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London Deserves Better

April 21, 2004

London Deserves Better

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): I beg to move,

That this House takes pride in London’s heritage and status as a leading global capital city; notes that its outstanding success over many centuries has depended upon its rich mix of people, innovation and energy; further notes that it is an international leader in financial services, the arts, media, higher education, medicine and scientific research and tourism; regrets that this enviable competitive advantage is now threatened by the diminution in the quality of life of Londoners and those who come to work in the capital; recognises that insecurity brought about by the threat of terrorist action and rising levels of crime and anti-social behaviour, failing public services, overcrowded and unreliable transport, alongside an ever increasing tax burden on all Londoners, will undermine the capital’s global reputation as a great place to live and do business; and calls upon the Government and its Mayoral candidate, Ken Livingstone, to address the needs of the people of London and improve the quality and choice of services in the capital.

London is a global city. Its outstanding success is based on its unique diversity, that rich mix of people, innovation and energy that has served our capital so well over the 2,000 years since its foundation. But today, for the first time in countless generations, there is a clear sense that Londoners’ quality of life is not improving and that public services are deteriorating. London’s historic position at the centre of the UK’s political, commercial and cultural life makes it unusually important, even among leading world cities. Truly, if London fails, the UK fails. When London’s economy, culture or entrepreneurial spirit suffers, so, too, does Britain’s as a whole.

However, the continued success of London cannot be taken for granted. Although it faces infrastructure challenges similar to those it faced in the past, those were overcome at various stages throughout its long history. Today’s global terrorist threat challenges urban policy makers throughout our nation, as well as across the world. Looking ahead, the Government need to understand the importance of London asserting its commercial competitive advantage not only among its traditional rivals in western Europe or north America, but increasingly in the face of competition from China and India, the two emerging economic powerhouses of the 21st century.

National politicians, local community leaders and businesses must recognise and embrace the diversity, vitality and energy of our capital. London needs more vision and commercial acumen than has been apparent in recent years. An increasing sense of powerlessness and insecurity is felt by many who live in London, together with a desire for the reassertion of a stronger sense of civic awareness. For although the economy has generally thrived, the overall quality of life for Londoners over the past seven years has not improved. I trust that some of these sentiments will be shared throughout the House. By moving the motion today, the official Opposition call upon the Government and their mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone to address more fully the needs of London’s residents, commuters and tourists alike.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): My hon. Friend mentioned commuters, and as he knows, my constituency consists largely of commuters. He may also be aware that yesterday the Minister of State, Department for Transport referred to the work being planned for London Bridge and the bottleneck of trains there. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Strategic Rail Authority is threatening to reduce the number of peak hour trains on one line, the Hayes line through Beckenham, by one third, and to dump my commuters at Cannon Street rather than at Charing Cross? What support does my hon. Friend believe my commuters need, and what do the Government need to do to ensure that commuters from Beckenham are able to add to the commercial success of London?

Mr. Field: I am only saddened that my hon. Friend thinks her commuters are being dumped from one part of my constituency, Cannon Street, to another, Charing Cross. There are no dumps in the Cities of London and Westminster. However, my hon. Friend makes a valid point, which I am sure will appear in the "Beckenham Evening Advertiser" and various other local papers in the next week or two.

Today I want to highlight the failings of the Government and London’s Mayor in four main areas: crime and disorder, dealing with the threat of terrorist action, transport, and the burden of taxation on London’s businesses and residents. Crime and antisocial behaviour are undoubtedly the most critical issues that face London. In every part of the capital it has been confirmed in every survey without exception that too many people, regardless of their background, age or income, do not feel safe on the capital’s streets.

That sense of insecurity is justified by much of the evidence. Crime has continued to increase in the four years since Mayor Livingstone’s election. One is more likely to be mugged in London than in New York?19 of London’s 32 Metropolitan police boroughs are more dangerous than the notorious Bronx district of New York.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Sir John Stevens has written a note to all mayoral candidates warning them not to misrepresent statistics on crime in London? He highlighted the fact that London is one of the safest regions in the country, according to the latest British crime survey. Is not the hon. Gentleman committing the same crime as his party’s mayoral candidate did in the Evening Standard and misrepresenting crime figures in London?

Mr. Field: Misrepresentation is a two-way street in this case. One of the statistics in the so-called confidential survey?I understand that it has been leaked to The Guardian today and was not due to be published until next week?makes it plain that when figures for murder and rape are aggregated with those for other assaults in the violent crime category, the picture looks quite good. However, the number of murders and rapes?the more serious violent crimes?has indeed risen over the past four years. Misrepresentation is very much a two-way street.

Clive Efford: The hon. Gentleman is again guilty of misrepresentation. In the Evening Standard, the Conservative mayoral candidate has suggested that crime rates in London are similar to those in New York. The hon. Gentleman referred to murder rates. There are about 1,000 murders a year in New York, but the annual figure has consistently remained at about 200 in London, so the comparison is not consistent.

Mr. Field: Let me make it absolutely clear: overall crime rates in London and New York are not comparable, as they are now far worse in London than in New York, mainly as a result of some of the policies about which I shall speak in some detail later.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): I should like to confirm the point made by the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). The Metropolitan police are concerned that the Conservative colleague of the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) is not giving the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the London crime figures. Representing things as worse than they are and suggesting that crime generally across London is increasing not only fails to represent the accurate position, but adds to fear of crime, which for many people is just as serious as crime itself.

Mr. Field: The people of London will have their say on this matter in the next few weeks. Whether or not we have more police on the streets, the message from Londoners is absolutely clear: on crime, Labour has let us down.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent’s Park and Kensington, North) (Lab) rose?

Mr. Field: I give way to my neighbour.

Ms Buck: I am grateful to my neighbour for giving way.

Has the hon. Gentleman had a chance to look at the civic newspaper of our shared borough, the Conservative-controlled borough of Westminster, which said in March:

"Efforts are having a positive impact and we are pleased to report that recently released crime statistics show a significant reduction in a number of categories of crime"?

Mr. Field: As I said, we will see what people have to say over the next seven weeks, during the course of the campaign.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Field: No; I must make some progress.

There has to be another way. The Conservative mayoral candidate, Steve Norris, returned yesterday from a four-day trip to New York, where he met Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York city, who has long observed that it is not headline-grabbing crime rates alone that induce the sense of insecurity to which I have referred. Ironically, it is the physical evidence of antisocial behaviour?the sight of graffiti, vandalism and yobbishness on our streets?that has a much greater influence on quality of life for people in the capital. Indeed, antisocial behaviour is now judged to be worse in London than in any other city in the UK.

Paradoxically, the amount spent on policing has never been greater. I accept that, and I also appreciate that we now have some 30,000 uniformed police officers and community support officers here in the capital?the highest number ever. While the costs of policing have escalated to almost £3 billion a year, however, there has been no corresponding reduction in the fear of becoming a victim of crime here in the capital. Detection rates have also fallen to below 15 per cent., after a sustained fall since six years ago, when detection stood at roughly one quarter.

Many of Steve Norris’s ideas and recommendations challenge contemporary assumptions about the nature of policing in the UK, and we as Conservatives promise Londoners that under a Tory Mayor, starting on 11 June, there will be a fundamental change in the management and organisation of the police here in the capital.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): On that very theme, I hope that my hon. Friend can also reassure those in the outer London boroughs such as Bromley that full attention will be paid to their concerns. Although the overall number of police officers in the metropolitan area may well have increased?we must all welcome that?in my borough of Bromley, the number of police officers is still less than in 1997. I therefore hope that we will get a pledge from our mayoral candidate, and indeed from my hon. Friend, that under a Conservative administration and Mayor, the outer London boroughs would receive full and proper attention.

Mr. Field: I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. The threat of terrorism has increased in my central London constituency, and the number of uniformed police officers has inevitably increased, in my patch above all, since 11 September 2001. The price has had to be paid in the suburbs, which are represented by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and the Conservative mayoral candidate will emphasise that point.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): Although terrorist targets are in the centre of London, terrorist suspects are being picked up in the suburbs.

Mr. Field: I entirely accept that point. My hon. Friend represents part of Heathrow airport, although I understand that most terrorist suspects are moved across to Paddington Green police station before too long.

One arm of the Government is often blissfully unaware what the other arm is doing. For example, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport saw the Licensing Act 2003 as encouraging all-night activity on our city streets. The widespread deregulation of pubs and other licensed premises was supposed to herald a 24-hour city culture, yet at the same time the Home Office has made much of its eye-catching initiatives, which are, in the main, failures, to clamp down on antisocial behaviour. Do the Government recognise that drunken loutishness and disturbance has skyrocketed as a result of their failure to provide effective policing on the streets in the early hours, along with round the clock public transport to ferry all-night drinkers back to their homes? Many London residents have had their lives turned into hell, not only in the west end in my constituency but in places such as Croydon, Ealing and Romford, and they recognise that Labour has let them down.
From the fate that befell Spain last month, it is clear that the threat of global terrorism is serious and imminent, and nowhere more so than here in the capital. However, the Government strategy appears to be to wait for what they regard as an "inevitable attack" and then?and only then?to act. That cannot be the right way forward. The public have been told almost nothing about the nature of the terrorist threat. There has been virtually no formal training, and the emergency services here in London would be stretched in trying to deal with the aftermath of a major incident.

The Home Secretary has spent much of the past two and a half years introducing an array of new laws to the statute book, undermining many of this country’s traditional freedoms. At the same time, he has by his own admission lost control of the immigration system to the extent that tens of thousands of people find their way illegally into this country every year and simply go underground, out of sight of the security services.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that the Government have adopted a wait and see policy on the terrorist threat, when exercises have been conducted and money has been spent? The efforts of the Mayor, Ministers and the Metropolitan police cannot be described as a "wait and see policy". That is an insult to dedicated professionals.

Mr. Field: It is not an insult. The single exercise was delayed by some six months, and training has been insufficient. Meanwhile, most people take the view, which was recently expressed by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, that an attack is inevitable.

Mr. Dismore: I am bemused, because at a recent meeting Sir John Stevens said that one in 10 London police officers are now engaged in some form of anti-terrorism work, and we also have 200 extra firefighters specifically for that purpose. Are those not proper preparations?

Mr. Field: The hon. Gentleman fails to understand that it is a question of educating the public. Perhaps 3,000 police are engaged in anti-terrorist activity, but we must educate the public at large, including tourists and people who work in London. In that regard, the policy has been little more than wait and see, and the Government have failed.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): Today’s Metro London reports an alleged threat to Heathrow airport, and the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and I have attended all-party meetings with the Minister to discuss security at Heathrow. We came away reassured about the intensity of the co-operation between Government, Mayor, Metropolitan police and BAA about security arrangements at Heathrow. Indeed, a number of exercises and reports have identified individual problems that have been addressed, even to the point of putting tanks around Heathrow on that occasion. We engage in knockabout when we speak, but it is important to reassure people that Heathrow airport is the safest in the world.

Mr. Field: I appreciate that. Equally, however, there is a distinction between reassurance and complacency, and we must not be complacent about the fact that it may be at risk.

Mr. Dismore: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Field: No, I must make some progress.

At the same time as the Home Secretary has lost control of the immigration system, we have pressed the Government to build up a proper civil contingency reaction force here in London. Although London is the prime UK terrorist target, it is massively short of such a capability and heavily reliant on Territorial Army reservists. And where is the main London TA regiment today? Many of those brave reservists find themselves on duty in Iraq, doing incredibly worthwhile work in Basra?probably during the past 24 hours, given the horrendous events that have taken place. Nevertheless, they leave an enormous gap in London’s protective cover.

The Government need to instil confidence in those who live, work and travel to London and more?much more?needs to be done to keep the terrible threat posed by those tenacious terrorists at bay.

Linda Perham (Ilford, North) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Field: No, I must make some progress, if the hon. Lady will excuse me.

All too often, the Government talk big about their resolve in the face of terrorism, but pass the responsibility to local authorities without adequate financial resource for contingency, resilience and emergency planning.

Labour has let Londoners down on public transport, which has become ever more overcrowded and unreliable than in May 1997, when the newly elected Government launched with a great fanfare their now defunct 10-year transport strategy. Their continued refusal to fund Crossrail is not simply a London but a national disgrace.

On the whole, then, the Government’s has been rather a dismal performance; but Mayor Livingstone, the Labour party’s candidate this June, has an even more threadbare record. In his four years as Mayor, he has wasted millions of pounds of Londoners’ money on suing the Government in a futile attempt to block the public-private partnership on the London underground.
That has resulted in his first term being characterised by the continued rapid deterioration in the capital’s tube without any strategy for future investment. At the same time, he has struck a Faustian bargain with Bob Crow and the extremist RMT trade union, which has sought, through repeated industrial action on the tube?I fear that Londoners will see more of that in the hot summer months ahead?to hold London’s businesses, commuters and residents to ransom.
There is a widely held myth that the Mayor has been responsible for a fabulously successful transport policy. It is certainly the case that the congestion charge in central London, which was introduced in February 2003, did not lead to the riots on the streets that many might have predicted. However, it is costing immeasurably more to administer than it is bringing in in revenue. Initial projections suggested that Livingstone’s tax on London’s car owners would raise some £200 million in annual revenues, which Londoners were assured would be invested in improvements to the transport infrastructure in the capital. Instead, in its first full year of operation, the congestion charge has barely broken even, while serious doubts are emerging as to the efficiency with which fines for those who flout the charge are being enforced.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I agree with aspects of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about congestion charging, but his own borough of Westminster has not been very pro-car either. Its parking enforcements have been badly handled?so much so that even I had my Mini carried away the other night. It was taken by the rudest possible people, who, when I tried to reason with them because they were towing me away illegally, behaved in a manner that was very unworthy of Westminster council, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to agree.

Mr. Field: I am tempted to emulate my party leader and turn to song. Certainly, I used to like the Beach Boys until earlier this afternoon. Traffic enforcement is not in the hands of Westminster council alone?some of it is hived off. The phrase, "God Only Knows" comes to mind.

In short, the congestion charge is probably unique as the only tax in history that will actually lose money. As for its effect on retail business within the zone, even the Mayor’s office will not dispute that it is proving extremely arduous, especially on many small family-run businesses?not, I hasten to add, that it has any great fans among retailers in Oxford Street or the Strand. Meanwhile, the Mayor’s obsession with subsidising the buses is becoming a financial nightmare, which will cost Londoners dear in further sharply increased council tax bills in the next five years.

Let us consider the cost of Livingstone.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Field: No, I want to make some progress.

Before the Government try to wash their hands of responsibility for the actions of their preferred mayoral candidate, Londoners should be reminded that the additional layer of London government bureaucracy is a consequence of Labour’s election in 1997. In Ken Livingstone’s first full term as Mayor, the Greater London authority precept has risen by an inflation-busting 96 per cent. from £123 for each band D taxpayer in 2000 to the current £241 per annum. What has he done with all the money? It is true that some has gone towards bolstering police numbers in London but no less than £1.5 million a year goes on employing some 19 press officers at City hall. We all thought that the Prime Minister was spin obsessed, but the Mayor spends even more on his propaganda machine. That is before we count the £3.8 million cost of Livingstone’s newspaper The Londoner, which tells the few London residents who bother to read it what a wonderful job Comrade Ken does on their behalf.

Mr. Dismore: The hon. Gentleman complains about the rises in the precept and says that a small amount has been spent on policing. However, 79 per cent. of the precept increase has been spent on policing London. There are big adverts on behalf of Mr. Jarvis?sorry, Mr. Norris?the Tory candidate for Mayor. How will he fund his proposals for policing without that sort of expenditure on it?

Mr. Field: He has made it clear that it is not simply a question of police numbers but managing and organising the police. That shows the main difference between the two main parties on policing. We shall hear far more about that in the next few weeks of the campaign.

The Mayor has also committed Londoners to paying an additional £20 a year over 12 years to fund the Olympics should the United Kingdom bid be successful. However, as if the cost of providing the Government with a blank cheque for any financial overrun on the Olympics was not bad enough, the biggest black hole appears in the transport account.

According to the Mayor’s figures, there is a funding gap of £1 billion a year from the next financial year onwards between what he wants to spend on buses and the aggregated predicted Government grant and all other income sources. The message to Londoners should be clear: more Ken after 10 June will mean more tax from the Prime Minister’s hand-picked candidate for Mayor of London.

There are only two reasons for the Government’s readmittance of such an inappropriate mayoral candidate to the Labour party. Neither has anything to do with his abilities as London’s political figurehead. First, if Ken Livingstone had run as an independent, the official Labour candidate would have been humiliated by coming at best fourth in the mayoral race. Secondly, the split in the Labour vote that his running as an independent would cause was likely to damage many of Labour’s Greater London authority candidates, with potentially damaging consequences for Labour in the capital in the next general election.

Surely the Government’s failure to grasp the nettle of policy making in the capital cannot be summed up better than by their cynical readmittance of Ken Livingstone to Labour’s ranks. From his vulgar criticism of the United States President, the Saudi royal family and the democratically elected Prime Minister of Israel, the Mayor’s penchant for grandstanding to extremist opinion does great damage to London’s reputation. Although he is often portrayed as a cheeky chappie and an anti-establishment figure, Livingstone is surely not the right voice for London.

The mayoralty is an important public role, which is key to promoting London tourism and business throughout the globe. It also involves a budgetary responsibility of some £7.5 billion a year. Londoners deserve better than someone who, in his demeanour and outbursts, often appears better suited to student union politics. Perhaps that would matter little if the Government did not pass directly to him millions of pounds of annual grant, through the London Development Agency, earmarked for promoting tourism and business in places such as the United States and the Middle East. Once more, the Labour Government are letting Londoners down.

I appreciate that many other hon. Members want to contribute to this important debate, but I wish to conclude with a few thoughts about the way in which we might improve our quality of life in our city. The rapid pace of change in life in London will only increase in the years ahead and that will doubtless leave many fearful about the effects of globalisation. I represent a most central inner-London seat?I appreciate that it always raises a wry smile from Labour Members when I refer to my inner-city credentials. However, although Mayfair and Knightsbridge may not be typical inner-city areas, parts of Bayswater, Pimlico and Victoria most certainly are. I find that the desire for security and a sense of urban identity and belonging is even stronger among the residents in my most built-up urban communities. Twenty or so residents’ associations and amenity societies thrive in my constituency alone, and I have observed, especially in the last couple of years, how the membership and activity of those bodies has increased. They recognise the importance of preserving historic buildings and of good aesthetic design to their sense of security and well-being.

In dealing with inner-city affairs, the voices of reaction?especially, it has to be said, in my own Conservative party?often hark back to a golden age. I believe, however, that all of us in London who have a passion for our city need to be practical. The real issue is not "Globalisation, yes or no?" but how we can develop, reform and reinvigorate our urban institutions to secure the enduring values of our traditions. In London, we need to resist the temptation to reverse the tide and simply recall how much better life might have been in the past. Instead, we must be optimistic and energetic about life in cities, and adapt to the often exciting, modern globalised world in which we now live.

One of my own local authorities, Westminster city council, has played a leading role in its civic renewal initiative in developing partnerships between residents, police and Government agencies in improving the quality of life of those who live and do business in central London. Its key insight has been to break down the perhaps false dichotomy that has existed in urban policy making between the top-down versus bottom-up analysis of civic participation. It is only right to recognise that, in several of these localised initiatives here in Westminster, the Government have played an important part in providing both financial resource and legislation for projects such as the business
improvement districts, which are already making a significant impact in revitalising the west end as a retail centre.

However, many people in London feel a vague yet uncomfortable state of disconnectedness from the political process. The issues of civic renewal and the restoring and revitalising of community institutions to facilitate a renewed public engagement in our capital go beyond the realms of this debate, but I hope that London Members here will play a part in developing an agenda to improve the quality of living in the capital. I certainly plan to do so.

I love cities, especially my own. Like so many young adults, I chose to come to London, and now consider myself to be one of her sons. The challenge ahead is to make London liveable for its residents and sustainable as a leading global commercial centre. I call on the Minister to assure me that this Government share the vision of what London can and should be. I also ask him to put pressure on his colleagues, in particular the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Mayor of London, to set their sights on improving the quality of life here. Londoners feel let down by this Government, and London deserves better.