§ 4. Mr. Tony Banks
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment which capital cities he has visited since becoming Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Banks
While the Secretary of State was clocking up his air miles, did he notice that each of the capital cities had city-wide local government and its own equivalent of County hall? In London, we have neither. Does he share my considerable concern about the bizarre happenings surrounding County hall at the moment? As it seems that the deal between the London residuary body and the Shirayama hotel group was based on a fraud perpetrated by Shirayama, and as we may now be moving into an area of criminal conspiracy, will he, to protect London, County hall and perhaps even himself and his reputation, now order a full inquiry into the events surrounding the takeover and sale of County hall and into the events now taking place?
§ Mr. Gummer
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his care for my reputation. I assure him that I have been to a number of capital cities, such as Paris, that do not have city-wide local government, so I do not think that that point is taken.
The point that the hon. Gentleman raises about County hall is important and I share his concern. It is an important listed building in a very important position on the River Thames. If there is any significant change of use in the building, a new planning application will be needed. I shall consider carefully whether I should call that in to determine myself. Obviously, I cannot prejudge any application, as no application has been made.
§ Mr. John Marshall
On his visits around the world, did my right hon. Friend discuss the impact of the private finance initiative, which we were told yesterday should very soon lead to an announcement of 100 new, modern trains for the Northern line in this great capital?
§ Mr. Gummer
My visits were mainly concerned with selling British products. Interestingly, private finance initiatives, copied from this country, are now beginning to drive industry and government in a number of countries. In addition, the newly privatised industries are winning billions of pounds in orders for Britain—industries which, had they remained nationalised, would not have been able to win a single cent.