I am glad that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) intervened. He is right up to a point. The Conservative Government took away the water authority functions from the local authorities. That was unnecessary. It could have been done differently. A Conservative Government took away the strategic housing function, for which there is a dire need. The same Government who stripped away some of the GLC's functions now wish to destroy it. I wonder if they had in mind doing that all along. That may have been one of the reasons.
Strategic planning is an important function which has received mention, but not a great deal of attention. The hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) and the hon. and learned Member for Feltham and Heston referred to the need for recreation and open spaces. Strategic planning is a very important function for London and nobody, not even the Prime Minister, could deny that it must be done on a unitary basis. It is not possible to do it in any other way. Who must make the decisions? Strategic planning by the GLC, which may not cost very much in the GLC's billion pound expenditure, is vital. Many of our difficulties in urban areas are due to conflicting interests. The GLC must decide who should be the referee.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes does not want the new south circular to go through Richmond park, but motorways have been known to go through comparable areas. Who is to decide whether the green belt is to be nibbled at and given over to speculative builders? There is money in planning decisions, in planning permits, in loans to housing associations and in relaxing the green belt restrictions. The only body that can take such decisions must be directly elected and publicly accountable to the electors who put it there, and make its decisions openly and in a thoroughly democratic fashion. Certain interests in this country would like to dismantle the planning laws established after the war on the basis of Abercrombie and the Greater London plan. I do not believe that a joint body elected by the councils — a quango of some type—could ever do that job.
Time is short, so I shall not discuss the problems of the Health Service in Newham. If the Government wish to displace the strategic function of the Greater London council, and its relationships to transport, housing and office permits—one wonders why such a vast amount of office accommodation is empty in London—and if they wish to destroy the overall financial arrangements whereby some of the richer areas help some of the poorer areas in respect of education and public services, they had better come up with some very good solutions. Some people do not want the GLC to exist because it would be to their financial advantage if it did not. It is to the advantage of everyone in London that it should continue to fulfil the civic, central functions of democratic government that we have had for more than a century in London.