London

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:28 am on 1st July 1983.

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Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East 11:28 am, 1st July 1983

In making his constituency or borough points, the hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that powers of compulsory purchase, to which I did not refer, exist already. They have existed for many years, so what I am suggesting is not new in that respect. Land assembly is by no means simply a question of compulsory purchase. Indeed, if only people would get rid of their obsession with shibboleths, they would recognise that about 90 per cent. of land and property bought by local authorities is obtained by voluntary negotiation. That always has been, and continues to be, the case. I am simply saying that a more effective policy should be adopted by the GLC—and by local authorities at other levels—to tackle certain key problems of urban renewal and strategic development.

Local government, the GLC and administrations elsewhere — though this morning we are talking essentially about County hall—have been moving in the opposite direction, and extremist policies have not been pursued. In respect of development, nobody can say that an over-radical policy has been pursued by the GLC. On the contrary, land is being disposed of and many properties which would be better held by the public sector, modernised and converted into decent flats, are being sold. I have in mind properties that are held by ILEA on sites that are now redundant because they are no longer required for schools. The policy has not been implemented as effectively as it should have been.

The case for abolishing the GLC has not been made. It is laughable to suggest that a few references to it in the Queen's Speech debate is an adequate basis for a major change in local government. Today the Minister chose to make a few flippant remarks about certain marginal matters concerning the GLC. He said nothing about the GLC's functions, its future and the role of local or county government. These are clearly serious matters.

The problem of urban renewal in London—socially and educationally as well as environmentally — is too serious to be treated in such a way. If we want to see it tackled more seriously, we should consider how the machinery of government can be used more effectively at County hall, with the support of Parliament and the Government, to achieve better housing provision, more land assembly, better road systems, more effective traffic management and much more co-ordination between traffic management and the operation of transport services. The Minister failed even to touch upon the need for such co-ordination.

I do not say that since the passing of London Transport to the GLC in 1969 we have seen a marvellous era of coordination between traffic managment schemes, road planning and the development and operation of transport services. It is my regret that that has not occurred. However, once the transport service was transferred to County hall, there was the opportunity—it still remains—to achieve organisational change within County hall and between County hall and London Transport. It was then possible to achieve effective co-ordination. However, we shall not achieve that co-ordination for the benefit of London's citizens by removing a huge chunk of the machinery—the responsibility of the GLC—and creating a separate agency. Still less is that achieved by abolishing the organisation that would be able, if it were so organised, to achieve the necessary co-ordination.

I plead with the Government and with Conservative Members to view more seriously the management of London. I am glad that the Queen's Speech referred merely to "proposals" for the abolition of the GLC and "proposals" for the abolition of the metropolitan counties. That will give us time to think more seriously about what should be done. In the previous Parliament better sense prevailed over the Government's rates pledge. May better sense prevail in respect of the GLC and the metropolitan counties.

The GLC should remain. We must examine seriously the problems to which I have referred. There must be more co-ordination inside Government and within County hall. There must be more co-operation and resources effectively applied by central Government, as well as by local government, to urban renewal, better traffic managment and services, more effective housing renewal and land assembly and more strategic action than we have seen so far to solve London's problems. This will not be achieved by creating a series of ad hoc boards, which have remained unspecified so far, or an overall board for London.

What would the boards, or board, do in place of the GLC? They, or it, would destroy elected responsibility. By making an overall board a creature of London, it would be even more difficult to achieve the social, economic and physical renewal of those areas that suffer the greatest deprivation in London. It would not achieve a renewal of London life and it would not reduce costs. All past evidence shows that such an approach increases costs. Dare I mention the reorganisation of the Health Service under a previous Tory Government?