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Royal Commission (London)

October 12, 2010

Royal Commission (London)

I support a great deal of the thrust of the argument that Mr Thomas has advanced today. He is right to say that London faces significant challenges, but I am not sure that a royal commission, as set out in the Bill, would be the right way to achieve our goals. Our capital city has faced a significant number of challenges over many years. Indeed, we could have had this same debate some 35 years ago in the mid-1970s. No one could deny that there has also been tremendous success, because London has always traditionally been an outward-looking city. I support a great deal of the thrust of the argument that Mr Thomas has advanced today. He is right to say that London faces significant challenges, but I am not sure that a royal commission, as set out in the Bill, would be the right way to achieve our goals. Our capital city has faced a significant number of challenges over many years. Indeed, we could have had this same debate some 35 years ago in the mid-1970s. No one could deny that there has also been tremendous success, because London has always traditionally been an outward-looking city.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about financial services; they were well made. We have all had concerns about elements of the banking industry, but the financial services industry is clearly a world-beating business, without which the whole of the United Kingdom-not just London-would suffer. We need to ensure that the new, transformed landscape for financial services will allow London to maintain its competitive advantage, not least because, as the hon. Gentleman has rightly said, some 25 million Indians and Chinese are being added to the ranks of the global middle class every single year. Culturally, they have a higher propensity to save, and they will be the future customers and clients for financial services in the decades to come.

In relation to the proposal for a royal commission, however, it is fair to say that we have had a mayoralty in London for the past 10 years. The hon. Gentleman might not like the colour of the current Mayor, but there has been a Labour Mayor for four fifths of that time. I want to defend Ken Livingstone, who had an eye towards the future, not least in regard to ensuring that the relationship between London and the key financial centres-not only in Asia but in Brazil and Russia-should be maintained. A lot of that work has been continued by the current Mayor, Boris Johnson. We have a structure of government that works well, although there were teething problems in the early days after the Mayor and the Greater London authority came into play. It works well now, however, and the Mayor-of whatever political colour-has an eye to the future of this great capital city, which is close not only to my heart but to that of the hon. Gentleman.

It is important to raise the profile of London. The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of inequality, but things have been that way since Dick Whittington walked down Highgate hill some 700 years ago. Indeed, since time immemorial London has been seen as a very unequal place, and it has always been polarised between some of the wealthiest and some of the poorest people. The hon. Gentleman made a good point, however, about opportunities for those who have been accustomed to living in central London, and he asked whether their children and grandchildren would be able to continue to do so.

I feel that a royal commission is not the right way forward. I think that we can achieve these goals within the current construct of governance, with the Mayor and active borough leaders playing their part in ensuring that London’s pre-eminence is maintained not only in this country but as a global capital.