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Joint London Advisory Panel

Volume 569: debated on Tuesday 27 February 1996

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2.55 p.m.

Why it was necessary to establish a Joint London Advisory Panel.

My Lords, the Joint London Advisory Panel was established in order that Ministers from the Cabinet Sub-Committee on London should be able to meet and discuss matters of relevance to London with London organisations.

My Lords, I am glad to welcome the recognition that London needs a strategic approach. However, in a democracy, would it not he more appropriate if the people were allowed to choose the members of that authority? Control has passed from the people to a number of unelected quangos and, therefore, into the hands of a government department. Can the Minister explain what advantage the Government see in the situation?

My Lords, there is a pretty considerable advantage. I gather that the noble Baroness was really referring to the fact that the GLC was once there but that that is no longer the case, even if—

Well, my Lords; the noble Baroness signified assent, so perhaps she is at variance with the noble Lord the Opposition Chief Whip. However, I believe that that is what she was getting at. All I can say is that, when the GLC functioned, it had 92 councillors, 20,000 staff, a budget of £1,000 million but only looked after 11 per cent. of the services. That seemed to he a total waste of money. Now that the GLC is no longer there, it has not been missed. We believe that this is a much better way. On the other hand, if Members opposite intend to reintroduce another layer of local government, it would he very helpful if they would say so, because then the people of London would know what they were in for.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that all soundings of public opinion that have been taken in the Greater London area indicate that the electorate ARE desirous of once again having an elected forum to look after the global aspects of London? Is the Minister further aware that London is the only city of its kind in Europe where the residents ARE being denied that privilege?

My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, I do not believe that the electorate is being denied a privilege. There ARE 32 boroughs and all those councils are elected by people. The point of the Joint London Advisory Panel is that it enables matters which are of considerable interest to be considered across borough boundaries. The other important point is the fact that it has involved business and other organisations for the first time in trying to further the interests of London, which was not possible when a bureaucratic regime was involved.

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the advantage of an elected authority is that it comes under the influence, and is subject to the wishes, of the people of London? We are discussing an authority which is totally unconnected with the people of London. Moreover—and contrary to what the noble Earl said—there is a growing feeling in London that the city badly needs the restitution of an elected body so that the people can communicate with it and be a part of it.

My Lords, that is a most interesting intervention on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney. If in fact it is the view of the party opposite to reintroduce an extra layer of government, I believe that the people of London should know about it. All I can tell the noble Lord is that, with the £1,000 million which it spent and the 20,000 staff that it had, only 11 per cent. of London's services were catered for by the GLC; the remainder was covered by the boroughs. We find that the present position is very much more satisfactory. I see that the noble Lord shakes his head, hut, if his party wants to introduce another expensive layer of government, then people should be told about it. If that is the case, the party opposite should he able to tell us.

My Lords, is it not deplorable that London is one of the very few capital cities in the world without a civic head and with no civic control over its own police force?

My Lords, London is not the only place in the world in that respect; indeed, apart from anything else, the City of London has its own police force and its own system of operations. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that obviously a certain majesty is lost when one does not have a focal point. The objective of having a focal point is only achieved if it works well. We have found that the system works better as it is.

My Lords, would it be one of the tasks of this London advisory body to look at such services in London as might he more effectively dealt with on a London-wide basis? For example, in the case of transport in London there are something like 40 different bodies that have a say in that matter. Would this not he better co-ordinated centrally for London?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, makes a valid and a helpful point. That is exactly what is happening. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is encouraging area partnerships between local authorities, business communities and the voluntary sector on such matters as the Thames, theatreland and cross-river partnerships. He is encouraging the Lambeth and Southwark Councils and Westminster Council and the City and others to operate together as regards bridges and other matters. All those items require specialist attention. That is why it is better to consider the individual items separately with the help of business people who are interested and enthusiastic to see London propel itself ahead.

My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that, if it is the policy of the Opposition to introduce another tier of local government—that is, the old GLC—taxation must inexorably increase?

My Lords, my noble friend makes another valid point. He is absolutely right. Of course it will lead to increased taxation. That is why we want to know whether the party opposite intends to introduce an extra layer of government, but the Front Bench opposite remains remarkably silent. I can only assume from that that either it has not made up its mind or it does not want to let us know its intentions.

My Lords, is not the Minister aware that since the abolition of the GLC the Government have had to set up a whole range of bodies and co-ordinating groups to make up for some of the functions of the GLC without which London cannot function, and that the Joint London Advisory Panel is merely one of them? Does not the Minister further agree that what London badly needs to cover these issues is not a replacement for the GLC but a strategic body which is democratically elected and responsive to the wishes of the people of London?

My Lords, I am not quite certain how that differs from the GLC, because that was an elected body. As I have explained on more than one occasion, it was an expensive one too. There are matters of considerable interest here and the Joint London Advisory Panel brings together the organisation London First, the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the CBI, the Association of London Government, the London Planning Advisory Committee, the Corporation of London, Westminster City Council, London Voluntary Services Council and the London Training and Enterprise Councils. They have all got together because they wish to co-operate.

My Lords, as probably the only Member of your Lordships' House who served on the Standing Committee which considered the London Government Bill in another place, does the Minister remember that it was the Tory Government of Mr. Macmillan which introduced the GLC, and the Tory Minister of Housing and Local Government, the then Sir Keith Joseph, who masterminded it through that committee? Does not the noble Earl accept that, without introducing an authority which is identical to the GLC, there is a great deal to he said for the argument that some elected authority should mastermind the services which he has mentioned, which are best dealt with on a London-wide basis rather than at the level of the boroughs?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, may well be correct as regards Mr. Macmillan setting up the organisation, but 25 years have passed and we decided, with the approval of Parliament, that there should be a change. Because London is important, there is a meeting of "London Ministers", known as the ED, EDE, EF, or whatever it is. I always hate these acronyms because they are confusing and no one ever knows what the letters stand for. Nevertheless, the meeting I have mentioned is a meeting of Ministers for London who are drawn from 10 different departments. Many local authorities and individual organisations assist those Ministers. Therefore I believe that process will work better than the alternatives which have been suggested.

My Lords, it is certainly true that the panel will review a number of questions on a London-wide basis, as the Minister has said, for example on education, transport, private finance initiatives and so on. Why in that case is the debate of this panel to be held in private and why is the Chairman of the Conservative Party, who is not a London Minister, on the panel?

My Lords, it is not a question of the meetings being held in private, as I believe the noble Lord said. It is perfectly reasonable that a body should discuss its problems and organisation in private. The panel is expected to meet three times a year and a note of the discussion will he made public within 24 hours. Ministers and the London Pride Partners will submit papers as necessary.

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that one of the major problems facing people who live in London is traffic pollution, and that the piecemeal arrangements for discussions on an area-by-area basis cannot possibly solve that problem? Would the Minister care to comment on the fact that in terms of public expenditure the Government now allocate more public money to people who are not elected by the general population but are appointed by Government? Therefore the issue is one of democracy, not public expenditure.

My Lords, it is not a question of democracy but of how one obtains the best results as economically as possible. This Government, along with everyone else, have been castigated for spending too much. I have explained that by removing the GLC there has been a considerable saving of money. I thought when the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, rose to his feet that he would tell us what the Labour Party's policy was and whether it wished to reintroduce the GLC, but he did not do so. This is a question of saving money. That is in contrast to the party opposite, which apparently wishes to give £5,000 to every person who gets married. That seems a most extraordinary expenditure.

My Lords, will the noble Earl tell us how much of the £1,000 million that he was boasting about has been saved'?

My Lords, arising out of what the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, will the panel be able to consider the future of the Victoria Coach Station, which is situated in a conservation area? As a committee member of the residents' association, I can inform the Minister it has been causing us considerable anxiety. Since the demise of the GLC we have not been able to get a decision or any sense out of anyone.

My Lords, I am sure that that is a matter which will be taken into account by the advisory panel. I am sure that, if the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, cares to draw it to the attention of the panel, it will be considered.