past 10 years to have allowed London to have 22 million sq ft of empty office blocks--office blocks are still being constructed--and no housing programme worth speaking of other than a small number being built by housing associations, and the problems that go with that? Who would have thought that London Transport, the wonder of the world for many people for many years, would now be threatened with privatisation, break-up and deregulation? Our health authorities are unaccountable, with two regional health authorities covering Thames regions, which include London. A London health authority should be involved in a London-wide elected authority. Likewise, why cannot Londoners have a police committee in the same way as other parts of the country?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): My hon. Friend skimmed over the question of who owns County hall. I can only go on what I read in, for instance, the Evening Standard . The fellow involved sounds like a crook to me: if he were a Labour councillor, he would probably be surcharged. He uses various aliases; he is known as Mr. Heinz, of the 57 varieties.

If the Minister had any guts, he would deal with the matter on behalf of Londoners and the British people as a whole. I believe that there is a scandal that needs to be investigated. Instead of closing the door when it is all

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over, as they did in the case of Barings, the Government should expose the gang of crooks who are supposedly in charge of County hall.

Mr. Corbyn: My hon. Friend makes an important point. In fact, the National Audit Office is currently investigating the scandal surrounding the sale of County hall to the Shirayama corporation and the gentleman who seems to own it. He goes by a number of aliases, usually the names of types of Japanese motor car. I do not know how many makes of Japanese motor car there are, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West has explained on a number of occasions, there seem to be quite a lot. We hear of Mr. Honda, Mr. Toyota, Mr. Mitsubishi and so on.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): May I offer my hon. Friend some up-to-date information? I walked past County hall a few minutes ago, and absolutely nothing is going on there. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) pointed out, it is a scandal. Both the Minister and the Secretary of State have discussed the matter with me; I hope that when the Minister winds up the debate, he will tell us a little more about what the Government are actively doing about the scandal that is taking place on the other side of the river.

Mr. Corbyn: Those of us who have lived through the saga of the abolition of the GLC and the sale of County hall will not allow it to be swept under the carpet. We will persevere, because we want the building back in public hands and public use rather than the obscenity that it is now.

I believe that there is a strong case for an elected government for London, with responsibilities for overall planning, transport, health, a police authority and a housing strategy to tackle homelessness and the social, health and economic cost of poor-quality housing. There should also be a co -ordinated and supportive strategy for the development of the arts in London. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West had an excellent record as chairman of the GLC arts committee, providing access to the arts for all people: minority tastes of all sorts were catered for. That was an exciting period of growth in the arts--film, theatre and other entertainments--throughout London. All those facilities are now threatened; indeed, many of them have closed. That is very sad.

Similarly, the Inner London education authority used to manage expenditure on education. However, its resources for the arts, music, out-of-London pursuits, adult education and many other things have been destroyed with ILEA itself.

It is also crucial for London to address the problems of its economy. As I said earlier, there are 400,000 registered unemployed people in London, but I believe the number of people out of work to be closer to half a million. Half a million members of a population of 6 million want to work but cannot find jobs.

In its latter days, the GLC did its best to rebuild some of London's manufacturing industry, to encourage different areas of enterprise, to put money into co-operatives and to support those who tried to produce quality goods and services. It was very difficult, because the GLC's powers to act within local government legislation were limited. I believe that a new elected authority for London should have overall strategic responsibility for all the matters that I have mentioned, and powers to rebuild and plan London's economy.

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Are we to go forward into the 21st century as a city with an incredibly rich minority of people living in certain high -security enclaves--as described by Richard Rogers in the past few weeks in his Reith lectures on the radio--and a mass of poor people living on high- crime, poor-quality estates, looking forward to a life of unemployment and surrounded by filth, degradation and destruction? London can be an exciting and wonderful place in which to live, but it requires planning, direction and vision. I do not believe that that vision is fulfilled by a plethora of quangos composed of Tory placemen, and by the scandals and sleaze that surrounded the destruction of the GLC. I hope that today's debate will strengthen the case for an elected authority to make London the city that it can, should and--I believe--must be.

10.34 am

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham): I hesitate to intrude on a debate about London. Let me clarify my provenance: for eight years I served as a London councillor in Bexley. Moreover, I believe that my constituency would be viewed as part of the Thames gateway by the all-seeing, all-powerful body offered to us by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) as a new government for London. I think it entirely inappropriate for the Medway towns--which include my constituency, 30 miles out of London--to be subject to government from County hall, or by some new body in London.

I well remember that, when I was a Bexley councillor, the council governed very well. As a near-unitary authority, it provided social services, housing, education, roads, parks, leisure facilities and many other benefits. My only recollection of the GLC is of a body that intruded into minor planning applications and housing matters. Exercising an extraordinary policy of municipalisation, it bought houses scattered all over the place. Far from acting as a strategic authority, it was a nuisance authority.

The last days of the GLC were marked by a bizarre campaign against the Government's proposals to do away with it. The hon. Member for Islington, North described the GLC's popularity--revealed, he said, in that great campaign at the end of its life. The so-called popular campaign, however, involved the expenditure of a seven-figure sum on advertising and other PR material, sent out from County hall under the auspices of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone).

Mr. Tony Banks: How can the hon. Gentleman explain the fact that, years after the abolition of the GLC, the most recent opinion polls show that 66 per cent. of Londoners still believe that we should have a strategic authority for the capital?

Mr. Couchman: I set as much store by those polls as I do by some other current opinion polls. What London really needs is a strengthening of the government of its boroughs.

Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley): Does my hon. Friend believe that that opinion poll--or, indeed, any poll--has informed Londoners about how much they have saved as a result of the GLC's abolition? It is probably £200 a year.

Mr. Couchman: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out. Indeed, it was one of the main reasons why we did away with the GLC.

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The hon. Member for Islington, North also mentioned ILEA, one of the most bloated education bureaucracies that the country has ever had.

Mr. Spearing: What?

Mr. Couchman: Precisely so. It would be entirely inappropriate to foist ILEA on London again.

My message to any new London body would be, "We do not want you in north Kent." We want unitary authorities, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is currently considering their establishment. If we are to have good governance in our part of Kent, we must have nothing to do with London. We certainly do not want a new Greater London council, stretching to the M25 and beyond--stretching to the Medway towns as part of the Thames gateway--as suggested in recent reports of Labour's thinking. My message to the hon. Member for Islington, North is, "Hands off the towns of north Kent." If there is to be a co-ordinated development of the Thames gateway, it will be better organised by central Government than by some new GLC.

10.38 am

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South): I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman), who appeared to have two reasons for his view. One, understandably, was his experience of the GLC as a Bexley councillor. I assume that he played some part in the legal affair that was responsible for the destruction of "Fares Fair", which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone).

Mr. Couchman indicated dissent.

Mr. Spearing: He says no, but I think that it was a Kent and Bexley initiative.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich): It was Bromley.

Mr. Spearing: My hon. Friend corrects me: it was Bromley, which is next door.

The remarkable feature of the speech by the hon. Member for Gillingham, who is not a London Member, was that he accused a possible future Greater London authority or the GLC of the time of having designs upon north Kent and the Medway towns--a proud and ancient area which was related to London in function and history. I have heard no suggestion at any time that a Greater London authority should extend its boundaries thus far. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to tell me where he got his false accusation from.

Mr. Couchman: I understand that there has been a suggestion in the Evening Standard .

Mr. Spearing: If the hon. Gentleman believes everything that he reads in the Evening Standard , including an inaccurate account last week of my history, which said that I attended a public school, although I went to a grammar school in Hammersmith, it shows the standard of his judgment publicly and in this place. I shall ask him about another matter. I am a past member of the transport planning and highways committee of the GLC, to which I was co-opted at different times.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir Paul Beresford): So the hon. Gentleman is to blame, then.

Mr. Spearing: I shall shortly take great pleasure in dealing with highways.

The hon. Member for Gillingham said that that committee and the GLC, using its powers as a strategic planning authority--at one time I was a leading member of part of the planning committee for north-west London--interfered in minor planning applications. Will the hon. Gentleman give an example of that?

Sir Paul Beresford: I shall give an example relating to the renovation of an estate on the edge of the constituency of the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who is not in his place. As is normal, there were consultations with tenants and postmen about the numbering of the flats on the estate. Those consultations were concluded in a short time, but it took five months to get a decision from the GLC. That was interference in a minor, insignificant planning issue.

Mr. Spearing: I asked for an example and the Minister has given one. If that delay occurred, it must have had some sort of statutory basis and the GLC must have had some responsibility in that matter. Perhaps the Minister could respond to that at a later date rather than delaying our proceedings now. Speaking as a former part-time student postman-- [Interruption.] This issue is not funny. Too many Conservative Members do not understand real life. That is why they are in trouble. As a former post person I know that it is important to get a good numbering sequence. If the Minister engages in canvassing, he will know that that is the case.

I do not say that that justifies what the GLC did. It may not, because bad mistakes can be made in any organisation, and especially in the Government. The strategic planning of London was destroyed, as was the coherent traffic planning of London, which brings me to the matter of highways. The GLC introduced delayed traffic signals and the first freeways, and that was done after exhaustive consultation, in which I was involved, with each borough. It was broken up by Baroness Thatcher who dispersed coherent planning in London not only for roads but for transport.

I shall now turn to "Fares Fair". That was upset by Bromley council through a legal point which destroyed the concept of public transport introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East with great boldness and initiative. The people of London look back to that time. A public transport system needs to have as many people using it as possible so that fares can be reduced. That applies especially to the underground, which can carry more people because of its infrastructure. That was the vision of the late Lord Ashfield and of Herbert Morrison, who together created the former London Transport. That has been destroyed by the Conservative party.

I shall give an example of how current fares are unfair. After years of development, the docklands light railway, which is the responsibility of the Government, still does not run at weekends. That is because the concept is wrong. An extension of that railway is planned to Lewisham. A Bill has gone through the House so that the line can run from Island Gardens in the Isle of Dogs under the river to Greenwich and then to Lewisham. That is a much-needed

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link. It is to be privatised and not long ago I saw a commentary in a business paper about who would take over. It stated that on that commuter route to the extraordinary development in Canary Wharf in the Isle of Dogs--which, incidentally, did not receive the necessary planning permission--it was probable that a premium fare could be charged. That was to be an attraction for the investor.

"Fares Fair" is one thing, but fares are unfair and not just in the general proportion of revenue which is so high in London compared with the rest of the world. That is an example of fares being jacked up on a line for which the capital investment has been put up by the public. Currently, public subsidy for the DLR is 70p per passenger mile. That information was contained in an answer a few days ago. That shows the disintegration of public transport in London for which Conservatives are wholly responsible and which the Minister appears to defend.

Sir Paul Beresford: In the context of the GLC's relationship to London docklands and the railways, it is worth pointing out that the GLC in combination with the five Labour boroughs failed to do anything for docklands for years. That railway is there because the GLC failure was recognised by the Government and docklands was taken away and we got rid of the GLC.

Mr. Spearing: I knew the chairman of the former docklands joint committee, the late Councillor Percy Bell, who was a well-known east London councillor of great sagacity and who gave great service. The docklands joint committee produced an outline for docklands. One of its publications in the early days dealt with a transport spine for tube, bus or tram. That committee considered the need for the DLR, but it was disrupted by the work of a certain leader of the GLC, Sir Horace Cutler, who did not co-operate in the way that the boroughs had been co-operating.

The President of the Board of Trade, who at the time was the Secretary of State for the Environment, opened new houses built under the Becton district plan produced by the borough of Newham. The marshes had to be drained and I understand that a year's public investment of the then Thames water authority, on which elected members from the GLC sat, was absorbed on draining that area from Tewksbury to London. That was instituted by the committee. Therefore, the hon. Member for Gillingham was not correct in his history. That land, a third of my constituency, went under the suzerainty of the London Docklands development corporation, which had powers for planning and borrowing and for goodness knows what, literally to do anything under the Bill. When the statutory instrument came to the House for a one and a half hour debate and although a third of my constituency and half the LDDC area was involved, I did not get the opportunity to speak. That shows the authoritarian nature of Conservative Members. Even if a body such as the LDDC was needed, it should have been accountable to this elected House rather than to the Secretary of State.

I have unexpectedly used some illustrations which were given by Conservative Members. I could go on. What about the new towns? Could any organisation in the world have produced those? They were the pride of Britain after the war. The education service has been mentioned. It was economical and was one of the greatest education institutions in the world. I shall give an example. When

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the Conservative party wanted to break up the London county council education service in 1963 or 1964 when the GLC succeeded the LCC, there was tremendous debate in London. It was saved because the LCC had a comprehensive series of occupational and adult education courses throughout London. Those were well known because of the Floodlight booklets--attempts are still made to publish them. Specialist colleges all over the place had been built up to a peak of professional expertise. Where those colleges were sited in each borough was a matter of chance, but let us consider what happened when the LCC was split up into boroughs.

I shall not name the borough nor the well-known institution, but one highly specialist college on medical matters had a worldwide reputation. People not just from all over London, but from the south-east used to travel up to it at night and at weekends. That college, in a central London location, was in the hands of the local borough. The borough pressed for money for that college, and we know why. When that request came before the relevant committee, the elected councillors asked, not unnaturally, how many of the college's students came from the borough. When they were told 5 per cent., the response was, "We can't have that," and that college disappeared. Further and higher education and training are all the rage. The break-up of the further, higher and technical education systems of inner London, which the hon. Member for Gillingham may describe as bureaucratic, is one of the greatest losses to education. That happened at the flick of a finger of the noble, or less than noble, Baroness Thatcher.

In Newham, we have to spend £8 million of our standard spending assessment on the homeless because the formula agreed by the Minister and his senior colleagues does not provide enough money for the homeless. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) mentioned that problem. That £8 million has to be shaved off education and social services to meet our statutory responsibilities. Some of the homeless in our borough are transferred to us from Westminster. The council bought up private houses which it cannot sell through private enterprise, so it is housing the statutory homeless in them. That is good for them, but the system is rotten, bad and retrogressive.

Democratic accountability is at the heart of the issue. It has been attenuated in London to a degree that the Scots would find absolutely unbelievable. What remains of the London borough administration is being hogtied by the vicious standard spending assessment and revenue support grant formulae. They are causing revolts in the shires, so one can imagine the effect that they are having in east London, in particular, the deprived boroughs of which have such well-known problems.

As for the police, Sir John Quinton has been appointed chairman of the advisory committee to the Home Secretary. He has been given that job not on the grounds of policing criteria, but because, as is clear from correspondence, of his expertise in budget cutting and budget allocation. Although the advisory committee has a wide remit and people have been appointed to it by the Home Secretary, it is steering towards economies. It is not focusing on how the police can do their job in association with Londoners. It is considering how the police can operate with reduced finances.

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