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New Clause 21 — Tax

Part of Road Safety – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 18th May 2011.

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Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough 2:45 pm, 18th May 2011

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.