Royal Commission (London)

– in the House of Commons at 4:50 pm on 12th October 2010.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Party Chair, Co-operative Party 4:52 pm, 12th October 2010

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the establishment of a Royal Commission to consider the future challenges facing London in housing, transport, the environment, population, equality, the City and the wider economy, and such other matters as the Royal Commission considers appropriate;
and for connected purposes.

London faces a series of major economic and social challenges to its economy and environment, and through the increase in its population, that will have profound consequences for housing in London, for our transport and energy needs, for businesses, potentially for Londoners' quality of life, and for levels of inequality in London. If those challenges and their consequences are thought through now-not just by one or two analysts, but by a wider cross section of Londoners-these challenges will also offer a series of major opportunities for our great city. However, if the long-term consequences of those challenges are ignored or left ill-considered because more short-term needs dominate, businesses, civil society and ordinary Londoners will lose out.

There are mayoral and Assembly elections coming up in London, and inevitably, during those contests, there will be a focus on the future, but the significance and scale of the challenges that London faces are unlikely to get the level of attention they merit in the heat of an election campaign. There will be those who think that London gets too much attention, and that it draws too much light and focus away from the rest of the UK. I do not share that view. I have always thought that London, as the most important gateway to wider Britain and as our premier city, warrants more attention, not less.

The Bill argues that the Government should establish a royal commission of those interested in London's long-term future to consider over the next 18 months the challenges and policy consequences for those in this Chamber, Whitehall, City Hall and London's local councils-challenges that those who come after our generation of politicians will still have to address.

Royal commissions have, it is true, been out of fashion in recent years, but in the past they have considered difficult and politically tricky questions, helping to build a consensus for action. Carefully chosen, royal commissions have made powerful and important contributions to debates about big issues, creating the context for a series of difficult policy choices. The long-term future of the world's greatest capital city-the engine room of Britain's economy, and the beating heart of our political, social and cultural life-is surely worthy of such a commission.

London's population is expected to rise by almost 1.4 million by 2033 to about 9.2 million, which will bring not only considerable economic opportunities, but a range of challenges in terms of demand for housing, further school places, health facilities and jobs. Housing supply has not kept pace-and it is not keeping pace now-with demographic or economic trends, leading to increased overcrowding and homelessness in London. Indeed, in the next 20 years, the number of households in London is projected to increase by around 585,000, or an average of 30,000 a year between 2011 and 2031. If those trends continue unchallenged and are not properly thought through, how likely is it that a child born today in central London whose parents live within the area bounded by the Circle line will be able to afford to live in the same area 40 years from now?

A growing population will also have profound implications for our transport needs, with some forecasts predicting one third of London traffic travelling on very congested roads by 2025. Aviation demand is forecast to more than double by 2030, with a considerable increase in pressure on the capacity and performance of London's airports. As a country, too, we are committed to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. That has considerable implications for our future energy usage and how we live our lives. In particular, it raises the challenge of dramatically increasing sustainable energy levels and making buildings across the capital vastly more energy efficient, and doing so rapidly, over a comparatively short period.

It is now a truism that one of the industries of the future lies in new green technologies. However, with investors looking with considerable interest at new green towns being built in China, Japan and the middle east, and with the global renewables market expanding too, a radical increase in the pace of sustainable living in London is not just a sensible environmental option; it is also essential economically to help to create the domestic UK and, crucially, London markets for green manufacturing, and for advanced engineering businesses and jobs to emerge. London therefore needs transforming into the world's leading low-carbon capital. A royal commission could help to paint the policy choices to drive that transformation.

There are, too, long-term challenges to the future of London's economy, specifically with the rise in economic and political power of the east-there are the fast-growing economies of China and India in particular, and there are also countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. Indeed, rising trade between emerging economies, cross-border mergers, acquisitions by Indian and Chinese companies and moves by developing world businesses to raise capital in each other's markets is already helping to increase the growth of financial centres in the fastest-growing economies. Frustration with London's bankers has become almost a spectator sport in the past two years, but London's economic future-indeed, our country's economic future-depends in no small part on retaining our premier league status for financial services. A re-embrace of the City is essential-a reformed and properly challenged City, of course, but a re-embrace nevertheless.

Finally, London is already a very unequal city. Huge disparities in wealth exist between places within short distances of one another. The economic, environmental and population challenges that London faces will either drive London's wealthiest and poorest further apart, or, properly thought through, help to prevent or address London's poverty and inequality challenges. The hopes and dreams of Londoners and those who, often unknowingly, depend on London's success require the challenges facing London to be addressed with care and long-term consistency. I hope that the proposal in my Bill, in its small way, will help to do just that.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 4:59 pm, 12th October 2010

I support a great deal of the thrust of the argument that Mr Thomas has advanced today. He is right to say that London faces significant challenges, but I am not sure that a royal commission, as set out in the Bill, would be the right way to achieve our goals. Our capital city has faced a significant number of challenges over many years. Indeed, we could have had this same debate some 35 years ago in the mid-1970s. No one could deny that there has also been tremendous success, because London has always traditionally been an outward-looking city.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about financial services; they were well made. We have all had concerns about elements of the banking industry, but the financial services industry is clearly a world-beating business, without which the whole of the United Kingdom-not just London-would suffer. We need to ensure that the new, transformed landscape for financial services will allow London to maintain its competitive advantage, not least because, as the hon. Gentleman has rightly said, some 25 million Indians and Chinese are being added to the ranks of the global middle class every single year. Culturally, they have a higher propensity to save, and they will be the future customers and clients for financial services in the decades to come.

In relation to the proposal for a royal commission, however, it is fair to say that we have had a mayoralty in London for the past 10 years. The hon. Gentleman might not like the colour of the current Mayor, but there has been a Labour Mayor for four fifths of that time. I want to defend Ken Livingstone, who had an eye towards the future, not least in regard to ensuring that the relationship between London and the key financial centres-not only in Asia but in Brazil and Russia-should be maintained. A lot of that work has been continued by the current Mayor, Boris Johnson. We have a structure of government that works well, although there were teething problems in the early days after the Mayor and the Greater London authority came into play. It works well now, however, and the Mayor-of whatever political colour-has an eye to the future of this great capital city, which is close not only to my heart but to that of the hon. Gentleman.

It is important to raise the profile of London. The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of inequality, but things have been that way since Dick Whittington walked down Highgate hill some 700 years ago. Indeed, since time immemorial London has been seen as a very unequal place, and it has always been polarised between some of the wealthiest and some of the poorest people. The hon. Gentleman made a good point, however, about opportunities for those who have been accustomed to living in central London, and he asked whether their children and grandchildren would be able to continue to do so.

I feel that a royal commission is not the right way forward. I think that we can achieve these goals within the current construct of governance, with the Mayor and active borough leaders playing their part in ensuring that London's pre-eminence is maintained not only in this country but as a global capital.

Question put and agreed to .

Ordered,

That Mr Gareth Thomas, Meg Hillier, John McDonnell, Mike Gapes, Mr Andrew Love, Heidi Alexander, Jim Dowd, Stephen Timms and Malcolm Wicks present the Bill.

Mr Gareth Thomas accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 17 June, and to be printed (Bill 76 ).