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Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill

Secretary Ruth Kelly, supported by The Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary John Reid, Ms Secretary Hewitt, Mr. Secretary Hain, Secretary Alan Johnson, Secretary David Miliband, Mr. Secretary Hutton, Mr. Phil Woolas and Angela E. Smith, presented a Bill to make provision with respect to local government and the functions and procedures of local authorities and certain other authorities; to make provision with respect to persons with functions of inspection and audit in relation to local government; to establish the Valuation Tribunal for England; to make provision in connection with local involvement networks; to abolish Patients’ Forums and the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health; to make provision with respect to local consultation in connection with health services; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Wednesday 13 December, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed. [Bill 16].

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Orders of the Day

Greater London Authority Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

4.54 pm

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill is about backing London, one of the greatest cities in the world. It is about devolution from the Government to London and also about helping Londoners to get things done.

London’s economy alone is larger than that of many European countries. It is the driver of the UK economy, has world-beating financial and business service sectors, with a business climate that makes it a natural magnet for foreign investors. The capital has thriving and innovative arts, culture and entertainment industries. It is one of the most vibrant cities on the planet. Its ethnically diverse communities have close links across the globe. However, London faces challenges, which often stem from its very strength, in terms of transport, housing, skills and inequalities across the city.

Already the restoration of city-wide government to the capital has made a powerful difference to London and to Londoners, but we need to go further and to build on the programme of reform so far. The Bill builds on the previous reforms introduced for London after 1997. Just as we delivered a Parliament in Scotland and an Assembly in Wales, so we introduced a directly elected Mayor and assembly in London. Londoners themselves wanted that change; every London borough voted overwhelmingly in favour of establishing the Greater London assembly in the referendum of 1998. The creation of the Mayor and the assembly restored democratic city-wide government, which the Conservatives had taken away in 1986 without asking the people of London. For 14 years, London was the only major city without city-wide government.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con) rose—

Yvette Cooper: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take some responsibility for that shameful decision.

Mr. Field: I shall not rise to such arrant nonsense. However, perhaps the Minister will admit that not only the people of London but the people of Great Britain and the United Kingdom were asked in the 1983 general election about the abolition of the Greater London council. Would the hon. Lady like to tell us the result of that election? It was conclusive evidence from the country that the then Conservative Government had a full mandate to abolish the GLC in 1986.

Yvette Cooper: I hope the hon. Gentleman will, therefore, confirm that the Conservatives did not ask the people of London. He seems to be defending his party’s decision to abolish the GLC and to deny our capital city a proper voice not just across Britain, but across the world, for 14 long years. If manifesto
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commitments are the most important thing for him, I hope he will support us in executing our manifesto commitment to give London a stronger voice and stronger powers devolved from the Government.

Six years on, the strong mayoral model is working for London. The GLA has been a success story for London and for Londoners. The congestion charge has reduced congestion in London by more than 20 per cent. even at a time when car use has been increasing across the country. The charge has generated extra income to improve public transport across the capital. The number of people using buses has gone up by a third, thanks to improved investment and the service improvements that are part of a multi-billion pound programme of public transport investment in the capital. Police numbers have increased substantially and crime has fallen.

London has a strong voice, not just in this country but throughout the world. That is one of the reasons why we won the bid for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, something of which the whole nation can be proud.

London First, representing 300 of the capital’s major businesses, has hailed those reforms as a success. The organisation now supports greater devolution to the Mayor and the strong strategic leadership set out in the Bill.

Significant challenges face the city as a whole, which justify further reforms and will require stronger leadership in future. The capital faces serious pressures on housing, for example; by 2026, there may be more than 1 million more Londoners to accommodate in sustainable communities in the capital. It is vital for London that badly needed new homes are built and that the London plan is delivered. We need planning improvements to support business development and delivery for the sake of the London economy, too. That is why London First supports the measures.

More needs to be done to tackle problems such as health inequalities.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): Before the Minister moves on from discussing housing, will she explain why the Mayor is better equipped than the borough of Croydon to decide whether and what sort of houses should be built in Croydon?

Yvette Cooper: I shall come on to discuss housing and planning proposals in more detail shortly, but the hon. Gentleman should recognise that it is right for decisions about the priorities for housing investment across the capital to be set out by the Mayor rather than by the regional housing board, which previously made recommendations to the Secretary of State. We think that it is right to devolve that to the Mayor, who should set out the key priorities for the capital. As we know, housing decisions in one part of the capital can have a wider impact on the housing market and it is important to address the housing pressures that London faces.

We need to look at skills and the need to keep up with the knowledge-based economy. It is also important to deal with one of the most crucial global challenges of our generation—climate change. London will face particular challenges adapting to climate change, whether in respect of heat or flooding risks, and we think it right that part of the Bill focuses on that issue.

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Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Con): The Minister emphasised the value of giving responsibilities for skills to London government, so why was it not possible to fight the resistance of officials in the Department for Education and Skills in respect of giving complete control of the Learning and Skills Council to London government, rather than putting it at arm’s length from the Mayor?

Yvette Cooper: As the hon. Gentleman knows, our proposals on skills are being taken forward in another Bill and there will be plenty of opportunity to debate the detail. We think it right that there should be a greater role for the Mayor as part of the focus for skills, but it is not just about skills: it is about locations for investment, wider economic, transport and housing strategies and the ability to link them together. We believe that the arrangements achieve that.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Yvette Cooper: I will, but then I need to make some more progress.

Mr. Burrowes: I am grateful. The Minister’s reference to climate change is laudable, but why is there no reference to the Mayor’s responsibilities for water, which would provide some tangible proof of commitment to dealing with climate change?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman may be aware that, later this week, we are publishing a planning policy statement around climate change. We are also publishing a revised code for sustainable homes, which takes particular account of the need to improve water efficiency right across the country. The planning system already takes account of the need to plan for water use, which is also included as part of the London plan, which the Mayor obviously leads. We believe that the Mayor already plays an important role, but that he needs further powers, particularly in relation to climate change, given that the issue is important not just for London, but for the whole country and across the world.

We believe that the proposed reforms are needed to help Londoners get things done and to respond to the serious challenges facing the capital, but they are also about devolution—handing power from central Government to London on a series of issues. The Greater London Authority Bill and the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill aim to devolve power to London boroughs as well as to the Mayor to do a better job for London.

I have to say that Conservative Members have adopted a shameful approach to the debate about giving powers to London— [Interruption.] They opposed the introduction of the Mayor; they opposed the Greater London authority; they opposed the congestion charge; they opposed the Mayor’s environmental measures; and now I gather that the Conservatives on the GLA have even said that they want to abolish free bus travel for children. They have gone from snatching the milk from children to snatching their bus tickets instead—still the same old Tories. [Interruption.] They are opposing this new Bill— [Interruption.]

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Mr. Pelling rose—

Yvette Cooper: I will allow the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to condemn the proposals of Conservative members of the GLA to snatch bus tickets from children.

Mr. Pelling: I am sure that it would be impossible to condemn myself, and I declare my interest as a GLA member. It is very important to invest in school buses—a much cleaner environmental proposal that will ensure that children have a safe journey to school. It is not about snatching, but about providing extra services for the young people of London.

Yvette Cooper: Does that mean that he will take away children’s tickets? It sounded like it.

The Conservatives oppose this new Bill to strengthen the Mayor’s position. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) wrote in the Evening Standard that the Conservatives will oppose the current Bill. He said that they would like to see the mayor focus on the big job that he already has. However, only a month ago, the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) and the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) wrote in their pamphlet on the permissive state that:

A classic Tory flip-flop—one minute they want to enhance the Mayor’s powers, the next they want the Mayor to stick to the job he already has. One minute they want to strengthen London government, the next they want to vote against the very Bill that will do exactly that.

We believe that the Bill will be good for London and we hope that we can build a consensus across the capital and the country to support it.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): If someone whose constituency is 250 miles from London is permitted to contribute to the debate, may I ask—given that the Minister has mentioned flip-flops—at what stage did the Government’s views of the present Mayor of London change from outright hostility to warm adoption?

Yvette Cooper: The right hon. Gentleman asks about the Mayor and candidates for that post. We are backing our Labour Mayor, but I note that the Tories have struggled even to find a mayoral candidate to back. They have even resorted to “The X-Factor” approach to try to find one. They have struggled so much that they have extended the deadline and may have given up altogether trying to find someone whom they are prepared to back.

Over the past 18 months we have reviewed the powers of the Mayor and the assembly and I shall say a little more about the main functions of the Bill that we have set out today. The changes in housing are especially important. As we know, London faces serious housing pressures, because of rising demand and prices. We need more market housing, social housing and shared ownership housing. At present the regional housing board sets out the priorities for housing investment in London, which are then agreed
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by the Secretary of State. Under the Bill, the housing strategy for London will instead be drawn up by the Mayor with the chance to link it properly with planning and transport strategies.

Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware from the debate last week of the problems with affordable housing in London. Can she confirm that there will be a duty on the Housing Corporation to have regard to the London housing strategy as drawn up by the Mayor?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right. We want the Housing Corporation to deliver its funding in accordance with the strategy set out by the Mayor, in the way that it does at present for the strategy set out by the regional housing board. We also think that it is important that we link housing strategy with planning, because the planning system needs to do its bit to support new homes and development if we are to meet the needs of the future.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is regrettable that Westminster city council had to be forced to accept the 50 per cent. target for affordable housing provision? For that reason, people in housing need welcome the extension of the Mayor’s powers. Does she also think that it is necessary to take action against those boroughs—especially Conservative-held ones on the outskirts of London—that are blocking attempts to make housing provision accessible to boroughs in central London, including their Conservative partner boroughs, through the sub-regional partnerships? Those outer boroughs are making it impossible for central London boroughs under housing pressure to meet their needs in partnership with other areas of the capital.

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend raises an important point. Boroughs have an important role in responding to housing needs in their area, in terms of new build, affordable housing and housing allocation policies, including working in partnership. Every borough needs to accept that the decisions it takes have a knock-on impact on neighbouring boroughs. Housing markets across London do not fit into administrative boundaries and one borough’s decision has much wider repercussions. That is why it is so important that the London plan should be delivered and the approach that some Conservative authorities have taken to housing should not be allowed to continue. It is right to have a proper approach to housing across the capital.

We think that it is important to make further changes to the planning system to ensure the delivery of the London plan. At present, the Mayor has the power to step in and turn down important strategic developments that have an impact on the London plan. That power is negative—that is, it is anti-development. Given the crucial importance of housing and development in London, we think that there should be a more balanced approach and that the Mayor should be given the ability to act positively on certain major strategic developments that are important to the successful implementation of the London plan.

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): I hear what the Minister is saying, but Opposition Members want more localism, with people
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participating more in their local communities. What she is proposing is diktat from the top, but that will act as a disincentive to participation for people in boroughs such as mine in Bexley, as their views will be overruled by the Mayor.

Yvette Cooper: No, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. That is not the Government’s approach to these matters. First, we are devolving powers in relation to housing from the Government to the Mayor. Secondly, we want to make sure that the Mayor’s powers in respect of strategic planning developments work in a positive way and are not simply negative.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend say more about how decisions by the Mayor can be made more transparent, especially when they run counter to what local communities want? The key to all these proposals is that the public must have confidence that the Mayor is acting in a strategic way that takes account of the needs of local communities, and that he is not just doing something because he has decided that that is what he wants to happen.

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right that transparency is critically important, and that local community views about particular developments must be taken into account. I know that many hon. Members want to intervene on this matter, but I hope that the House will allow me to say a little more about the Government’s approach, and then I shall be happy to take further interventions.

The Government believe that the overwhelming majority of planning applications should be determined by the boroughs, exactly as happens at present. We want there to be more constructive working between the boroughs and the Mayor on those development proposals that go to the heart of implementing the London plan. In the vast majority of those cases, the borough involved will still take the final decision, but in a small number we think that the Mayor will be best placed to decide the final outcome. He should also be able to intervene positively, rather than just to say no.

We will set out in secondary legislation how the Mayor’s new development control powers will work in practice, and we will publish that legislation in draft to facilitate the Standing Committee’s scrutiny of the Bill.

Several hon. Members rose—

Yvette Cooper: I shall be happy to take further interventions, but first would like to set out the Government’s proposals on these matters.

The Government have responded to the representations that have been made and, given the growing consensus between London councils, London First and the Mayor about how the powers should operate, have decided to make further amendments to the process. In particular, we now agree that it would be better for matters to be referred to the Mayor at a later stage. The boroughs would therefore have the initial lead on major developments too, with the Mayor able to intervene only on major strategic applications that go to the heart of the London plan.

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