Greater London Regional Advisory Committee

New clause 4 – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 27th June 1995.

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'. It shall be the duty of the Agency in determining the regions for which environment protection advisory committees are established and maintained under Section 12 to establish a Greater London Regional Advisory Committee for a region which shall be so constructed as to cover all London Boroughs.'.—[Ms Ruddock.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock , Lewisham, Deptford

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This new clause has the distinction of being supported by the Association of London Government, the local authorities' associations, the London Waste Regulation Authority and the National Society for Clean Air. Perhaps since everyone else agrees, the Minister might be minded to accept the new clause.

We understand—perhaps the Minister will confirm this—that the shadow agency board, which has the responsibility because Ministers were not prepared to shoulder it, is still considering both river catchment boundaries for some operational functions and coterminous local government boundaries for representational and other functions.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock , Lewisham, Deptford

I see that the Minister agrees. That is at the heart of why the new clause has to be tabled.

7.15 pm

We believe that London is a special case. The fact that it has no strategic authority and that that is coupled with a large river catchment area poses particular difficulties. We believe that Greater London should be given a specific regional function within the agency and that the best way of achieving that would be to establish a Greater London regional advisory committee.

At present, the National Rivers Authority, which is to be one of the constituent bodies of the Environment Agency, has a Thames region with three sub-regions dividing London into two along the line of the river. Not all of London is covered by the existing Thames region and large parts of counties outside London are included.

I remind the House that London has over 7 million people. It creates 20 million tonnes of waste a year and, sadly, has the worst air pollution in the country. Currently, a great deal of environmental regulation and effort is carried out on a London-wide basis, particularly waste regulation and air pollution monitoring. The Government have appointed a Minister with responsibility for London, although we sometimes wonder why.

Londoners identify with their capital city and desperately want a better environment. One small step towards achieving that would be to identify London as an entity and for the Government to ensure that, whatever other responsibilities are passed, we believe perhaps wrongly, to the agency, on this matter it will take its own decisions. London is unique and it needs a regional advisory committee. That can be established only if the Government acknowledge the need to establish a boundary that is coterminous with the totality of London boroughs.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

The new clause has the support of all the agencies to which the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) referred and my colleagues and I willingly support it. I shall not elaborate in great detail, except to say that the benefit of the way in which the new clause is drafted is that it allows the flexibility to which the hon. Member for Deptford alluded in her speech. It is drafted to suggest that the advisory committee should cover all London boroughs. It does not say that it should be coterminous with the boundaries of the 32 boroughs and the City of London, the outside of the current Greater London area. It is drafted to include those areas, but may go beyond that.

This is not an argument that we must always have a structure that is exactly coterminous with the old Greater London council boundary. However, it is important that all the London authorities are included because, for all sorts of reasons of which you, Madam Deputy Speaker and the House are well aware, London boroughs have a particular status and have powers and responsibilities that are not the same as those at county or district level or even, pursuant to future local government changes, at unitary level outside London. The London boroughs are all of a type in terms of their powers and functions and they should all, therefore, be included within this agency.

Secondly, it is clear that Greater London is not only the most important region for many environmental reasons, to which the hon. Member for Deptford referred, such as the amount of waste created, the incidence of pollution and the density of population, but the weightiest region in terms of population, which causes particular concerns and problems. The recent installation of the Thames ring main was a huge enterprise because of the volume for which it needed to cater. We are talking about an area that, in population terms, is hugely greater than Scotland, Wales or any other economic region.

Thirdly, it is logical—I understand this position—that we begin by working on the basis of river boundaries and river catchment areas. It seems that the shadow agency is thinking in those terms already. If that is the case, it presumably understands that the illogicality of the present arrangement is that some of Greater London, for historical reasons, does not come within that catchment area. Again, the advisory groups tell us that that problem would be corrected by bringing all of Greater London within the area. The logic of having river catchment areas is not broken by including the whole of Greater London, even though one might also go beyond Greater London.

Fourthly, whatever the ultimate structure, it is important for this geographical area to be able to express its voice. The Minister may say that we should not get into a debate about where advisory committees should exist. We are not arguing for the proposition as a precedent for Greater London authorities in other areas. The Government have always taken the view—I dissent from them in this respect—that one should judge the need for bodies to deal with Greater London on an issue-by-issue basis. This matter is being judged on that basis. All the local authority associations and all the other advisory bodies have said that in terms of the environmental advice that should be given, it is important that London is seen as a whole—in its natural context. It is important that advice can be given on that basis.

Fifthly, the problems and the issues are more complex in London, so the work that needs to be done by the agency would benefit from having an independent standing advisory committee. Clearly, it is useful when dealing with such complicated issues to be able to bring in a body that is the equivalent, at a local, regional level, of a royal commission. It is useful for it to be there permanently, giving advice and so on.

I ask the Minister to be positive, not to rule out the proposition and to respond in a way that leaves the matter open. I hope that he accepts that ours is not a dogmatic proposition, but one that accepts the geography, the practicality and the importance of London as a metropolitan area, huge in population and needing special consideration. I hope that hon. Members will support the new clause.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

The new clause would require the agency to establish a Greater London regional advisory committee for a region covering all the London boroughs. I agree that the agency will need to be mindful of particular issues relating to London, but I do not think that a region based on London alone is necessarily the best way forward. The Environment Agency advisory committee has now submitted recommendations to Ministers on the agency's boundaries, a copy of which was placed in the Library on 26 June. It proposes committees with political boundaries, drawn as close to river catchment boundaries as possible and using district council boundaries where that provides a better fit.

The EAAC considered the case for a London-only region, but it felt that a region encompassing all the Thames catchment area, including all of Greater London, would deliver better integration across the agency's functions, especially water management. The House will be delighted to know that we are still considering the EAAC's recommendations and that we shall announce the Government's decisions shortly. We shall reflect carefully on the views expressed by London Opposition Members today. I do not think, however, that those matters would be appropriately included on the face of the Bill and I do not think that a Greater London region is, necessarily, the right way forward.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

So that there is no misunderstanding, I hope that the Minister will clarify this point. He suggested that the proposition was that the region should comprise Greater London only. I think that he heard both me and the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) say that it was not a Greater London-only proposition. It appears, therefore, to coincide with an option that has been suggested to him and which he is considering. Will he clarify that he understands that this is not a Greater London-only proposition?

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. I am saying that the proposition is part of the considerations on which I and my colleagues will have to decide. We have made no decision and we shall be careful in terms of listening to and reading again the views that have been expressed by Opposition Members. I hope accordingly that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) will withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock , Lewisham, Deptford

I am grateful to the Minister for the way in which he addressed our concerns. The very fact that the Association of London Government has been formed, bringing together boroughs of different political persuasions, shows the common purpose that people find in London. Nowhere is that more significant than in the environment. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will, as he has suggested, take seriously the concerns and wishes that we have expressed.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock , Lewisham, Deptford

The Minister nods in assent and I am grateful for that. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.