My Lords, I apologise to the House for not having been able to take part in previous discussions on this matter, but I speak as leader of a London local authority and I consider that it is my responsibility to draw the House’s attention to the way this measure is perceived by a leader of a London authority. I am also by training a historian of Byzantium. I think that very few Byzantine emperors would have devised such a system for their capital city.
On the previous amendment, the Minister on the Front Bench argued very strongly against increasing bureaucracy and extra red tape. He also argued that London needed to be deregulated. However, I anticipate that, just a few minutes later, the Minister now on the Front Bench—my noble friend Lord De Mauley—will tell us the opposite of that and, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, suggested, will tell us that we need more complication and further regulation. I simply do not see the logic of that and I do not know of another leader of a London authority who shares the Minister’s view.
We heard the representations made by London authorities on a previous amendment. It is important to realise that this is not some bone-headed resistance from a bureaucratic body. People who are talking to government, or who wish to talk to government and advise them, have authority and the responsibility of satisfying the people of London on a day-to-day basis that their streets can be kept clean and be competently administered. I believe that they are clean and competently administered in most cases. We have a non-criminal system that was recently established with general consent and which I do not believe needs to be tampered with. If the Government really believe in deregulation and devolution, there is no rationale whatever in changing the London system.
My authority is a keen promoter of recycling. We pass all the Pickles tests. We do weekly collections and even collect from side alleys. We do not have bin snoopers but we do have the opportunity to impose a light-handed touch of regulation. In five years as leader I have not had a single call, letter or email complaining about this system. There is no evidence base that I am aware of to justify imposing a more complex system on London.
I suspect that at this stage the Government are not prepared to change their mind. That is a pity in the light of the arguments in the record that I have read and those that I have heard. Of course, it would be perfectly possible to proceed with two parallel systems. In fact, it would be interesting to see whether the Government’s more bureaucratic system outside London was more effective than the less bureaucratic system inside London. That could be a sensible way to test public policy. Even at this late stage, I urge my noble friend to consider whether the Government could not leave London well alone. That would not stop anything that is planned for the rest of the country in terms of decriminalisation. That is the considered view of experienced people in London based on their experience of doing the difficult job of trying to administer London and at the same time reduce staffing in local authorities and not take on extra bureaucrats to implement ever more complex systems. I hope that my noble friend will reflect on that when he comes to reply.