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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:58 am on 1st July 1983.

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Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West 11:58 am, 1st July 1983

I declare an interest in that I have the honour of representing Newham, North-West. I am an elected member of the GLC, which has been mentioned often in the debate. I have been an elected member for about 13 years. I still remain in the chair of the arts and recreation committee. Therefore, I can speak with feeling about the Tory party manifesto undertaking to abolish the GLC and the six metropolitan authorities. I am not prepared simply to defend the GLC because at the moment it is controlled by my party, nor am I prepared to defend the GLC in all that it does or does not do, because many improvements could be made. Of what institution could one not say that? My argument in defence of the GLC is democratic.

When we eventually see the White Paper, I hope that it will be somewhat longer than the two paragraphs in the Tory manifesto, and that it will put forward some real arguments as to why changes are required. I hope that the Opposition will then argue not for the abolition of the GLC but for a more extensive rationalisation of the powers that it should exercise on behalf of London. A great case can be made for a democratically elected and accountable authority to take over health, police powers and extended housing powers in London.

The Tory manifesto mentioned in two short paragraphs the abolition of the GLC. Hon. Members have been reminded that the GLC was set up by a Tory Government in 1964 following the Herbert report, which was a very extensive document. It is unacceptable that such thought and weight of debate and discussion which took place in the past should be set aside—set at naught—by two short paragraphs in the manifesto. The whole essence of the London Government Act 1963 and the setting up of the GLC was an attempt by the Tory Government of that day to do away with the London county council. That, arguably, was the most effective local authority that this country has ever seen. It had been Labour-controlled since 1934.

Since the Tories knew that they would never gain control of the LCC, they set about trying to dismantle it with the London Government Act 1963. Unfortunately for them, they were not able to get away with it as they wished. The intention was to drag into the GLC area certain parts of London, but those areas decided that they did not want to come into London. Therefore, the inbuilt Tory majority that they were aiming for did not occur. Since 1964, control of the GLC has fluctuated between the two major political parties. Conservative Members might dislike the policies of the Greater London council —although I cannot for the life of me see why—and they might even dislike the people who lead the council. However, the Government can be sure that in 1985 Londoners will have the opportunity to express their views. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

If Londoners decide that they do not like what the GLC has done under the leadership of Ken Livingstone, they can remove the party in control of the GLC. That is the most important argument of all. Londoners are facing a proposal not just to abolish the GLC, but to abolish an element of democracy. The pledge in the Tory manifesto to abolish the GLC has been attacked not only by the Opposition or by my colleagues at County hall, but also by a large number of Conservatives, both in the House and at County hall. One of the most memorable party attacks was that made by Mr. Bernard Brook-Partridge, the present GLC member for Havering, a former chairman of the council and a noted Right-wing member of the Tory party. Mr. Brook-Partridge publicly described his party's commitment to the abolition of the GLC as fraudulent, ignorant and deeply insulting". That statement was made by a well-respected member of the Conservative party. On this occasion, I do not wish to disagree with Mr. Brook-Partridge.

The Labour GLC has dared to oppose the Prime Minister; therefore, the council must go. A characteristic of the right hon. Lady seems to be that if she does not like something or someone, it has to go. A few Conservative Members have felt the force of that expression. It is a great pity that the right hon. Lady does not take a similar dislike to unemployment, poverty and homelessness. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] If she did, she alight do something about them, rather than exacerbating the position.

Local government, like public expenditure and the trade unions, has been made the subject of common abuse. I believe that the Government have been very skilful in their orchestrated propaganda campaigns, well aided and abetted by the Tory press, especially those extreme Right-wing newspapers, The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. Hardly a day goes by without virulent attacks on the GLC, the style and content of which would not have been out of place in Nazi Germany, in those newspapers. Leading County hall politicians—I especially refer to Ken Livingstone—are regularly subjected to vulgar abuse and character assassinations in those newspapers. Snooping journalists spy on GLC Labour members outside their homes, and those same journalists harass councillors' children, family and neighbours. That is the truth and the reality and something that hon. Members must be told about.

The Daily Mail has an editorial policy of "doing the dirt" on the GLC. That is a quote that I got from a Daily Mail journalist, a man whose caution will probably lead him to having a rather shortened employment record with that newspaper. I wish to illustrate this point with regard to those newspapers. The GLC has just taken receipt of an interim report by Mr. Andrew Arden on the affairs of the Strongbridge, Crouch Hall and Omnium housing associations. In that report, Mr. Arden named three Tory GLC members—Mr. Seaton, Mr. Mote and Mr. Black—against whom serious charges have been laid. Mr. Seaton has in fact now resigned. I have no personal acrimony or feelings against those three people. Mr. Arden, in his report, says: a group of individuals—at the centre of which was Mr. Mote, far more than Mr. Seaton, for the core of the Strongbridge committee were the Harrow builders and professionals—have so conducted their affairs as to create out of public funds a source of private income for themselves, an estate of flats with such defects that more than the original cost must now be expended to put them into proper condition, with correspondingly miserable living conditions for tenants, and a substantial debt to public funds.In the course of this exercise, those responsible have brought into disrepute a movement into which many people voluntarily pour their energies for the improvement of others' living conditions. In the cases of the GLC councillors, they have cost their own authority substantial monies, on the part of the two of them following wilful abuse of their authority within that council. It seems to me that the features mentioned in this paragraph, coupled to the results mentioned in the last, speak for themselves and render idle any further analysis of why they represent a gross failure to strike the correct balance. As I have quoted directly from the report, I shall make it freely available to those hon. Members who wish to read it. One would have thought that this was a matter of some public interest, as several newspapers have referred to it, but not a word has appeared in the Daily Mail, the Daily Express or The Sun. I suggest that if the politicians in this series of scandals had been from the Labour party, it would have been front page news. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] As Tory members were involved and that does not meet with the editorial policy of the Daily Mail, the Daily Express or The Sun, not a word appeared. This appalling double standard is an indictment of the journalists who work on those newspapers.

Frankly, if British democracy is really based on the right of semi-Fascist comics such as The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express to lie and distort, British democracy is shallowly based, very sick and unlikely to survive. Why has the Director of Public Prosecutions decided to take no action on this matter? I shall pursue that matter elsewhere in the House at a suitable opportunity. I am quite sure that if the politicians named in the report had been Mr. Livingstone, Mr. Scargill or Mr. Benn, not a moment's hesitation would have been wasted in prosecuting them.

Newham, North-West desperately needs the GLC as it suffers from appalling housing needs, a desperate shortage of jobs and many grave social problems. A borough such as Newham cannot possibly solve those problems by itself. It needs something such as the GLC to redistribute the wealth of London so that the poorer boroughs can attempt to solve their grave social problems. In the past three years, London local authorities have lost about £1,000 million in central Government grants.

It is often said that problems are not solved by throwing money at them, but they are certainly not solved by taking money away. Newham needs those resources. That is the only way in which we can begin to solve our problems. To do so, we need and must have the GLC. I hope that we shall be able to develop the argument in substance in the debate on the White Paper. So far, hon. Members who have said that they agree with the abolition of the GLC have given no decent reasons for doing so and have suggested nothing remotely acceptable to replace it.

If the GLC went, London would be the only capital city in the world without its own government. That must be unacceptable to all of us. If the Government intend to push ahead with their proposals for abolition, I promise the Prime Minister a real fight. I believe that the insertion of that proposal in the Tory manifesto was merely a diversion to draw attention away from the real social problems that the Government have clearly failed to meet.

Finally, I tell the House this. The GLC is not to be seen as some kind of south bank equivalent of the Belgrano, to be destroyed merely to satisfy the Prime Minister's power lust. We are made of much sterner stuff and we shall not prove so easy to sink.