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My party welcomes the debate. When the Conservatives were in power, they were no good at integrated transport, but they would probably regard today as the peak of integrated campaigning. They get their mayoral candidate off to New York for the weekend, they manage to unveil a poster, they put an advert in the evening paper and they hold a debate in the House of Commons. The only trouble is that the premise of their argument about crime is fundamentally flawed, which is rather a pity. However, it is good that we are debating London. As the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) said, this is a great city.
I suppose that I must declare a sort of interest. In a couple of weeks' time when the election campaign starts for the London Mayor and Assembly, I might turn from being a prospective candidate in that election into being a candidate; if so, I shall be very
I wish to start by establishing the points of agreement. The first part of the Conservative motion is not altered by the Labour amendment or by ours. We all recognise the common values and benefits of this great city: its mix of people, its enterprise, its history, its culture and its diversity. We all share those values, whether we were born here, have moved here, work here or visit here. We would all want to enhance, applaud, welcome and celebrate that.
Like the Labour party, we seek to amend the motion. Most fundamentally, we say that, although London has huge needs and problems, we must be careful not to talk it down. My fundamental complaint about the text and
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texture of the otherwise good speech of the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminsterand it applies to his Conservative colleague who is standing in the electionis the danger of talking London down. I always try not to do that, whatever the criticisms, and I hope that my colleagues do not do so either.
I would go further and acknowledge that the reinstated London government and the first, now outgoing, Mayor have done good things for London. Indeed, I have said that to his face. We accepted that congestion charging was a bold and good initiative, and my hon. Friends and I supported it from the outset in Committee and we have continued to support it throughout. We are also glad that the Mayor came round to endorsing the Olympic bid. Some of us argued for it earlier, but he came on board, and we welcome it. We are pleased that there are more buses, although the Minister would not allow me to intervene earlier and it was clear that he was unwilling to answer questions about how they would be paid for. The Mayor has not answered those questions either.
We also supported the increased policingnot hugely different from comparable increases in policing in Greater Manchester and other parts of the countryin London. After an initial couple of years without any increases, the Labour government came to realise that increases were necessary. We support that. If my Liberal Democrat colleague had been Mayor over the past four years, she would have done the sameso there is some common ground.
The political history of the past 20 or 30 years is of the Greater London councilfirst Tory-led, then Labour-ledits abolition by the Tory Government, the Government Office for London under Conservative and Labour control and then the first directly elected Mayor. There has been a history of underfunding, for which the Conservatives should accept significant responsibility, and some fundamental problems.
I shall not make a single quote from any document produced by any political party, and I shall be brief on statistics as it would be possible to quote statistics about London for hours. As the Minister for London will know, the Cabinet Office produced its analytical report on London last July. Its executive summary stated that London
"has high numbers of jobless people and substantial deprivation . . . has a housing market which is under strain and which will come under increasing pressure . . . has a transport infrastructure that has not kept step with the city's developing needs in the last fifty years . . . has public services that face substantial challenges as a result of the city's unique characteristics . . . has a complex system of governance"
"that does not easily enable the city to focus on its strategic needs."
When the cross-party Association of London Government surveyed Londoners last autumn, it asked them about their biggest concerns. Crime was at the top; council tax was second; the health service was third; traffic was fourth; and education was fifth. Interestingly, the survey showed that the one concern that had
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increased was the level of council tax. In common with the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster, I have no doubt that the Mayor of London is responsible for significantly increasing council tax. The increase over the past four years has been hugegreater than in any other authority in England. It is in the order of a 100 per cent. increase, for which the Mayor alone must take responsibility.
Surveys are conducted every year on the quality of life in world cities. This year's survey was produced in March. London was 35th in the league table for world cities and only 11th out of 15 European Union capitals. The Greater London Authority commissioned another interesting surveyagain, one that was not influenced or instructed by my party colleagues. A comparison was made between 2000 and 2003 and respondents were asked how satisfied or dissatisfied they were with their neighbourhood as a place to live. What was the change in the satisfaction level? The number of people either totally or fairly satisfied had decreasednot significantly, but it had gone downin those four years from 83 to 78 per cent. The dissatisfaction level has gone up. When people are asked how satisfied or dissatisfied they are with London as a city to live in, the satisfaction level has fallen from 75 per cent. to 71 per cent., and the dissatisfaction level has increased. The legacy of the four-year mayoral term of the initially independent and now newly new Labour Mayor is that Londoners are not as happy with their lot as they were when he started. He has to take responsibility for that.
One of the key issues is how much money comes into the city. Private enterprise does a huge amount: we are the world's greatest financial centre and we need to continue to be so. As we pointed out in our amendment, we need to have a debate about how much London should contribute to the UK and how much the Government should give to London. I have never argued, in all my time in Parliament, that London should not make a contribution to the rest of the UK. However, there is a case to be madeand all parties submitted their case for London to the Government as part of the comprehensive spending reviewthat the balance is not right. My party's leader and other colleagues have accepted that we need to renegotiate the UK constitutional financial settlement, post devolution to Scotland and Wales, given the continuing devolution that we hope to see to Northern Ireland, and with regional government on the way in England.
The ballpark figure for the net contribution to the UK economy from London is some £17 billion. The figure should be between nothing and that figureprobably about half. However, nobody suggests that London should not continue to contribute, as a capital city properly should, to the rest of the country.
We have one major disagreement in this area with the current Mayor. He appears to think that all development that wants to come to London and the south-east should be encouraged to do so without let or hindrance. The north-east, the north-west, Scotland and Northern Ireland are crying out for investment, so we need to share the pressure of development. That is why, for example, my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) have argued for the spreading of the civil service around the UK. That would make
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some contribution to the economies of the other regions. It is not inconsistent to want the regions to have healthy economies and to want a strong capital city.
We do not need the levels of council tax increase that the Mayor has imposed on Londoners. For example, my colleagues took over the running of the London borough of Southwark from the Labour party two years ago. Services have hugely improvedas all the MORI polls in Southwark showon a council tax increase of 3.5 per cent. this year. Increases of 22 per cent., 15 per cent., 29 per cent. and 8 per cent.as imposed by the GLAare not necessary. Improvements can be made more cheaply.
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