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New Clause 21 — Tax

Road Safety – in the House of Commons at 1:48 pm on 18th May 2011.

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‘Schedule [Transfers and transfer schemes: tax provisions] (provision about tax in connection with certain transfers and transfer schemes) has effect.’.—(Robert Neill.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new schedule 2—‘Transfers and transfer schemes: tax provisions.

Government new clause 20—Authority may be required to carry on commercial activities through a taxable body.

Amendment 351, in clause 158, page 138, line 45, at end insert—

‘London Housing and Regeneration Board

“333ZDA London Housing and Regeneration Board

(1) The Authority must establish a London Housing and Regeneration Board within six months of the Localism Act 2011 being passed.

(2) The London Housing and Regeneration Board is to consist of such numbers (being not less than six) as the Authority may from time to time appoint.

(3) The Authority must appoint one of the members as the person with the function of chairing the London Housing and Regeneration Board.

(4) In appointing a person to be a member, the Authority—

(a) must have regard to the desirability of appointing a person who has experience of, and shown some capacity in, a matter relevant to the exercise of the functions set out in this Chapter,

(b) must be satisfied that the person will have no financial or other interest likely to affect prejudicially the exercise of the person’s functions as a member, and

(c) must ensure that at least 50 per cent. of the number of members on the Board are appointed representatives of London boroughs.

(5) In exercising its housing and regeneration functions and powers subsequent to the enactment of this Chapter the Authority must consult and obtain agreement from the London Housing and Regeneration Board.”’.

Government amendments 205 to 210 and 212.

Amendment 352, in clause 168, page 148, line 7, at end insert—

‘(e) a majority of those London borough councils whose borough contains any part of the designated development area agree to the designation.’.

Government amendments 213 to 215, 218 to 220, 223, 253 to 255 and 265.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

We are dealing with part 7 of the Bill, which relates to governance in Greater London, and part 3, which relates largely to business rate matters and, I am delighted to say, has not proven controversial. I hope that part 7 will not detain us terribly long either, as a good degree of consensus was achieved in Committee and there are just one or two matters that it is necessary to debate further.

I will start with new clause 21, the lead provision in the group, and the majority of associated matters. With the exception of only two topics that I will come to in a moment, the rest of the group comprises a large number of technical amendments relating to two tax issues. Although the new clause is the first new clause listed on the amendment paper, it is not really the natural starting point, so perhaps I will be forgiven if I leapfrog over it to new clause 20, which will amend the Greater London Authority Act 1999 and require the Greater London authority to undertake certain specified activities for a commercial purpose through a taxable body. It relates to the transfer of a large number of functions of the Housing Corporation in London to the Mayor, to the movement of the London Development Agency into the GLA’s main body, and to the establishment of mayoral development corporations in London. All of those potentially involve commercial activity, so we have to get the tax treatment right.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. It might be helpful if I interrupt to make the point to the House that, although that is indeed the lead new clause, the order in which representatives on the Treasury Bench deal with matters is entirely a matter for them. Members can come in on such matters within the grouping as they think fit.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I am grateful, Mr Speaker.

I will encapsulate the technicalities as swiftly as I can, but it suffices to say that these amendments are necessary to ensure that those commercial activities that are undertaken by the GLA are done so within a taxable environment. As a local authority, it would normally have tax-exempt status, but some of those activities are not of a local authority nature but more of a commercial nature and so have to be properly taxable. There is a long-established tax principle in that regard to ensure a level playing field between the public and private sectors in relation to commercial activities. That is particularly important in this case because the GLA will inherit, as a consequence of our devolution measures, a significant portfolio of land interests, some of which operate on a commercial basis and are subject to corporation tax and capital gains tax. It is not a new state of affairs. Section 157 of the 1999 Act made like provision in relation to the activities of Transport for London. That is the background to what we are doing.

In a nutshell, the list of specified commercial activities, which will be set out in a detailed order, will be worked up by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the

GLA during the passage of the Bill, but essentially the activities of the London Development Agency and Homes and Communities Agency will be transferred to the Mayor. That is how new clause 20 kicks off the whole proposition.

New clause 21 introduces new schedule 2, which will neutralise certain tax consequences—the other side of the coin—that might otherwise arise from the transfer of various property, rights and liabilities from the Office for Tenants and Social Landlords, the Homes and Communities Agency and the London Development Agency to other public bodies. There is a measure to enable the Treasury to make similar tax provisions for future mayoral development corporations. As we know, one is proposed, and we will come to that in a moment, but the provision will technically permit others to be set up and, therefore, embrace properly, within a legal framework, all those related activities.

Essentially, every Government new clause and amendment with which we are concerned relates to that process. The Opposition have tabled a couple of amendments, which I can deal with conveniently either now or in due course once they have been spoken to, but suffice it to say that the only Government amendments that do not form part of the tax treatment provisions are amendments 212 and 213. They relate to the mayoral development corporation, which is proposed for establishment, and I hope that we can find some common ground, because in Committee there was a discussion and Members generally accepted as desirable both the idea that the Mayor of London should have the power to establish a mayoral development corporation, and the current Mayor’s intention to establish such a corporation broadly relating to the Olympic park in east London.

The provision is more widely cast than that, for good reasons, and it will permit the establishment of other mayoral development corporations. None is envisaged by the current Mayor and I am not conscious of any envisaged by potential Mayors, either, but it would be on the books for the future.

The question that arose, and which the Government seek to address with the proposed changes, was what are the appropriate means of holding the Mayor to account for mayoral development corporation proposals. If a future Mayor—I am sure that it would not be the current Mayor—were to come up with a proposal for a mayoral development corporation which was thought objectionable, by what means would a control or brake be put on that process?

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

Does my hon. Friend agree that the anecdotal evidence from the Thames Gateway is that the level of accountability and the funding streams were often indistinct, that there was an insufficient level of democratic accountability through boroughs outside London, London boroughs and the mayoralty, and that the proposed changes before us seek to rectify that situation?

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a history to the incremental growth of the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation, which did not prove satisfactory, and as he knows the Government are looking at the matter in a different context.

We seek to introduce proper accountability to the London mayoral development corporation. There was a debate about whether it would be appropriate to give the boroughs a veto, and that possibility has foreshadowed an Opposition amendment. The Government have reflected on the matter, and we take the view that it probably is appropriate and sensible to include a check and balance in the system, but we conclude that, because the Mayor of London is a strategic authority and charged with the economic development policy and oversight for London, the check and balance should not be through any one London borough or group of London boroughs, as they have their own important role, are in any event the statutory consultees on these matters and would have the opportunity to put their views forward anyway.

It is more appropriate if the check and balance mirrors other checks and balances in the GLA’s governance scheme, so that the London assembly, which is democratically elected and represents all Londoners, is able to veto a proposal for a mayoral development corporation by a two-thirds qualified majority vote.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Conservative, Croydon Central

I am grateful to the Government for accepting the approach that I outlined in Committee in response to an amendment moved by Mr Raynsford. Will my hon. Friend confirm that, because of the two-thirds majority to which he refers and the GLA’s electoral system, one merit of the proposal is that it will effectively ensure the need for cross-party consensus behind any MDC designation?

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My hon. Friend is entirely right, and I am grateful to him for raising the suggestion in Committee, because it fits neatly with an established pattern of working in the GLA. As he rightly observes, the proposal will require any Mayor to achieve a measure of cross-party consensus. The system is established in relation to the Mayor’s budget and the various strategies that he is entitled to bring forward, and it is logical to include such an important issue in the same regime. Not only is there an electoral system in the GLA which requires cross-party consensus for a two-thirds majority, but the assembly is seized of certain powers not unlike our powers in this place to call for people and papers, so it can summon people and, therefore, carry out robust scrutiny.

Importantly, the assembly is also elected on a basis that includes constituency representatives and those elected through a list system, so any London borough that might be affected or concerned by a proposed mayoral development corporation has its constituency assembly representative at City hall who is able to stand up, ask questions and challenge on their behalf. I hope that that meets the Opposition’s point, and that their amendment will not be necessary.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I doubt it, because having representatives from borough councils on the assembly is not a strong enough measure; they may not comprise the majority. There is still the view in London borough councils, which we will hear more of when we come to our amendments, that they should have a veto. The designation of a mayoral development corporation in an area is a very powerful measure. I heard the Minister say that he did not believe the current Mayor had any extra MDCs in mind, but he could do, and the power is cast quite widely.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I am disappointed in the hon. Lady’s response, because I thought that we had got a good deal of the way down the track to meet what were sensible concerns. There is a difference between recognising that the establishment of a mayoral development corporation is part of the outworking of London-wide policy, in which the Mayor will have to have regard to the strategic economic and developmental interests of the whole city, which may be different from the individual interests of a single local authority, and recognising that the assembly is the body that this House has already charged with holding the Mayor to account for the way in which he exercises those powers.

There is a difficulty with giving a veto to an individual London borough, because the borough’s interests are very properly not required to be strategic in the same way as those of the Mayor and of the assembly. Often they are, in fairness, and I do not mean to diminish the importance of the London boroughs. As the hon. Lady knows, I spent 16 years as a London borough councillor before spending eight years on the London assembly. That may indicate precocious sadness on my part, but that is a different matter. Both bodies fulfil very important functions, but they are different functions, and, if we are rightly going to put a check and balance on the Mayor’s exercise of his strategic role, we must do so through the assembly—the elected strategic check and balance. The boroughs have an important role in this because the Mayor is required to consult them, among other bodies, and they therefore have a powerful tool in being able to raise their concerns and to lobby their borough elected representative on the assembly to ensure that their case and their voice is heard.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

Our colleagues on the London assembly are supportive of the Government’s amendments and new clauses, as are my London colleagues and other colleagues in this place. Let me seek clarification on one thing; I hope that I might catch the Speaker’s eye later to speak on the substance of it. If the Mayor were to set up development corporations in London, would there be any changes in the planning processes in those areas that took democratic control away from the elected councillors? That was controversial under the old urban development corporations set up by the Conservative Government when Lord Heseltine was the relevant Secretary of State.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Yes, the corporations could act in that way. They do not have to, because we have not been as specific as was the case in the past with the old-style development corporations as to exactly what they have to include. The likelihood, it is fair to say, is that they would, because part of the objective of a development corporation generally is to bring the development function and the planning function for a particular area together to speed up development. In practice—I hope that this will reassure my right hon. Friend—the east London MDC that was proposed for the Olympic park area has been involved an iterative process, with a degree of discussion between the Mayor and the five London boroughs affected. There has been some negotiation, which is probably a mature thing to have in the current circumstances. The upshot is that we now have a proposal to which the Mayor and the London boroughs are satisfied they can sign up. The boroughs accept that they cede some planning power for a period, but now do so by agreement with the Mayor. I think the same process can be achieved in other cases.

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

Setting aside the sui generis nature of London governance, does my hon. Friend agree that the level of direct accountability of these Government proposals is greater than that which existed hitherto in, for instance, West Northamptonshire Development Corporation, North Northants Development Company and most of, if not all of, the housing market renewal areas? This is indeed an improvement in terms of direct accountability for regeneration policy.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, for two reasons. First, the power to set up the corporation is devolved, and a directly elected regional figure, in the shape of the Mayor, takes that decision. Secondly, there is the veto, which did not exist in relation to the other, earlier-style development corporations. There is therefore a significantly enhanced degree of accountability.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

I heard what the Minister said about the discussions that have been going on in east London between the Mayor and the local authorities. If, for example, the current Mayor or any future Mayor had the further idea that there should be mayoral development corporations south of the river, would that, of necessity, require him to have the agreement of the local authority or authorities in question if they had a different view, given that there could be a conflict? Co-operation is fine, but a difference of view that means that the local authority’s views are disregarded is not so fine.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

In theory, a Mayor could seek to disregard a local authority’s views, but in practice we reckon that the new clause makes that unachievable. There are two reasons for that. First, the Mayor will have to consult the local authorities, which will have registered their objection. As with any public law decision, he has to behave in a way that is rational and reasonable within the terms of the Associated Provincial Picture Houses v. Wednesbury Corporation case. Secondly, because of the electoral arrangements in London, the local authority would be well placed to ensure that a blocking majority was created in the assembly to prevent the policy from going through. There is a theoretical possibility that the Mayor would be able to create the sort of rogue corporation that one might be concerned about, but in reality it is pretty much inconceivable.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

The Minister knows that it is not just a theoretical possibility. The Bill states very clearly that if the Mayor applies to the Secretary of State for a mayoral development corporation and has gone through the processes of consultation, if that proposal then comes before the Secretary of State, he must, under the terms of the Bill, create that mayoral development corporation. When I put these points to the Minister in earlier debates in this Chamber on Second Reading and in Committee, I said the real danger was that a Mayor who had considerable support in the assembly, as can happen following an election, would be in a strong position to railroad through his proposal against the opposition of the local borough. That remains the case, and I hope that the Minister will accept that.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 2:15 pm, 18th May 2011

I am sorry, but the right hon. Gentleman has been consistently wrong on this point. If he will forgive my saying so, I know that he is offended when somebody comes up with an idea in London governance which is not his own. With respect to him, as he has considerable experience in this field, his solution to the risk, which I do accept, that a Mayor might seek to set up a rogue or an unacceptable development corporation was, in effect, to give the Secretary of State the veto—in other words, instead of saying, as the Bill does, that the Secretary of State “must” approve the proposal, that he “may” approve a policy, and that the veto would rest with a Minister. That was a highly centralising means of resolving the problem. Instead, the Government have trusted the elected representatives of London and said that the assembly, through qualified majority voting, may exercise the veto. That is much more consistent with the localist thrust of the Bill, and I would have thought it was closer to what the right hon. Gentleman, who after all introduced devolution in London, would himself wish to see.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

As my hon. Friend knows, West Northamptonshire Development Corporation has been hated by local residents for the simple reason that it was forced on them to try to implement a central Government housing policy that has not been successful and that we hope to eliminate within the next couple of years.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for sharing her experience of that body, which is a matter of great concern to her and to others. We have endeavoured to learn from past experience and past failings in the way in which we construct our arrangement, and we have therefore put a democratic veto into our proposals.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich

I want to correct the Minister’s assertion that I was wrong in my interpretation of the Bill. I repeat the point that was put to him by Simon Hughes: if the Mayor decides to proceed with a proposal for a mayoral development corporation, the Secretary of State has to give effect to it if it is not blocked by the assembly. We have had debates about the proper mechanisms for blocking such a proposal. However, as the Minister must concede because it is in the Bill, if those mechanisms do not work, the Secretary of State has no discretion and has to give effect to the Mayor’s requirement to bring into effect such a development corporation irrespective of whether the individual borough is opposed to it. Will he now please concede that I was not wrong on that point, because that is what the Bill says?

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I will give the right hon. Gentleman this: he is right on textual analysis but remains wrong on policy, because his solution is a centralist one that would give the Secretary of State a veto. The whole point of what we are doing, in improving the Bill from its original state, is that we do not allow the Secretary of State to veto a decision taken by elected representatives in London; rather, we allow the assembly, which is the established body for keeping the Mayor of London in check, to exercise the veto. In policy terms, that is preferable.

I am disappointed that the Opposition object to this. As I recall only too well, in 1999 they made great play of having devolved power to London by establishing the Greater London authority. I now accept that that was the right thing to do. We are following the logic of that by enabling Londoners to take the decision as to what is the best shape and size of an important regeneration tool for London. They do that with the Mayor making the proposal and the assembly having the ability, if necessary, to veto it, and the boroughs being able to be consulted and to exercise influence through their elected members of the assembly. I am sorry that the Opposition seem to want to start a bit of a war where none need exist, because there is consensus among all parties in the assembly that it is desirable to go down this route.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I think I am right in reporting the Minister as saying that a principle of the Localism Bill is to trust local representatives. I hope that Ministers will bear that in mind as they take the Bill through its final stages in the House, because I want to question them about why that does not carry through to the imposition of shadow mayors, although I know that that is outside the scope of this debate. If we are to be true to the principle of trusting elected representatives, which the Minister has just stated, we must not impose on them.

Various people have intervened in this debate. It would help if we moved on to considering the amendments fairly soon, because we will be able to take the arguments in the round if we do that.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I am grateful, Mr Speaker. I am anxious to deal with as many of the issues raised by hon. Members as possible, because this debate is time-limited, and for good reason. I hope that I have dealt, in large measure, with why it is appropriate to adopt the Government amendments, and why that is preferable to placing a veto in the hands of the boroughs, which would create a potential conflict of interest, or the earlier Opposition proposition of leaving a veto with central Government, which would be entirely contrary to the spirit of the Bill.

I will cover one final topic before I finish, if I may. Another proposal in the group, which I anticipate will be put, is amendment 351, tabled by Heidi Alexander, the next-door neighbour of part of my constituency. The amendment relates to the London housing and regeneration board. It is important that the Bill transfers housing powers and responsibilities from central Government agencies, in the form of the Homes and Communities Agency, to the Mayor. That has been welcomed across the piece politically in London. It is envisaged that the London housing board will be the vehicle within which that work is carried out.

As I read it, and I will happily be corrected if I am wrong, the amendment would prescribe in statute a requirement that the GLA should have a London housing and regeneration board. I cannot go that far because although it is no doubt a sensible thing to have, certainly at the moment, and is something that works well enough with the involvement of the Mayor’s office and the boroughs, we do not think it is consistent with the spirit of localism for us to prescribe, in one particular area, the manner in which the GLA should carry out its activities. Interestingly, that again seems to be a little bit of potential centralism creeping in through the back door. I would prefer to give the Mayor and the boroughs flexibility in determining how to take those issues forward.

I hope that I have dealt with all the topics in what has perhaps been a livelier debate than might have been anticipated when we started to talk about tax clauses, which I note have not featured in the controversy at all, perhaps not surprisingly.

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the two amendments in my name, although it feels rather strange to be doing so when we have already had much of the debate. I will speak to amendment 351, which relates to the establishment of a London housing and regeneration board, and seeks to guarantee that at least 50% of the membership of such a board would be made up of representatives from the local authority. I will also speak to amendment 352, which we have already debated at some length, and which relates to the process that has to be gone through to establish a mayoral development corporation. Under the amendment, the agreement of any council that is affected would be required before an MDC could be established. I am conscious that there is much to debate this afternoon, so I will limit my remarks.

I will move on to why I tabled the amendments. I should say at the outset that the amendments have been promoted and supported by London Councils, which, as hon. Members know, is the cross-party organisation that represents London boroughs. We can debate the localist merits of the Bill as a whole, but the provisions on London are distinctly regionalist. Whereas in other parts of the country there is the abolition of regional spatial strategies, we still have the London plan. The Bill proposes the winding up of the London Development Agency and the London part of the Homes and Communities Agency, with their powers being transferred to the London Mayor. Due to the Government’s understandable desire to ensure that the regeneration legacy of the Olympics takes effect, there are proposals in the Bill to enable the Mayor to set up a mayoral development corporation. However, as drafted, the Bill suggests that there could be an MDC anywhere in London, and not just at the Olympics site. My amendments would act as a brake on the concentrating powers that the Bill puts into the hands of the Mayor of London.

They would give councils and councillors a voice, and they would give people in London the same say as people elsewhere in the country.

Amendment 352 would make it a requirement that a local authority in a proposed MDC area must agree to its establishment. If more that one local authority is affected, all must agree. The Bill as drafted gives complete power to the Mayor and the Secretary of State. Under Government amendment 213, the support of two thirds of the assembly will be needed for a proposal to move forward. That is not a sufficient assurance. There could be a situation in London in which local people are completely against the setting up of an MDC, councillors and the local authority in the area are completely against the setting up of an MDC, and the GLA constituency member is completely against the setting up of an MDC, and yet if the Mayor wants it to happen, it will happen. I ask hon. Members, what is localist about that?

We had some fun in Committee. On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend Mr Raynsford talked about the prospect of a new Mayor of London—perhaps Ken Livingstone in a year’s time—choosing to establish a mayoral development corporation in Bromley. I will not repeat those comments.

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East

I will not repeat them because I am under strict instructions to keep the debate moving as quickly as I can.

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

I am interested in the hon. Lady’s views and I am listening to her with great attention. Does she not feel that her proposals are a recipe for institutionalised impasse? Having served on such benign bodies as the London Ecology Committee, the London Waste Regulation Authority and the London fire and civil defence authority, I know that it is almost impossible to get all the boroughs to agree. Therefore, if one borough has a de facto veto, there would never be any major progress on housing and regeneration across Greater London.

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East

That is quite a negative view of politics in London. I do not think that my proposal would lead to institutionalised impasse. The proposals on the ability to set up an MDC in any area are incredibly important. The things that an MDC could do, such as granting planning permission for different developments, compulsorily purchasing land and agreeing plans for an area, are significant matters for people who live in the neighbourhood. Local councils and councillors would also have views on those matters. I would hope that all parts of London government could come together and agree whether an MDC was an appropriate vehicle in a local area. I therefore question whether retaining the powers with the Mayor and the Secretary of State in the Bill is true localism. That was my reason for tabling amendment 352.

As the Minister said, amendment 351 to clause 158 proposes the establishment of a new London housing and regeneration board. With the winding up of the London Development Agency and the London part of the Homes and Communities Agency, many powers will be transferred to the Mayor of London. We also see in chapter 3 of part 6 that provision is made for the devolution of local authority housing finance. That will mean an enhanced role for local authorities in providing, commissioning and funding affordable housing in London.

I believe it is vital that local authorities and the London Mayor work together to ensure a joint focus on the delivery of much-needed new affordable homes. My amendment would establish a board within six months of the Bill coming into law, and as I said earlier, at least 50% of members of that board would be local authority representatives. That would be a good way of achieving the joint working that London so desperately needs.

The Minister said that the amendment was unnecessarily prescriptive and asked why we should legislate to set up such a board in London. I cannot let that pass, because in other parts of the Bill, that idea has not prevented the Government from being incredibly prescriptive, whether about arrangements to establish a neighbourhood forum or the process for nominating land as a community asset. The Bill is hugely prescriptive in many ways, and I suggest that on a matter as important as regeneration and the provision of affordable housing, perhaps we could have a bit more prescription to ensure that we achieve what we all want in London.

The provision of new homes in London at a rent that people can afford is one of the most pressing challenges in the capital. It is difficult, because we do not see huge amounts of land lying around in London and it cannot easily be bought cheaply. Also, the Government have brought forward a huge programme of swingeing cuts to capital budgets for house building. We have seen the proposals for the affordable rent model, and there are many important questions to ask about how workable it is in London, particularly in funding the building of three and four-bedroom family homes. Perhaps they can be built, but whether anyone living in London can afford to live in them is another thing altogether.

There are important issues to deal with in the provision of new affordable housing in London, and we have to find a way of getting the Mayor of London, the Greater London authority, the local authorities and local communities to work together to achieve that aim. That is the only way in which progress will be made. It is not about one part of London government blaming another; it is about genuine partnership. I am not making a party political point—yes, politics will come into the discussions that take place between the Mayor and London boroughs, but sometimes the arguments will be between politicians of the same party. I want us to raise the issue above party politics and give it the importance that it deserves.

I urge Members to listen carefully to the rest of the debate and to ask themselves the following questions. Does part 7 of the Bill represent a new era in localism? Does it devolve decisions to the lowest possible level? Does it give more power to London residents and citizens? I do not think that it does, and if Government Members agree with me, I suggest that they join me in the Lobby when we vote on my amendments later, because I intend to press them.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Conservative, Croydon Central 2:30 pm, 18th May 2011

I will restrict myself to commenting on mayoral development corporations. There is an irony in the positions that the parties are taking today. It is rather strange for Conservative Members to be defending city-wide government and for Labour Members to be making the case for the boroughs. Incidentally, I say in passing that I always find it slightly grating when people refer to London as a region. It is a city, and I consider myself as living not in a region but in the world’s greatest city.

Having started on that note of disagreement, I wish to say that on Second Reading and in Committee Mr Raynsford correctly diagnosed a problem with the Bill. There was a danger that a future Mayor would designate a mayoral development corporation despite widespread cross-party opposition in all parts of the affected area. There would be nothing that the Secretary of State could do but accept that designation. He was absolutely right about that, and we had a good debate about it in Committee.

As my hon. Friend the Minister said, the problem with the solution that the right hon. Gentleman proposed at that point was that it would have centralised the decision back with the Government. I made the suggestion, which I am grateful to the Government for adopting, that we should go with the grain of the existing arrangements, for which the right hon. Gentleman was probably responsible, and use the London assembly to hold the Mayor in check.

Heidi Alexander, who made a very good contribution throughout the Committee stage, has proposed an alternative solution. The problem is that, if just one local authority were involved, that local authority would essentially be given a veto. There might be good public policy reasons for the Mayor wanting to pursue a development corporation solution in a particular area. I therefore believe that the Government have adopted the right model in the Bill. I suppose I would say that, having proposed it in Committee, but I hope that Ministers will consider a couple of minor tweaks that could be made. If they are persuaded, perhaps that can happen in another place. I shall come to those tweaks in a moment.

My hon. Friend the Minister will know that many of the people who serve on the London assembly are themselves councillors in the local authorities concerned. In Croydon and Sutton, our London assembly member, Steve O’Connell, is a Croydon councillor. In the neighbouring GLA constituency of Merton and Wandsworth, Richard Tracey is a local councillor.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Conservative, Croydon Central

My hon. Friend, who is a former member of the assembly, knows that many members are in that position.

Simon Hughes referred to urban development corporations. I see that he is in heavy conversation at the moment, but he talked about the lack of democratic accountability in those corporations in the 1980s. It is important to make the point that in this case, the designation of a development corporation would be made not by central Government but by the Mayor of London, who is democratically elected.

I am conscious of the time and know that other Members wish to speak, so I end with two points that Ministers might wish to consider. Schedule 21 deals with the detailed arrangements for mayoral development corporations. Paragraph 1 is about the membership of them, and perhaps the Government could consider a requirement that the people whom the Mayor appointed to them, or at least some of them, should have a connection with the local area covered. That is not mentioned in the schedule. It sets out the need for people to have experience and to have shown some capacity in the relevant functions of the corporation, and for them to have no financial interest. Those are both good and sensible provisions, but there may well be a case for ensuring that at least some members have a local connection with the area and perhaps a relationship with the local authority.

Paragraph 6 of schedule 21 is about committees established by mayoral development corporations. Sub-paragraph (3) states:

“A committee or sub-committee may, with the agreement of the Mayor, include persons who are not members of the MDC, but a majority of the members of a committee or sub-committee must be members of the MDC.”

I, and I suspect other Members, have received representations from both the Mayor and the assembly stating that they would be happy with a much more relaxed rule that gave MDCs more freedom to appoint a greater proportion of people who were not members of its board. Those people may well be members of the local authority or have connections with the area. Given that we have not yet achieved complete consensus on this matter, the Government could look at some of the details of schedule 21, to see whether we can address some of those concerns.

In conclusion, it is greatly to Ministers’ credit that they listened to the debate in Committee and came back with a solution, which I think is a good one that improves the Bill. If they went away and looked at a couple of details on schedule 21, it might be possible to address some of the concerns that hon. Members have raised in this debate.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

I shall make a brief contribution to what is an important debate for London, which I am happy to take part in once again.

I agree with Heidi Alexander that the two biggest issues that affect my constituents and hers, and that fall directly or indirectly within the remit of local government, are jobs and housing. Most people are most concerned about those two issues most of the time. I am afraid that I come to this debate with long experience in this place. When I was first elected, Lady Thatcher’s Government had just set up urban development corporations throughout the country, of which the London Docklands Development Corporation was one. Indeed, that was the backdrop to my by-election, because my predecessor, Bob Mellish, was appointed as vice-chairman of the LDDC. That was not uncontroversial in Bermondsey, because people in general, and particularly those in the Labour party, did not think that a quango should be given the powers over Southwark, Newham and Tower Hamlets that the LDDC was given, so appointing a Labour MP to the LDDC was not consistent with Labour party policy.

That handover of powers to the UDCs was very controversial, because it meant that planning decisions were taken by a group of unelected people. It was possible to influence the people who took the decisions, but never possible to hold them directly accountable. I used to go to planning committee meetings following lots of community activity—they were not always in Southwark: sometimes, for major planning schemes in the Surrey docks or along the riverside, meetings were held at the LDDC in the Isle of Dogs or elsewhere—but communities often felt alienated afterwards. The legacy is the feeling of remoteness when decisions are not taken by locally elected representatives.

I am not saying that the local community comes away feeling deliriously happy after every local council planning committee meeting. I have seen enough local planning committees in Southwark over the years make controversial planning decisions—under Labour, Liberal Democrat and Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition administrations. However, at the end of the day, the public at least know that they can kick those people out at the next election if they want to do so. My premise, therefore, is that the starting point should always be accountable decision making, particularly on planning matters, and particularly on the big planning matters that “urban development” by definition implies. This is not about whether someone can have a bedroom in the mansard roof of a flat or house, or whether someone’s garage can be an extra bedroom; this is about schemes for industrial sites and other things on that scale.

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

I hasten to say that I do not know as much about the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency as he does, but surely the history of the LDDC is that the political administrations in, for instance, Tower Hamlets and Newham, which happened to be Labour-run at the time, were viscerally hostile to central Government, and refused to undertake any realistic action on regeneration or to face up to post-industrial decline in their boroughs. Central Government was therefore forced to step in to provide a template for regeneration and housing.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

I shall not help the House to hold a seminar on London in the ’70s and ’80s, which would actually be very interesting. The hon. Gentleman is nevertheless right. Local authorities did not get on with development. There were frozen developments, including one in the Royal Docks and some in my constituency, after the closure of the London docks in the upper pool in places like Bermondsey, and their move down to Tilbury. That is why the Government intervened, and I understand why they did so. It was necessary to get something moving. Whatever else we say about it, the LDDC certainly did that. Its legacy has, in general terms, been very benign. The regeneration has been hugely successful. Southwark is as prosperous as it is, and the business rates that are collected in Southwark are as high as they are, because of the regeneration along the riverside from London bridge down to the end of my constituency at the other side of the Greenland dock, on the border with Deptford.

To pursue the housing and jobs theme, it is clear that there are huge opportunities for employment-regenerative activities in inner-London boroughs if the conditions— meaning rate relief, sites and so on—are right. I visited the Tower Bridge Business Centre in my constituency just the other day, which is on the site of the old Peek Frean’s factory in Bermondsey. That hugely successful, privately owned enterprise provides a nursery and units of various sizes for people as they grow their businesses. It is one of a set of businesses run by the same company around Greater London, where it does all its business. It has very innovative ideas. There is no shortage of individuals, small firms and others that want to come in to take over the spaces that were previously occupied by larger businesses. The large wholesale warehouses and distribution centres, for example, are not in London any more, and we no longer need storage centres because we store on micro-files rather than in paper files.

The opportunity for London to continue as a place of employment still exists, and not just in the financial industries of the City. London has fantastic creative industries, small engineering enterprises and so on, and we must make the most of these opportunities.

There is a huge need to ensure that we continue to build homes at prices that our constituents can afford. The other day, I met some representatives of the G15 group of London housing associations, which owns the largest number of properties in London; it is known to all London Members. The G15 is concerned about how the financial picture and envelope will permit them to develop. I undertook to the G15 that I would seek to convene a meeting in June to try to sort out what appears at the moment to be a set of policies that is not yet fully connected. Invited are the Housing and Local Government Minister, who has agreed to attend; Lord Freud, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; colleagues from throughout London from all parties; the Mayor, who has shown an interest; local councillors representing the 33 local authorities;, and the housing world. How do we deliver more affordable homes, particularly the larger homes with three or four bedrooms for families, and deliver on the Government’s general approach to welfare without making it impossible for people to stay in the sorts of homes that we want them to be in? I hope we can join up that remaining part of the policy, and I welcome the advice of the hon. Member for Lewisham East, who has experience of the matter. I will work with her colleagues and Conservative colleagues, and I am sure that we can make further progress. I also welcome the fact that the Mayor is taking a direct interest.

The proposals in this group are about further transfers of power to the Mayor. As a veteran of both the legislation to the abolish the Greater London council, which I opposed, and the legislation to set up the Greater London authority, which I supported, I believe that more powers should be given to London government from central Government. Indeed, the difficulties that the Government have run into on other policies—for example, on the NHS—could have been less had they accepted our advice. I and my hon. Friends argued and voted for amendments on transferring strategic health powers to London government, for example, because it is better to get rid of unaccountable quangos and regional bodies and to replace them with accountable regional bodies.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich 2:45 pm, 18th May 2011

I was a little surprised when the right hon. Gentleman said that he supported the restoration of the GLA. My recollection is that he and the Liberal

Democrats voted against the creation of a Mayor of London. He might have supported the concept of an assembly, but the Liberal Democrats did not support the GLA architecture as it exists.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

The right hon. Gentleman is of course correct. He knows that as well as anybody, because it was his plan that the Government were delivering on. Liberal Democrats wanted devolution to London, but we were not sold on that model, which is why we still—

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Chair, Panel of Chairs, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. May I just say that we need to get back to dealing with the new clause? We are having a history lesson in the Chamber. As interesting as that is, other people are waiting to speak. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman now wishes to address the new clause.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

I stand rebuked, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was tempted by the right hon. Gentleman, but I will not be any more. I will make a few more comments, and then sit down.

The next issue is how exactly the transfer of powers back to London will work. It is certainly right that, as the Bill proposes, we get rid of the London function of the Homes and Communities Agency, which is a quango, and transfer it to a democratically elected Mayor answerable to the 25 elected members of the London assembly. That is a good thing. It is also certainly right that the Government abolish the Government office for London. There is no need for a Government office for London as well as a Mayor, a London assembly and a Greater London authority. All those policies are heading in the right direction.

We now need to solve the further dilemma of how we strike the right balance between London-wide decisions, which are perfectly proper, and the interests of the boroughs. I understand that there is still some unresolved tension in that regard. My colleagues on the London assembly and across London think that, on balance, the Government are heading in the right direction, so today, although obviously the hon. Member for Lewisham East is entitled to make her case, we cannot support her. However, I do not want her to take that to mean that there are not further conversations to be had. Obviously the Bill will go to the House of Lords, and there will be opportunities to look at these things afresh.

I am hopeful that today’s debate will flag up the need to ensure—I am happy to have further conversations with colleagues about this—that the new architecture is the right architecture. I heard clearly what the Minister said about the Mayor’s power being subject to the two-thirds support of the London assembly, and I agree that that amounts to a requirement for a cross-party endorsement or cross-party veto. That will be a welcome control mechanism. I do not criticise the fact that the representatives, particularly the constituency representatives, should be able to speak for their constituencies, including for the borough councils within those constituencies, which is one of their jobs.

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East

What does the right hon. Gentleman make of what I see as something of a conundrum in the Bill? If a neighbourhood forum in his constituency came up with a neighbourhood plan, it could be completely overridden by the establishment of a mayoral development corporation, over which his community, councillors and local authority will have had no say.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

They will have had a say, because, as the hon. Lady will know, the Bill contains a requirement for formal consultation with a list of people, including every local authority and others.

The Government are trying to take power from the centre and hand it down to the regions, including London, and then further down, not just to local authorities but to neighbourhoods. Southwark has eight community councils, which is very welcome. That is what the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Robert Neill, who has responsibility for planning, asks us to support. However, that does not mean that there should not be overarching responsibilities on a London-wide basis.

I say to the hon. Member for Lewisham East that there is certainly a wish to continue arguing for a London-wide responsibility for housing strategy, and we need to work out the best way of delivering that. Boroughs will do their own thing to develop as much as they can, but we will clearly need a London-wide policy to meet the needs of the homeless, asylum seekers and refugees, for instance, who do not immediately and naturally become the responsibility of a particular borough, because they do not have a fixed link with that borough. I and my London colleagues are keen to work with her and her London colleagues and the Minister and his colleagues to try to ensure that at the end of the deliberations we put in place the best possible structure, providing appropriate responsibilities at the level of boroughs and the Mayor and the London assembly, and as far as possible allowing for democratic accountability for all policies, particularly housing and regeneration.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Conservative, Croydon Central

I tried to address in my speech the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making, but he was in discussion with a colleague at the time. If paragraph 6 of schedule 11 was amended, it would give the Mayor more flexibility to put people from neighbourhood planning groups or local authority representatives on to the MDC planning committee. That may be one way of squaring this circle.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

At the moment, of course, the legislation provides for how the Mayor chooses the people to be on the development corporations. That could be looked at again. I do not think that my colleagues would object to there being nominees either from the local authorities in the areas in question—whether from more than one or a single local authority—or from the community councils and elsewhere. I think the hon. Gentleman’s idea, which we need to consider, is a good one.

There needs to be good democracy in London whereby people can be held to account for the decisions they make. The fact that the London Development Agency is going is helpful, because it means that the Mayor will be responsible for London’s economic regeneration as a whole. That is what mayors of big cities should do. Whether people support mayors in big cities is a separate debate, but if we have them, that is what they should do. The Mayor should be held to account by the assembly, so I hope that we can say to the Minister that he is on the right track, but that he should remain alert to the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Lewisham East and her Front-Bench colleagues. If we can get it, we need to aim for consensus by the time the Bill completes its passage through the House of Lords and Parliament.

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

I am pleased to follow Simon Hughes. It goes without saying that I support the Government amendments. The Bill will disturb the equilibrium that we established in 1998 and the settled view of London governance. Mr Raynsford piloted the legislation on this matter through Parliament. I had the pleasure—generally speaking—of serving with him in the last Parliament on several Bill Committees, but in some respects he is resiling from earlier commitments. His proposals opposing the Government amendments and the views expressed ably and articulately by Heidi Alexander seek effectively to undermine the authority and autonomy of the boroughs. They would set up an institutionalised conflict between the boroughs and the Greater London authority, with the Mayor quite possibly acting as the de facto referee and invigilator. That is a serious concern.

On the hon. Lady’s amendment 351, we should acknowledge the consensus in the House on the need for more affordable housing, better-quality housing and aesthetically pleasing housing, and above all for regeneration to consolidate London’s position as the pre-eminent city in Europe. However, looking at what was delivered in the dozen or so years of the regional development agencies, when we had a centralised policy, and an over-prescriptive and—one may even say—draconian approach to housing targets, I am not convinced that instituting a pan-London borough body would achieve the key objectives that we all seek.

I mentioned earlier, albeit perhaps in a slightly irreverent way, that for eight years while I was a London borough councillor, I served on bodies that were largely non-political. To get agreement on waste transfer and ecology centres was difficult enough, so making value judgments as between different boroughs and in effect resiling from a strategic overview of what is good for a whole city or region probably would not work. Incidentally, I have to disabuse my hon. Friend Gavin Barwell of one notion. Peterborough is, in fact, the greatest city in the world, but we might have to beg to differ on that. However, with all due respect to the hon. Member for Lewisham East, while my heart agrees with her, my head says that her proposals probably would not work or deliver what we wish.

Let me briefly address the Government amendments and the points made by Barbara Keeley and the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich. As the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark said, we would be returning to something like the situation that prevailed with the London Docklands Development Corporation, with the Secretary of State required to make the value judgment that neither the boroughs nor the GLA could sort something out, and therefore to impose a regeneration body. We have moved on from that. We now have a more mature and nuanced political culture. Once we establish the bona fides of London governance through the GLA and the Mayor, with the proviso that there will effectively be a two-thirds veto for the directly elected individuals, who will debate among themselves and with their boroughs, it would seem invidious to undermine that by putting so much potential power—again, effectively in the form of a veto—in the hands of the Mayor.

On that basis, I would urge Ministers—and in particular the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Robert Neill—to reject the Opposition’s views and to make the case strongly. What we have is the best consensual way forward to ensure that we get what we all want, which is better quality housing in London and for the economic engine driving the south-east and the wider country to be a success. That is why I support the Government amendments.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 3:00 pm, 18th May 2011

I want to speak briefly in support of the amendments so ably presented by my hon. Friend Heidi Alexander. There was much consensus on this part of the Bill, unlike on others. There was much consultation with the Mayor, the Greater London assembly and London councils. To me, this part of the Bill shows the value of early and thorough consultation. Perhaps there is a lesson for us there.

As my hon. Friend has argued, the powers of a mayoral development corporation would be great. The power of the Mayor to establish new mayoral development corporations anywhere across the Greater London area is cast widely, as we discussed extensively in Committee. Amendment 352 quite rightly seeks to ensure that where a Mayor seeks to establish a further mayoral development corporation, the majority of the borough councils affected by such a designation would have to agree to it. The Opposition do not believe that this would create any form of impasse. However, it is important that a borough council with only a small representation in the assembly—one that could therefore in no way seek to achieve a two-thirds majority through its assembly representation—should be able to come to agreement with either one or all the other boroughs if another development corporation was designated. We agree with my hon. Friend’s amendment 352 and will support it in a Division.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

This has been an interesting and worthwhile debate, although I accept that there has been an element of déjà vu for some of us. I say that as someone who served on the old Greater London council and who found its abolition quite painless, partly because at the same time I was serving on the fire authority, the waste regulation authority, the waste disposal authority and the borough council. My hon. Friend Mr Jackson is quite right that we created a somewhat convoluted architecture thereafter, which is why it is right to restore as much decision making as we can to London. That is why I am grateful for his support for the general thrust of where we are going.

I understand the point that Heidi Alexander made about the importance of employment and housing. She is absolutely right about that. I also accept the need to take all the agencies in London along with any such proposal, but I cannot accept her proposition that we cannot trust London’s politicians to come to a mature decision on the best way forward.

A powerful point about the history of London was made by my right hon. Friend Simon Hughes and my hon. Friend Gavin Barwell, and it was also reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough. They all have long experience in London government. Their point was that there are some details that can be looked at, but it is important to recognise that the relationship between the Mayor and the assembly has matured, even in the short time that the assembly has been in existence. Indeed, the relationship between the Mayor and the boroughs has matured regardless of party, under Mayors of both principal parties, as it happens. We should not underestimate the brokerage and leverage role that exists in the system, in addition to a purely legalistic role.

If I may be permitted to mention one bit of history, something that we learned from the previous GLC is that it was not simply the disagreements of Ken Livingstone with the Government of the day that undermined the GLC. Rather, the GLC was undermined by the tension between the two tiers and the risk, on occasion, of impasse —impasse that arose regardless of the party controlling the GLC and the London boroughs at the time. That is my concern. Giving boroughs an absolute veto in the way suggested by amendment 352 risks recreating the tensions of the old GLC days, rather than sticking with the more collaborative working that we currently have.

The proposal put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark also referred, is a sensible one. We can consider the details and discuss them sensibly to find a way to take it forward. We have learned from the rather remote model of operation of the earlier development corporations, and we want to embed that learning in how we go forward in future.

Even at this late stage, I hope that the Opposition will think about the necessity of pressing their amendment 352 to a vote. However, if they really insist, I would ask the House to reject it.

Question put and agreed to .

New clause 21 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill .