London

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:26 pm on 1st July 1983.

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Photo of Mr John Wheeler Mr John Wheeler , Westminster North 1:26 pm, 1st July 1983

It is customary on these occasions to pay tribute to maiden speakers. I follow the convention of the House and congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) on his election and on his first speech to the House. It is clear that he has strong views about politics and the way in which London and the country should be organised. He is fortunate to have the privilege of being a Member of a democratic Parliament that enables him to express those views freely on behalf of his constituents and the party that he represents.

London is fortunate to have so early in this new Parliament an opportunity to consider the many important matters that concern the 84 London Members of Parliament, of whom 57 sit on the Government Benches. I am especially glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) remains in office as Under-Secretary of State for the Environment and is taking a close interest in the affairs of London, as is right and proper for an hon. Member who serves a London constituency. London Members can also be glad that the Secretary of State for the Environment is our right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin). In future London debates I hope that we shall be privileged to have his attendance, playing his part in considering the many important affairs of London.

I welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech to the abolition of the Greater London council. As many hon. Members know, I have pressed for its abolition for a good many years and published a Bill to that effect in July 1981.

The reason for disposing of this middle tier of government is simply that it has not worked. Since its creation in 1963, many of the functions given to it have been removed progressively. The National Health Service assumed responsibility for ambulances in 1973. In the same year, responsibility for water was transferred to the Thames water authority. More recently, housing responsibility has been transferred to the 32 London boroughs.

When one examines the subject in detail, it is difficult to see what role the GLC now fulfils. It was intended to be a strategic authority for the whole of what was called London. However, central Government takes the major strategic decisions that affect London. It was not the GLC that was given responsibility for deciding whether a third London airport was required and, if so, where it should be sited. The Government took that decision. Nor was the GLC directly involved in so relatively minor a matter as the removal of the Covent garden market from the city of Westminster to the south bank. Responsibility for that essentially London matter was retained by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

At the other end of the scale, especially in planning and traffic management, the GLC exercises parallel and often overlapping power with the 32 London borough councils. That makes for a great deal of duplication of effort and administration and provides much discontent among the people who live in London. For a variety of well-founded reasons, therefore, all of which are to do with the better administration of London, it is right that the middle tier authority be removed. I shall definitely support the Government in their proposals to transfer responsibilities to the London borough councils.