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Many people in the outer suburbs were not very happy with the original concept of the Mayor and the Greater London assembly but, as my hon. Friends have said, the caravan has moved on. Those original concerns focused on cost, bureaucracy and the number of additional staff that would be employed, and I am afraid that they have been realised. It was thought that the Mayor would not be concerned about the suburbs but with central London or zone 1. Unfortunately, that
has largely come to pass. As we all accept, the Mayor and the GLA are here to stay. The Government want to move on, and give more powers and a greater remit to a regional authority. Why are those powers to be increased? Who will benefit, and what will the costs be? From my own perspective, I might ask: what have the Mayor and the GLA done for Bexley since 2000? The Mayor has not visited the area very oftenI think that he has been to the borough only once in that periodand he always appears uninterested in the residents of outer London. Has Bexley benefited from the establishment of the GLA and the Mayor? We had at least one benefitmy hon. Friend who is now the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) was a superb GLA representative, who took up the issues in our area.
In our area we have had concerns about the work and the approach of Transport for London, and sometimes about the information that TFL has given us in various inquiries, which I shall come to later. Of course, there has been an increase in council tax. Residents of my area have had more to pay for the pleasure of having a Mayor and an assembly.
As I pointed out to the Minister in an intervention, we Conservatives believe in localism and increasing participation in democracygetting people more involved. We hear a lot about that from the Government, but they do nothing to assist the process. Localism, in our case, is Bexley council. Many in my borough are pleased with their council, especially after the May elections, as we have a Conservative council back in power. Residents can go to their councillors, raise issues and get a hearing.
Indeed. If we are to increase participation and interest in local government, particularly among the young, we must make people feel that their views matter, and that when they have spoken, local politicians will act upon their suggestions and in their interest. My concern is that the more power we take away from the boroughs and give to the centre, the less participation, interest and involvement there will be. The Government say they intend to devolve power from the centre to the Mayor, but they are proposing to take powers from the boroughs and give it to the Mayor. Who will lose under
the Governments proposals? With the new powers in the Bill, the people of Bexley will lose, Bexley council and other councils will lose, and London will be disadvantaged as power moves to the centre.
Grave concern has been expressed from all parts of the House about housing and planning issues. There is great worry in our area that the new powers being given to the Mayor of London will allow him to overrule planning decisions, or direct decisions of strategic importance, against the wishes of the local planning committee and local people. We have had an example of that with the proposal to build the Thames Gateway bridge in our area, which the Mayor of London is very keen on. Locally, we are worried about environmental problems, transport and traffic through the borough, the emissions that that will cause, and so on. All political parties locally, community groups and residents groups have campaigned against the bridge. We have had a public inquiry, and I understand that the inspectors report is on the Ministers desk, awaiting a decision.
Through Bexley council and the public inquiry, people had the opportunity to raise their concerns. Ultimately, the strategic decision will be taken by the Government. We hope the Government will reject the proposal, which I passionately oppose. If the Bill is on the statute book, the Mayor will in future make such strategic decisions and we will have no say at all. We will have nobody to whom to appeal or put local views. That is a great worry to me, and to the majority of people who live in our area.
The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) spoke about waste and recycling. I was disappointed by his partisan contribution. He did not mention that Bexley is the best performing London borough for recycling. In the past year we received a second beacon council award for waste management. I accept that his point of view
We in Bexley take recycling and waste management seriously. We are looking to do better. We had a household recycling target of 41.6 per cent., which we achieved. That is pretty good news. Bexley is doing that without the need for the Mayor to direct us or dictate to us to do it. We are a beaconan exampleof how that can be done by a local council. It does not need a diktat from above.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham said, there are parts of the Bill that we want to scrutinise and improve because we are trying to be constructive. We do not intend to be destructive. We want to get the best for London and for all the residents of London, and we want to be able to debate the Bill in a rational and reasonable way. We do not want partisan nonsense. That is why I endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Vauxhall.
I shall not speak for too long, as others want to participate. The Mayor already has a considerable job to do on transport, crime, the Olympicsall subjects that should exercise his mind and occupy him more, perhaps, than they do. As we heard from colleagues, he
tends to get distracted. In my area there is great concern about the Olympic levy. Pensioners, those on limited and fixed incomes, and those with young families are extremely worried. They are being asked to pay for an open-ended commitment, which the Mayor thinks will not be that much. He does not understand their concerns. Pensioners in particular are anxious and want the Mayor to reconsider.
Giving the Mayor more power and responsibilities will deflect him from what we think he should be doing better. The Bill could make matters worse for people in my constituency. Centralising power and taking it away from good local councils like mine, will not serve the interests of good government. We must examine the Bill seriously and objectively. I am sure that in Committee it will be well scrutinised by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who is on the Front Bench, listening and taking in all our comments. I believe that it is a mistake to expand the roles of the Mayor and the GLA, as the Bill does, because the consequences will be detrimental to democracy and good governance of London.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): This is one of many debates that we have had over the years on London government. Since the 19th century there have been numerous debates about the demand for semi-autonomous local government in London, but there is a continuum, a thread, running through all of our history: every stage of the development of a centralised form of government in London has been opposed by the Tory party. The Tories opposed the establishment of the Metropolitan board of works. They opposed the establishment of the London county council. They opposed the establishment of the Greater London council. They had an aberration when they abolished the GLC, and we sat through hours of debate in the House while they destroyed a good form of government in London, which had much to commend it and achieved much for the people of London. Then they opposed the establishment of the current system of the London authority and the mayoralty. It is quite nice that we are proposing an extension of the Mayors powers, but the Tories are unchanged in 130 years and are opposing still. We congratulate them on their consistency.
Robert Neill: In the interests of accuracyperhaps the hon. Gentlemans memory has failed himmay I remind him that the London Government Act 1963 was introduced by Sir Keith Joseph, who was a Minister in a Conservative Government? It is simply wrong to say that we have always opposed things.
Jeremy Corbyn: The hon. Gentleman is rightbut the Tories went on to abolish the GLC, because they did not like who was in charge at the time and what it was doing. That thread runs through the whole thing.
I will support the Bill this evening, although I have one or two reservations, which I hope will be seriously addressed in Committee, because we are dealing with the important issues of what London will be like in the future and how it will develop.
What I find slightly disturbing about the Bill is the large number of reserved powers held by the Secretary of State over London government. To an extent, there have always been reserved powers, but they are still considerable. If, for example, one reads through the clauses on housing, most of the proposals must be made by the Mayor to the Secretary of State before being put out to a form of consultation. I would be much happier if the Government showed far greater trust in the people of London to elect a London authority, which would then be able to do what it believed to be right for the people of London rather than having the Secretary of State hold all those reserved powers. The same degree of reserved powers do not apply in Scotland or Wales, and they were not envisaged in the regional proposals for London, either. That point needs to be considered.
Many hon. Members have already mentioned the housing needs of the people of London. We are in a massive housing crisis in London. My borough is a typical inner-city boroughit is crowded, densely populated, multicultural and multi-ethnicand 80 per cent. of the population have no prospect whatsoever of being able to buy a property within it, unless they inherit money or win the lottery. The housing choices of those people are therefore limited to either getting on the council list and being nominated for a council or housing association place, or renting privately.
If people are put into private renting by the local authority, they find that they are forced to pay £200 or £300 a weekI have heard about rents of £400 a weekfor houses or flats in my area. If the family is in housing need, most of that rent is paid for by housing benefit, so such people are terrified of getting a job, because then they would lose their housing benefit. We have created a perverse benefit trap through the shortage of social housing in London, and we must take seriously the housing needs of the people whom we have been elected to represent.
I shall give the House another example of the problems. The requirement to make a proportion of all housing sites available for social housing or council rented housing is very important. Until recently, my borough limited that requirement to new sites containing 14 units or more. Miraculously, all the building sites came in at 13 units, to make sure that the developers did not have to fulfil any social obligation whatever. The council has now reduced that figure to 10 units or more, which is a slight improvement. Nevertheless, a remarkable number of sites come in at eight or nine units in order to avoid the social obligation.
The result has been that in the past five years only 13 per cent. of all new developments in my borough have been for housing association social rented housing. In other words, 87 per cent. of all the new property has gone either to people who can afford to buy or, in some cases, to shared ownership schemes, which are affordable. Affordable for whom? If one looks at the prices, it is head teachers and above who can afford to buy into those places. We should end the use of the word affordable and start talking about the housing needs of people who are in a desperate situation.
I support any increase in housing powers for the Mayor. The Mayor should have the power to require development sites to be used for social housing or
affordable rented housing, which should be provided by either the council or housing associations. That would enable us to start to tackle the desperate housing problem. If we do not tackle the problem, London will become more and more of a divided city. The city will be divided between people who are desperate enough, who have large enough families or sufficiently severe medical conditions, to be rehoused through the local authority system, those who are forced into private accommodation in which they can barely afford to stay, and those who are forced to leave London or move further away.
We will end up with a small number of poor people who live in social rented housing in inner London surrounded by people who are trying to pay huge mortgages in order to stay in the area, but who have much larger incomes. We are creating an increasingly divided city. I want to see really tough powers, to allow the Mayor to insist that 50 per cent. of all development sites, however small they may be, must be for those in desperate social housing need. We must be aware of that important issue.
Opposition Members have been going on about the problems of the developers. Developers in London are making shedloads of money out of the housing shortage. Those organisations are very rich, and the idea that a site should suddenly become unviable because we insist on meeting the needs of people who cannot afford to buy is simply unacceptable. It is up to us to do something about the housing crisis.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The hon. Gentleman and I share a similar view on this issue, which we have discussed many times over the years. I have always argued, locally and across London, for 50 per cent. of housing to be affordable. Looking ahead, is the hon. Gentleman worried that if we give the Mayor the power to dictate the percentage, and if there were a Mayor who did not take a generous view about affordable housing, local authorities might be forced to provide much less affordable housing than we need? I am nervous about giving all power to the Mayor on this issue, rather than giving equal power to local authorities. Policy could go in the wrong direction, rather than the right direction.
Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He and I substantially agree on this issue. All power should be accountable, and there should be an appellate system against decisions; other hon. Members have intervened earlier on that point.
As for social housing, it could be written in statute that the Mayor must take account of housing needs and the size of the housing waiting list. I understand the hon. Gentlemans point, which was well made, but we must hand over powers to make sure that social housing needs are adequately met.
Mr. Dismore: I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of a right of appeal on planning issues, particularly on major strategic projects. One problem with developers is that they often make the social housing element into small one-bedroom flats, which are shoeboxes. Does he agree that we must ensure that social housing incorporates housing for families?
Jeremy Corbyn: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The preponderance of very small units is unfortunate. The former Arsenal stadium is now being developed for private housing in the form of 711 one-bedroom flats, which are no good whatsoever for the needs of the community, the family or anybody else. Most of the social housing units in the overall Arsenal development have a wonderful view of the refuse transfer station rather than the stadium, whereas the private housing has the view of the stadium and the cachet that goes with it.
Mr. Pelling: Would the hon. Gentleman concede that one of the problems with unnecessarily creating so many one-bedroom units has been the remoteness of nationally or regionally set targets, and that it would be better for those decisions to be made at a local level, where there is clearly a serious shortage of family housing?
Jeremy Corbyn: The decision on the 700-odd one-bedroom flats in my constituency was made entirely locally by the Liberal Democrat council. That was a disgrace, and unfortunately the decision was not called in.
The powers of the Mayor over the London housing board and the Housing Corporation are very important. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) mentioned the behaviour of the Peabody Trust in selling large numbers of vacant properties. It is outrageous that housing associations should sell any vacant properties. We have a housing crisis in London. It is not the function of housing associations to sell off vacant property to the highest bidder at a time when people are living in hostel accommodation or in unsatisfactory rented accommodation, and children are growing up in grossly overcrowded circumstances, with the problems that that creates for everyone in our society. I hope that in Committee the Bill can be strengthened in respect of housing.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) about waste management and waste disposal. I do not understand why we cannot think this through. Waste collection is an obvious thing for a local authority to do. Some of them do it well while some do it less well, and some are very keen on recycling while others are less keenbut overall Londons record on waste disposal is not good. For a long time, we tipped an awful lot of refuse into the North sea. We filled up every piece of landfill that we could find all over London and the south-east. There is even the idea of exporting waste abroad.
We must be serious about recycling: first, by reducing the amount of waste that we create; secondly, by having serious recycling methods and targets; and thirdly, by ensuring that the whole thing is properly run. This should be an ideal opportunity for a London authority, under the Mayor and the GLA, to take over waste disposal so that we have imaginative ways of dealing with it. For example, the creation of gas from waste and composting systems are both eminently
possible. I understand why the Minister said earlier that she did not want to disrupt the existing process; that is a reasonable consideration. However, we do not have a reasonable situation, given the pathetically low rates of recycling across London, and now we have a legislative opportunity to do something about it.
We have achieved a lot in London over the past few years in improvements to public transport. It was not the Mayors fault that the public-private partnership was introduced; he fought against it strongly. We have to give enormous credit to Ken Livingstone as Mayor for the huge improvements that have taken place in bus services, the accessibility of bus services, and the reduction in car use through the congestion charge. We are the only major city in the world where car usage is going down and bus usage, and public transport usage as a whole, is going up. That is something that we can be very proud of.
We have the opportunity to make London an even better city than it is, but we have to address the social inequalities. There is enormous poverty and need, and it is up to us to create a structure of government in London that gives elected officials the ability to deal with those problems. That is why more, not fewer, powers need to be given to the people of London, and why we particularly need to address the desperate need for housing for people who are growing up in awful conditions that are unacceptable, unnecessary and unsatisfactory in the 21st century.
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