Greater London Council (Money) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:19 pm on 11th July 1983.

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Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East 9:19 pm, 11th July 1983

I wish to earn a reputation for brevity, and I hope that I shall do so tonight. I have no objection to the exercise by the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) in blocking, at least temporarily, the passage of the Bill. That is a legitimate or at least a time-honoured device in the House to enable London issues to be discussed. The effect has been to allow some excellent speeches to be made by some of my hon. Friends.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who is not in the Chamber, urged the Minister to abolish the GLC even quicker than the Government wish. I wonder whether that is the unanimous view of his colleagues at the GLC. Many leaks took place during the general election campaign. I do not know whether the document that I have constitutes a leak, but it is addressed to all members of the Greater London council Conservative group. It is from Mr. Bernard Brook-Partridge who is a Tory member of the GLC, and written in red on the front are the words Can I have this back? I do not know where the document came from, but it came into my hands. It says: it is also clear that there are a number of us who will fight tooth and nail to prevent the present Government, or any other Government, replacing the democratically elected GLC with a quango or any other organisation which is not directly elected for the stated purpose. Perhaps not everybody agrees with that opinion. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), who is also not in the Chamber, spoke of joint boards which were precisely what the Royal Commission, which was set up in the early 1960s by the Conservative Government, rejected, because it said that they would take away local democracy. The hon. Gentleman wishes to deny Londoners the right to sack or not to sack Ken Livingstone in 1985.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who also appears to have left the Chamber, spoke much about mandates. The GLC had a mandate for "Fares Fair". However, the Law Lords took a different view and said that mandates were not necessarily binding and, therefore, the Government need have no qualms on that score should they have better thoughts in the future.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge and the Minister spoke about overspending. That concept is meaningless, as it is not based on any objective criteria. There should be objective criteria for rate support grant or grant-related expenditure, but what locally elected councillors wish to spend on local needs should be a matter between them and their electors. The Government are taking selective powers — both arbitrary and dictatorial — against a handful of authorities, such as the GLC, whose electorates had the impertinence to vote Labour and where those Labour majorities have had the temerity to implement the policies endorsed by the electorate.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who spoke so eloquently about the deprivation in the inner city areas, should bear in mind that that is why resources should be directed into the capital, as they were under the Labour Government. In the past three years the Conservative Government have taken away £1 billion from London. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey nods in agreement. His attack should be against the Government.

The Minister spoke about grants. In an excellent speech my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) referred to controversial grants. The truth is that some services are effectively provided by voluntary organisations rather than by statutory bodies. Grants work at the grass roots. It is an effective use of funding which stimulates a series of community initiatives. The constant reference to expenditure on gay and lesbian groups is absurd. In 1982–83 less than 1 per cent. of grants money was spent on those groups. That section of the population could complain that it has been under-represented.

Even the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey could not resist making snide remarks. He spoke about the GLC and Northern Ireland. As far as I am aware, the GLC has made no statement or adopted any view on Northern Ireland. Individual members may have done so, but that is their right. I agree with the Minister and hope that the House gives the Bill a speedy passage.